Bazball: The Unlikely Connection Between Cricket and Therapy
Bazball refers to the playing style of the England cricket team after the appointment of Brendon 'Baz' McCullum
Ex-sports journalist, now psychotherapist Gershon Portnoi explores how a sporting mindset can be applied to therapy and mental health
I was recently working with a client who was blighted by a harsh inner self-critic, which resulted in him adopting a cautious approach to life.
Knowing that I was a cricket fan – because any Google search will quickly tell you about my previous career as a sports journalist and author – he commented to me that he might need a bit more Bazball in his life, which proved to be a fruitful and creative way of working together.
For the uninitiated, Bazball is the term that has been coined to describe the playing style of the England Test cricket team under the leadership of coach Brendan (Baz) McCullum and captain Ben Stokes.
The philosophy is based around relentless positivity, never taking a backwards step and, in the process, entertaining everyone watching. A team that had won once in 17 games, has now tasted victory 11 times in their last 13 matches. By any standards, that is a remarkable transformation.
Whether this cricketing revolution will be enough to reclaim the Ashes from arch-rivals Australia remains to be seen, but with five matches between the sport’s oldest rivals set to take place in June and July, we won’t have to wait long to find out.
Without getting into the nuts and bolts of cricket nerdery, Bazball has made the England team think and act differently about match situations, take more risks, and to not be afraid of losing in pursuit of victory.
There seem to be some obvious crossovers for how we could all live our lives the Bazball way, and also in how this new approach and therapy may be closely aligned.
The work of therapy provides people with many tools, including different ways of thinking about their lives. Sometimes, coming to therapy can give a fresh perspective on a particular situation, or about life in general. And, whether we're in therapy or not, the ability to look at any potential difficulty in an alternative way can be hugely advantageous to overcoming that problem.
The England team have certainly taken that to heart by rewriting some of Test cricket's most established conventions, and thinking about the game in new ways. Not only has this novel mindset created positivity, but it has also thrown down the gauntlet to the opposition, handing England both a psychological and on-pitch advantage.
In the same way, we can also throw down the gauntlet to our own problems, by daring to face them, and perhaps thinking about them in a novel way. Fear can often derail any potential sporting champions from fulfilling what should be their destinies, and it’s the same with us mere mortals. Many of us are hampered by self-doubts, an inner critic and fears of achieving our own potential, whether that's at work, socially or in relationships.
The Bazball approach would be to embrace that fear, harness it, and channel it into something positive via a healthy dose of calculated risk.
This is not advocacy for living life on the edge and saying 'to hell with it all', but to perhaps embrace the possibility of not succeeding at something, knowing that successes can only be gained with the prospect of failure waiting in the wings.
In fact, one of the central premises of Bazball is that there will be failures. In a game in New Zealand earlier this year, England went from a virtually impregnable position to the narrowest of defeats because they refused to take a backward step by playing defensively.
Yet, listening to the post-match interviews from coach and captain, there were no recriminations and no misgivings. This is how we play, they said, and if we continue to play this way, we will win more than we lose.
It's so positive, it's almost insane. Yet, so far, it seems to be working. That might be because the opposition haven’t yet worked out how to counter such an approach, whether to beat England or join them, so to speak.
While the negative forces that lie underneath us all are far more complex to be defeated by a ‘just be positive’ mantra, and life isn’t actually sport, the fundamentals of Bazball could still provide comfort in adversity, and certainly align with how therapy can change our outlooks and, subsequently, our lives.