Surviving complaints

We all get them…

Nobody likes them. But we need to deal with or, at least, process them.

All parties – players, coaches, managers, parents –  need to work together. Discussing issues and problems respectfully is a key part of running a successful program. It’s the only way to move forwards, with common solutions. 

Breakdowns in trust can occur, and either side can be at fault. Here are a few things to keep in mind, when you have, or are the recipient, of a complaint. 

Coaches

Don’t take every complaint to heart. It’s one of the most difficult problems to cope with, as a start out in the business of coaching. Over time you develop resilience. You become able to distinguish whether you could have done more, or if there was nothing you could have done. Whether there is justified concern, or simply crossed wires.

State the facts. When addressed by an unhappy parent, it’s easy to feel/be put onto the defensive, or caught off guard. Take a deep breathe, and recollect your perspective of events slowly and calmly.

Incidents are rarely black and white. Complaints have rarely popped out of thin air…..but are often exaggerated and unfairly accusing. There is a large scope for misunderstanding. Sometimes it is simply a communication issue, and easily resolvable. Keep this in mind, before feeling too resentful.

Children can have bad days. Something upsetting may have happened at school earlier in the day, or your pupil may be having a rough time. They may be more vulnerable or sensitive than normal. And a small friction can be blown out of proportion.

Remember that, in rare cases, people will never be happy with your answer. Certain parents will take their child’s word over yours, regardless of events. In these situations there is little you can do, except acknowledge that and keep going.

Parents

No matter how legitimate your concern; consider the human consequences of what you are saying.

Try not to embellish. You don’t need to supplement your complaint with secondary issues. You will be taken seriously. Exaggerating will only cause the coach to feel unfairly criticized, and the main point can be lost.

State the facts, or your interpretation of the facts. It often helps to state your concerns with a less accusing tone.

Try not to jump to conclusions. Many complaints (for example “there is too much standing around”) stem from premature judgement. Especially on the first week, a coach will have to experiment, and find out the ability and nature of the group. Things begin to flow as time goes on.

We are both on the same side! We both want your child to enjoy their session. Nobody will be as disappointed as us if they aren’t. And there is always a way to find common ground.

“They just don’t want to be there”: avoiding the cliche

The single most common complaint after an unruly session: “it’s like they just don’t want to be here”!

As soon as these words come out of your mouth, you’re finished. Even if the body is willing, you have already given up mentally. On any prospect that these children will gain anything. Your hope that things can make a turn for the better will vanish. Negativity breeds complacency, which breeds more negativity.And by proving your own statement to be true,  you are making your life even more difficult.

Nobody is suggesting  it’s easy. In fact the opposite is true. You are probably even correct. Certain children might not show any signs of interest. They may have been registered by their parents, with no consultation. Cricket they know little of, and care to find out less. They don’t want to be here….

….Yet. Don’t give up entirely on them.

Generating a buzz

The more I coach, the more i realize the power of group mentality. Very few children (or adults) have the willpower to break against the mood of the group. This can work against you, but can also be a powerful tool. See if you can capture and use it to your advantage.

Be imaginative. Search for something….anything….that captures the imagination. As soon as you can create a buzz, this is your moment to shine. To achieve this, you might even have to drift away from cricket.

If you stumble upon a successful game, make it a tradition. Such routines can generate the excitement you need, leading to perhaps gain some more engagement for the sport specific activity.

Example game: capture the flag. Burns off some energy, involves a ball and basic strategy.

Remember the situation

Coaches operate at extreme ends of the day. Before school, after school, evenings. Times when we are not necessarily at our peak of concentration. It’s unrealistic to expect perfect behavior/attentiveness on your every word.

Ironically, some of the most troublesome schools for clubs, are ones with strict in-class discipline. Children who have been trapped in silence, will naturally revert to the other extreme when the gates are opened.

Try and be sympathetic to these situations. Getting to know your crowd is important. You can established right away certain activities that will and won’t work.

