There are no constants. Everything is mitigated by circumstance or context. For all our efforts to gather in meaning or truth, glorious, nose-thumbing reality intervenes. On the one hand to remind us we’re only human – only individual – and on the other to deflate our pomp. In life and in sport.
So (for example!) we’ve recalibrated our cricket coaching; we speak of Core Principles rather than Technical Models. We question and we question to unfurl answers, decisions, ownership from within the player. We throttle back our opinion, our ego, our instinct to contradict, in order to facilitate. We’ve become model humans; wise, generous, liberal, humble. In theory.
In practice we moan and bitch and pull our hair out at the sheer incompetence just like always. But we keep a lid on the bollockings – mostly, probably. We rant about the ECB coming over all generic and politically correct and ‘forgetting’ that cricket IS unique. Its complexities. Its predication upon repeatable skills, skills which must deny the encroaching possibilities, the errors which will be punished. We coaches battle with or against this need to prescribe for excellence and the higher impulses towards player-centredness.
It’s not easy but it’s fabulous. In the sense that a) it’s magnificently challenging b) it’s fun c) it’s perversely right to shoot for individual brilliance over theoretical alignment. Coaching cricket is absolutely wonderful because… it makes you wonder about stuff. Not least this balancing of how much freedom to offer, when you may know that discipline (possibly of the technical variety) will, pound for pound, probably enable greater success than (say) allowing Player X to continue to ‘play by instinct’. Maybe.
An example of this gorgeous conundrum might be as follows: young(?) Player Z has an extraordinary eye and a capacity to take the game away from the opposition with the bat. Because he or she swings freely and quite simply generally connects – beautifully. However, you have observed both in practice and in matches the tendency for the front foot ‘clearing’ to (either) draw the head inside the line of the ball early and/or affect balance. Meaning mistimed strokes or miscues and trouble.
The issue is compound. Coach should probably say something (but is this re philosophy or technique?)
Wrong to be the style-cramping miserablist but also wrong to leave innocence un-warned, unadvised. Few would now row entirely against the tide for dynamic/counter-attacking batting but in my experience few coaches would be content to keep schtumm when they can see that some of the risk might be mitigated by a few words around form or base or head.
One model might be to ask the player questions about the implications of being less than balanced (even) when playing aggressively. Then bring out the sub-Churchillian stuff. Make clear that it’s the player’s moment; they choose, they act. We can theorise all day about agility, belief and commitment but in the moment the player must be the expressor of all that. Which brings me back to my title.
Another, more personal example. I was a decent bowler; like the rest of the universe I was told aged twelve I should look to be playing First Class Cricket but a zillion things intervened, including my lack of that kind of ability. But I could bowl quickish and I could also bowl quickish leg-cutters by doing something weirdly akin to the back-of-the-hand thing even when bowling swiftly. Nobody taught me; I found this weapon. I loved finding things, especially on those very rare occasions when I had a proper cricket ball in my hands – a brand new cherry, incidentally, was completely unheard of.
I grew up on the fringes of the game rather than right in it so this may mean I had less exposure to coaching. But the facts that I went to a relatively humongous state school and that coaching barely existed back then also weigh in here. However they do not alter the feeling that my love of bowling results mainly from faffing about; running in and trying things with my mates. Bowling, in fact; in our case at a block of wood in a disheveled net on the British Legion field down the road.
I labour these points because it strikes me there is no substitute for at least some ‘free practice’ and because more importantly I’m clear that only I knew how this particular delivery really felt. It was my process. This is not to say that it couldn’t later be broken down and ‘understood’ by others skilled in coaching or analysis; it surely could. But inevitably it remains unique. Which is surely part of the magic? Stay with me.
I have a concern that pace bowlers (maybe in particular?) are sometimes ill-served by coaches who want to direct them towards their understanding of best practice. (In other words, change their action). This may be the result of over-zealousness or quite frequently because these coaches feel the breath of other, more senior voices around them. You legitimise yourself, you puff out your chest and say something you imagine sounds powerful – authoritative.
God it’s tempting at my amateur level to tell a bowler all you know about bowling when his dad (who played for Glamorgan) or another coach is edging into earshot. Instead all parties might be better served if a few friendly questions are asked, leading the player towards two or three (not 42 or 43!) checkpoints for when they’re bowling. Two or three things to return to before clearing the mind, concentrating on the stumps and running in freely – like a kid on the field with his mates.
There’s no wider agenda here. I’m not alluding to alleged failings at Loughborough or revisiting Finngate. I don’t know the circumstances or the relevant individuals. However I am chipping into the debate because I’m a bowler and a coach and I recognise acutely some of the issues. To plunge again into the general, I would be very loath to change the action of a bowler significantly unless it was absolutely nailed on that injury had been the direct result of that action. Instead, mostly, I would be saying this to the seamer(s) in my charge –
Hey mate you know what things keep you in order – what your checks are. So focus on them. Then calm yourself, run in with energy, follow through.
I’m happy enough with that. I have on board the (compound) idea that yes we should be offering Core Principles and – reference those batting skills – yes we can rightly encourage positivity whilst (also) playing the match situation. But ultimately, ultimately…
It’s got to feel like you.