Claire Taylor was entertaining, scintillating and at times brutally raw and honest as she gave her audience a privileged insight into the mind of an elite sportsperson, taking us with her on a rollercoaster of the incredible highs and devastating lows of her playing career, before examining what she has learned from the experience and what we can all take from it.
She began with a spine-tingling recount of her “finest hour” in the sport – rescuing the England team from seemingly certain defeat in the semi-final of the 20:20 world cup against Australia. That, she declared, was the best moment of her playing career, when she was truly in “the zone” and being the very best that she could be. She then explained some of the psychology behind elite performance as understood by expert Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. His described the “zone” as being the point at which a person can exercise their skills, take a healthy amount of risk and feel a sense of challenge. This is contrasted with a state where individuals may feel bored, anxious or apathetic, where they are not being challenged and therefore performance is not inspired.
Claire described how the combination of a very supportive family environment and schooling and her own determination and talent enabled her to break into the England side and also gain a place to study Maths at Oxford in 1994. In 2000, Claire decided that she wanted to be “one of the world’s greatest cricketers” and gave up her job and flat to focus on cricket full time. Years of single-minded commitment led her to the 2005 World Cup but England underperformed and Claire was left devastated by what she felt to be her own personal failure.
After struggling with the aftermath of the World Cup Claire sought help from a counsellor who advised her to seek greater balance in her life. Claire was tying all her self-esteem to the experience of playing cricket and had no sense of self-worth or purpose when she wasn’t performing well in that sphere. Taking this advice Claire began to play the violin once more and began working as a consultant in the education sector. She also began to remember what she had enjoyed about cricket and to consciously leave behind those aspects that were negative. This more balanced approach to life and sport had a remarkably positive effect on Claire’s cricketing and ultimately she was part of the England Team that became double world champions. She was also the first woman to be named as a Wisden Cricketer of the Year.
Claire’s talk held her audience captivated as she led us through her own case study into the difficulties caused by a lack of balance in life and the positives that can come from improving it. It was a privilege to hear and gave us all much food for thought and inspiration.