Conceptual model illustrating a set of views about the current state of mental health awareness and related initiatives in the cricket community.

Mental health within sports, such as cricket, is becoming an increasingly common topic of conversation.

The importance of addressing mental health within the sporting arena has become evident from the number of professionals over recent years who have spoken about their own difficulties. Many of those speaking out have been hugely successful in the game, and are often household names, as well as prominent role models, especially for young people. Sarah Taylor, for example, was interviewed about her experience of an anxiety disorder when she took a break from the game before returning to contribute to a successful and record-breaking World Cup campaign. Another role model who has spoken about mental health difficulties, including depression and alcohol misuse, is Andrew Flintoff. He also recently explored his experience of an eating disorder as part of a BBC documentary.

These influential role models are demonstrating ‘it’s not weak to speak’, the motto of Opening Up Cricket, helping people to start having vital conversations about mental health and giving them the confidence to do so.

There is research which shows how working on wellbeing within cricket can effectively bring about change, for example in understanding and controlling emotions (1) and building self-efficacy, your belief that you can succeed in a situation (2). However, whilst some of this research has had positive effects on how mental health is approached at the elite level of the sport, so far little of this research appears to have been disseminated and applied to other, wider levels of the game.

Cricket has a high level of participation in the UK, from grassroots upwards (3), making it a great platform to involve the wider community in raising awareness and understanding of mental health. And using sports such as cricket to promote wellbeing is reportedly viewed positively (4;5).

So, the question is: if cricket is a useful and appropriate platform to promote mental health, why isn’t more being done?

Method

The research project aimed to find out what initiatives and methods are currently being used to promote mental health in the cricket community, as well as the current attitudes and barriers towards progress.

Interviews were carried out with 10 individuals who had involvement in cricket, in playing, coaching and/or leadership positions, from a range of levels of the game, including schools, clubs and semi-professional.

Findings

Analysis of the interview content led to the creation of a conceptual model (shown above) presenting the findings of the research. The key findings were:

  1. Some progress has been made in recent years, but improvements to the face of mental health within cricket are still needed.
  2. There is a distinct lack of established and structured mental health initiatives in cricket. As a result, people and groups approach this in a wide variety of ways, including sharing resources, practices involving self-reflection, and indirectly through physical training.
  3. There are a number of barriers which are preventing positive change, including having little support from others or a lack of knowledge, and having to prioritise other things. The challenge of stigma, in particular toxic masculinity, was also identified.

Final thoughts

  • The research project has identified a number of ways those in the cricket community are working to improve understanding and awareness of mental health.
  • A number of barriers to change continue to exist.
  • The findings of the study provide a direction for future research into mental health initiatives in the wider cricket community.

Emily Wilson

References

  1. Turner, M.J. (2016). Rational emotive behaviour therapy (REBT), irrational and rational beliefs, and the mental health of athletes. Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 1423. https://dx.doi.org/10.3389%2Ffpsyg.2016.01423
  2. Barker, J., & Slater, M. (2015). It’s not just cricket. The Psychologist, 28, 552–557. Retrieved from: https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-28/july-2015/its-not-just-cricket
  3. Lange, D. (2020, Nov 16). Cricket participation England 2016–2020. Retrieved from: https://www.statista.com/statistics/899199/cricket-participation-uk/
  4. Swann, C.F., Telenta, J., Draper, G., Liddle, S., Fogarty, A., Hurley, D., & Vella, S.A. (2018). Youth sport as context for supporting mental health: adolescent male perspectives. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 35, 55–64. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychsport.2017.11.008
  5. Hurley, D., Swann, C., Allen, M.S., Okely, A.D. & Vella, S.A. (2017). The role of community sports clubs in adolescent mental health: the perspectives of adolescent males’ parents. Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health, 9(3), 372–388. https://doi.org/10.1080/2159676X.2016.1275751