How to bounce back when you’ve hit a low

Chris Nash

Chris Nash

When a sportsman’s career spans two decades and he’s recruited to play in one of the UK’s most decorated national teams at the age of 35, it’s hard to believe there’s much to worry about. But as pro cricketer Chris Nash knows, the road to success in sports - or any field - is rarely straightforward. The batsman, now at Nottinghamshire after spending the majority of his career playing for Sussex, has dealt with setbacks, uncertainty, injury, and moments of self doubt in order to keep his place among the top of British cricket’s star players.

“I’m halfway through a three-year contract with Nottingham, which at this stage of my career is rare and something I’m grateful for. But I’ve definitely had ups and downs along the way. Like many people, there are times when the doubt in your abilities or the stress of what people might be thinking get the better of you. I’ve had times when I’ve called my brother and told him this just isn’t for me anymore.”

One of the most challenging periods for Nash came in 2008, when a string of bad results and a demotion to the second team at Sussex made him wonder if he’d ever be back on top. The cricketer told us it was his mental strength training, not just physical, that helped him recover and move back to the first team. “I’ve had people say negative things about me and my abilities over the years, which doesn’t help when it comes to believing in yourself. But it is also something we do to ourselves. I would often worry about what people thought of me or what they were saying. We work in such a public arena, and as a batsman in particular you’re constantly judged on the number of runs you score. So it puts a lot of pressure on your shoulders and you have to remember to focus on the things that matter.”

That starts with positive visualisation according to Nash, something most modern-day sportspeople will tell you forms a significant part of their game strategy. The concept of envisaging a win, a try, an ace or 100 runs has been credited by many athletes as one secret to success. And as Chris explains it is a process he goes through in order to ensure he performs at his best during a game. “Mental preparation for me begins the night before. It’s important to fill your thoughts with positive self-talk, about what you plan to do and how you intend to play. And by breaking it down into stages you can go into a game feeling ready and with an understanding of what you need to do.”

For any doubters questioning such tactics, Nash must be doing something right in preparation for his games and not only on the physical side. He has just passed his twentieth year as a professional cricketer, starting in 1998 for the Sussex second team before graduating to the first team in 2002. He was part of the team that won the County Championship in 2006 and 2007. And played twice in the group stages throughout Sussex's successful Cheltenham and Gloucester Trophy run of 2006. In 2017 Nash left Sussex, signing a deal with Nottinghamshire where he plays today. It has been a career full of wins, accolades, a steadfast determination, and one in which he managed to remain injury free throughout. That was until 2018, when a fall onto his shoulder took him out of the game and put him into surgery. It was followed by a recovery that would span seven months.

“There’s the physical process obviously. You gradually get strength back and I’ve been building back muscle gradually since the operation. But it’s not only your body you have to work on. Suddenly you’re on your own. You can’t train as usual with team mates, you can’t do much at all. And you spend a lot of time thinking. Never mind the physical barriers you have to overcome to get yourself moving and playing again, you enter a pretty difficult spiral of self-doubt and also start to wonder what people are thinking about you. ‘Are people saying my career’s over?’ And that thought pattern is hard to overcome. It was the toughest time in my career.”

Throughout his journey back to full health, it was partially sport psychology that helped Nash re-focus before getting back on the field, but the tactics provide a lesson for us all in managing our own minds. Telling James + Jake about the steps he uses to overcome negative emotion, his advice for anyone struggling to bounce back from stress, self doubt or anxiety is to focus on what you can control. “It comes down to two things; what you can control and what you can’t. There will be so much going on that has nothing to do with you. What people think, what your other teammates are doing or how bad your injury might be in my case. I think 90 per cent of what we worry about is irrelevant.”

And that niggling inner voice that often brings us down when we’re trying to succeed? Stay alert to the moments you’re at your most vulnerable, says Nash. “Driving and showering are good examples of when a negative mindset can creep in. You’re on autopilot. So check yourself and make sure that whatever the moment is for you when your mind wanders that you’re focusing on the positives. Dwelling on something you can’t do anything about is a waste of time and energy. Focusing on the elements that are within your control is going to help you move forward. I have learnt to focus on myself and what I do, rather than what others do - how am I doing? Have I tried my hardest? How can I influence a result in a game? And if I know I have done all I can then I can be pleased with my effort”.

Back from injury and training in Cape Town at the time of our interview, Nash now plans to return to professional cricket following rehabilitation. He rejoins his Nottinghamshire teammates this summer.

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James Hood