When is a “good” session bad, and a “bad” session good?

“….as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know.

But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know”.  (Donald Rumsfeld – 2002)

Donald Rumsfeld was (in)famous for this quote. Although he was often ridiculed for it, this quote makes a lot of sense (hear me out!)

Question your assumptions, and make sure you really “know” what you think you do! When your focus is narrow, you miss out on anything that might change your perspective.

In short, keep an open mind!

How this applies to coaching

How do we “know” that our coaching has been effective?

We can’t simply judge on individual sessions. We can’t judge purely on whether players have enjoyed this or that particular activity. 

DO THEY REMEMBER? – A “good” session, is one where any improvement is retained for the next session or match. A “bad” session, is one that has no “legacy”.

What players remember is all that matters. Don’t judge a session’s effectiveness until the following week. “What did we work on last week”?

ARE YOU GETTING THE FULL PICTURE? – It is easy for a coach to only listen to positive feedback.

Feedback comes directly (conversations), indirect feedback (emails of praise or complaint) and, sometimes, hearsay and rumors. Internally (self reflection) or externally (parents or managers).

Progress can be objective (results or stats) or self-imposed “KPI”s (Key Performance Indicators). It can even be intangible – personal growth, an improvement in body language, an increase in independence.

We need to take on board all of these. Look beyond what is obvious.

The “Bad” Good Session

A session that looks good on the surface, actually be ineffective….or even detrimental. 

When a coaching session can “flatter to deceive”….

  • Have you made all of the decisions for them? – If so….have you just made them look good? Could they replicate these skills on another given day, without your input?
    Have they really learnt anything? There is a critical difference between detailed coaching and “spoon-feeding”.
  • Have you been blinded by “champagne moments”? – the smashed six, the brilliant diving catch or the perfect out-swinger. These stick in the mind. But they can obscure other memories as well.
    Cricket is about “joining up” these good moments into good performances.
    Look for overall trends. Was the performance generally high – or were there big peaks and dips? Was a good start sustained to the end?
  • Are you making excuses for them? – Was that shot really “unlucky”? Was that shot really “good”? Sometimes a player needs blunt honesty. They never want it, but they need it!
    Again, there is a fine line between encouragement, and appealing to vanity.
  • Is it just “improvement through repetition”? – do anything 100 times, and you are likely to be better at it than when you started. But there is a real risk of the wrong technique being practiced, or this practice lacking purpose or meaning.
    Repetitions are only as useful as you make them.
  • Is the session formulaic – to give an example, I am not a fan of relays….even for the younger age groups. Relays give the “illusion of control”, as there is no room for misunderstanding. But cricket is much more chaotic than this.
    With a bit of trickery, you can deliver a cricket session that looks brilliant to the watching parent, but doesn’t actually achieve anything. I prefer a session that looks disorderly at times, but allows for mistakes, learning and more improvement.

The “Good” Bad Session

The more I have coached, the more I feel able to do what is “right” (in my opinion), for my players’, and not necessarily what players “want” all the time. Sometimes harsh truths need to be learnt. 

Many coaches of the old school like to call this “tough love”. But that is too crude a term….it is a much more delicate skill. It is a coach’s role to achieve this without completely demoralizing a player or team.

  • EPIPHANIES – players don’t improve in a smooth, predictable way. There are plateaus….periods where a player seems not to be progressing.
    To get through these, a player sometimes needs to accept that another approach might be needed. What worked at one age group may not be enough at the next.
    Acceptance is the first stage. But when a player starts to work on the right things, they can experience a sudden leap in results.
  • REALITY CHECKS – A coach can “insulate children” from harsh truths, by spoon-feeding instructions, or playing consistently to their strengths in practice. But with this, you run the risk of an “Achilles Heel” that stops that player ever moving forwards.
    For example, the player who can play an elegant cover-drive, but never keeps out a yorker. At a certain level, a player like this will be “found out”. Intelligent bowlers will spot the weakness, and exploit it.
    It is your responsibility to point out vital changes – in approach, mentality or technique.
    EXCUSES: ZERO TOLERANCE – When a player has made a wild swing at the ball….but apparently the ball bounced “too high” or “too low”. When a bowler is hit for 4, but apparently to a “lucky” shot. When a player flings the ball at the stumps, without thinking about the consequences, then blames the catcher (or visa-versa).
    All these stop a player from looking at themselves, and what they could have done better. Even if there is a grain of truth to the excuse, encourage players to do everything in their power to prevent it from happening.
  • STRUGGLE – The best players do not find life easy the whole time. They encounter forks in the road, where they can take the “easy” route or the “hard route”.
    Sometimes they have to scratch around; force themselves to hang in there; make “ugly runs”.
    Training should always be a challenge. Sometimes, it is useful to run an “overload session”. Stack the odds against a particular player, or play constantly to their weakness….and see how they react.
    If you run a session like this, make it clear to the players. Reassure them that you expect mistakes. Let them know that you are looking more at their resilience and mental application than perfect technique. This helps them to battle through, knowing that they won’t face instant criticism.

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