John Simpson: ‘It’s not just about catching a ball! Mental routine is just as important’

John Simpson

John Simpson is a top-class English cricketer, widely regarded as one of the best glove-men in the country with approaching 7,000 first-class runs to his name. He’s appeared for Middlesex Cricket 386 times, making almost 11,000 runs for the Club. He leads the way in T20 cricket with more dismissals than any other wicket-keeper and recently made his first appearance on the international stage, playing in all three England One Day Internationals against Pakistan. Currently he represents the Northern Superchargers in The Hundred, a new ECB competition.

Cricket should be enjoyed – including the challenges

I caught up with John after a Lord’s coaching event for junior cricketers and talked to him about his career. I began by asking him about his work with youngsters. He said, “I’m proud to have been a Lord’s Taverners Ambassador for the last 9 years. It’s a really powerful thing to see kids, especially from disadvantaged backgrounds, having an opportunity to play the game and see the smile on their faces. Being coached at Lord’s is something they will never forget”. “What advice would you give youngsters?” “Cricket should be enjoyed and that includes embracing challenges. Get a good team around you, don’t be insular. When times are tough, you know who your mates are”.

I then asked, “How did you get into cricket in the first place?“ Simpson: “I was picked for an under-19s trip to India aged 15 and signed my first professional contract with Lancashire soon after, so that gave me the taste for a career in cricket. I joined Middlesex Young Cricketers and got my first professional contract with them in 2008. It helped having a sporting family – my father was a talented sportsman and his drive and determination inspired me to achieve my goals”.

The ball’s not going to get past you…

Was John mentored along the way, I asked? John: “I was a starry-eyed kid and was incredibly lucky to be at the Lancashire Academy alongside the likes of Warren Hegg, Andrew Flintoff and James Anderson. I also worked with Alan Gilchrist and Ian Healy on the batting side. Warren took me under his wing and I worked closely with Jack Russell for 6 years. Jack taught me that the mental side is every bit as important as catching a ball – imagine you’re in a dog fight and have to get the ball, it’s not going to get past you; that takes serious mental energy.” Me: “What lessons did you learn?” John: “These guys are heroes. Having good people around you really helps. You get good honest feedback, which stands you in good stead when the chips are down. I was dropped in the 2012 season, after being on the cusp of something good, so you step back at such times and think how you’re going to move forward”. John continued, “You need to keep learning mentally and work on things away from the game, maybe get things off your chest over coffee with a psychologist or someone who understands”.

Keep improving, maximise what you have

Me: “What about the pressure, especially playing in international cricket?” John replied, “That’s the biggest thing when you’re playing in front of thousands. Going up to audiences of 35,000-plus people is quite a jump. Playing at Lord’s gives you a good grounding: stay in the present, focus on the ball, keep improving and working hard. That’s what you play for. When you get a taste for international cricket, it does make you want more”.

“What about the future?” I asked. “There will still be lots of challenges. Having reached one peak, think how you’re going to reach the next. I’ve almost completed doing a sports and business degree, and I’m interested in sports management. I enjoy working with players, maximising what they have, looking at nutrition and physio, helping with their finances and post-career development. The PCA do a good job – you need to think about it 5 years ahead of retirement. Giving people time is what counts. You never know when you might need their help or advice”.

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