Michael Vaughan meets Sarah Taylor: 'My issue was agoraphobia, not cricket – that's why I'm trying hypnosis'

Michael Vaughan
·5-min read
 Former England cricketer Sarah Taylor in Sussex Monday Nov. 18, 2019. - Christopher Pledger 
Former England cricketer Sarah Taylor in Sussex Monday Nov. 18, 2019. - Christopher Pledger

“It’s about planting nice seeds in your mind, replacing negative thoughts with happier ones and it can do wonders. If I can get that part of my life sorted then I’m laughing really.”

Sarah Taylor is describing the benefits of hypnosis. It is her new treatment for agoraphobia and she hopes it will help with her playing comeback in the Hundred this summer.

Taylor has just signed for the Welsh Fire, returning to the game she gave up in 2019 aged 30 when anxiety ended the career of one of the world’s best wicketkeepers. Now she sounds assured, life is better, she loves her teaching and coaching jobs and has separated the sport of cricket from the dark effects of anxiety.

“You have your negative, irrational thoughts with agoraphobia,” she says. “It affects me in regards to distance from a safe place. A safe place for me can be my car, my town, a house or hotel that I happen to be in. The fear of being too far away can set panic in. Hence why travel is an issue, I can’t do buses, trains, taxis or planes. I will struggle with the idea of using them so end up not doing something, just due to a fear of being trapped and unable to get back to what I consider a safe place.

“I just associated cricket with a lot of negativity and my anxiety grew into agoraphobia. It has taken me all this time to realise it was the anxiety and agoraphobia that was horrendous for me, not the cricket.”

Taylor is sat in front of a white board in a classroom at Bede’s School in Sussex where she works in the sports department as a sports development and life skills coach. “I can coach the cricket, and all that, but the kids can come to me if they are feeling anxious or need someone to talk to.”

Last month it was announced she had joined the staff at Sussex as part-time wicketkeeping coach working with the men’s team and academy players, breaking new ground for a woman in men’s sport.

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She says her England career is over, regardless of how well she performs for Welsh Fire, but could be persuaded to play franchise cricket if her treatment works. It was while having a net in January that she felt she could play again.

“I felt like I did back in 2006. I found that girl again,” she says. “I thought ‘oh my word’. I just needed time away to go back to what I know and what made me successful with the bat. You get 15 million coaches telling you 15 million different things. I had lost that girl I used to be. If ‘I can just keep these going I will be good here.’

“But I want to just be known as a worldwide keeping coach, that is my dream. It does not matter if male or female, but keeping coach for whoever. I have no aspirations to go near international cricket. I still have my own demons with international cricket. My own anxieties of playing international cricket will take a few years to die down.

“A lot of the girls I played with are still there as well so it is the wrong era for me so quite easy to park. Franchise stuff would be awesome and just to be able to travel the world. When the Sussex job was announced I got the odd idiot troll but I felt sorry for them really. Mainly it was an outpouring of best wishes and felt really normal. Why shouldn’t a woman coach men? I didn’t realise it would be such a gender thing. It just felt normal for me.”

South Africa's Trisha Chetty is stumped by England's Sarah Taylor during the ICC Women's World Cup Semi Final match at The County Ground, Bristol - David Davies /David Davies 
South Africa's Trisha Chetty is stumped by England's Sarah Taylor during the ICC Women's World Cup Semi Final match at The County Ground, Bristol - David Davies /David Davies

Playing for Welsh Fire is partly about coaching and learning from Matthew Mott, the team's coach who is also head coach of the Australia team that dominates women’s cricket. “I will be absorbing as much as I can.”

Teaching has helped. Working with a year five child who could not play a volley in tennis (“why can’t you just do it”) has made Sarah realise she has to work on communication skills after years in a high performance environment.

When I was made England captain I had lots of captaincy books. I had dinner with Mike Atherton, which was very useful. I spoke to Nasser Hussain too. But it was my Dad who gave me the best piece of advice. He said ‘always manage the person, not the player.’

So I ask Sarah how she approaches players. “I will quote Ian Salisbury [Sussex coach] here. He says ‘they won’t remember if you teach them a cover drive, but they will remember how you made them feel’. I have had coaches who have made me feel not so confident or comfortable. One of my first questions is what do you need, how do you need help with that? Not ‘this is what I think, let's do that.’ It is shaping the person more than the skills.

“I am very proud of the England career I had. I joined the squad when I had just turned 16 and just turned 17 when I went on my first tour. I had a long career even though it finished young. For me that chapter is firmly shut, this is a new chapter for me.

“I needed that break, to just get as far away from cricket as possible. Yes, I was in coaching at the school but I was thinking about someone else’s cricket, not mine. I was playing tennis with a year 5 at 9am on a Monday morning and you could not have got further from the life I just had but it was really refreshing and I needed it. I did resent cricket a little bit. I just wanted to forget about my career for a little bit and that was the best way to do it.”

Now she is back and it is great to see her relishing a “new chapter.”