People say you always remember a great teacher. That’s because the influence they can have on you is immense. You probably remember a very bad one, too.
So just how important IS a coach when it comes to a team being successful?
The general feeling is always that the players are playing and the coach is…well… just a coach. A coach cannot play for you and a coach isn’t out there performing.
So what is a player? Is he/she an autonomous, free-thinking, self-developed and fully-independent cricketer? Can he/she work things out for himself/herself under pressure?
My first penny-dropping moment came at the 2007 World Cup as Assistant Coach to the Netherlands in the West Indies. At a team meeting I asked a simple question “How many of you know your role in the team?” If i recall, out of the 16 players sat around the table, only 2 hands went up.
The players were simply unsure of what they were doing or were clear of thought about how they should play.
In 2011, as Head Coach of the Dhaka Gladiators, I asked opening batsman Imran Nazir, what he thought his role was in the power play. He said “To get as many runs as fast as possible”.
What struck me about those two conversations is just how a player is completely influenced by coaching staff and understanding of role clarity. Something as simple (and important) as “what is my role?” wildly affected how collective individuals would be able to perform.
The ECB identified 5 key areas for making a world-class player: Technical, Tactical, Physical, Mental and Lifestyle. And so to develop that player we have coaches covering skill drills, strength & conditioning, sports psychologists, performance analysts, nutritionists, and a whole plethora of ‘back room’ staff.
We place massive importance of ‘team ethic’, plans, media interaction, communication, dressing room vibe and positive attitudes.
We spend hours in nets throwing balls with Sidearms, having player bowl at targets, hitting against bowling machines, learning power hitting, developing skills for different aspects of the game. Coaches work hours on fielding skills like catching, diving, throwing, positioning. It’s a coach’s job to make the players better.
Hours are spent by analysts developing weaknesses of opposition and own players.
Match day tactics are developed – team by team. Plans are discussed, worked on and fleshed out. Team meetings are designed to make the game as smooth as possible for the players.
Once the players cross that boundary line they are on their own. No coach can do it for them. But be under no illusion. You are watching the tip of the Iceberg with the vast majority of what has gone on up to then – under the surface unseen.
Success goes to players. Blame goes to coaches. That’s how fans see it and those outside of the game. Neither is accurate or true, but perception is reality.
My point is, when you see a successful team, just think about what has gone into making that happen and understand the players are never alone, nor is anything done in isolation.