5 rules of coaching

1. Good drill doesn’t always = good coaching

“This is a brilliant drill, to get your players ________”

Sometimes the best looking, well-thought-through drills, don’t have as much impact. This is usually because of:

  • LACK OF RELEVANCE – is the skill too abstracted from any real-life match pressure? Will it actually hold up when it matters?
  • LACK OF REPETITIONS –  relays are a good example. They may look controlled (and impressive to parents on the sidelines), but are very often just crowd management exercises. They drastically reduce time in contact with the bat/ball.
  • ILLUSION OF PROGRESS – repeating pretty much any skill 100/200/300 times, will make you improve at it….no matter how flawed that skill is. Are they performing the skill the “right” way?

Drill A doesn’t automatically achieve objective B. No matter how much thought you have put into it.

2. Play the long game

“Why do you put up with that behavior, he’s so disrespectful”?

I was asked this by an onlooker at a cricket camp, last Summer. One of the boys had just snapped back rudely at me, after refusing to come and join the group. 

My response was, “you haven’t seen what it was like last year”!

The boy in question had made super progress, become much less self-absorbed and was now frequently a positive influence on the younger . This rude comment was now the exception, not the rule.

I have already admitted that I have a tendency to give players “too much rope”. But at least this gives me the opportunity to sculpt young people’s behaviors for the better. For me, a little social embarrassment was a price worth paying, to achieve something other coaches simply wouldn’t have.

People can often talk a tough game on discipline. But sometimes this results in large sections of the group being left behind or condemned.

The way to become an inspiring coach is by turning around behaviors, not declaring who “wants to” or “doesn’t want to” be here….

  1. BE RELATABLE – make sure you are a seen as approachable to each individual. Have a “clean slate” every session. Prove that you don’t hold grudges (no matter how bad the reputation). This may require you to be the “bigger man/woman” at times. But hey, you are the adult here!
  2. EXPLAIN YOUR POINTS OF VIEW – Too many coaches take being challenged to heart. Children and adults can be contrary. Go out of your way to explain your methods and why they work.
    A player will commit so much more to a technique/theme when they accept in their hearts it is right.
    Good coaches often need to be good “lawyers”!
  3. INSTILL BELIEF – the reason for a lot of poor behavior is down to this crucial factor….low self esteem. In short, it’s easier to not try at all, than to try and possibly fail.

    Working towards the high standards you expect can take years. But coaches need to “earn the right” to do things your way. This mindset helps to keep more players in the game. 

 

3. “Read” your group: be adaptable

Every team and group is a different organism. Your challenge as a coach – find out what they will best respond to. Achieve this, and your life will be much easier. Fail, and you risk plenty of arguments and friction.

Many coaches try to achieve what they want, not what their group needs. Do they want to become the best players possible? Or do they have other motivations.

With both groups, your primary aim has to be to develop and improve. You don’t give up on groups who are a bit more laid back. But you may have to take things more slowly, or use different learning styles.

I usually have 3 or 4 session plans based around the same skill. A “one size fits all” approach will not work. Sometimes the finish line will take longer to reach the finish line than you would like.

4. Are your players really thinking?

…..or are they just saying what they think you want to hear? There is a difference!

Often you will find that they are parroting coaching cliches.

  • “I’m coming down the wicket, to put the bowler off his/her length”
  • “I’m mixing it up to confuse the batter”
  • “I’m trying to hit through the off-side”
  • “I’m going to hit the top of off-stump”

The best players will go beyond catch phrases, and get analytical – both about themselves and their opponents. Good themes include:

  • STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES – a useful way to demonstrate that the same bowling, with a slightly different target or angle, can have more success.
  • “WHAT’S THE PLAN – Batters and bowlers considering what each other are trying to do. This gives them a chance to adapt and counter the plan they need to, or force a “Plan B” if they have been figured out.

5. Coach the “Why’s” not the “What’s”

A bowler “releases the ball too late/early”. A batter didn’t “get to the pitch of the ball”, or “keep a straight bat”. A catcher didn’t keep their hands “in line with the ball”. 

Yes….but why? 

If you only talk about the “what’s” – or symptoms – a player may never understand the “why’s” – or causes.