Seek help

If you are really struggling, be honest with the people in charge. Find a constructive way to tell them that you are finding the group to be a handful, or that “an extra pair of hands” will remedy the situation.

Dealing with frustration, and finding a positive outcome, beats internal struggling and ranting every time. Maybe help will be found.

Be disciplined….but give them a “way back in”

You have to be strong. If  child crosses the line, it has to mean something.

In early years, i often fell into the trap of making concessions, to misbehaving children – just to buy some peace. Even if this makes your life easier in the short term, it will bite you in the long term.

But, every week has to be considered a fresh start. If you are still holding onto grievances from last week, what excuse has the child not to? Think very carefully before you exclude for good. Very, very few children should be condemned.

Believe!

The world is made up of children who like cricket, and children who like cricket, but don’t know it yet.

Yeah, it’s rubbish isn’t it – and sounds like it belongs on a particularly nauseating Facebook meme (#ilovemondays)! I understand you can’t convert everyone. But if you go into work with this state of mind, you’ll be surprised at the unlikely figures you manage to turn around.

Sometimes it will take years to discover if you have made an impact. Your influence might be intangible, or become apparent well into the future.

There aren’t many solutions in the above text. But acknowledging the scale of your task is part of the process, if you want to cope for long periods. Avoid self-fulfilling prophecies at all costs! Stop craving immediate wins, and get ready to grind out results.

The growth of cricket depends on these converts. Bring along as many as you can.

The longest day

It’s an intensive career. Coaches work hard, travel often, make pit-stops, and think on our feet. Sometimes have only a few minutes to catch our breathe before diving headlong into the next activity, which could be wildly different to the one just gone. 

If a coach ever responds to you shortly, comes across as rude, or looks as if they are fed up, it might be them, not you. It’s possible they have endured a day like this….

6:20: Wake up alarm

6:40: Train to work: With gigantic bag, definitely the most popular man on the carriage. Have apologised 12 times, and the day hasn’t started yet!

7:30: School no.1! Before school club.

General an even mix; half who’s morning routine consists or a bowl of sugar puffs and a triple espresso; half who can barely be registered as conscious. The friction that builds between these two groups can be frustrating…..and occasionally very amusing!

9:00: Off to a coffee shop, for a quick breakfast. Check the emails in hope, that nobody has complained already. A faint but constant paranoia can take grip, doing this job. I wish parents would email when they were happy as well! But they don’t. Sometimes you have to remind yourself that “incident free” coaching is a success in itself.

11:00-12:00: School no.2! Reception class.

It’s the sort of session that can leave you delighted or exasperated….with very little in between.

Best case scenario….with the right support, and the right attitude, you can achieve amazing things with children this age.

Worst case scenario….Coaxing activity out of a toddler, who simply doesn’t want to play ball (or the right activity from a group in a state of frenzy), is acutely embarrassing. You’re supposed to be the “professional”; the school have used up their precious PE budget for this service. Results are expected. And they aren’t happening.

Most of the time, the staff involved will be sympathetic to the challenges. Nevertheless, real or imagined, you still feel the sets of eyes bearing down on you. Don’t look  around, as your brain starts to play games with you, compounding the pressure. A serious expression can easily be interpreted as a disapproving one.

12:45-14:00: School no.3! 6th form nets.

At last, some grown up conversation, and a chance to exercise the full range of  coaching skills. Wish it could last longer.

14:00-17:00: School no.4! Yr 8 and Yr11s squad training.

Another talented group, and with a project to build towards, motivation is not a problem for this bunch. However, distraction is. School playgrounds are a beehive of activity – as soon as a familiar face comes into view, one of your player’s attention is gone. The 5-minutely unscheduled mini-breaks eat heavily into your practice time.

It has taken a period of weeks, but the long term vision is taking effect. The group is beginning to understand the details that will make them successful, and taking pride in smaller things. Players are hungry for larger, more meaningful successes, not just the amazing moments. Belief is building, that all can contribute meaningfully, in more than one department.

