Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Think Like A Champion - Rudi V. Webster

I was drawn to this book the first time I saw it. I hesitated then, but I picked it up the second time. Rudi Webster is a cricketer and thinker, a student of the game and human psychology, a doctor and a diplomat, and someone who has seen the rise of the formidable West Indian side under Clive Lloyd, first hand. He has had a hand in many a sportsperson's success as a sports psychologist and his wisdom I thought would be nice to partake of.
Harper Sport, 360 p, Rs. 450

Rudi splits up the premise right in the beginning - the game he says consists of four aspects - fitness, technique, strategy and mental skill. He also quickly puts the impact of mental skill on performance to about 70% or 80%, a fact that many successful sportsmen also corroborate. Interviews with M.S. Dhoni, Rahul Dravid, V.V.S. Laxman,  Clive Lloyd, Dennis Lillee, Wasim Akram, Jacques Kallis, Sir Garfield Sobers, Ian and  Greg Chappell add credibility and meat to the book.

The book is divided into five parts - Performance, Leadership and team work, Self Confidence, Concentration  and Pressure.

Under Performance Rudi focusses on 3 basic questions to be answered by anyone looking to better their performance
- what do you want to achieve and why
- what do you stand for and believe in
- what's your action plan
The importance of basics and preparation are stressed.

Rudi talks of the Mind and the Inner Game which consists of the self-image, self-belief and self-talk. There is an interesting story he cites of a Red Indian Chief who tells his son that there are two wolves fighting inside him - one good and one bad. The youngster asks, who is winning. The Chief replies, the one whom I feed. If you feed good thoughts the good wolf wins and if you feed negative thoughts the bad wolf wins. Rudi dwells on motivation and goal setting. Execution he says is all about the Planning-Briefing-Execution-Debriefing-Plan for Next game-retain high standards formula. He talks of the importance of visualization techniques - the practice of seeing and feeling what you want to achieve and become. One of the interesting visualizations among the many he explained was the twin self visualization where you have the perfect twin self guiding you.

Under Leadership and Teamwork Rudi focusses on self-leadership which comes with three items on the agenda. They are - an agenda for change, a cohesive network of competent and motivated people and the eradication of excuses, bad habits and outmoded traditions. The Rudi Webster New Leadership model is this Self mastery + Team synergy + Continuous learning +Sustainable development. Rudi feels that leaders must be dealers in hope.

Under Self Confidence Rudi quotes an interesting Jack Canfield study on how the world is constantly eroding our self confidence - in one day the study showed that a child receives 460 negative or critical messages as against 75 positive and supportive messages! No wonder our self confidence is so badly dented. Rudi talks of how by empowering fringe players the overall performance soars and I firmly believe in that. To convert low self confidence into a better state, Rudi stresses the importance of self talk. He also encourages one to be present, to prepare well, to engage in smart self talk, reduce anxiety, correct perceptual distortion, focus on areas you can control, lower one's expectations. work on basics and be patient. These could boost confidence also - hypnosis, eye movement technique and focussed breathing technique.

On Concentration Rudi dwells on what to concentrate on - the task at hand. Don't fall under the information overload syndrome he says and warns against distractions. He says that meditation can help concentration. I can see what he is saying - let's say a batsmen meditates on the aspect of scoring a hundred and follows the ball in his mind for let us say a hundred and fifty balls, his concentration will surely improve.

On Pressure Rudi differentiates between good and bad pressure. He elucidates reacions to stress which if we understand, we can be aware and do something about it. The manifestations of stress he lists are - racing heart, shallow breath, muscle tension, tightness, impatience, over alertness, irritability, restlessness, drowsiness, crying, nervous fear, smiling and pain. the effects of stress are loss of objectivity, negative thinking, loss of concentration and loss of patience. To manage pressure one can adopt the fight or flight method or merely go back and prepare for the unexpected. Pre-game pressure can be dealt with giving players a realistic perception of the game, confidence boosters, by calming players, by identifying priorities and get players to think, mentally rehearse and visualize.

Rudi also talks of flooding technique, using sense of humour, exercise and anger, and a support network as ways to relase pressure. To relax he suggests breathing techniques, relaxing muscles, self talk and meditiating so you be present in the moment.

For one with so much experience and knowledge and who has such great content and reach to superstars, Rudi Webster's book which could have been a gamechanger for cricketers, is strangely presented. There are too many interviews saying the same  thing and repeating themselves, too many points repeated in one form or another and the book is just too long. Where it is 360 it could have been 250 perhaps. Don't doubt the content - there is a lot of wonderful content there - but the delivery mechanism is poor and the message is sprayed all around. I sometimes think that people who have access to the superstars are forced into a corner (like directors with super heroes) because they have to present the heroes views and while presenting their own views. When the authors views get lost, the book dips. If Rudi had stuck to his viewpoints, his case studies and kept his interviews to a bare minimum or none at all, the book would have been far more productive. But with everyone walking in and out, saying this and that and rambling on at times, the book loses its steam and you are left trying to pick up the messages from the pile. What were the editors doing with so much promise and so much content? Or was everyone taking the easy route and relying on the superstar names to sell the book? Whatever it is and whoever is responsible, the book promises much and falls way below the potential it has considering the author's experience and knowledge and the resources he had access to. Sad. But the content is there if you want to go and figure it out.

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