I have coached for 11 years. But the job continues to throw up as many questions as answers.
Recently, I wrote, “Elephants In The Room”: How to bring up harsh truths. This post is on the same theme, but looks at the practical dilemmas. Bringing up a harsh truth is only half the job! The reality of acting on it can be much more difficult….and there may not be a perfect solution!
What would you do?
I have created 5 scenarios. All of them are based directly or indirectly from experience.
You can have a perspective on each of these issues. You can even have a firm opinion on the “right” way forward.
But if your response begins with, “it’s quite simple….”, then you a) have spent your life coaching easy groups, or b) you haven’t thought about these subjects as hard as you should have.
- Have you been in this situation in the past?
- How did you go about handling it?
- What advice would you have for people in the same position?
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Scenario 1: Good player, small club
SCENARIO 1A: Another 50 for the lead player. he “chips in” with the ball as well….with 3 wickets from a full compliment of overs. The team wins again!!
3 players don’t bat, only bowling 1 over between them….Success?
The “big fish in a small pond” problem is double-edged. The star feels unchallenged and can develop delusions that they are a lot better than they actually are. On the other hand, players that are pushed into the background feel neglected. Their development stalls and resentment build fast.
There are many options. Promote the player to a higher age-group? But does this prevent an older child from getting a game? Share the team roles more? Your star player may decide to up and leave. But is this the best for all parties on the long run?
SCENARIO 1B: You push inclusion over winning. Your superstar grows disillusioned. They become a negative influence, not understanding why less experienced players can’t perform. Of course, you need to tell them to grow up a bit – “it’s not all about you”!
But deep down you know….they are stagnating, starved of the opportunity to kick on. How do you proceed?
Even harder: How do you nurture a young superstar to be a team player, without supressing their desire to be the best? You are asking for maturity well beyond their years. It’s not their fault they are so far ahead of their peers. And to be honest you can totally see how they feel under-challenged.
The club won’t want to lose their brightest talent. But this might be inevitable. It would be nice to hang onto them through to adult cricket – where this player will definitely get the challenge they lack among their peers. All parties need to be on board – players, managers, adult captains and the club committee.
I’m yet to see this happen!!
Scenario 2: Small club, big ambitions
You are coaching at a small, volunteer-based club – with 50-60 players across all ages. Your priority is to give everybody a good experience in training, have fun and play a few games.
The manager of one age-group is on the “warpath”. This team has gelled well, and are winning more often than losing.
So far, so good! But issues brewing under the surface.
They become a bit over-competitive – constant references to the league table; prioritising the “big match” next week over the bigger picture; getting too wrapped up in individual moments (or decisions) during the games. Their child has a suspicious trend of being the player-of-the-match.
The overall picture is good. Results improve and this does boost team morale. But there are serious issues to address. The odd “incident” with a rival manager. Certain parents are threatening to switch clubs….something small clubs can ill afford.
But here’s the killer. If not him, who else?
No other parent feels equipped enough to take on the job. And even if they did, how owuld you intervene without it feeling like a “coup”?
What if the manager in question feels insulted, and takes him, his child and several other players with him. He has fans!
Here, the Junior Coordinator (usually the most selfless person in the club) is stuck in the middle. Having done so much hard work behind the scenes, it is a huge letdown when he/she has to wade into these petty disputes.
Why can’t everyone just get along? And since they patantly can’t, what’s the closest you can get?
Scenario 3: “Fixed orders” (and you win), or share it around (and you lose)….
….because you will at first. Probably heavily. Players need to be thrown into the heat of battle….and will, more often than not, be found wanting in their first trip to the “deep end”.
And that’s fine!
The coaching “purist” in me is convinced on this one. You absolutely should take the short term hit….as it is the only way to learn. Players need to experience disconfort, fail, re-group and come back stronger. it’s just a part of learning.
It’s easy for me to preach this. A bit more difficult to practice. My role as a full time coach also gives me the luxury to work to laubable longterm goals. For parents who volunteer however, this is an incredibly difficult tightrope.
Your best intentions might fall flat, when some players take their first failure hard and refuse to put themselves out there again. You have tried to do the “right thing”, but it feels as if it’s back-fired.
You can stick with the proven openers and a middle order that can be relied on. Cricket is a game for specialists after all. At what point to you concede that certain players are only a batter or only a bowler?
On the other end of the spectrum, there are players who simply want to dodge their own weaknesses….but you feel a responsibility to get them to confront them. They will voluntarily put themselves at 11 in the batting order (12 or lower if it was allowed!!). But you may feel they are better than that.
It all comes down to how you see individual development. Work on getting the best out of the strengths? Or develop them as all-round players?
Scenario 4: You want to “get back to basics”, parent wants “advanced drills”
“I thought we’d be using the bowling machine”.
“It’s a bit basic”.
“I want my child to be challenged more”.
So annoying! “Challenging” comes in two forms:
- Performing complicated actions
- Performing basics actions over and over
People are all too aware of the former, but tend to ignore the latter. Can your player hit 20 under-arm feeds straight past the bowler in a row? We all know they can do one!!
A player’s application to the basics will tell a lot about them. Does their focus wane after a handful of balls? Do they have an attention to detail? Will they complete the drill in the manner it was designed? If they aren’t, they fully deserve to be told: “you need to up your game!”
As coaches, we all know that consistent basics matter and form a solid platform for more complex skills. But parental pressure often forces compromises. We are pressure to run before our recruits can walk.
How do you get your point across? As they will often remind you, they are the client paying good money to be here! Is there room for compromise?
Scenario 5: Watching them fall into the same trap (over and over!)
“How many times do we need to see the ball go into the gap before we plug it?!”
Watching young players tactical insights makes me frequently want to bash my head against a wall. The penny drops way after the horse has bolted. Field changes amount to little more than placing a fielder where the last 4 was struck.
And there is ALWAYS a slip! Why must there always be a slip?!!
The official ECB guideline is “no on-field coaching past the age of 11”. This is a laudable aim in principle. But the reality for many, many players is that they simply won’t play sufficient games to develop that intuition themselves.
When a team is outclassed, they will often look at what their opponents did so well. It is important to talk about lifting the bar higher, but keeping things in perspective. They may have accumulated far more hours of match experience.
This might sound like a cop-out. Yes, it is my responsibility to coach for independence. I have no aspirations to become a Premier League style manager, barking every minor instructions from the sidelines. But is there a place for a gentle “nudge” in the right direction.
And once you start….where do you draw the line?
I would love to hear from you. EMAIL ME: at firstname.lastname@example.org