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Jimmy Anderson: the traits of a champion

July 30, 2015

There is a beer on sale inside Edgbaston named after Jimmy Anderson. Marston’s King of Swing is a pale ale, with an image of England’s finest seamer in celebration mode featured prominently on its label. The noise coming from the Edgbaston crowd yesterday, suggested it was going down rather well, too.

The were celebrating undoubtedly one of the finest displays by an English bowler in an Ashes Test. Anderson’s figures of 6-47 were made all the more significant by his experience in the previous Test at Lords where he failed to take a wicket for the first time in 64 Tests.

Taking a wicket with his eighth delivery, at one stage he took three wickets for three runs in 11 balls, or four for seven runs in 19 balls. Take your pick. It was magnificent bowling from The Burnley Express.

It is Anderson’s birthday today, he is 33. England have a great bowler in Anderson, he is already England’s record wicket taker, but performances like this indicate he could maybe reach 500 wickets – he currently stands on 412. He is now two wickets short of joining the all-time top 10 in Test cricket.

Born in Burnley 30 July 1982, James Anderson was a pupil at St Theodore’s RC High School, and played cricket at Burnley Cricket Club from aged nine, before making his First XI debut at the age of 15. His first representative cricket came at the age of 17 for Lancashire Under 19s. Aged 18, he became a professional with Lancashire.

His career moved quickly, from Burnley Thirds to England in 18 months, making his England debut before his first full season of County cricket. A right-arm swing bowler, Anderson made his international debut at the age of just 20, and he is only the fourth English bowler to take 300 Test wickets. If he stays fit, he will have left every other English Test bowler for dust in terms of games, wickets and bowling statistics.

The art of swinging the ball either way to order is not a straightforward one and nor is there a single method of doing so. Actions vary, from open to closed, but all essentially involve a high arm. Anderson has his characteristic drop of the head. There are fundamentals that are common, of which flexible fingers and a loose wrist action without tension (liken it to playing with a yo-yo), helping to impart the backspin, almost gyroscopic, necessary to maintain the seam upright, are paramount.

Anderson’s technique is unique, in which he caresses the ball, and changes nothing but the pressure he exerts either with his middle finger or index finger. Unless he sends down his wobble-seam, the seam is ramrod straight upright for his away swing and slightly canted for his inswing, the result of hours of experiment and fine-tuning to get it precisely right.

Many people believe Anderson’s on‑field aggression is not a good example for youngsters but I like the fact he gets in the face of opponents and gets grumpy when he gets hit for four. You’ve got to have a presence about you as a champion. It has proved an enduring package, a banker bet for a succession of England captains who have all paid tribute along the way to the man most likely to get them a wicket when they need one most.

‘The Burnley Express’ – one of his nicknames – saw The Ashes of 2010/11 as a high-water mark, taking 24 wickets to become England’s second-highest wicket-taker on an Ashes tour Down Under, behind the legendary Frank Tyson. He has cited the ambition of topping 500 when questioned in recent times about his longevity.

He holds a number of impressive statistics:

  • Career-best figures of seven for 43 against New Zealand in 2008.
  • Secured a place on the famous Lord’s honours board on Test debut, taking 5-73 against Zimbabwe.
  • Taken five wickets in an innings on 17 occasions.
  • In his first 99 Tests, Anderson averages a wicket every 58.1 balls.
  • His stand of 198 with Joe Root against India at Trent Bridge in 2014 is the highest-ever 10th-wicket partnership in Test history.
  • Went 57 innings before registering his first duck, an England record

Who’d have thought that a bloke from Burnley would be setting his sights on 500 Test wickets? He’s shown commitment, hard work, strength of character and self-belief throughout his career. It is a pleasure to watch Anderson the craftsman. He is the 13th England player and only the second fast bowler after Botham to play 100 Tests. At 33, Anderson is probably coming to the end as an international bowler. Alas you can’t go on forever.

We applaud champions, knowing that we would never have been able to do what they’ve achieved, epitomising the Olympic motto of Citius, Altius, FortiusFaster, Higher, Stronger. There is something deeply captivating about exceptional individual performance in sport. The fascination for extraordinary as we think of the champions who stand proud on the podium, with their medals and their nation’s anthem ringing in their ears, is about human dignity as well as human achievement. For me it’s about saluting the person.

James Anderson is a champion cricketer for sure. How can we summon up the true character of the champion ourselves, and take this into our business? Here are some of those characteristics. How many of these statements also describe you and your business life?

