One of the most significant differences between this year’s ICC Men’s T20 World Cup and tournaments in the past that Scotland have played in, is the managed environment that is in place to protect the teams from COVID-19. In anticipation of the challenges that living with COVID restrictions would place on the team, the Scotland team has travelled to Oman and the UAE with a well-being manager to support the team.
Louise Finlayson started working with the Scotland men’s team around three years ago providing a mix of support around team dynamics, leadership and team identity as well as supporting individual players with mental skills and wellbeing, something which can be a challenge when balancing life and a cricket career. But work around this tour has also included how to approach living in a managed environment, previously referred to as a bubble, for up to two months.
“The main challenge, particularly for the guys that are used to touring, is being able to get out of the hotel and get away from the cricket environment and to have that complete break. Having the choice of where they can go and what they can do. We are all around each other more than we would normally be living in the managed environment,” she explained.
“To prepare we did a couple of things. I spoke to everyone in the squad individually and went through what they were looking forward to, what challenges they could foresee, given the environment they’re going into. What did they want to get from the tour? What are the opportunities to learn? We sent a survey to everyone with a few questions. What would help make the environment the best we can given the constraints that we have? What would they want in a team room for example? Things that will keep them going so we could see what was available and work around what the guys had specifically asked for. Where possible we’ve tried to meet those requests.”
With all that preparation, the management team have created an environment within the hotel that provides the players with opportunities to spend time together but also get time away.
“A lot of it is the obvious stuff like a projector for watching other sport in the team room and quiz nights. We’ve got a dart board in there, we’ve got board games that people have got quite involved in and so there are always people around and that’s created a bit of a supportive, cohesive environment partly because people can’t go anywhere else. We did ask about specific foods they might miss, so we’ve got the odd treat with us to hand out every so often. A lot of the requests were around the space, so making sure that while we’ve got a team room, and where possible quiet space for guys to go and chill out. It’s getting the balance right between doing stuff together and giving people time away, so people don’t feel like they have got to be there for everything.”
Another tool being used to support both players and support staff during this time is ART Health Solutions’ One Wellbeing app which has proved popular with the players.
“The app asks a series of questions around how they’re feeling today on a 1-10 scale. The questions are about their happiness, stress, readiness to perform and desirability of the environment that they’re in. So, the app gathers all that data and gives them three cognitive tasks to complete, which are three short game-type activities to do which measure things like decision making, distractibility and focus. For some of them it has been quite fun because they’ve got quite competitive over it. If they have a smart watch, they can also connect that to it to measure sleep and physical activity.
Every week, they’ll get an individual report back which will show how their scores compared to the week before, and looks at their thinking scores, how they’re feeling and their activity scores and gives a brief explanation or a tip that might help them. We’ve timed that so that they don’t get it too close to a game.
“Every week I get an average across the group so it shows where we’re sitting against all of those markers and would highlight any areas that were particularly low or identified as a red flag. We’ve not had any of them thankfully. But it also breaks it down throughout the week so we can see how they might feel after a game, where in the week their peaks are, where things might drop. It’s given us a benchmark going forward. I share those scores in the management meeting and we can think how we manage that as a group.”
Even with new innovations, a big part of Louise’s job remains her face-to-face interactions with the players.
“Part of my role is making sure that the wellbeing side of it and the mental health support is in place and that they’re aware of what to look for in each other and in themselves and to recognise when they’re feeling a bit off, and making sure they are aware of what is available to them through Support Within Sport. So, the guys know they have a confidential space where they can come and talk about anything knowing that it won’t go back to the coaching staff.
All the conversations I have with players are confidential, but obviously I get a lot of themes back about how people are generally, the feedback around things that are happening so I can feed that back into the management group, and we can think about how we support the players best. But also, I’m there for staff as and when they need an objective sounding board.”
She says that she’s seen a big shift in the way the team has approached mental challenges in the last couple of years and has been particularly impressed with how those have been dealt with in recent weeks.
“I’ve seen a massive shift in this team. It’s been a strange 18 months not having a huge amount of cricket and everyone going through the same sort of thigs around the pandemic. What I’ve noticed when I think back to when I first started working with the team is a maturity that has developed throughout the squad, it’s a supportive environment, they know each other well and they support each other well. I can feel a real focus and belief in what they can achieve.
“We’ve talked a lot about shifting the underdog mentality and to recognise that they deserve to be here and that they’re on a level with other teams.
“I’ve been massively impressed with how the guys have handled the heat here. Part of that is how they’ve physically prepped for it, but it’s also just how they’ve accepted it. We had some conversations around the language that we’re using because it comes back to controlling what we can control. We can’t do anything about the temperature and just talking about how hot it is won’t help us. Let’s focus on what we can control. As a group it’s been great seeing those who aren’t on the field supporting those who have been on the field, making sure that as soon as they come off, they’ve got ice vests, drinks, The guys running the boundaries have made an exceptional effort in supporting everyone and that’s been important to getting through the tougher days.
“People who haven’t necessarily spent a lot of time with this group have said that they’ve never seen so many people use the team room and spend time together as a team. I think what the managed environment has done is that it has created that space for guys to spend that time together away from cricket.”