Self-belief can be conceptualised as a positive frame of mind within an individual or team, which gives them the opportunity to pursue their targets and goals. It is a highly influential component of psychology and can be applicable to the sporting and business environment, in addition to everyday life. With regards to a sporting context, Professor Haslam (2008 cited by Highfield 2008) proclaims that, “it can improve success as much as an illegal performance enhancing drug,” highlighting its massive influence for performers in doing so. We need self-belief to provide the foundation for motivation to pursue a target. It is the basic premise and starting point that people require before they begin to chase a goal.
The importance of having a degree of self-belief can be applied to English cricketer, Stephen Finn. The adept, right arm fast bowler has struggled with his form over the past few years, with his worst moment in English colours occurring during the teams’ unforgettable Ashes tour down under in 2013-2014. England were comprehensively beaten by Australia 5-0, which is somewhat ironic after managing to secure the prestigious Ashes urn for the previous 3 series. Finn was deemed ‘un-selectable,’ by One Day coach Ashley Giles and interestingly was the only member of the 17 man squad to be sent home from Australia, despite not playing in any of the Test matches nor One Day Internationals. This was partly so Finn could work on his bowling technique explicitly, providing a pathway for him to return and to hopefully better his previous standards.
Over a year and a half later, Finn could arguably be labelled as England’s most improved cricketer. The 6ft, 7in bowler produced a memorable match winning bowling display on his recall for the 3rd Ashes test at Edgbaston, Birmingham. His wickets amounted to 8 in the match, which included the dismissals of Michael Clarke and Stephen Smith, captain and vice-captain respectively. Finn’s prolific bowling display, can be regarded as even more influential, given that Australia had won the previous match at Lords, entering the game with the much desirable psychological momentum. So, what is it that has allowed Finn to progress from one end of the spectrum to the other? A break from the game? Focusing tirelessly on several aspects of his bowling style, autonomy supportive coaching (Goose and Winter 2012) or perhaps merely maturing as a cricketer?
According to Middlesex bowling coach and mentor Richard Johnson, Finn’s comeback to the heights of international cricket have been nurtured by the bowler’s ability to swing the ball away from the right hander. Johnson has expressed that this type of delivery is something which he believed Finn always had in his arsenal, but did not possess the confidence to deliver it. Finn’s domestic performances for Middlesex, notably taking 4 wickets against Somerset, a week before his recall to England’s test team, where he felt able to ‘swing the ball from ball one,’ (Hoult 2015) reinforce this assertion. So what was it that allowed Stephen Finn to make this transition and develop the confidence to produce this type of delivery during matches? Whilst it is difficult to extrapolate one key factor, psychologists may utilise self-belief and in particular the application of vicarious experiences as a stimulant for the bowler’s revival.
It has been noted that prior to Finn’s first rehabilitation sessions in 2014, where his bowling action was taken back to square one, he was shown clips of his bowling performance whilst representing England Lions against Pakistan A. The clip he watched countlessly alongside coaches, was a wicket ball which reflected his best bowling style and execution (Liew 2015). This is regarded by sports psychologists as a ‘vicarious experience,’ whereby watching previous success can inspire increased feelings of self-belief and self-efficacy. Bandura (1997 cited by Warner et al. 2011) asserts that this is the most effective source of efficacy, as it provides the individual with the most authentic evidence as to whether he/she can master and ascertain whatever it takes to succeed. To conceptualise this, simply watching a clip of success can act as a starting point and a basis for eliciting self-belief, knowing that you can perform in the present and future, as you have performed well previously. This, in my mind, undoubtedly played a pivotal role in allowing Stephen Finn to return to the top of his game and produce an emphatic bowling display during his comeback match, when his test career could have been all but over.
Whilst this is an important foundation for amplifying self-belief, there is another factor which psychologists may regard as conducive for enhancing this type of demeanour from players, performance environment. It all well and good for athletes to watch highlights of their supreme performances giving rise to their self-belief; but there has to be an environment which allows this belief to exist to ensure that performance can follow accordingly. Goose and Winter (2012) mention autonomy supportive coaching as a means to do this. The researchers proclaim that, a coach who portrays autonomy support does not advocate the use of pressure and demands, they take the perspective of their athletes. This type of support appears to be apparent within the current England setup, during this summer’s Ashes series. For example, Hoult (2015) reported that Finn paid tribute to Trevor Bayliss and Paul Farbrace for giving the players the “licence to play their own way” and not to fear the repercussions of failure, which has supposedly occurred during previous managerial spells of the team. It is fair to say that England’s bowlers have bowled with greater potency and audacity this summer compared to previous Ashes tours; a result of the autonomy supportive coaching in place, I think so.
In conclusion, I believe that self-belief ultimately underpinned Stephen Finn’s successful return to International cricket. It is a dynamic, elusive entity which plays a significant role in starting individuals off on their quest to improve. A vicarious experience has been shown as a means to do this; simply watching a previous clip of success can provide a spark in an athlete’s mind, knowing that they can repeat greatness which they’ve performed previously. However, for self-belief to truly flourish, I believe that the right performance environment has to be administered which has to stem from the coaches and the support which they offer. This, I feel, has permeated into the English cricket team and in particular, with Stephen Finn this summer.