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How Glenn McGrath encouraged Mitchell Johnson to ‘Let It Go’

by Wisden Staff 3 minute read

On the latest episode of the Lessons Learnt with the Greats podcast, Shane Watson, the host, discussed with Mitchell Johnson how he picked up the habit of having a song in his head while bowling from Glenn McGrath.

The pair discussed the mental fortitude required to be successful at the elite level of the game. Johnson, who has publicly spoken about his mental health struggles following his under-par performances during the 2009 and 2010/11 Ashes series’, said singing a song to himself ensured that he didn’t get trapped in a negative thinking pattern.

The 38-year-old Queenslander explained to Watson when he would start humming to himself and what the song was. “As I was walking back after I finished bowling the ball I would have a song in my head, which I used to do when I was younger, when I first started playing the game,” he said. “Then I got lazy and stopped doing that for some reason, but yeah, it was the song [Let It Go from] Frozen at the time because my daughter loved it so that was the song”.

Johnson went on to detail the reasoning behind singing the Disney anthem to himself in the heat of battle. “The reason why it worked though for me is that it blocked out all the negative thoughts coming in so I would always have that positive song in my head and nothing else could get in,” he said. “So I’d do that on my way back with my walk, or I’d go talk to mid-on or mid-off and have a bit of a joke or a laugh or, ‘How good’s this boys? We’re playing in front of a massive crowd!’ Whatever it was you just take your mind away from that last delivery, because you can’t dwell on it, it’s done and dusted and you’ve got to move on.”

Watson, who also hails from Queensland, questioned the former speedster on whether anyone had recommended singing to himself as a technique to improve performance or whether it was just something he did.

“Glenn McGrath had reminded me of it because he used to do the same thing,” Johnson replied. “And I remember him saying it, I don’t know if it was in the World Cup in 2007 or wherever it was, [but] someone had mentioned it again and that worked a long time ago.”

Watson then chimed in with his own experience of singing to himself in order to retain his mental clarity on the field. The former all-rounder said that he too had spoken to McGrath about the subject. “Glenn McGrath did it,” Watson said. “He mentioned the same thing [to me], I reckon it was about 2007 as well. He said, ‘When I’m at my best I’ve always got a song in my head, as I go to bowl my first ball of each over I know exactly what balls I’m going to bowl during that over and I’ve got a song in my head’.”

However, unlike Johnson, Watson did not heed the advice of the fast-bowling great straight away. “I was like, ‘wait, I wonder why he did that?’”.

The podcast host explained that it wasn’t until much later that he became aware of the benefits of having a tune on repeat. “It’s fascinating that you say that because the thing that I discovered after I got educated in mental skills in 2015, after I retired from Test cricket and one-day cricket was that technique of song in your head and how powerful that is,” he said. “Because it does get your mind on neutral but it also gets something into your mind so the wrong things can’t come in, especially, as you said, the negative thoughts. So that’s something an incredibly powerful technique.”

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