The new age of 'Hyper-Professionalism’
Understanding the previous era
There are only a few things that worry me nowadays in and around cricket and the main one is the mental welfare for this current generation and future generations of cricketers. Cricket has evolved so drastically over the last 20-25 years from being semi-professional with no contracts and just match payments to this day and age, where you are a full-time professional athlete, 24/7. I was very fortunate to have started out in my cricket career at a time when the majority of the players that I played with had been around during the semi-professional age. This meant that I had a deep understanding of how fortunate I was to come along at this time when cricketers had contracts, multi-year deals at times, there were match payments and there was even injury payments. So I never ever took this for granted!!!
The Good Old Days
In the early to mid 2000’s, the off-season for a first-class cricketer was normally around 3 months where you had time off, but you had to make sure that when you turned up in July to start pre-season, you were in decent physical condition. From an international cricketers point of view, and this was before the T20 era, there were more spaces in between games and series’ so there was time to enjoy the life you were living. For example, my first few years around The Australian Squad, we had a few days off in between games to go on Safari in the Masai Mara during a one day series in Kenya. Another example was the team flying to the Maldives during the Champions Trophy that was held in Sri Lanka in 2002 as we had a 7 day break in between games. And finally after the 2007 World Cup win, the Aussie team had 4 months off before its next tournament. There was also more time to think about life after cricket, whether that be studying for your next career path, coaching or general downtime to make sure you had a healthy life balance.
Nowadays, because the players are paid so incredibly well, as well as the inclusion of the T20 format, they are expected to be eating, sleeping and breathing cricket with barely anytime off for downtime away from the game to freshen up for an upcoming game/series. Rarely do cricketers have downtime to enjoy living the life of being a professional cricketer, whether that is enjoying the delights of another country or spending time away from cricket with a hobby or passion that they have elsewhere.
All of this does really start to worry me as we are now starting to see the mental health of some of our best cricketers in Australia really start to be challenged. It is the first generation that is juggling playing all year round, throw in social media criticism and a media presence which has never been so intrusive. Players are followed on to the team bus for documentaries, mic’d up to share their thoughts whilst playing matches and are always expected to be available to talk to the media. It’s no wonder why there are more mental health issues in the game than there ever has been.
Players who are in the Australian cricket pathways, even from a first-class level, hardly have an off-season. One example and his name I won’t reveal, who is on the fringe of a first class team, had a crazily busy off-season, with a month camp up in Brisbane at the National Cricket Academy, then a month tour of India to get used to playing in the conditions in India. And then he went into pre-season training and games in the lead up to the proper season starting. This is a constant pattern with all of the first-class cricketers around Australia. Yes, no question that there needs to be a lot of hard work done to continue to develop your skills and fitness to be the best version of yourself and that does take a truckload of hours.
But does a player need to be mentally and physically fatigued going into every season that they play as this is the norm now. And for me this is where the word ‘Hyper-Professionalism’ comes from. These young cricketers, because of the amount the game can afford to pay these players nowadays, they are expected to only have 6 weeks off a year, start pre-season at the end of May and then train every day apart from maybe a Sunday off.
Compulsory Life Skills
For me, a professional first-class cricketer should have all of the time that they need every pre-season to do all of the fitness that they need to continue to evolve their physical abilities as well as have all of the time in the world to evolve their cricket skills, which of course is the most important part of being a cricketer. Then my belief is that this should be combined with the downtime needed to refresh and regenerate as well as there being time for compulsory life after cricket skill development. For me this entails either study, work experience, building their own business or whatever their life after cricket potentially looks like. This means that we as a sport equip our current and future generations with the skills outside of their cricket to take on the transition into their next phase of their life in the most seamless way possible.
I totally get it that for the guys who are playing for Australia, the playing and touring schedule can be incredibly hectic and the little downtime that you do have has to be spent refreshing and regenerating. But I truly believe that even for these guys, there is a balance somewhere there where some of the token training sessions that the team has, because that has always been the lead up to a Test Match for example, these days off can be utilised to assist the players to start on the journey of life after cricket, again, so that the transition into life after playing cricket is as seamless as possible.
The Microsoft Effect - Less time working, more productivity
In the end, if this is compulsory across all of the states and countries then there is no competitive advantage to anyone for putting all of their eggs in the cricket basket every second of the day. And I believe that we will be surprised how good our cricketers turn out to be as they will be much more efficient and effective at training with their skill development as well as seeing the next generation seamlessly transition into the next phase of their life with a lot less stress and worry around what the hell they are going to do once playing is done!!!!
I really feel that this is our duty of care for all cricketers to provide this foundation for life, just as the college system in the US seems to do, to ensure that we have successful and content cricketers no matter what phase of their life and career that they are in.