- Alex Mills
Tom Lace: My Anxiety in Cricket
Mental Health Awareness Week: Gloucestershire cricketer Tom Lace discusses his experiences of anxiety
Mental Health Awareness Week has
provided me with an opportunity to consider the unique challenges of being a professional cricketer and how this has impacted my mental wellbeing. I've been lucky enough to play professionally over the last six years for three different clubs, and have witnessed first-hand the euphoric highs and devastating lows of the great game. To me, cricket’s always been more than just a sport. It’s been my passion, my identity and a game which has given me the best times of my life, but also a game which made me feel completely isolated.
And it’s not just me that has faced difficulties. Since 2020, Sporting Chance has seen an 11% increase in usage by professional cricketers. Notably, this includes an 83% increase in uptake from the Women’s game during this time (primarily due to a large increase in the number of female professionals). Anxiety accounts for 20% of the cases in cricketers. In comparison with football, the prevalence of PCA members experiencing anxiety is more than double. As the theme of this year's Mental Health Awareness Week is anxiety, I wanted to dive into my understanding of why this may be the case.
Relentless scheduling, time away from loved ones, and immense pressure to perform are all part of the furniture in a cricketer’s day-to-day life. Social media continues to grow exponentially, and players are constantly in the spotlight. Criticism and online abuse are always going to be part of being an elite athlete, but negativity on platforms like Twitter can be hard to avoid and often reinforce existing feelings of insecurity and inadequacy.
With four domestic Men’s competitions, three domestic Women’s competitions and numerous overseas franchise tournaments, there has never been more cricket. Multiple formats of the game creates an intensity quite different to any other sports at the professional level. Between travel days, training days and matches, days away from a cricket ground are few and far between in the season. This intense scheduling starts to compound the difficulty of separating your cricketing life and your personal life.
From a young age, a lot of sacrifices have to be made in order to give yourself the best chance of playing professionally, and very quickly the game becomes a huge part of your identity. Long summers and the ever-changing dynamics of the game can start to blur the line between who we are as people and who we are as cricketers and the weight of performance anxiety can make it feel far more than just a game.
At the point that I reached out to Sporting Chance in 2021, I’d lost any identity outside of cricket and my wellbeing and happiness was completely dependent on what happened out on the pitch. Couple that with a run of low scores and feeling disconnected with your family and friends and before you know it, those feelings of anxiety and self-doubt come creeping in. I distanced myself from everyone around me, trying to tackle it by myself but in reality, it just made it worse. Anxiety is a completely normal feeling but at certain points, I let it control me and it impacted my day to day life both on and off the pitch.
Opening up to my teammates and creating a healthy support network around me through the PCA and Sporting Chance not only provided perspective, but more importantly made me feel like I wasn’t alone. I walked into a Gloucestershire dressing room that already had a huge amount of empathy and openness around mental health, and taking that first step and reaching out, however hard it was, was the best thing I did.
If you are a member of the PCA and need help with your mental health go to www.sportingchanceclinic.com and click ‘get help now’ for more information.