Optimism is only off-set a little, by having to settle a few confrontations. Even amongst each other, teenagers want to win. Our intra-school games have the intensity of a grudge match….and this can boil over.

Did i mention we were outside? In January! On one of these evenings, the temparature dropped as low as -3C. And here we are, engaged in a formal, 2-team match. The hunger for cricket here is humbling, and inspirational! Next time you think about complaining about a sightscreen, or a small pavilion changing room, spare these Tooting boys a thought.

18:30-20:30: School no.5: Small group nets.

Home stretch! Fatigue becoming a problem. Nothing a Red Bull can’t solve.

While nets are easier on the body, on the flip-side, they are mentally rigorous….expected standards rise hugely. Parents are paying premium rates, and you want to squeeze every minute of value out of the session.

Of course, players are at different stages in their development. When thrown together in a net, the better players can often lose focus, while weaker players become demoralized and the stream of misses and wickets being shattered. It’s difficult, but you can make it work (you have no choice but to at least try, anyway)!

Set targets for each player, that are achieveable. Think beyond the standard, “10 of 6 balls”. For many, something as easy as, “make contact with 5 out of the next 10”, or, “in the next 5 minutes, try to get 5 shots into the off-side”. Keep things manageable, and simple. Make sure you are talking with them, not at them. Remind them that you are on their side. Latch onto the successes, and make them a permanent reminder that, “I can do this”.

My favorite game, is the “race to 200”. Pick two aspects of technique you want the batsmen to improve (for instance, moving towards the ball, and smooth swing). Give the player 10 points every time they perform one of these correctly. If they achieve both in the same ball, give 25 points.

22:00: It’s over!! 16 hours out of the house! In a day, 100 children have passed through our care, aged between 4 and 18. The whole spectrum of work, and a catalogue of different skills called upon.

Bring on tomorrow.

We’re all in this together…

“Dialogue is just two monologues clashing”.

Never does this idiom ring truer than in the coaching community….

Coach education centres around the individual. How to structure a session, observe for faults, make suggestions and affect change. However, little to time is spent on a small but crucial detail – working effectively alongside colleagues.

It is regrettable but the desire to stand out from fellow professionals (regarding them almost as competitors) can override the needs of the task. And this can manifest in many ways.Insecurity can drive coaches (including myself) to the strangest things, and contribute to sessions that become disjointed and unstuck, for completely needless reasons.

I have watched a child’s face slip from hope, to annoyance, to bewilderment, as conflicting comments rains down on them. Or teams that never fulfill their potential, simply because the lead coach refusing to delegate influence.

All easily preventable. But we need to learn to work in harmony.

Think about what you are saying? Does it need to be?

Before you weight in with your opinion, consider the implications to child, colleague or fellow professional. Is the point you are butting in with adding genuine value?

In particular with small group coaching, it is vital for everyone to compliment each other, pulling in the same direction. Being a lone crusader will ultimately end badly.

I would rarely begin a 1-to-1 session (especially with a new client) without asking “what have you been working on recently”? Immediately, the chance of conflicting messages being sent are reduced. In order to have the most positive impact, it helps to understand what each player has been told in the past.

You may get an idea into the style of the previous coach, and how the player has progressed to this point. With this information, you can decide what to keep, what to tweak. Often it is better to go this way than completely replace one regime with another.

One of the most frustrating feelings in the job, is a feeling that your efforts have been undone by somebody else. You wouldn’t like it done to yourself.

Group coaching: a united front

Coaching sessions are a process. There is no hurry to get everything done at once, and address every aspect of cricket in the first week. But we do want to be progressing. The best way to achieve this is through clarity.

Every week, a clear vision is stated for all to agree in, every player at least knowing the specific expected outcomes….what to focus on, and behavior that will earn praise. The more everybody (players, coaches and managers) are aware of the long term picture, the less likely they are to doubt what is next, or question your methods.