EXAMPLE: RELEASING THE BALL “TOO EARLY/LATE”

Here, you are talking about an “unconscious” act. A bowler doesn’t actively decide when to let go of the ball. So pointing out release points is close to meaningless. 

To improve, a player needs to know what makes this happen. A ball usually sticks in their hand too long, when they are falling down. Conversely, the ball flies out too soon when their fingers slip from behind the ball (leaning to the side, or slinging the ball).

EXAMPLE: GETTING “TO THE PITCH”

Think about how a young player might interpret this information. They will probably attempt to use their feet more – and this is potentially a good thing!

But there could be unintended consequences, as they look for a solution. They may start charging or lunging forwards, or going onto the front foot to every single ball.

Good footwork isn’t just about how big your step is. It is the ability to move your head and shoulders forwards too. “Leaning” to the ball is as vital as “stepping”!

 

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.

It’s not just “hands to the ball”: fielding coaching, done well!

Get your hands to the ball

What about the rest of you? Always remember, the hands are the last part of the catching process! Just like batting, you need to be near it first!

One of the most common mistakes coaches make when fielding, is one of the most fundamental….they watch the ball not the player! By the time they are watching the right things, it’s too late!

Have a close look at your players, to see if they are consistently right under or behind the ball!

GROUND FIELDING: Approach at the right angle! – Set off in the right direction. Either forwards, diagonally or side-to-side.

fielding side-to-side

  • SWIVEL – turning your feet quickly, so that instead of shuffling, the fielder can sprint to the ball
  • UPPER BODY FACING THE BALL – as the legs move quickly sideways, it is important that your upper body is facing forwards. Use your arms for balance
  • GETTING DOWN AT THE RIGHT TIME – get as close to the ball as you can, before you start to reach for the ball. Reaching out with your arms, or stooping too early, slows you down (meaning crucial distance lost)!

BOUNDARY FIELDING: Use the “Banana Run” – the “Banana Run” is a phrase I have coined, to explain the movement involved when you patrol the boundary.

When the ball comes off the bat, a fielder picks up the line first – “is the ball to my left or right”? This is the direction you set off in. Why? Because if the ball is struck hard, every millisecond counts. By “hugging” the boundary rope, you buy extra time to cover more ground….if you need it!

Later on you will pick up the length. This is where the “Banana Run” comes into play. If the ball is losing pace, and you can attack it, start to bend your run in-field.

It may only take 2 or 3 steps for you to realize you can attack the ball. But using this technique, you can be sure you are taking the exact path to the ball you need, saving crucial split seconds!

fielding banana run

  • AVOID – “Reverse Banana”, where the fielder runs in too early, realises they won’t cut off the ball at this angle and suddenly has to curve backwards.

CHASING TO BOUNDARY – the “Scoop & Roll” – If you chase the ball back towards the boundary, your body position is crucial.

Think about how you approach the ball. Remember that it’s not just getting to the ball that matters here, it’s keeping it off the boundary. Not an easy task when all your body’s momentum is hurtling forwards!

Make sure you approach the ball slightly to the side. This allows you to hook the ball off the boundary, with a rotating body. Benefits of this include

  • MORE “SURFACE AREA” – you can use your entire forearm to keep the ball off the ropes. More margin for error
  • LESS CHANCE OF “DOUBLE CONTACT” – you don’t want to scoop the ball into your own body….as this will take the ball back over the line
  • RECOVERING FOR THROW – this action allows you to tumble over, and spring back onto your feet straight away

HIGH CATCHING: “X Marks the Spot!” – some players idly walk forwards, and allow the ball to drift over their head. Others hesitate, and are too late to realize the ball is dropping out of reach.

A third group pick up the ball quickly, run 99% of the way, but miss the crucial FINAL step underneath the ball.

Catchers want to be in a position they can a) get their hands to the ball, and b) cushion it with their arms, shoulders and knees (not just their hands).

FLAT CATCHING – Swaying Body – Move your hands to the ball, but make sure your body moves into line as well!

  • Bend “leading leg” (one closest to ball) – like batting, this will let your body move in line, and not get stuck
  • Steady “trailing leg” – don’t let it slide around, as this will turn your body

Not so good technique:

We need to talk about nets….

