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THE INTERNATIONAL AND FRANCHISE LEVELS | How 2 days with Jacques Dallaire helped Watson conquer short ball fear

IANS | Updated on Thursday, May 30, 2024 15:18 PM IST
How 2 days with Jacques Dallaire helped Watson conquer short ball fear

NEW DELHI: Shane Watson had a glittering career of nearly two decades as a premier all-rounder in white-ball cricket, at the international and franchise levels. He carved a reputation for stepping up when needed in big games and tournaments, while juggling to play all three formats for Australia and then transforming into a sought-after T20 leagues batter.

In an exclusive interview with IANS, during a recent hectic period of commentary in IPL 2024 and the launch of his second book ‘The Winner’s Mindset’ by HarperCollins Publishers India, Watson talks about overcoming the short ball fear, having a life-changing meeting with author and performance coach Dr Jacques Dallaire, and how he used his mental skills to play a memorable 117 not out in IPL 2018 final for Chennai Super Kings.

Q. You talk in the book about having absolutely life changing two days with Dr Jacques Dallaire. Can you elaborate on what all transpired in those two days?

A. I was at sliding doors moments in my life when I got connected with Dr. Jacques via Aussie IndyCar driver. Will Power. Dr Jacques’ background is over 50 years of working with high performance people on their mental side, predominantly in Formula One, IndyCar and NASCAR, special forces.

I was going through a challenging time in my life at a point where I was neither performing, nor anywhere near my best. It looked like I was going to retire because I just knew that I couldn't play the way I used to be able to do.

Having half an hour conversation with him initially, I was like, ‘okay, I think this guy's going to give me some information that I haven't heard before, but I think it's going to really help me’. I was desperate because I was thinking about retiring and flew over to Charlotte, North Carolina to spend two days with him.

The information that he gave me was something I hadn't heard before, even though I'd been around sports psychologists and mental skills coach from the age of probably 13. How simply the information was explained to me as well by him was just like there was light bulbs going off everywhere, like, ‘Oh my gosh, how come I didn't know that?’

After that, I flew home back to Sydney and felt between, ‘Oh, I've got this, I can turn this around’ to ‘Oh no, I can't’. It took a lot of work day by day and moment by moment about understanding of what my thoughts were and controlling them. But within six weeks, the issues that I had disappeared, as got them under control and over the next four years of my playing career, I had some of the best performances of my life.

From that moment of implementing those mental skills, and information, which had a huge impact on my performance, I said to Dr Jacques, ‘Well, I need to get this information out to as many people as possible because this information should be readily available, but it's not’.

Everywhere that I've looked, I haven't been able to find information in a really simple way to understand in a way that I can apply it to any performance. From that moment, I ended up working with him and he taught me how to teach this information. Now I'm very fortunate to have access to his IP to be able to then put it into my own words and get the information out to as many people as possible.

Q. You also talk about the fear of facing the short ball coming after the tragic death of Phil Hughes. How did you overcome it?

A. It was just one of the biggest, if not the biggest tragedy in world cricket, seeing one of our mates get killed by a ball coming at him. From there, I started to believe and think there's no reason why the next ball coming to me couldn't have the same effect on me and my family's life.

From that moment, the fear of the short ball came into my mind and game, which as a top order batter means you are sabotaging your own performance because of the new mental environment being created via that fear.

Meeting with Dr Jacques made me understand that I could turn things around via one of the rules of the mental road - rule number two, which is your mind can actively process one thought at a time. By deeply understanding that if I put the right thing into my mind at the right time, then the wrong thing can't come in.

The wrong thing coming with fear of short ball, as a batter, was if you pre-meditate the short ball, then you're slow on it anyway. If it's not a short ball, you're out of position and exposed, which means there's a good chance you'll get out.

By putting the right thing in my mind at the right time as the ball came out, and the word I put for me is aggressive because that's me ready to react and not have any thought of what's coming down. By implementing that, I'm tapping into all my instincts, and muscle memory that's so deeply ingrained in me.

Immediately by understanding that, I was like, ‘Oh, I can do that’. I had to develop that trust in my technique of playing the short ball and worked hard it for six weeks to sort of retrain that. But by putting the right thing into my mind, so the wrong thing couldn't come in, I never had that fear on my game again.

Q. In those last four years, there was that 117 not out in the IPL 2018 final for the Chennai Super Kings against Sunrisers Hyderabad. Going from zero off ten balls to making a century in an IPL final, what did take for you to do it mentally?

