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What IS Natural Talent?

It’s always a curious thing when coaches, players and commentators talk about “natural talent”. 

When someone does well they appear to have natural talent, according to experts and when they break records, do something exceptional or remain highly consistent, it is revered as natural ability.

But the truth is, if we do things over and over again this is what becomes natural. And that means you can change it.

Coaching (or teaching) can help you alter how you do things. If you are a batsman and continually get LBW for example, the way you bat can be improved. In some cases, a trigger, pre-delivery movement, would dramatically help. But this wouldn’t be natural for you to attempt without grooving it over and over – until it felt natural. At this point, we would say that you had a natural style of batting, even though you had learned it. Because even if you ‘worked out’ the best way for you to bat – you have learned it. It might be self-taught, but that is learning, too.

Brett Lee suffered a stress fracture due to his ‘natural’ bowling action when aged 18. So he changed it into what we saw . To us this looks natural and most commentators said this is a gift for him and ‘how he bowls’ even though he learned it.

There is a confusion over what is natural and the aptitude as humans we have to do something easily. Humans are pre-disposed with different assets that make running, throwing, jumping or hitting a ball, more likely. However, something is only natural if it has been nurtured, developed and learned. 

This is the most important thing to remember – apart from instinct we are all born with, all things in our life are learned experiences. It doesn’t mean that all humans can do the same things equally well. It simply means that we are a product of what we have been taught, shared and absorbed.

Those who do exceptionally well as a cricketer clearly perform the most important tasks better than others. Whether this is physical, mental or tactical, those world class performers all share a similar group of ‘assets’. There is a capacity to perform that others may not be able to show. 

Whether this is natural talent, for me, is highly unlikely. 

All tall people cannot be fast bowlers. All people with great reflexes and concentration cannot be great batsmen. So what is the ‘gift’ that people have that makes them exceptional?

Whatever you do more often than not, becomes natural, feels natural and looks natural. Being taught the right things is the main part of what appears to be natural, gifted talent. 

So is there a difference between what is natural and what is natural talent? It is just predisposition that differs, but the common denominator is always what has been learned. 

And that comes down to coaching in the end, appropriate to the person receiving it. 

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Do Coaches Make A Difference At the Higher Levels?

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.