In the final part of my 2017 review, I take a look at the back end of the year, September to December.
September - Knowing me; knowing you!
Whilst this month tends to spell the end of the competitive season in the Northern Hemisphere it actually starts the most hectic phase of the year for the coaches in the Cricket Department at Millfield.
We welcome a couple of new intakes of players into the school coming in at U14 and U17 level. This is the month where we look to learn as much about the new players as we can. Naturally, the best way of doing this is to spend as much time as we can with the players both inside and outside of cricket training.
At Millfield, we do a few things to accelerate the learning process:
- Technical Screening: Dan runs a robust Fast Bowling Screening Process adapted from the ECB Fast Bowling Matrix - I do a similar thing for the spin bowlers and fielders (throwing and diving) and Matt Thompson screens his keepers for set up, movement and diving technique. Our batters face both the normal bowling machine and then on the spin bowling machine in 4 match situations. All sessions are videoed and screened using PitchVision.
- End of Season review: Each player sits down, armed with their stats and runs through a SWOT Analysis. This is a useful technique for understanding your Cricketing Strengths and Weaknesses, and for identifying both the Opportunities open to the player and the Threats that they may face (injury/selection/expectation vs reality etc). This helps us to identify how we use our coaching and sports science support teams to be support each individual. We shifted a couple of programmes significantly with more of an strength and conditioning focus for the 1st 1/3rd of the development year as a result of the SWOT Analysis. This has given a couple of our fast bowlers a really good foundation for their subsequent technical and tactical development phases leading into the 2018 season.
- Movement and Personality Profiling: I take all our newcomers through a few tests to help ascertain their personality and identify their preference for thinking and movement. This helps our coaching staff to apply specific coaching strategies to each player based around their preferences which could be a different use of language to elicit a technical response, a different timing sequence with a trigger movement or focusing on something as simple as initiating the movement from batting stance into a front foot drive with either the head or the front foot. If we understand personality and movement patterning then we can fast track each players development as a cricketer and as a person.
- Learning Preferences: We take the players through a VAK (Visual, Auditory, Kinaesthetic) Questionnaire. This helps us to understand each individuals preferred learning styles and enables the players to choose the best types of learning that work best for them. Visual Learners like to be shown how to do something so we get our Visual Learners to watch Worlds best practice on YouTube, review their own or a peers good shots or bowling actions on PitchVision or by reading up about technique in books or on the internet. An Auditory learner prefers to learn by listening and often mentally recall the words they have heard in conversations, team meetings, listening to podcasts or picked up when watching a match on TV. I can totally relate to these learning opportunities as my learning preference is Auditory. Kinaesthetic Learners squire their knowledge best by doing and moving. These players are able to perform a new task by going ahead and trying it out, learning as they go. Ex-England Captain, Paul Collingwood learns in this way. He would come and watch video of opposition bowlers on a large screen in my hotel room and then start to physically run through his batting strategies as he watched them on the screen. Colly is a good example of someone with a Primary Kinaesthetic Learning Style and a Secondary Visual Learning Style.
Lesson: These 4 profiling strategies help us to learn as much as we can about our new players before we start to work technically with them in October of each year. This is really important as those first few sessions with a new player can “make or break” the relationship between player and coach. Whilst we always back our coaching intuition, it’s always good to have layers of information which can lead us to more individualised and specific strategies for developing each cricketer and to enhance our coaching relationships.
October: The magic of Curtly
I was lucky enough to travel over to Antigua at the back end of November to work with some of the West Indies Elite coaches who work with their best players spread across all the Caribbean Islands. The coaches were working towards their Level III coaching qualification and I was there to take them through the Batting and Fielding modules. Over the three days I got to rub shoulders with Legends such as Jeff Dijon, Jimmy Adams, Tony Gray, Stuart Williams and Gus Logie.
I learned a heap from these guys but the one fella who made a huge impression on me was Sir Curtly Ambrose. Curtly was the fella that all of the candidates looked to for guidance, he effectively ran the room without ever treading on my toes. I loved his open mindedness, his fantastic questioning where he was asking questions to learn rather than to demonstrate his knowledge, his sense of fun and humility. It’s magnificent to spend time around real greats of the game like Curtly who achieve incredible feats yet carry themselves in such a humble fashion.
Curtly’s passion for cricket is only matched by his love of music. Curtly took everyone out one night to a concert where he and fellow West Indies legend, Sir Richie Richardson’s played in their “Spirited Band”. They were brilliant.
