Middlesex's Robbie White draws on Sigmund Freud in navigating mental battles
ECB Reporters Network
Not everyone can draw on the wisdom of Sigmund Freud to help them navigate the mental battles of elite sport – but Middlesex’s Robbie White is one such cricketer.
The Ealing-born wicketkeeper-batsman combined a degree in psychology at Loughborough University with coming through the ranks at Lord’s.
In a week when Ben Stokes stepped out of cricket for an indefinite period and US gymnast Simone Biles withdrew from the defence of her all-round title at the Tokyo Olympics, both citing mental health reasons, White understands the psychological pressures the sporting arena presents.
The 25-year-old’s studies underlined the importance of not defining yourself by every success or failure – a tough challenge in a performance-based industry.
“It's scary to think about Freudian wisdom and cricket isn’t it?” he says, “but cricket is so psychological really. We all have experiences of ups and downs, difficult periods, so dealing with the mental side of it is hugely important.
“With cricket it’s about trying to stay consistent and level, particularly as a batsman when you are in a low run of form, or if you are playing really well. It’s easy to get really high or low emotionally. The ability to have perspective, to be calm and consistent, has positive effects on your performance.”
Over the last 17 months Covid-19 has cast its shadow, meaning pressures have been external as well as on-field related.
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Lockdowns, quarantining and ‘bubbles’ have had a massive impact, with White suggesting that first not playing, and then playing amid restrictions, challenged his and others’ sense of identity.
“Sometimes you feel a little bit insignificant compared to what other people such as those in the health service are going through, or those losing family and loved ones,” he said.
“But as athletes and competitors, it has been difficult, especially at the start of last summer, not being able to do what is essentially our job.
“It was a real challenge for us to adapt and a huge learning curve in terms of how to manage our time and move forward when not doing the things we were normally accustomed to doing.”
Thankfully, with restrictions now lifting, White has returned to the challenge of trying to establish himself in Middlesex’s misfiring batting order.
Early-season signs were good with four half-centuries, including a 92, suggesting his maiden first-class century was close at hand, but a dip followed, form only returning recently with scores of 47 and 55 in his first two Royal London Cup innings.
White is philosophical about ups and downs in search of personal milestones. “Things like a maiden first-class hundred would be nice additional touches, but what’s more important is the performances you’re putting in, the consistency of those performances and doing the job you’re picked to do,” he added.
“Hopefully the hundred comes sooner rather than later, but in general I’m more concerned about the the job I’m doing in a given game to try to help us win."
Victories, though, have been hard to come by, with Sunday’s Royal London Cup win over Worcestershire only Middlesex’s seventh in 28 matches across all formats this season.
One of Freud’s most famous quotes was: “One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful.” It’s a philosophy White the student understands, but he’d prefer to see the years of struggle foreshortened and the Seaxes contending for silverware again.
“No-one’s under any illusions, the last couple of years in particular haven’t been good enough and we’re not where we want to be,” he said. “And it’s not an acceptable excuse to say we’re young or in transition. We all know we need to be better and start turning the tide on results.
“We’ve a great group of young guys who see a way forward that’s really positive and an exciting opportunity. The future in a few years’ time is to be back competing for trophies and winning more games than we’re losing.”