SA cricket team dealing with a self-fulfilling prophecy

I am presently in Switzerland visiting my son. The Tour de Suisse cycling is entering its last stage, the World Championship inline skating is happening in Zurich and the final of the 20 over cricket World Cup is going to be played at Lords, London. The tournament favourites South Africa, have returned home having lost to Pakistan in the semi-final with the label of ‘chokers’ further entrenched in the minds of those who play or follow cricket.

Tour de Suisse – Start of stage 5

One of the concepts that come from new paradigm quantum psychology is that we are co-creators of our reality. What we believe, think or say, for example, plays a part in determining or shaping the nature of our experiences. One cannot separate the observer from the observed. The fundamental tenet of energy and information flow is that there is a resonance between the internal world of a person (thoughts, feelings, assumptions) and the external experience that unfolds.

The first thing to understand about the self-fulfilling prophecy is that it is ‘self-fulfilling’. But this ‘self-fulfilling’ can never be consciously acknowledged by those trapped in the prophecy since it points to them contributing to the very trap that they are encountering. This would be tantamount to ‘owning up’ to being part of the problem. Paradoxically, this denial is what sustains the prophecy. Through denial, one can keep the problem external to oneself and possibly blame life for being unfair.

The self-fulfilling prophecy also needs an observer to ensure that the reality is commented on. This reminds me of a story of a mother who came to see me because of her 6-year-old son who she thought was clumsy – he had ‘no co-ordination’. Her major complaint was that he always messed things, even if he was reminded to be ‘careful and not spill’ while carrying the glass of water from point A to point B. The self-fulfilling prophecy needs an external voice to consciously remind the person of the label. The nature of this voice can vary. It may be benevolent, could be protective, but usually has a paradoxical prescriptive element to it that feels it has the power to predict the future.

To understand the information flow in the self-fulfilling prophecy dynamic between participant (SA team) and observer (opposition, media, public), one needs to examine some specifics. In a pre-match semi-final interview, for example, the SA cricket coach made a statement such as ‘we aren’t scared of losing’. As we know, comments are made in reaction to questions being asked and are embedded in an interpersonal context where ideas are being exchanged. In order to gauge the informational and energetic flow around this comment, however, it needs to be put into a context of historical meaning. Let’s open up some of the informational and energetic components of such a statement, to highlight the complexity of possible meanings and interpretations. Firstly, it is making a comment about the history of the performance of SA teams in past tournaments. It may be attempting to address and neutralize the ‘choker’ label that the team is trying to deal with. It may be mentioning the fear of failure that actually exists in the team as it moves closer to winning a tournament, by denying that such a fear actually exists. It may point to bravado in the team that then attempts to cover up this fear of failure. It may act as a means of ‘self protection’ against the possibility of future emotional pain of losing.

Other statements such as ‘South Africa look to shake chokers’ tag’ given in an pre-match interview by the team’s sports psychologist, or ‘the feeling is different in this team’, by a senior player, or  ‘we are not chokers, insists captain Smith’ in a post-match interview, all add to the team’s attempt to untangle itself from the strangulation of the choker label. Inadvertently, all of these statements fuel and cement the potentiality of the reality of further choking to occur in the future. It was interesting to note from the interview with the team’s psychologist that he attempted to change the ‘choker’ tag of the team, to one of the bowlers ‘strangling’ the opposition (due to how well the bowlers were performing).

Once the self-fulfilling prophecy has been created, even ‘no talking’ will not help to break the strangulation. This is a further paradox. So team management are caught in a bind – damned if you do, damned if you don’t. It is as if everybody ‘knows’, even if it is not spoken about. The opposition knows, the media knows, the public knows, the administration knows and the players themselves know.

Another phenomenon of the self-fulfilling prophecy is that of its ‘quick sand’ characteristic. Once you are caught in it, any attempt to escape it actually further cements its strangulation. Any attempt to move out of the label actually intensifies its hold over you. It freezes you, and prevents creativity from emerging in one’s thinking and in performance.

A self-fulfilling prophecy takes time to unfold. With each tournament loss, the power of the vortex of the prophecy intensifies. At the next tournament the label is activated again – but with more vigour. There is no escape. It is relentless. Even though management may change or the composition of the team may change this does not matter since the self-fulfilling prophecy operates on the level of the ‘collective unconscious’ of the psyche of the SA cricket system – past, present and future. Anyone past, present or future associated with the team in whatever way, are all unknowingly or knowingly contributing to the prophecy.