Are we doing nets soon?

Will we be going in the nets soon? I’m a bit concerned there haven’t been any nets so far. This training seems a bit basic for my son/daughter.

If I was to sum up the parental feedback we typically get over the winter in 10 words, it would be something like this….

Nets, nets, nets, hardball, nets, nets, hardball, nets, nets, nets!

Why is it all about the nets?!!

Battling false impressions

Deep down, we know why. Hard ball, full batting gear, Everything about nets indicates “proper” cricket. 

We are often caught between what is the right thing to do and what will ruffle the least feathers. Between what the players need and what they (and their parents) want.

At some cricket clubs I have worked at, I wrestle internally between the two. Sometimes even the journey to the ground, I still haven’t chosen my path. Do I want another evening (probably a chain of emails the next day too) justifying my methods? Do i have the patience to stand my ground over and over?

To put it simply: is it worth the effort? Can I be bothered to do things my way?

Limitations of nets

  • Difficult to handle mixed standards – potentially dangerous situations
  • Limited balls faced and bowled – soft balls allow for greater intensity and frequency of repetitions

Net “Non-Negotiables”

Of course, net practice can be really useful – or you may have to factor more in than you previously planned. So how can we make them as beneficial as possible – not just at the time, but improvement that will stick long term?

The key is making them so, not assuming they are useful automatically. To be a productive use of your time, nets need….

A purpose

Try not to treat nets as an “end in itself”. Give batters or bowlers carte-blanche to do whatever they want, and your session will meander. There will be peaks and troughs. They will “try new things” – probably once every 2 or 3 balls. Engagement will fluctuate….even more wildly than normal!

Set a scenario – “You are the opening batter. It’s a 30 over match. Set the platform for the rest of the innings”, would be the simplest. But even this gesture will give some direction to the players.

Set a theme – eg/ “today, we are going to learn how to deflect and time the ball. You score a point every time you hit the ball into the ground, before it hits the net”.

Preparation

Don’t even bother turning up unless….

Measured a run-up – Sports halls are inadvertently useful for cricket training. They have lines to run down, and any number of “markers” for your run-up.

However you do it, mark your start point, and test whether you are “hitting the crease”.

Warmed up & stretched….or “engaged” different muscles! – Just trotting up and bowling some half-paced balls does not constitute a warm-up!

Muscles that need “engaging”:

  • Shoulders – arms move freely, but a bowling action is dependent on free-moving shoulders too! I find a “exaggerated swimming” action effective.
  • Hips – Bowling involves picking your knees up. This means the upper leg join needs to be loose. Lean against a wall, and swing each leg back and forward, across. Try to gently extend its range of movement.
  • Core muscles – abs, lats, side and back. There is a lot of twisting and contorting involved with bowling. A strong core is needed help you to fully aim, bowl and complete your action.

Empowered players

There is a little trick to looking like a “good coach” in the nets….just be opinionated! Every ball will present an opportunity to say something new. But effective nets need more consistency and variety – “command-response” coaching might achieve some quick fixes, but isn’t enough to have a lasting effect. 

The answer is blending in lots of “player-led” coaching. Start with assessing your opponents, and deciding on a plan! Some young players talk about their teammates’ strengths and weaknesses, as if they’ve never met before in their lives!

You do have to prompt them to analyze each other. And ween them off the classic cliches: “Bowl at the top of off”. “Keep it on the off-side”….all mean next-to-nothing, unless a player understands why they want to aim at these places.

A full grasp of a bowling plan will make them bowl with so much more intent, drive and purpose.

The last 10 minutes

This is the most critical phase of any net session. The closing stages will determine whether any improvements are crystallized, or whether your players jump straight back to “square 1”.

Quite naturally, people’s attention wanders towards the end. This applies to players and coaches. But a pep talk may be in order here, if you notice focus waning. Why spend 95% of your time building a player’s game up, only to undermine all that in the last 2 minutes.

I usually start with a compliment – “you have come so far in this hour” – along with some specific personal gains – “____, “your run-up is so much smoother”; ____’s movement to the ball has improved out of sight”!

Last over! You need 20 to win off 6!