Lesson: Humility is a wonderful trait that is prevalent in so many of the truly world class cricketers I have been lucky enough to kick around with over the years. Sir Curtly, Courtney Walsh, Bret Lee, Marcus Trescothick, Graeme Smith, Andrew Strauss, Alistair Cook, Jimmy Anderson and Malcom Marshall are some of the most fierce competitors who have played the game but all had bags of humility. I definitely got it wrong as a young player in this respect and wasn’t straightened out or challenged by my coaches.
If you have a talented young player who is going down the wrong track (as I did) what can you do to build their humility to be just like Sir Curtly?
November: Coach Assessor or Idea-burglar?
One of my favourite weeks of the year comes each November when I get to eavesdrop on 16 Candidates in their Final Assessment of their two year ECB Level IV Journey.
As well as assessing each candidate on their batting and fielding practice, I get to watch them present their work with 2 players, their coaching philosophies and a research project of their choice.
I spend some time each evening reflecting on the excellent drills, approaches and connecting coaching elements that I have seen that day. I end up coming home at the end of the week with at least 20 “new or different” coaching options and approaches which I instantly share with Dan and Matt back in the office at Millfield.
Whilst I’m there doing a job, it’s brilliant to have exposure and learn from some of the best up and coming coaching minds in the country.
Lesson: Whilst none of us like the thought of being assessed or “tested” as it can be unnerving to be put on the spot, I can honestly say that my own Level IV Assessment experience, way back in November 2002 was the toughest and best thing I have ever done.
I was assessed by Dr Steve Bull (Psychology), Gordon Lord (Elite Coach Education Legend), John Harmer (Biomechanics), Michael Fordham (Management consultancy lecturer at the University of Bradford) and the incredible South Africa and Pakistan Coach, Bob Woolmer.
It was so nerve-wracking and challenging that I walked the wrong way out of Edgbaston after I had presented and then had to walk all the way around the vast stadium to get back to my car. The preparation that I put into that presentation and the work I did over the 2-year course was enough for me to come out with a decent pass but the experience of being grilled by those guys gave me a new level of confidence and a resilience which has stood me in good stead for the subsequent challenges of coaching life.
Lesson: Dan, Matt and myself all present on a regular basis in order to keep ourselves sharp, to gather feedback from our viewers and to put ourselves under pressure. It’s so easy to become caught up in our comfortable coaching micro-environments, to become repetitive with our coaching practice and ignore our own CPD. Presenting to peers or players is a good way of keeping ourselves current and to put ourselves under pressure.
December - Out of chaos comes opportunity
I received a call on the 10th of December to inform me that the Cricket Bubble (our indoor facility at Millfield) had blown down for the 3rd time in 5 years. I was on holiday in New York. Fantastic!
After a few calculations I then worked out that we had actually been without a cricket specific facility for exactly 30 of the last 60 months which Is not ideal for the players looking to develop their game at one of the UK’s leading cricket schools.
The opportunities that this gave me were threefold:
- To develop plans to use different spaces around our vast campus.
- To adapt my planning to facilitate accelerated skill acquisition in some key technical areas of the game.
- To work with the stakeholders at school to build an indoor cricket centre which stands up to wind and rain!
The last time that the bubble blew down we used tennis courts, outdoor netball courts, outdoor nets, hockey pitches, indoor swimming pools, different gym spaces and squash courts as technical spaces.
We bought soft compression tennis balls to hit around, sand filled balls to hit, throw and bowl into walls, placed a technical focus on throwing, diving, catching and power hitting and bowling fast and developed a mentality within the players to appreciate that training in the cold and wet was a great way to build resilience and mental toughness.
Back in 2016, we ended up having the most successful year in Millfield cricket history and although I can’t say that we will repeat those feats in 2018, I know that the boys and girls at the school will take full advantage of this opportunity and work hard in our “borrowed” spaces over the next 3 months as we head into the season.
Lesson: “Out of Chaos, comes Opportunity”
I love this quote as chaos is normally seen as a negative thing. Over the years I have learnt that chaotic situations are inevitable, they come along when you are least expecting it and ultimately if you go with the flow, see the unforeseen incident as an opportunity for positive adaptation then it is possible to ride out the storm and progress rather than be derailed and become demoralised.
I have used the quote when working with players who pick up a long term injury, for players who have been left out of National Squads, for players who aren’t selected for County Academies and for pupils who have under performed in their GCSE exams to give them control of the situation, to promote motivation and to inspire them towards greater things. In the main, the quote and the subsequent action taken from the coaching conversations have led to some sparky outcomes.
So, how can you use the quote to good effect in 2018?
That was my 2017 Year of Learning. Can you afford not to take a few minutes to reflect on the past 12 months and extracts 12 key lessons from the last year?
Happy New Year to you all!