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By Rudi V. WebsterDARREN Bravo, the talented West Indies batsman, has been in a performance slump for some time now and has been receiving harsh and persistent criticism from cricket-lovers throughout the Caribbean.Darren has probably tried many different approaches to escape from his failure spiral but none has worked. His critics believe that his problems are purely technical and that the solution must therefore be a technical one.Some of them have said that he should ask Sir Garfield Sobers for advice and guidance. That would be a wise and sensible move.These critics would, however, be disappointed to find that Sir Garfield’s approach, diagnosis and solution would be very different from their own.A slump is a dramatic loss of confidence that is usually accompanied by self-doubts, confusion, poor concentration and poor performance. When a player is in a slump he often underestimates himself and his ability, and overestimates the ability of his opponent and the difficulty of the task. Players in a slump get trapped in a failure spiral where they fail, expect to fail and then fail again.Here are Sir Garfield’s feelings about slumps: “When you are in a slump you tend to fiddle around with your technique and when you do this you make matters worse. Believe me, you don’t find the cause or solutions in the body very often.“You must look into the mind, in particular, your thinking and concentration. Only after you have done this should you look at other areas. The slump may be started by something physical like an injury, but in the end, poor mental functioning is the real cause.The trigger to the slump is often trivial; a slight change in thinking and concentration can result in a major slump. Personal problems off the field can also be a cause.“Your thought patterns change when you are in a slump. You doubt yourself, you worry about the things that might happen to you, you make the job harder than it is and you put yourself down. You become anxious and confused and don’t cope very well with the situations you face because you approach them badly and don’t use your common sense to apply your skills.“You must play your own style of game. If you try to change it and start doing things you are not used to, you won’t play well. You must focus on the basics of your game, strive to execute them well, and gradually work your way back.”Ian Chappel, one of Australia’s best cricket captains, reiterates Sir Garfield’s comments. He says, “Your confidence and concentration are messed up when you are in a slump. Players in this state often do a thorough analysis of the physical aspects of their game. They examine their technique carefully and pick it apart bit by bit. The people around them offer all sorts of advice and often suggest that they change important aspects of their game that worked well for them in the past.“They must learn to protect themselves from that type of advice. In those people who have a reasonable history of success, a slump is usually due to poor mental functioning rather than to any great technical problems.“When the pressure becomes too great your brain starts to race and everything seems to speed up, particularly your psychological clock. If you don’t do something about it, it will race around in circles and your body will follow.”Darren is handling pressure inadequately, most of which he is creating in his own mind. As soon as he makes the necessary corrections in his mind, that will change. During his recovery he should pay attention to MS Dhoni’s perception of pressure. He should also recommend it to team members during the World Cup.“Dhoni’s attitude to pressure is interesting and is probably the main reason why he has been so productive under pressure. He once told me: ‘I regard pressure as an opportunity to do well but there are times when I would rather not have it. I see it as a challenge not a threat. People say a lot of negative things about pressure. Pressure to me is just added responsibility. That’s how I look at it. It’s not pressure when God gives you an opportunity to be a hero for your team and your country’.”Darren still has a lot to offer to West Indies cricket. In the old days when we didn’t have head coaches, specialist coaches and analysts, Darren’s problem would have been solved by the collective wisdom, intelligence and experience of the captain and fellow players.In those days, players had to think for themselves, work out their own problems and stand on their own feet. The advent of professional coaches and analysts has, in many cases, dampened the players’ initiative, self-awareness and self-reliance. The players’ knowledge, intelligence and creativity are three of the most neglected and untapped resources in today’s teams. I believe that Darren can find a solution to his problem in the collective wisdom and experience of the players in his team.Building and establishing self-confidence will be the key to his success. It is about knowing what he is doing, and being in control of what he is doing. If he doesn’t know what he is doing or is not in control of what he is doing, his confidence and performance will remain substandard.