Think. Are your targets realistic? Are you making the players earn their runs? Usually a coach will just award “2 runs” for any old slapped shot into the net.

Think of more imaginative ways to motivate your batters, other than a wildly unrealistic “last over” target.

Some games I use

 

How to create successful fielders: it’s more than technique

 Fielding isn’t just a skill. It’s a state of mind.

Despite being no more than a middling standard club cricketer, there is one part of the game in which I have always been able to stand out….fielding!

Through countless of hours of solo practice, and actually enjoying the art, I managed to develop high competence levels in any position – from the covers to short-leg.

Deep consideration of the discipline….how it is taught, how it can be generalised, and where teams go wrong with their approach to fielding….has also given me some insight into coaching fielding.

Is a reason why many teams who pocket every catch in training, can’t replicate it on the field? Despite hours of practicing “soft hands”, why does everybody’s grip seems to tighten under pressure? Players who are very competent at catching, frequently panic, when a crucial wicket depends on it.

Finally, is there anything we can do about it? Below are a few insights, from a lifetime is devotion to fielding, and being driven mad at club training sessions by the same fatal errors.

Why practice does not always make perfect?!

The common reasons for this is as follows:

a) Mis-diagnosing the causes of drops – typically, when a catch is grassed, everybody looks to the player’s hand position. Did they cushion the ball?; were they in the right place; were they together?

However if you look elsewhere, or trace the movements back to the beginning, you will often find the CAUSE of the drop, not just the SYMPTOM.

Start looking at the following instead:

  • Positioning – you can’t cushion the ball if you are too far away from it! Not only getting in the right position, but getting there as early as possible (so you can make small adjustments if the ball swerves).
  • Stability – you are best off looking at the feet first. Did the player steady themselves and have both feet planted? Rate your player’s “composure levels” as they catch.
  • Readiness – again, you’ll have no chance of taking a reflex catch if your hands arent in front of you, and palms facing the batsman. Sounds obvious, but this is commonly forgotten.

b) Judging success in training by the RESULT, forgetting the TECHNIQUE – in short, when a catch comes your way in training, you are more relaxed. The opposite is true when you are under a high ball in a match. 

With the higher stakes, and added pressure, your catching technique is under more scrutiny. Here is where you rely on the instincts and muscle memories from your body.

So where you may not be able to perfectly replicate this pressure….you definitely can take a perfectionist approach to training. Have your players perfectly centred themselves underneath the ball? Are their hands ready WELL IN ADVANCE of the catch? Did they keep the rest of their body perfectly still, or over-react as the ball hit them?

You must focus on the process, not the result! Getting the catches just right, is 100 times more important than doing your drills harder and faster.

In training,you may often find me being more harshly critical of some catches than dropped catches. While this sounds stupid, catching in a casual way in training is worse than no practice at all.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE – players often appear to be “scared of the ball”, when in fact they simply need confidence in their technique. For these players, you need to gently crank up the intensity and difficulty level, allowing them time to be more assured movements. Macho high catches will simply ruin their prospect of ever reaching this point. It’s more than about just “being brave”.

c) Panic – Nothing prepares you for that jolt of surprise and adrenaline, when the ball comes your way all of a sudden! 

In training, our focus is largely on “massed practice”. There is a certain formula to the drills….even if the feeding is random, you “know” the ball will find its way to you soon.

This is a difficult aspect of cricket to coach. The fact is that it takes time; building a mindset here is more important than flawless technique.

  • Good habits – always down and always pointing hands to ball
  • Team ethic – through positive atmosphere, everybody is automatically slightly more confident, alert and ready.
  • Togetherness – the feeling that we all field “as one”, sharing in each other’s good moments, is vital.
  • Sense of control – a player’s “body language” has a significant effect or the performance of every individual….this is hugely under-valued in its importance.

Don’t be that person who ends up diving or sprawling when they don’t need to. Don’t let that ball burst through your hands, because they are snatching at the last moment. Be calm at the right times.

Activities for “match pressure” catching

A favorite drill of mine is the “bowl a team out” slip catching game

Ideal group: 5-8

How it works:

Arrange the field around a batsman. Ideally a keeper, slip(s), gully, point, cover and short-leg. One person in the group is a “feeder”, throwing balls at the batsman who “edges” the ball.

