Lauren Winfield-Hill highlights importance of mental health and challenges faced by athletes

Lauren Winfield-Hill, an English cricketer, spoke to Wisden about her struggles with mental health, considering retirement, and learning to enjoy cricket again.

Lauren Winfield-Hill. PC: Getty Images
Lauren Winfield-Hill. PC: Getty Images

Winfield-Hill returned from the 2022 World Cup in New Zealand feeling mentally and emotionally exhausted. Having played international cricket for almost a decade and winning over 100 England caps across formats, she was considering quitting cricket altogether. She had hit a low point and was trying to recover her health and happiness. She worked with a psychologist almost weekly to get herself back on her feet and functioning better.

During the World Cup, Winfield-Hill had been dropped from England’s starting XI after returning scores of 0 and 12 in back-to-back losses. Across the four matches she had played in the multi-format Ashes that preceded the tournament, she had scored 98 runs and averaged less than 20. She struggled in the COVID bubbles, and playing cricket felt like hard work when it should have been fun and enjoyable. After watching England lose to Australia in the tournament final, Winfield-Hill returned home unsure whether she would play for England again.

She underwent intensive work with a therapist before she was able to resume training with Northern Diamonds. It was there she rediscovered her love for the sport, and started an incredible purple patch of form in domestic cricket. She got 90-odd in the first T20 of the summer and that felt fun, and it was the first time she realized cricket could be enjoyable again.

Until she was bought by the Oval Invincibles for 2022 Hundred, all of Winfield-Hill’s professional domestic cricket in England had been played for Headingley-based sides. Her career coincided with the era when women’s cricket in England has grown exponentially. When the first round of central contracts were dished out by the ECB in 2014, Winfield-Hill’s name was among the 18 who were fully employed by their country for the first time. In November 2022, when the names of centrally contracted players for the next 12 months were announced, for the first time since that initial list in 2014, Winfield-Hill’s name wasn’t there.

Despite not having an England contract, Winfield-Hill felt that she was in a good space and that if she wasn’t playing for England, it would be okay. She knew that if she lost her contract, she would be fine. She could still play a good standard of cricket, and the expansion of the domestic game in England made the prospect of no longer being an England player an entirely different one from what it had been at the start of her career. The security of a regional contract and knowing that there are lots of domestic games and a good standard of cricket to be played has helped her look at England differently.

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Winfield-Hill finished the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy as its leading run-scorer, scoring her fourth List A century against Southern Vipers before playing a crucial hand in the final at Lord’s, from which the Diamonds emerged victorious. Out of seven innings in the competition, only once was she dismissed before passing fifty. The Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy win was the second trophy Winfield-Hill lifted last summer, having won the Charlotte Edwards Cup with the Diamonds a few weeks before.

In conclusion, Lauren Winfield-Hill’s experience highlights the importance of mental health and the challenges faced by professional athletes. Her story also highlights the importance of finding enjoyment in one’s profession and how important it is to have a supportive environment to facilitate this.

Source: Katya Witney / Wisden

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