A. It was really a culmination of putting all of those mental skills together. I started learning these skills at the end of 2015 and had a couple of years of really just pulling all that information and learning how to be able to make the most of it. Like, what were the right and wrong thoughts in the lead up to the game? What was the best way to maintain & sustain my mental energy without burning it out before a big game like that?

Even when I was zero off 10 balls chasing in the second innings, every ball was about staying in the moment, being fully focused on the present and it was about breaking down each ball. After I faced a ball, what happened technically, mentally, where was I at? I just kept doing that.

I was just in the process, staying fully present, working through to bring the best version of me as the ball came out. Even five years ago, being none off 10 balls, there would be much chance of me panicking and going, ‘Oh my gosh, I've got to really get on with this and play a rash shot’.

Whereas I was just pulling myself into the ultimate zone that you're chasing, I knew every step along the way was getting me closer to that ultimate space you're trying to get into in performance - the zone. So by pulling myself into it, it took a bit of time, about 15 or 20 balls.

Once I got there, then I just stayed there in the moment and that's when I had a great day in one of the high pressure games. That innings was just a culmination of my skills that I had been training for since I was a kid at the age of 36 and then applying those new mental skills that I'd been integrating into my performances as well.

That really was a perfect storm - by applying that in a pressure game was again a confirmation that these mental skills are so powerful. I wish that I had this information as a teenager because it would have meant that I was able to perform more consistently and significantly reduce the pressure, stress, anxiety and worry that goes with being desperate for getting the best results every single time.

Q. Do you think that if you encountered these mental skills early in your career, it would have helped you a great deal mentally?

A. There's no question it would have helped a crazy amount, especially from a Test cricket perspective as well. The biggest issue I see in society now and working with a lot of different people is mental fatigue. There's so much over stimulation that we've always got things available to us, whether it's messages, social media, or notifications, life is incredibly busy and overstimulating.

Plus, our desire to be able to perform every single time and being obsessed with results, with me certainly being one of those. I wanted to be the best I possibly could be and would put so much pressure on myself to perform because of desperation to get the best results possible. I used to overthink situations in the lead up to a big series like an Ashes or a World Cup.

Ahead of match day, I'd just be, ‘Who am I going to be up against? Who am I playing?’. I would have played the game in my mind before it even started. By the time actual game came, I was mentally so tired and fatigued. When you're mentally fatigued, then your ability to access deeply ingrained skills reduces, and decision-making becomes so sluggish.

It’s like you are stuck in the mud, whereas when you're mentally fresh, you've got a lot of energy, and decision making is accurate, crisp, and sharp. That time, I had no idea that the concept around your brain is like a muscle. Once I understood this information around conserving and regenerating my mental energy, I made sure to make the most of it.

So I used a few different techniques to be able to conserve my mental energy even when I was in the moment playing the game. Like, I put a song into my head to put my mind on neutral. Different people have different techniques to just do that, whether it's focusing on breathing, or like Sir Viv Richards used to chew gum. When the ball's about to come out, they have all the mental energy in reacting to the ball to the best of their ability.

Q. You just mentioned about using music to put your mind on neutral. How did that come about for you to implement it in your performances?

A. Music has always been something that I've loved, even as a kid. I learnt playing the guitar in my early 20s and being on tour, especially with Brett Lee, that was a way to chill out as well. I didn't necessarily do it to chill out, it was more so I had so much downtime on tour and wanted to learn a new skill.

But the thing I realized when I now look back at a lot of my best performances, even before I knew this information, is I had a catchy song in my head that I was just singing along to - whether it was a song I listened to in the lead up to the game or a song that came on while I was batting. It was just in the background there for the whole time.

Glenn McGrath and Michael Clarke always had a song in their head they used. I didn't fully understand why they used it, but it worked incredibly well for them. It wasn't until Dr. Jacques explained to me the power of having something that you can move your mind to and put it on neutral.

For me, songs was something that had worked in the past, that it just happened without me consciously putting a song into my head. From that moment, I was like, ‘Well, no matter what, one, if I start to overthink a situation, even in the lead up to the game, jam a song into my head’.

If I was overthinking a situation in any way, shape or form, I put a song into my head, because that means I can trust my gut instincts, intuition, and also not burn my mental energy, so as to access my super highway reactions and be ready to react when the ball comes out.