The aim of the game is to take 10 wickets, all by catches….for the least number of runs possible.

This switches the focus from simply catching the ball, to retrieving it as well (I like to call it “finishing the job”). There is now an incentive to stop everything as well as catch. If the ball runs between fielders, or is fumbled, their job is to recover the ball to the feeder as quickly as possible.

Once the group has “bowled out” the imaginary team. They have another go. Their new aim is to get all 10 wickets for less runs.

If you have time for a third attempt, add extra hurdles to make the feat more challenging.

  • Up the pace of the feeds
  • Less “genuine” catching chances – make them wait for the crucial moment
  • More balls into gaps

MAKE THE GROUP WORK FOR THEIR WICKETS.

MAKE SURE THEY ARE ENCOURAGING EACH OTHER, AND LOOKING FORWARDS NOT BACK.

CELEBRATE EACH WICKET! CEMENT THE GOOD MOMENTS IN EVERYONE’S MIND, AND USE IT AS MOTIVATION TO CREATE MORE.

EVERY person matters: your role as a coach

Cricket coaching PR focuses on inspiring the “next generation of Joe Roots and Jos Buttlers”. What they consistently forget, is this is only 1% of the picture!!

_____

The “cricket enthusiasm pyramid”

At the top of the pyramid – the “cricket badgers”. They live, breathe, eat and sleep all things cricket. They the minority, who have “seen the light”.

Next down – the “summer cricket lovers”. Down the club dawn to dusk. Looking up their stats, and the league table of the various XI’s, constantly. But they have other interests. Come winter, that passion is transferred to something else. And that’s fine!

In the middle – the “enjoy it on a good day” group. They can appreciate the good moments of the sport. But often quick to get deflated, when things go wrong. Struggle with the turn-based element of cricket, and the patience required. Usually footballers!!

At the lower end – “social members”. For them, cricket club is a way of meeting up with their mates. The end-of-session BBQ, or playing frisbee in the evening hours afterwards, might be their favorite club. They might mess around in training. But don’t underestimate their value to the club.

At the bottom – the “don’t want to be here group”. Cricket – sport, even – will never be their “thing”. They might resent being brought along to “try a sport” by their parents. They may be terrified of the ball….not just the pain it can inflict, but the embarassment of trying and failing publicly.

At the very least, you can create a warm, welcoming environment, teach them a few skills, give them a bit more confidence in their hand-eye coordination. If you can get them leaving, thinking “cricket’s alright”, you have achieved something!!

______

The role of a cricket coach is NOT just to nurture the already interested. That’s easy.

The role of a cricket coach is to further every individual to their next level – of engagement and ability – in the sport. 

What is JUST AS important, is not as said above, the “next generation of stars”. It’s the next generation of casual cricketers; the next generation of semi-interested adults, who will share a field with you….possibly in exchange for a drink later; the next generation of parents, who will look at the list of after school clubs….and hopefully pick cricket over the competition.

Perhaps that positive association with the sport, back from a class you run when they were children, will make a difference.

 

 

 

BE BETTER: You are only as good as your last session

When I started out in coaching, I was a completely different person. If I was still that person, I would have been fired long ago!! Expectations change with age and experience. 

Too many coaches stand still. We are always telling young players to work on their weaknesses, while our own are ignored. Why would children be motivated to take these on if their coaches avoid them too?! 

I  still rarely feel as if I have delivered a perfect session. I feel as is I’ve “failed” several times a week. Perhaps this is a good sign. I know I am a reflective coach and want to improve. Doing this requires honesty with yourself….not the easiest thing to do!

I wanted to share some reflections, 10 years on from my first ever session as a professional coach (King Athelstan Primary, Kingston – a real baptism of fire!).

  • How have I improved?
  • What uncomfortable truths did I need to confront?
  • How has this changed be as a person as well as a coach?
  • What do I still need to do

SHYNESS/TIMIDNESS

When I worked alongside other coaches, I’d get out-gunned. Even assertive parents and volunteers would sometimes drown out my voice. 

Working alone helped. In a “sink-or-swim” environment, I began to find my voice. Putting my hand up for the most difficult sessions too. Looking back, some of my proudest achievements as are coach come from these. Not because they went sensationally, but because they went “OK”.  Sometimes, “OK” is a triumph!