Success comes to those with passion to strive Striving is more than simply being competitive, it is an attitude that illustrates that the individual is as much competing with himself as with the challenge, or others in the same race. What sets Anderson apart from the rest is his relentless passion and uncompromising pursuit of extraordinary endeavour. Anderson mastered his mental game, which became his competitive edge, he persisted in spite of fatigue, tenacious in discovering his own style of beating the elements.

Authentic and inquisitive Champions are aware of their strengths and limitations, there are no pretentions to portray a perfect self-image free from any flaw or weakness. Such authenticity bolsters the courage in taking on lofty goals, but also in dealing with their true selves. They always seek the new frontier, pushing the boundaries, refusing to accept the status-quo. They begin every day hoping to learn something new, always searching for new insights, for original thinking, for something that makes them better.

Application, hard-work and discipline That is more than just the hours you put in, it is the discipline to set aside other things and concentrate hard on your own development. It is about focus and single mindedness. It is not just about deciding to work an extra hour, it’s about deep thinking, about getting down to the core of what you are trying to achieve. It is about knowing in your heart, when something is not good enough and can and should be better. Notice that this is self-discipline. Past a certain point, you and only you can provide that intensity of will.

Courage. No champion is without courage. It may be of mind or body. When things are in the balance, when you cannot be sure, when others are uncertain or hesitate, when the very point is that the outcome is in doubt that is when a champions’ mental toughness lets them step forward. The courage lies not in acting without fear, but in acting despite fear.

Optimism Anderson expresses an ability to reframe adversity as an opportunity for achievement. Champions consider adversity as indicative of the merit of the pursuit and thus welcome it. They reveal that beyond physical skill and training, there exists a champion mindset. They all have distinct cognitive and emotional make-up that allows them to relentlessly push themselves on their quest.

Live with failure You must also be prepared to fail. This is a tough quality to possess, but the strange irony of the champion is they must be able to live with failure as well as enjoy success. Virtually no one I have met who has succeeded has not failed first. The question is what you learn from the experience and about yourself, the strengths you exploit, the weaknesses you must eliminate.

Measure performance All athletes measure performance. Whatever the success criteria, they constantly evaluate where they are compared to where they expect to be, and whether they are on-track to achieve their goals or not. By evaluating performance they determine if they need to change their plans.

At the end of every competition, athletes debrief to understand performance and also set targets for next time. In business you need to measure so you can analyse how to be more effective, more productive, and more profitable in the future. What gets measured gets improved. It’s an attitude of constant improvement.

Train like a champion No matter how talented an athlete, they train to improve their skills and push peak levels of performance. Continuing to dream is part of this, they never stop striving for that next big result. Planning to compete at the highest level, and putting in a shift, high-performance athletes plan out their training schedules in advance to make sure they reach specific performance goals.

Don’t settle for ‘Good enough’, use pressure to improve your focus Most business folk lack the same level of mental discipline that successful athletes have in abundance. One of the risks for businesses is being tolerant of sub-optimal performance. When an athlete does badly, their performance is reviewed and analysed from all angles and they work out how to improve from there. In business, average performance is often tolerated. The choice is yours – average work, yields average results. Chose your attitude and get the right mindset.

Performance is everything – and then celebrate success When Usain Bolt crossed the finish line in the 200m Olympic final, he made one simple gesture. He didn’t point to the sky or raise his hands in the air, but held up his finger to his lips, making a gesture of silence. He’d reached a new pinnacle and his first reaction was to silence those who doubted him. Although Bolt could be seen as exuberantly full of himself, his achievement matched his level of confidence. Elite sportsmen make the time to celebrate their wins, it reminds them of their hard work and commitment.

Most businesses aren’t physically demanding by nature, usually it’s about our mental and emotional state of mind. Success comes from finding a way to tap into your inner strength, your core values, your passion and your attitude. It’s what you’ll need to put one foot in front of another, and to keep going.

Establishing a successful business is like a marathon, it’s not a sprint, and the habits and approaches above offer insights from successful sportsmen like James Anderson.

Do you have the capability? The capability to constantly get out there and make an effort, to work at what you want, to believe in yourself, to keep going when others have thrown in the towel. The capability to realise that you can achieve your dream, the capability to keep focussed.

Anderson undertook the challenge because he was willing to do what he needed to do, to get what he wanted. It’s not about medals of victory, it’s more about the scars of defeat. Champions believe in themselves when no one else does, it means going beyond your comfort zone and learning to win the game your own way. Remember, every champion was once a contender that refused to give up.

Maybe in this Ashes Test, the next one, or the one after that, Anderson will achieve another unbeatable ‘Personal Best’. It’s down to his perseverance – it’s the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did. I’m sure the words of Dick Fosbury will resonate with him: When my body got tired, my mind said this where winners are made; when my mind got tired, my heart said this is where champions are made.

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