In his recent book, Fierce Focus, Greg Chappell a former captain of Australia and a former coach of India expressed his surprise at what he described as the mental fragility of Sachin Tendulkar in 2006 when he was having a lean time with the physical and mental aspects of his game.
Brian Lara had similar problems on more than one occasion during his illustrious career and Tiger Woods the great golfer has recently been struggling with the same difficulty.
The enormous demands and the high expectations of millions of people around the world create pressures on superstars like Lara, Tendulkar and Woods that sometimes got the better of them and produced symptoms of mental fatigue or fragility.
But after adequate rest and recreation these great players soon cleared up their minds, recharged their psychological batteries, regained their mental toughness and played like champions again.
Other players who are exposed to high levels of continuous pressure also fall victim to chronic and unrelenting pressure and suffer from a type of mental fatigue or combat fatigue that result in negative thinking, self-doubts, a loss of confidence, poor concentration and judgment, impaired motor skills, and poor performance.
Pressure can be a friend or a foe. In the right proportions it can lift performance to new heights but if it gets out of hand it can mess it up and create health problems. The ability to cope with pressure usually separates the great players from the others but even the great players can fall victim to chronic pressure.
Every player has a breaking point. Research during World War 11 showed the effects of constant pressure on soldiers exposed to continuous combat. Sir Charles Symonds found that the constant and prolonged tension of battle resulted in a breakdown of performance and behaviour.
Combat fatigue appeared between 15 and 45 days in most soldiers. He found that every infantryman suffered from a neurotic reaction if exposed long enough to continuous and prolonged combat. In the early part of the campaign most soldiers faced up to their fears and performed with confidence and competence.
But after 3 or 4 weeks of constant battle, the first signs and symptoms of combat fatigue started to appear. The soldiers became tense, confused and often could not tell the difference between their own guns and the others. They became moody and irritable, and lost their tempers easily.
They then concentrated poorly and performed badly. Later, these symptoms were often followed by apathy, dullness, slowness and even depression. Sports administrators and selectors should be aware of the dangers of work overload and chronic stress and should ensure that players stay fresh and alert by getting quality rest and recreation during the season.
Produced with permission from the book Think Like a Champion by Dr Rudi Webster. Published by Harper Collins.
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