The only way to break this self-fulfilling prophecy is for the team to win two consecutive tournaments (winning one tournament would not be able to break the pattern that exists and would probably be considered to be a fluke). The actual reality of winning is the only way to break the strangulation of the label of chokers. This is how reality is able to defeat perception and expectancy, and also redefine the experience. And therein lies the paradox since I contend that this self-fulfilling prophecy has at its core the obsession/desperation to win and to prove to the world that ‘we are good enough and worthy’. I sense that there is an underlying inferiority complex that is probably fuelling this prophecy.

As mentioned, there is an inter-play between one’s assumptions, thinking and actions and life’s responses to those assumptions, thinking and actions. I believe that life is nothing more than a co-operative mirror that reflects our beliefs, assumptions and thinking back to us. For new learning to occur, one needs to listen to this feedback loop since it provides one with meaningful information about areas of change. It is the destructive repetitive patterns that are the building blocks of the prophecy.

So what is suggested? I believe that the team may find that it has more freedom in future tournament if it aligns itself in its thinking and acting to three simple philosophical principles. Firstly, there ‘are no guarantees’ in life/sport. Secondly, ‘life/sport does not work in straight lines’. Lastly, ‘when you come to write your life/sport story you have half a pen and life (and the opposition) has the other half’. Being mindful of these concepts will help to organise the informational and energy flow of the team in a more constructive way.

I also feel that the team needs to resolve its history (neutralizing the past) so that it can concentrate on the present, to ensure that they can win in the future. How one goes about doing this will be a complex process that needs careful thought by management. The traditional positive motivation and rah-rah that usually occurs in preparing the team to win will not resolve the self-fulfilling prophecy that is being deeply embedded in the psyche of the team and being intensified over time.

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4 thoughts on “SA cricket team dealing with a self-fulfilling prophecy

  1. craig

    Superb writing Ken. My overall feeling that everything is too intense in SA Cricket and even SA Rugby (media – supporters – players – money – hype). SA Soccer is lucky that no one expects too much from them yet but that is going to change. Why have Brazil won so many world cups? Because they play with freedom and expertise. People expect them to play without fear. The All-Blacks play three years without fear and then fear of losing consumes them. One of the big differences in Cricket compared to Soccer and Rugby is that individual contributions in Cricket are much more obvious and impactful than the latter two. Not only is team psychology essential but so to is individual. Every player needs to learn to deal with fear. I loved your explanation about protecting yourself in case you lose. This has been a big one for me in my life. Making subtle excuses or even unconciously staying out of shape so you have an excuse to fall back on. Amazing how many times I have caught myself creating these premptive excuses. As you say acknowledgment of stuff is far better than trying to bury it. Looking forward to more…

  2. Ken Jennings

    I suppose it is natural to want to protect yourself from the harsh criticism that may occur when you have failed or lost a match. One needs to guard against it becoming a ‘self-fulfilling’ pattern. If this occurs, then no expansion in performance is likely to occur.

  3. Lutz

    Ken this really is a fantastic piece. I think that your observations are accurate, well thought through, helpful and insightful.

    I believe that it is so important to be cogniscent of that which we can create, directly or indirectly, good or bad, for ourselves or others, without the need to lift a hand. I am a firm believer in that which you have written, although not a professional sportsmen I have observed these “creations” unfold many times – Whether with me, amongst family, close friends or in the workplace this combination of factors shifts energy. That which unfolds can be both good or bad. I think if we as humans, I, spent more time in the “love domain” and less time in the “fear domain” we, I ,could minimise negative fulfilling prophecies and their undesirable outputs.

    Speaking purely on my behalf, the theory and belief is easy, it is the practical implementation which is tough. It takes incredible self belief and kindness to self, without the need for external feedback to not be impacted by that which our cricket team has felt.

  4. Ken Jennings

    We tend to only think of self-fulfilling prophecies in the negative sense. But as Lutz has mentioned our creations can be good or bad, positive or negative. Once we fully grasp this, we become more conscious of the interplay of our thinking and the comments that others may make about us. Also, there is an interplay between our beliefs of ourselves and the beliefs that others may have of us. I’ll elaborate on this later.

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