Barefoot Coach Paddy Upton: Crucial addition in India’s setup ahead of ICC World T20 2022

Paddy Upton has joined Team India as a Mental Conditioning Coach ahead of ICC Men's T20 World Cup 2022. Paddy has worked with Team India during 2008-2011.

Paddy Upton has joined Indian Cricket Team as Mental Conditioning Coach | Walking Wicket (Images ©BCCI/Twitter)
Upton has joined Team India as Mental Conditioning Coach (Images ©BCCI/Twitter)

Play, reflect, analyse, plan, practice and put it on loop. Well, that’s how Sachin Tendulkar became the God of cricket or Shane Warne became the spin magician. The spectators get to see what happens on the ground with the players. Some perform, some don’t. But what happens behind the scenes of these performances is what makes these players legends in their respective domains. And for a player to ride on the journey of becoming a legend, the most important thing in any sport is mental toughness.


A player who is mentally strong and confident makes his way out of tough situations. And such mental toughness is infused in players by mental conditioning coaches. India has brought their very own legend in the mental conditioning domain, Patrick Anthony Howard Upton, aka Paddy Upton, back into the Indian setup on India’s tour of the West Indies.


Who is Paddy Upton?

Paddy, who is a former cricketer himself and a leadership coach from South Africa, has deep ties with the India Men’s cricket team and India cricket in general. He has been associated with the national cricket team and domestic teams in India on several occasions. Upton is well-renowned for serving as the mental fitness coach for the Indian Men’s cricket team that ranked No. 1 in the World Test Rankings and won the ICC World Cup 2011.


Upton is a distinguished mental conditioning coach. He has bachelor’s degrees in human movement science and biokinetics from Stellenbosch University and University of Port Elizabeth, respectively. Upton also has an MSc in Sports Science from University of Cape Town and an MA in Executive Coaching from Middlesex University. Upton currently also serves as a Professor of Practice at Deakin University in Victoria, Australia.


Upton, during his earlier stint with Team India, worked closely with South African cricket star, Gary Kirsten, providing him with mental support and guidance. Upton also went on to help Jacques Kallis overcome personal issues related to his father’s death, ultimately improving his playing performance. Paddy described his job as assisting individual players in understanding and overcoming unique fears and emotions that affect specific areas of their performance.


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Paddy’s success with Team India

Paddy Upton was hired as the mental conditioning coach and assistant coach for India Men’s cricket team in 2008. During his tenure, India ranked no. 1 in the ICC Test Rankings and also won the ICC World Cup 2011. Upton left the post after the World Cup to serve as Performance Director of the South African cricket team.


He was promoted to the position of Director of Cricket CSA, Following the success with the Indian cricket team, Paddy was appointed Performance Director of the South African Cricket Team from 2012-2014, during which they became the first team to simultaneously hold the official ICC world number 1 ranking in all three formats of the international game.

BCCI rope in Paddy Upton as Mental Conditioning Coach for Team India | Walking Wicket (Images ©Outlook/Tribhuvan Tiwari)
BCCI rope in Paddy Upton as Mental Conditioning Coach (Images ©Outlook/Tribhuvan Tiwari)

T20 franchise cricket journey


Indian Premier League (IPL)

Paddy Upton served as head coach for several franchise teams - Pune Warriors India (PWI) in 2012, Rajasthan Royals (RR) for three seasons (2013–2015) and then Delhi Daredevils (now Delhi Capitals) for two seasons (2016–2017), where they reached the finals in 2017 and was reunited with Rajasthan Royals in 2022, where they reached the finals after 15 years.


Big Bash League (BBL)

Paddy Upton served as head coach for the Sydney Thunder cricket team for four seasons, from 2014 to 2018, where he was instrumental in making the team win in the 2015 season. Upton was the head coach of the Lahore Qalandar for two years, from 2016 to 2017.


The Barefoot Coach - Book

In 2019, Paddy published the book – The Barefoot Coach (published by Westland Publications Pvt Ltd), which distils the key insights from working with some of the world’s leading cricketers. The Barefoot Coach is as much about how Upton changed Indian cricket as vice versa.


If Kirsten was a success as head coach, some of the credit should go to Upton. When Kirsten first asked Sachin Tendulkar what kind of a coach he wanted, the batter replied, "I want you to be my friend." This is not surprising. At the international level, the coach is not expected to correct basic technique or suggest fundamental changes. It is a fine-tuning job. Rahul Dravid called him a "thought leader". Managing the ego, writes Upton, "was one of the most important factors in nurturing the growth and performance of the Indian team."


Team India captain Rohit Sharma calls Paddy Upton's inclusion a great move. "I think it was a great move to bring him in. We are very excited to have him in the squad. I genuinely feel that he can make a difference to this team," Rohit said on the eve of the five-match T20I series against West Indies.


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"He will definitely bring the mental side of the game, which is very, very important, into the picture. He has worked with the Indian team before, he was part of the 2011 World Cup winning Indian team; and he has also had success with a lot of franchise teams. He knows a lot of our players as well, and he has worked with them closely before. It is only his second or third day with the team now, so he is probably just observing the guys he hasn’t worked with earlier, and I am sure he will start his work and get the players’ thoughts as well," Rohit added.


In an interview to bcci.tv, Upton quoted, "The mental side of the game has always been important. That hasn’t changed. I think what might have changed is the fact that we have come through and out of the Covid experience. A lot of the players have been on the road a lot of the time, and so there is an extra element to manage to try and get individual players and the team as a whole into the best possible space,"

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Why Paddy Upton?

With so much cricket being played, before the players get physically tired, it’s their mental toughness that gets drained out; living in the bio-bubble, constantly travelling between continents, being dropped from the squad, making a comeback and fighting their own personal battles - cricketers have to deal with a lot more off the field than on the field. To massage the cricketer’s brain more than their glutes, on and off the field, is the exact reason why Team India needs a seasoned campaigner like Paddy.


Team India haven’t been able to win any ICC trophy since 2013, and Paddy can act as a catalyst to formulate the mental toughness of the players to end the nine-year-long trophy drought. India were defeated in the finals of the ICC World T20 2014, in the semi-finals of the ICC World Cup 2015, in the semi-finals of the ICC World T20 2016 and in the semi-finals of the ICC World Cup 2019. To add insult to injury, they were crushed by Pakistan in an ICC World T20 match in 2021, resulting in India’s first-ever defeat to Pakistan in a World Cup.


Paddy doesn’t have a magic wand which can immediately bring about results, but the process of holding your nerve under pressure situations, playing the game mentally in the head first, then on the field, and imagining and manifesting a match-like simulation is what Upton can bring to the table along with his associate, colleague and close friend, Rahul Dravid, with the current Indian setup. All eyes will be on this duo leading into the ICC Men's T20 World Cup 2022, and only time will tell if fortune changes for India or if the wait continues for ICC silverware.


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