Breaking into a professional sports team

Most people would acknowledge that professional sports are stressful, with cricket particularly seeming to be a hotbed for causing mental health problems. The pressure of expectations and constant scrutiny, by oneself, teammates, coaches, fans, commentators and the wider public weighs on the shoulders of even the best performers.

As I begin my professional career, although I’ve not yet had to face much serious scrutiny, I have had to get used to experiencing the uncertainty of whether one will be picked to play or not, the natural ups and downs of the team winning and losing , personal good vs poor performances, and being judged every time I play. Furthermore, there is a constant uncertainty involved in breaking into a professional sports team because you never know when you might get an opportunity. You have to take someone else’s place in the side, which may come because of their injury or lack of form, or if you are lucky, because you have performed well enough to displace them. Many factors that may have an impact on your performance aren’t under your control, including the opposition’s form, the pitch and weather conditions, so you face an extra mental challenge to try and focus only on the things within your control, putting other factors on one side and showing off your skills.

Certainly having a stable support network, from a professional setup that will guarantee you opportunities and facilities to develop makes it easier to transition into a first team environment, but often when you get a chance senior players and coaches will look out for a young player having ‘something about them’ – some confidence, character or personality trait, that gives the impression that they’ve got what it takes to succeed. This varies from person to person, but an unvarying requirement expected from any professional is committing to taking honest feedback, wanting to improve and maintaining a solid work ethic.

As a young sportsperson it can be easy to overthink short term successes or failures too much, believing one performance means you’ve made it or one failure is the end of the world. More experienced players tend to be better at maintaining some perspective; recognising that performance on the field does not determine your worth as an individual, and that a sports career can only form a short part of a fulfilling life. It is important to find other ambitions to pursue, because so few players ever earn enough to retire and not work again. Personally, I hope to continue acquiring further qualifications while I play to set me up for a later life career outside cricket.

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Abidine Sakande Written by:

Abi Sakande was educated at Oxford University, and, having played for England at Under 17 level, has just won a two year contract at Sussex CCC.