One of the best tools a cricket coach can use is the ability to say nothing at all.
I can hear the nay-sayers already baulking. How can you possibly improve players if you stands at the back of the net in stony silence throughout a session? Of course, you can't and shouldn't do that. But you also need to work hard at knowing what to say, when to say it, how you say it, and - most importantly - if you need to say it at all.
There are times when just keeping quiet is the best course of action. Even if you are desperate to impart some gem of knowledge.
But like all skills, it's one that requires practice to get right.
So how do you master the art of shutting up?
The key is to be mindful of your actions. Let me give you an example: You are coaching in a net situation (one of the toughest environments for a coach to get good work done) and you watch as a young batsman plays a decent drive. You decide that there was a technical issue even though the ball was struck well enough.
You have three options:
- Say "good shot"
- Point out the technical issue
- Keep quiet
None of them are wrong in themselves, but which one is going to be the most effective for the batsman?
I would argue that, in the right context, the silence is golden.
Let's look at each one in more detail.
Positive praise in coaching
I've seen many coaches use "good shot" or "well bowled" as a sort of verbal full stop. It says "I have nothing to say but I feel the need to say something". I have even seen distracted coaches use a quick "shot" on hearing a crack of bat on ball with their back turned.
We all have those moments. It's impossible to coach kids without some distraction occurring. Saying "good shot" is not automatically a poor choice.
Plus, if it was a good shot then saying so provides excellent positive reinforcement to a player: They know they are on the right track to cementing a technique if you tell them when they have done well.
Yet, even this must be mindful.
It's a bad choice if you feel it was a good enough shot but improvements can be made. As Gary Palmer says, you should always strive for technical perfection in the basics. Telling a player "good shot" when it's not perfect means you are reinforcing bad habits.
The coaches' job is coaching
So, if you want to give feedback to your player that goes beyond saying "well played", the next logical step is to start coaching. After all, that's what coaches are supposed to do.
The problem is, that is a tricky thing to get right when you are live in the action. Let's go back to our example to find out why.
Imagine you want to make a technical point to your batsman. It's brilliant, naturally. It could well make the difference between success and failure for this player. You can't wait to tell him. So how do you do it?
- Bark it from the back of the net. That would work if you are on a bowling machine but if bowlers are providing the feeds, your awesome point about the straight drive is wasted when the next 3 balls are short. Also, while some players love the instant feedback, others find it a distraction.
- Walk down the net and talk to the player. Putting aside how intimidating this can be for some players, stopping the net session cuts down the number of balls your player faces and is ignoring the bowlers for several minutes. There are ways to get around this, and with the right player this kind of feedback is a treat. However, a lot of players hate it with a passion.
So yes, the job of the coach is to coach. Yes, there are times where some technical pointers delivered instantly are exactly the right thing to do. But again we go back to the idea of being mindful, or asking yourself,
"Is this method exactly right for this player in this moment?"
You won't always know the answer right away, you need to get to know your players. Keep experimenting with methods until you find one that resonates with the player.
The horror movie method
Which brings me on to the third option: saying nothing. And for me this should be the default position until you know otherwise with a player. However, you have to do it right. Which is why I call this the "horror movie" method.
Horror movies scare people by being quiet and menacing, letting the tension build, then jumping out at you with a loud noise. It works even when you are expecting it.
Coaches can follow this approach except the goal is to encourage skill development rather than make players jump. So you watch your players closely; batters and bowlers. You say little but you log the information as you go. It helps to make notes because our memories suck.
Then, after the quiet, you pounce on your victim and give the key feedback after he or she has batted. Depending on the player, this could be instructional or it could be a conversation.
The advantage of the horror movie method of coaching is that it rarely goes wrong: It's not intimidating, it's a good method for learning and it avoids reinforcing poor habits. But it also takes willpower from the coach not to fire out tips or general comments during practice.
You are still coaching when you do this, but you are also spending a lot less time talking.
Again it harks back to being mindful as a coach. Unless you know otherwise, it pays to say nothing, take your time to consider your feedback then deliver it in a way that a player can make use of. SO experiment with methods and keep aware of the impact of your actions.
Or to put it another way: The best coaches know when to shut up!