Then – crucially –  it is your responsibility to adhere to this theme. Assistant coaches, take note. A good coach will always take comments on board, at the appropriate time. But during the session is not the time, nobody enjoys being undermined.

The bigger picture: you can’t do it all!

Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to take a step backwards. It is easy to forget that none of us can operate in a vacuum. Your talented players will come under different influences in their career. Attempting to build a monopoly is pointless.

Head coaches, take note. When you interject constantly to someone else’s delivery, are you really “developing your colleagues”? Or taking over? Resentment can build very quickly among colleagues. Even if it isn’t true, a perception that you “don’t trust them” can take hold. Make sure this doesn’t happen at all costs!

Have conviction in your opinions, and your coaching. But be receptive to outside influence, and embrace the elements that are working. Try not to be overly protective of “your” player, or “your” group.

I know it’s difficult! But if you can swallow a little pride, the overall benefits are huge! We have to work together.

 

 

5 tip for an aspiring coach

So you want to be a cricket coach? Bringing your sport to newcomers, knowing you are helping to build the game in the community, is a fantastic feeling. 

But make sure you go in with your eyes open. Be ready for some of the job’s pressures and stresses, and to balance different goals and principles. Anybody can deliver a session, but are you prepared to stick it out for 20 sessions a week, 15 weeks a term, 3 terms a year?

Having worked in cricket for 8 years, here are a few tips to help you survive.

1. Treat success and failure “just the same”

Coaching is an emotional roller coaster. You will find that your mood lurches violently, from extreme to extreme….forge a long term career in sport, and this is something you need to cope with.

It is worth remembering the small or big landmarks. These successes are important and worth savoring. But there may well be more challenging sessions later on – even in the same day, a mistake, or events beyond your control might send your mood crashing down!

You will experience more peaks than troughs, as long as you keep the effort up. But stay vigilant.

2. CONFIDE in colleagues

As “rewarding”/”fulfilling”/”inspiring”/”insert other cliche here” it can be, the job isn’t all fun and games. Coaching as a career is a demanding, stressful, emotional, often infuriating, endurance test. Keeping up standards over a 14 week term is a huge challenge. When things go wrong, it’s easy to feel isolated – “is it just me who struggles”.

Talk about your issues! And the people who best understand are those who are under the same stresses. You might be able to work out a solution, or just get some frustration of your chest.

Sometimes the coaches who sound like they have it all figured out, are in fact experiencing just the same problems, but simply masking them. Don’t let pride and bravado bottle everything inside. You aren’t alone out there!

3. See the long term picture

Coaching is not an exact science. There is no way of guaranteeing results at a certain rate….progress may be slower (or quicker) than expected.

Plan sessions carefully, but try not to be too rigid. Certain activities may require more attention than planned. It’s worth getting the skill right, before moving on. Have an idea of the targets you’d like the group to achieve over a period of weeks.

Coaching as a career allows you to plan long term. Have the inner confidence to take one thing at a time.

4. NEVER try and impose your ambitions on the people you coach

Everybody is familiar with the “pushy parent” stereotype. But coaches need to be aware of how they use their influence too.

There is a way to talk round your pupils to your point of view. But remember, if you push too hard, there is a risk of alienating them, from the sessions, or the game entirely. Every child or adults deserves to have some ownership over their “game” – how they wish to express themselves, whether they want to be a pace or spin bowler. What you think is “good for them” might not necessarily be what they want. Be prepared the meet them half way.

You may be right, but that’s the easy bit! The difficult bit is making it happen.

5. Just keep going!

In cricket more than many sports, gains can be intangible. Take batting for example. Your swing may have improved hugely, but under pressure, in a match, against a quality bowler, you still miss the ball.

Where the child may be disheartened, you cannot be. It’s your job to keep them motivated, determined, looking ahead. Eventually the success will come….even though it feels like it never will sometimes!