Nick Matthew column: The power of positive support is immense

Alastair Cook needed support to stay strong as England skipper
Alastair Cook needed support to stay strong as England skipper

I’ve used sports psychologist Dr Mark Bawden on and off for 10 years.

When I had my shoulder operation in 2008, Mark helped me bounce back from that setback.

Mark’s does a lot of work with the England cricket captain Alastair Cook and the other guys in the team. When England won the Ashes last year and were top of the world, everyone wanted a piece of Mark. People asked him to release a book but he chose to remain quiet and stay behind the scenes.

He was flavour of the month and then all of a sudden the team started to lose and Mark went from being the best psychologist in the world to being the worst in six months.

It’s a tough job being a psychologist. I recently spoke to former England fast bowler Steve Harmison and he said one year he spent 300 nights in hotels either in England or abroad. It is no wonder people in the sport struggle with depression. You have to spend a lot of time away from home in cricket.

The schedule is so intense. England played a two-Test series with Sri Lanka followed by five Tests with India and have now gone straight into the One-Day Series ahead of the World Cup. Some guys, such as Sheffield’s Joe Root, play in all three formats of the game so it’s pretty hard going. You need a team of psychologists, never mind one!

As good as Mark and other psychologists are out there, the best psychologist is sometimes the one you’ve got at home. I felt for Cook when he went through all that pressure in the summer.

Commentators kept calling for him to step down and he snapped at one point when Shane Warne questioned his position. I thought Warne went too far with his criticism and Alastair will probably regret snapping but that’s what happens sometimes.

People treat sport like it’s life and death. My wife Esme reminds me from time to time when I get too serious that all I do is hit a ball against a wall for a living. Cyclists go around a track. Cricketers hit a ball with a wooden bat. We are not curing cancer.

Cook did really well to survive that tough period in the summer. It was his wife who gave him a bit of good advice and encouraged him to carry on. It just shows that behind every successful sportsman there is a psychologist and that’s not just at work but at home.

Cook knows he’s not out of the woods yet. He will want to get that century and get his form back to what it was a year or so ago but he’s obviously got a great support network.

When I had my knee injury in the build up to the Commonwealth Games, that really rammed home how much support I’ve got from my family, my wife and friends. It’s in the bad times where you are made to appreciate it.