By Olivia Rae
I slept maybe an hour at best the night before the Surrey game. I wasn’t sure if I could play. And that is where for the second time in 2020 I had to dig deep inside. My purpose was to help others and, in cricket, was to help the team.
I have been doing a lot of self reflecting since March last year. As the world was shaken by the global pandemic, we all found ourselves pressing pause on a lot of what we used to perceive as normality. I had spent 6 months focussing solely on my game. Coaching had taken a back seat, Rae Cricket Coaching became more of a platform to share ideas, and I was only doing a small amount of practical delivery. I earned money working in the cricket shop at Lords and used my breaks to face the bowling machine or go to the gym. I invested in a PT, spent a lot of my savings and I was giving it all I could. I was chasing the childhood dream of becoming a professional cricketer.
I probably could not have written that last sentence even 3 months ago without a sinking feeling in my stomach and triggering feelings of anxiety. We all are in the same storm, but different boats, and what unravelled for me persoanlly after March 2020 was a huge period of self discovery. More than ever, I began to focus on my why. My purpose.
The gyms and nets had closed. All the strategies I had worked on to help me thrive were actually taken away in an instance. Going to the gym, cricket training, team sports, going to the cinema to unwind- I thought they were all I needed to remain happy. When we went into lockdown I believed I did not have any strategies to cope. Yet what initially felt like one of the worst things that could happen, actually became one of the best things that could happen. Without the external strategies I had developed I had to find something inside of me, something that I could control and would always be there. And I’m calling that purpose.
Playing cricket professionally is a dream but it’s not a purpose. I think this was one of my biggest realisations and led to one of my greatest transformations. At 31 I worked the hardest at my game but it was not that which led to what I believe to be my greatest ever season.
During the first week of lockdown I was lost, I could not find joy in things. I allowed the uncertainty of everything to make me feel helpless. They say you grow the most through challenge and it is true. I dug deep, I looked within and I decided I need to focus on what I can do and to help others. I wanted to spread kindness, positivity and hope, and to use my struggles with mental health to support others with theirs. I offered my services as a mental health first aider, I made content for Rae Cricket Coaching, I signed up to be an NHS Responder, I formed a team of amazing people and we took part in charity challenges (I ran more miles than I ever have in my life). This was the first stage to finding my purpose and at this point it may have felt clear but it was to become more clear.
Playing cricket was still the dream. Yet lockdown meant the opportunity to prove myself on the pitch was fading as the season was getting cut shorter and shorter. The ECB County Championship had been postponed. I really wanted to play Regional Cricket. I had worked for it yet I had not shown how that work could translate onto the pitch. I believed I could perform and I wanted so badly to go out and show what I could do. As restrictions eased and as soon as we could go outside to train, I went to the nets, found people to train with and took every opportunity. People were kind. Finchley Cricket Club and Spencer Cricket Club opened their doors to me when I wasn’t even a member.
Soon enough cricket was back, it was happening. I had lost a lot of the strength I had gained during winter but I had been running and hitting a lot of balls. On reflection at this point I was diverting back to the external strategies for finding my motivation and reason for doing things. I was getting so much energy from cricket again. My days became about training and my thoughts were focussed on the dream again. I started to lose grip on the sense of purpose I had started to build.
Playing for Middlesex in 2020 was always going to be an opportunity in my head. I believed that if I could perform for County I would get selected into a regional team. The first game was against Surrey at The Oval and I had a performance break down. I thought I was confident but I got caught up in the moment and started to think about the outcome. Before every ball I was thinking that I needed to score runs in certain areas and in certain ways, I did not do what I always did and just say “watch the ball’ before every delivery. I struggled to score and then I got out LBW.
Andrew Strauss said recently on a ECB conference that some of the most successful players learn quickly. I think this is something I improved on this summer more than ever. After that first game, I realised what happened and I went back to club cricket, just batting and telling myself to watch the ball. I was feeling confident again and I wanted to go out and play every game as if it was my last.
The next Middlesex game was against Essex and I had a call from the coach the day before to tell me I was going down the batting order because they wanted an experienced player at 6 in case we lost early wickets. I’ll be honest I wanted to bat 4. The morning of the game I woke up and said to myself, if I bat I am going to get at least 50 today. I really believed I could, and that day I scored my maiden 50 for Middlesex. We were under pressure losing some of our best batters early on and I was so up for going out and doing my job for the team.
Next game was against Surrey and I was determined to do a better job than I did at the Oval. This game was career defining for me. It will not go down in history books and it is unlikely to be remembered by anyone else in the way that I see it. In fact, it didn’t even constitute a game. It rained in the second innings 1 over short of it being a game.
The night before the Surrey game I received a piece of feedback from a coach which crippled me inside. I was told I wasn’t going to make Regionals because there was a belief I could not cope mentally at that level. It was so far from what I believed to be true and I felt so let down, demoralised and broken. I knew how confident I felt and how much I’d overcome since that first week in March. It was completely unexpected and it completely threw me.
I slept maybe an hour at best the night before the Surrey game. I wasn’t sure if I could play. And that is where for the second time in 2020 I had to dig deep inside. My purpose was to help others and, in cricket, was to help the team. I had to go. I wasn’t feeling well at all, I was feeling anxious from the moment I arrived at the ground. In the warm up things seemed blurry, I could not really focus on the ball until it came close and I was feeling disorientated. I went into the toilets before our batting innings and just worked on controlling my breathing. I was in at 6 and my role was the same. To add experience if we lose early wickets.
I do believe everything happens for a reason. As a team we found ourselves in the same situation as against Essex, losing 4 early wickets and I was suddenly walking out to bat. As I faced the first few overs I was giving everything I could to control my breathing and just watch the ball. I was not going to get out and despite all I was feeling, I kept focussing on doing what I needed to do to help the team. I got another 50, I got out to a decent catch to a poorly executed shot as I tried to increase the momentum. Id given literally everything. We needed to bowl 10 overs at Surrey and there was thunder and lightening and heavy rain at 9 overs. I got driven home after the game and I couldn’t lift my head up the whole journey my head hurt so much, I was exhausted. That was my last game for Middlesex and although I couldn’t lift my head up on the way home, my head is held high now.
The shortest cricket season but the greatest learning. I knew if I could perform in that game with all that I was feeling, I could do anything. I could cope at the next level if I got selected but importantly I could also cope if I didn’t. I could cope if someone told me I couldn’t. The opinions of others do not define you. Your character does. I will continue do be driven by my purpose to help others, to be kind, all with the knowledge that when everything is taken away there’s still a reason to go on.
Someone recently told me that confidence is having the belief that whatever comes your way, you can handle it. To come back from believing there wasn’t much life left in me to finding my purpose has transformed me. I’m motivated to help others realise their potential. To help them find their purpose and their confidence, and to believe in their individual skills and individual character. To believe in themselves and to be themselves.