Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Coaching - Never One Answer

So Mickey Arthur is gone and Darren Lehmann has taken over the reins of the Australian Cricket Team.

Because it’s sport we’ll all have our different opinions on who, what, when and how things should have happened. Some of the deeper thinkers amongst you may even add where into that equation.

There’s so much commentary going around about it in the little bubble that is cricket land. People discussing who’s a good coach and who isn’t, that Boof will save the Australian Team that the team deteriorated under Mickey’s time in the role. Speculation everywhere on what’s wrong, who’s good and what happened.

I have no idea what’s happened. Wasn’t in the rooms during play, at team meetings, at training, on the team bus, at the bars or during the hours and hours of flying that occurs for this particular team. More than likely mistakes were made and things were not going that well. Whatever and whoever was involved in this it reached a point where this change has occurred. Who’s right, who’s wrong, everyone will have their say.

So in light of that I wanted to talk about what I know for sure. That every coach and every person in every team is different. Whether it’s You at home in front of the TV on Boxing Day telling Shane Watson and Simon Katich to call properly during a mix up or “How did he drop that?!”, Tom Moody trying to influence the field settings and bowling changes by running gloves onto the field at the end of every over during a One-Day match, Darren Berry being a meticulous planner and forthright with opinions or Tim Nielson throwing to his batters one on one until he can’t stand up.

All different.

All open to praise and criticism in some way or another. Opinions, everyone’s got them – some are just more influential than others. It’s one very subjective industry.

We can’t all learn or be coached in the same way and in turn not every coach can teach in every way. By nature coaches, teachers, managers, captains etc. divide opinion. John Buchanan’s time as Coach of Queensland and Australia saw titles and some of the biggest winning percentages in the history of the game. Some players loved his preparation and providing of a multitude of information and alternative thinking points….some not so much. Some players in hindsight have suggested his abilities to motivate were brilliant, that making people dislike him outwardly at times was something he did deliberately in order for them to thrive off it. Only Buck would know for sure.

Some coaches are described as “old school”, some as hi-tech, some high-touch. Coaches can be technically minded, have certain game specific skills, some tend to be man managers over any type of technical or tactical prowess. Some are people persons, some surly and fractious as to how they go about their work. Coaches deal with Players in a range of forms, administrators, ground staff, management, CEO’s and Boards – each of who have their own opinions on why things are going well or not so well – this spectrum is growing all the time. Many of these people also think that coaches win or lose games in cricket. I understand that’s ultimately how they’re judged but I would think that anyone who has played the game at all is unlikely to suggest their coaches won or lost that many games during their playing time…unless you need a scapegoat that is.

Did I like or agree with all of my coaches? Not a chance! Do I blame them for my inability to play the ball moving back into my pads with foot closed off and playing across the line more times than I care to remember? I certainly do not.

And within all of the categories and styles that coaches can fit into it also comes back to how they feel and coach. Do they enjoy the overall feel in their squad or are they struggling with them and their overall ideologies. What you see and want may not be what works for that particular group. There is example after example we can go through:

·         Mickey Arthur with the South African side vs. Mickey with this current Australian side.

·         John Buchanan with his Australia side vs. John with his Middlesex team

·         Tom Moody coaching Sri Lanka vs. Tom Moody with Western Australia

·         Shane Duff with the Sydney Thunder vs. Shane’s other work at Grade Level

We could go on at length.

Are we different coaches with different teams? I would think that’s highly unlikely. There are just different fits at different times with different individuals and organisations – that’s a lot of “different”. It is the players in teams that define the success and results of any particular team with a coach helping or detracting depending on the fit, depending on the day in question.

Darren Lehmann’s word carries a different type of weight to Tim Coyle’s and I dare say they have a different skill set, so why not acknowledge that first up. Does Martin Crowe’s cricket word carry a little more weight than say Mike Hesson, Justin Langer’s more than Simon Helmot? No offence but of course they do. Does that make them always right in everything across a coaching spectrum vs. everyone else always wrong – I don’t think so.

Therefore the people making these appointments need to understand what it is they want from their coach, staff and players and appoint from there. Sometimes you’ll need more than just one type!

Do you need an authority figure, a disciplinarian, a skill acquisition expert, people manager, program manager, someone who can use a computer, write or speak well publicly, a bio-mechanical or tactical bowling expert? These are the most important questions and I don’t think they are asked or understood often enough. We certainly never say it out aloud. We talk about coaching pathways without actually knowing what it is or what it looks like. We need some honesty and transparency in our industry. It won’t always mean we win top level matches but it will create a better understanding of what is required and how we can help.

What will happen is some people will lean towards names that they’ve heard of or remember because of their playing background and of course this helps in some ways. But coaching is very different to playing and we are all different types of coaches.

There is never one answer when it comes to who should be the Coach of a team. All players will benefit and struggle in different ways under each and every coach. Each coach will have a different concept of how he or she will be involved and influence the group. No one is completely wrong or right but there will be better “fits” for some than others.

So what Coaches and those who make decisions on them need is help.

A better understanding of what coaching is and how all of our strengths and weaknesses fit. We need to educate our group of current, past and future coaches, players, administrators and boards. Be honest in how coaches fit into systems; make better use of their skills. Let’s have open dialogue as to who is more likely to work at what level and why.  Let’s also create a national system that covers off pre-requisite topics for Coach Education courses whilst understanding that delivery style and method will differ depending on who is delivering the topic. It’s not creating robots; it’s creating a curriculum so that all of our differences and abilities come through and can be used effectively when coaching our International, State, 2nd XI, Grade or Under Age sides. Every level of player needs understanding, learning, growth and sometimes discipline. If we best help our youngest players it may even help keep their interest at a time when our playing numbers are suffering and dexterity skills are on the decline.

Then we need role descriptions that define the expectations of each individual coach relating to what is expected of them with that team/program. I say no to generic job descriptors that run through every HR phrase in sport. Let’s be specific.

And here’s the kicker….. It then falls back to each individual player to learn how he or she fits into their particular team at that particular time and how around that they can get the best out of their game. Cricket is a strange blend of group and individual. It has more variables than most other sports that I can think of. Certainly the hierarchical nature of the sport is no longer in existence.

I don’t know Darren Lehmann in great depth. Players past and present respect him. He’s always been generous with his time and thoughts. He has as broad a knowledge as anyone in the game. His ability to unite groups has been one of his greatest selling points in amongst many other good ones. I hope it all goes well for him and his new team. There’s no doubt they can win the Ashes with some of the many variables going their way. I think he’ll do a great job.

I do however know Mickey Arthur very well. He was my boss in Perth. We didn’t always agree on how cricket and how cricketers should play….who does? But we always agreed on the bigger and more important issues that came with sport and life. He was generous and kind to me. He is my friend and I am feeling for him right now.



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