I would pre-plan my end-of-session monologues. This is a practice I will use today, to make sure there is a beginning, middle and end (finding a way to wrap it up is vital!). Before long, this made them more natural, and I would dread public speaking less and less. Now, I am completely unfazed in front of 50-100 people.

One of the hardest things….moving away – temporarily – from my lifelong club. Being alongside individuals who had known me since 11, I found it difficult, almost trapped in a personality. The shy boy everyone had known me as for life.

It took an escape from that environment, to come out and express myself. Fortunately, I have now returned, a better, more confident person.

POOR TIME MANAGEMENT

Many of my sessions would overrun….sometimes by tens of minutes! I just couldn’t process activities in time.

In a way this was a good sign – I was always keen to finish on a positive note, or make sure every child had equal batting time. In other ways, it was catastrophic – frustrated, parents queuing up to whisk their girl/boy off to the next club.

Finally, it hit me that my good intentions weren’t enough. I needed to be practical and efficient as well. I began to watch the clock more. Plan out detailed sessions in writing again. Be more realistic with the amount of goes each player could have.

Having a Plan B is important. Many coaches come into sessions with a plan that is simply too rigid. I usually go to each session with a:

  • BEST CASE SCENARIO – if everything goes to plan, i want to achieve a, b, c….
  • AVERAGE CASE SCENARIO – modifying the session plan, if one aspect needs reinforcing
  • WORST CASE SCENARIO – nothing is sticking. This means this skill needs more time and care. I also have a potential different activity (around the same team), with a different learning style.

I have also learnt and developed activities (my own and others’), that engage more players at the same time. I also have the awareness to monitor multiple things at once. Young coaches often fixate on small things. Try and keep an eye on the bigger picture always!

POOR ADMIN

In the early days, I could barely look at my email inbox (some might say little has changed)!

Anxiety (is there going to be a complaint/has something gone wrong??) my problem. I would worry constantly that a complaint was coming my way. This meant a) I missed the good news, and b) of course, any bad news festered and compounded.

I realized that this couldn’t continue. I worked hard on organizing my time better – a block of 1-2 hours, every day, reserved for emails and planning. Using different comunnications – such as mobile phone (although 64 work WhatsApps is a little OTT) – for different subject also helped.

I often agonize over what I write (even trivial messages), so sometimes opt for a combination. A text with an initial outline, followed my more detail written later on.

DEALING WITH PARENTS

For a long time, I was a “yes man”. If a mum or dad inquired about future sessions, I would bend over backwards to appease them. 

As we know, this is not always possible to do. Sometimes I would shy away from uncomfortable truths – “____ has been misbehaving and distracting others”). Or make promises about future sessions.

Now I am far better at not only handling complaints, but pre-empting them. Every session I run, I try to paint a picture of the future to the children and parents.

  • WHAT WILL HAPPEN TODAY – an outline of the session plan. So they aren’t going into each stage wondering what comes next
  • WHAT WE WANT TO ACHIEVE – so immediately, they are clear about targets, and what actions will earn praise
  • WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT WEEK(S) – how does this session fit into the bigger picture. Prove that there IS a bigger picture!!

DISCIPLINE

I would give naughty children too much rope

Even though I would tell children off, I would wait too long to follow through on warnings.

This gets easier with age. When you start out in the job, you want to be liked. The more experience you get, the more you can see what is the “right thing”….even if it involves some arguments and harsh words.

Being stricter doesn’t always just mean shouting more. You can enforce discipline your own way. 

SAYING NO/DELEGATING

At the start of term, going the extra mile seems like a good idea. At the end of term, it feels like a stupid idea. 

Fatigue builds up over a long summer. And in these times I can get more introverted.

Sometimes, I have to remember not to rely on myself for everything. The stress of thinking, “I am responsible for this”, would prevent me from trusting colleagues, or assistants fully.

This is unfair, on myself (too much self-induced pressure), and my colleagues (who often weren’t given a chance to express themselves). Now, if I am in charge, I try to give any colleagues an idea of their role – along with any specific themes I’d like them to mention/observe over others.