No time for ABCs of coaching

2013-08-03 00:00

IT is always difficult for a coach who has not played cricket at the highest levels to lecture his charges about technique.

If you, personally, have never had to deal with the likes of Jimmy Anderson moving the ball both ways at speed, the advice you may give a struggling batsman will rarely sound convincing.

This is a fact of life that Russell Domingo will have to get used to, but it is important that he does so quickly because the current crop of Protea wannabes have enough technical deficiencies to keep him occupied for many long hours. I find it disturbing that a national coach is confronted with such a situation when all his charges have been in provincial structures for several years. I would have thought that such players might have had some idea of the basics of a good technique, but no such luck for Domingo.

One of the problems is the myth that coaches should not interfere with “the way a player does things”.

To my mind this is a weak cop out by coaches who have neither the knowledge nor the honesty of purpose to nurture the self awareness of strong technical disciplines.

The result is that such coaches are unable to assist in the development of the consistency and durability achieved by someone like Jacques Kallis, whose cricket is as technically pure as anyone who has ever played the game. The dusty history of cricket is full of players whose candles burned brightly for a few years before their weaknesses were so exposed that their careers were dimmed before they reached their physical prime.

It should not be Domingo’s job to deal with the fundamental problems visible amongst so many of the players on the ill-fated expedition to Sri Lanka.

His work should be done on a much higher level for the simple reason that all players, even the very best, have identifiable weaknesses that require attention from the national coaches. He has no time to attend to the ABC of cricket.

The job of Domingo and his assistants is not to turn weaknesses into strengths, but to develop techniques to the point where these weaknesses cannot be easily and fruitfully preyed upon by the opposition.

A coach’s ongoing problem is that the techniques of even the top players are constantly shifting. The classic example in world sport is that of Tiger Woods whose present swing is markedly different from the free-flowing swing that brought him so much success in the year 2000. His swing now owes as much to the changes in his body mass and shape as it does to the successive coaches who have tried to perfect it. Tiger the man is a very different looking animal from the youth who won the Masters by 12 strokes in 1997.

So it is with cricketers and other sportsmen and women. A coach needs to be on the lookout for physical changes in his players and to be alert as to the consequences of such changes in their techniques.

In cricket there are many reasons for a player’s technique to lose efficiency. In order to stop getting caught behind, a batsman may consciously move his head behind the flight of the ball. This may result in his falling over just enough to lose his proficiency on the leg side and to render him more vulnerable to LBW dismissals. Such a batsman would introduce a new weakness to his game and lose his ability to score off his pads. In no time he would lose “form”, but the real reason would be technical.

Sometimes rule changes can adversely affect a player. The Australian opening batsman Shane Watson is an example of a batsman whose technique consisted of making a giant stride forward to anything well pitched up. He had reasoned, correctly, that umpires were loath to give him out LBW when his front foot was so far down the pitch. The Decision Review System has changed the perspective of umpires who are now much more prone to give batsmen out on the front foot.

It is essential that coach and player, as with all partnerships, develop a relationship based on honesty and trust. Players need to be honest about their basic strengths so that they quickly become aware that their games are slipping or require attention from the coach. What a player must not do is to blame a lean run on bad luck or “poor form”. The one good innings that a batsman thinks he needs may not materialise in time to save him.

What poor coaches do to players out of form is to concentrate too much on weaknesses. As in any environment, this can destroy a person. It is much more important for coach and player to understand and appreciate what it is that makes him distinctive. What is it about him that makes him stand out from the herd and can turn him into a world-class performer?

Great strengths imply what some coaches call “allowable weaknesses”.

Kallis, for example, was often criticised for being too slow, but it was his patience and ability to concentrate for long periods, allied to a strong technique, that enabled him to bat for long periods. That he might have been “too slow” was tolerable against the mountain of runs he produced. What he, and his coach, needed to be aware of was the danger of putting his longevity at the crease ahead of team interests.

I am sure Domingo has been surprised by the amount of basic work that needs to be done on the techniques of his younger players. Like all national coaches, he will know that people are impatient and want results. In his case, however, patience is required because the ODI ship he has inherited requires time in the dry dock that he does not have.

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