“Slow down, and you will bowl straighter”. I never appreciated receiving this advice when I was a young (never very) quick bowler, and I certainly don’t like hearing it now, from an experienced player advising a youngster who I have been encouraging to (try to) bowl fast.
Bowling fast and straight is not impossible. It is challenging, but anything worth doing generally is. Being told to slow down does not make a fast bowler. And the role of the coach has to be to encourage the exceptional.
But how to deal with this (well-intentioned but ultimately unhelpful) advice from beyond the boundary?
By making sure that everyone connected with the team – players, parents, other coaches, committee members – knows about “the plan”, whatever it might be. Fast bowlers try to bowl fast; slow bowlers flight the ball and give it a rip; fielders are encouraged to try for run outs (so you had better be ready to back-up the throws).
And that’s where “connection and extension” comes in.
Connection and extension – now I get it!
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to hear Stuart Lancaster, RFU Head Coach, speak eloquently about his progression from school teacher to national coach, and about the many lessons he has learnt along the way. One (among 30) that slightly puzzled me at the time, but that was clearly very important to Lancaster, was that a coach should actively teach “connection and extension” (a concept adopted from the influential teachings of American football coach Bill Walsh) – to spread understanding of his coaching philosophy throughout his team of coaches, to all of the support staff, the playing team, to the committees and admin staff, right on to the crowd.
When I heard this from Lancaster, and subsequently when reading Walsh’s “The Score Takes Care of Itself“, I thought I understood how the idea could be applied at the top level, but I was unsure of how it was directly relevant to the Club or youth coach.
I completely missed the point about “the crowd”, perhaps because, at the standard of cricket I play in, we think we have a crowd if the man walking his dog stops to watch for five minutes.
Instead of “the crowd”, I should have been thinking about those well-intentioned parents and senior team-mates. All with a valid opinion on how the game could be played, and all perfectly entitled to share that opinion. But all likely to confuse young (and not so young) players who are being advised along a different path.
So the challenge for the coach (as if he or she needed any more challenges) is to spread understanding of the coaching “culture”, of what is being coached, and why.
Not easy, by any means. But definitely preferable to conflicting advice and confusion.
Trials of a football coach
This post was inspired by a tweet from football coach Matt Toulson (@toulbo) – “wish parents would stop shouting “pass” to their kids when I’ve given them a different task”.
It must be especially hard for a youth football coach. Parents are right on the touchline (at least they have to remain 50 yards from the cricket pitch, behind the boundary), and everyone (including the Teesra) seems to think they know how to play football.
I guess it could have been worse – at least the call from the touchline was to pass, rather than the less helpful “kick it”…or “kick him” – but I do feel the pain in the tweet.
And that is where Lancaster’s “connection and extension” comes in. If the parents on the touchline, or the senior players advising “my” young quick to slow down, were truly connected to the coaching plan, their help would allow the coach to extend the reach of his philosophy even wider.