"We have moved beyond the gobbledygook of sports psychology"

PitchVision Academy interviews South African Coach of the Year, Richard Pybus. His impressive CV includes coaching Pakistan, Border and the Titans franchise in South Africa. We chatted about cricket technology, developing players and brain-based coaching.

PV: What do you see as the coaches' job?

RP: The key thing is a structured learning environment that is specific to the level of the learner. That means of you are working with junior sides you are going to have a range of skill levels within the team and the coach has to set things up so it challenges the best players while supporting the players in the more formative development stage.

PV: How do you do that?

RP: You have to plan. When you are designing training you need to make sure that the drills you set up in practice are adaptable to stretch everyone.

For example, if you are working on the straight drive with underarm tennis ball feeds and the goal is to hit the ball through a target area. With better players you can make the gap narrower or even, as I do with professional cricketers, challenge the player to only hit tightly through mid on.

PV: Are you a fan of technology in coaching?

RP: I'm a big fan, but only as a servant and not the master of coaches. I've seen a lot of coaches become wizards at working the equipment and thinking that will make a significant difference. In my opinion, it's an add-on, not the core of coaching.

Technology can capture information and sort it for us so we can instantly look at whatever we like again. That gives players and coaches the chance to better construct game plans.

PV: What about technology in practice situations?

RP: The main thing is to keep it simple for the players. Brains like pictures and especially sportspeople's brains. They learn by seeing and feeling more than hearing.

So simply setting up a camera and showing people their technique is very effective. I like to focus on showing players getting it right rather than focusing on faults. This gives them the right image and the brain holds onto it for the future.

But it's important not to forget to work on your skills as a coach; improving your analytical eye for player improvements and developing relationships with players. I'd rather coaches did that than spend hours on technology.

PV: Let's talk about that now then, because you have been instrumental in the development of a great deal of very fine South African cricketers. What makes those players stand out?

RP: I'm always looking for players with an unbelievable passion for the game. For me, those are the guys who move on.

There is a ceiling to talent. You get players who are gifted like Ricky Ponting but most people don't have that ability. The ones who make it to international cricket are the ones who are the most coachable. They want to learn because of their incredible drive. And guys who want to learn can move very, very quickly while guys who are not open to learning get left behind.

PV: Would you say good players can also filter out the good advice from the bad to avoid becoming "overcoached"?

RP: Very much so. I think it's important that coaches set up an environment where players engage their own brains. I'm very anti coaches who have to have all the answers.

Too many coaches spend time telling the player what to do over and over again. But it doesn't work like that. All that does is make for very demotivated cricketers because they are not being asked to use their own faculties.

The human brain loves to be challenged and when you make the learning environment stimulating and motivating players will be absorbed and engrossed by it. And when that happens, learning takes place incredibly quickly.

PV: What would you say to people with a more traditional view who shy away from mental training?

RP: Good coaches and captains understand the nature of communication and motivation. We know everyone is wired differently so you need to spend time engaging and understanding your players to find out what moves, interests and excites them.

That starts with being a learner yourself. Learning about cricket and about material which is out there that can help players.

We don't need to caught up in the gobbledygook which has gone with sports psychology. We have moved beyond that. We now know all performance is brain driven. It's about understanding what's going on in the brain and helping players focus on the right things at the right time.

PV: Let's put that into a real world example. Imagine you only had a few minutes with a talented youngster. What would you say to him?

RP: The first thing I am interested in is what are the guy's goals? The brain is primarily a goal setting mechanism so if we set some goals we are tapping into a part of the brain that where he is creating his future rather than getting stuck with problems he has had in the past.

Be present and look forward.

I'd ask him what he is interested and find out his dream goal. Even at my tender age of 45 I dream of opening the bowling for England, although I know it's not going to happen.

Then we break those goals down and put a sequence of stepping stones going back to the present where we ask "what do you need to do now with your batting, bowling and fielding or anything else?"

I would ask him questions like that to engage his own brain. Like, if they are a 15 year old fast bowler, what physical requirements do they think they need? I would then let them go away and work those things out for themselves.

That relationship building and engagement, for me, is the primary part of coaching.

If you want to find out more about the brain-based model of learning and coaching cricket, visit Richard's website MyCricketGame.

 

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