Glamorgan’s players are in full fitness mode ahead of the start of the new cricket season in less than three months. But with so much recent focus on mental health in sport, head coach Matthew Maynard tells Graham Thomas why recent moves by the Professional Cricketers Association have never been more vital.
Matthew Maynard believes cricket has moved a long way towards a better understanding about mental health among players.
The former England batsman is preparing for his first season in charge of Glamorgan, having recently been confirmed as the county’s permanent head coach after his caretaker spell last year.
It’s a return to the role he occupied for three seasons from 2008, but the sport, the county, and the coach are all much-changed from a decade ago.
With the game’s exposure, through lucrative new tournaments, expanding, the fight for playing contracts has never been more intense, the schedules never more demanding, or the battle for relevance among teams more cut-throat.
And Maynard himself says he is a very different man to the one before 2012, the year his son Tom died in an accident on the London Underground.
Tom was 23 and appeared well on course for a burgeoning cricket career with Surrey and England that may even have eclipsed the achievements of his father. Instead, his family had to deal with the shock and trauma of his sudden loss.
The seven years since have altered Maynard’s outlook on life, on cricket, and the issues that affect those who play the game.
“Personal well-being is hugely important,” says the coach who also had a successful spell in charge at Somerset.
“Everyone goes through times that are difficult – whether it is bereavement or new-borns, divorce or whatever. All these things can have an effect on performance.
“We are blessed with having a Professional Cricketers Association (PCA) who are extremely keen on ensuring personal welfare. They have everything in place to help players.
“It’s then trying to read signals to be able implement those programmes. If a guy is 100mph normally and then he’s quiet for a few days – and it’s not related directly to form – then you try and have a chat with them.
“The players need to know there is a support network there. Quite often they won’t talk to the coach first. They might go to a teammate or a physio. You need a staff that can share information confidentially and then you can offer players the best help you can.
“In the past, people were just expected to get on with it. That was the way it was.”
Cricket has long been a sport that appeared to trigger issues with mental health. Not only are there long periods away from home and family, but the nature of the sport itself – with knife-edge individual success and failure wrapped inside a team format – seems to lend itself to introspection.
In recent times, Australian Test star Glenn Maxwell, India captain Virat Kohli, Sarah Taylor of England and former stars Freddie Flintoff, Jonathan Trott and Marcus Trescothick have all spoken about their stresses and anxieties.
The PCA offers a confidential helpline to all members and has a Mind Matters programme for help and education of players.
Maynard coached Trescothick at Somerset and also toured with him during the coach’s time within the England set-up.
“When I was with England, prior to losing Tom, there was the case with Marcus Trescothick in both India and Australia.
“So, I was aware of how being away can affect players, in his case – the travel and being away from his family.
“But it probably wasn’t until I worked with him closely at Somerset that I was able to see how deeply and seriously it affected him. There was a time when I was there, when he needed some help and we got it.”
Maynard’s own experience, he says, has had an influence on how he views his relationship with players.
Added to that, he acknowledges, is a much wider awareness of the link between good emotional health and sporting performance.
“There are certain aspects of me that are very similar to the person I was, but there are other aspects of me that have changed fairly dramatically.
“Life experience changes you as a person, but the hunger to try and improve players is still the same and what I believe about team discipline is still the same.
“I think I know what makes players tick more, than I did back in the day. We profiled players last season, which was a first and really interesting. But you also learn how to treat people, how to talk with people, and how interactions achieve success, as you mature.
“Anyone who has lost a child will tell you, your whole being changes. You never got over it. You learn how to carry on living with it and that means it changes you.
“I think it goes for anyone who has been in that horrible position. But you can’t stagnate, either. You still have other family to look after, you still have bills to pay and a life to lead.
“You cope. I guess the one thing I was lucky with was that my father always taught me that sport is entertainment. It’s never been a job to me. It never felt like a job as a player.
“When something bad happens, you take a fresh perspective. I needed to work, but I knew I would be able to enjoy my work because I have always enjoyed being in cricket.
“I have days which are not as good as others, but I try not to show that to the players – I have others for support – I don’t want them to feel any more anxious.
“And you need humour. That’s vital.”