Coaching orthodoxy – time to take another look?

There’s a lot to be said for orthodoxy.

It sets a model of perfection (more on this, later) to aspire to. When things go wrong, reverting to orthodoxy provides a model that is known to work…for some players, at least.

But should we equate “orthodoxy” with “the only way” to play?

Adam Kelly, in a recent blog post, highlighted the success of “unorthodox” sportsmen, and the imperative to play to your own strengths. From Alistair Cook and Marcus Trescothick, by way of Usain Bolt and on to Lionel Messi, who only rarely seems to look up to make a pass when he dribbles the ball.

They all do it “wrong”…but look in the record books.

And any one of them might have been put off by a well-meaning coach who insisted that they get their front foot out to the drive, or get out of the blocks quicker (or don’t even run the sprints).

I don’t think anyone would argue that Messi should have been coached out of his unorthodoxy when still young boy, still less that he be left out of the Barca team until he learns to look up when he has the ball.

Why then insist that young cricketers follow the models in the coaching books IF they get results with a “faulty” technique? Yes, when a faulty technique causes poor performances, or exposes the player to physical risk (the mixed action comes to mind…although even this safety orthodoxy is being challenged). But “perfection” has to be measured by the outcome.

To contradict Bananarama – “it ain’t how you do it, it’s what you do that gets results”

The challenge for the coach, then, is to know when to insist on adherence to the models of perfection. We need to better understand what is currently thought of as unorthodox, so we can support and develop it, rather than stifle it.

n=1 – no-one else is doing this, so don’t even consider it

I heard this in the context of the batting technique of Sir Donald Bradman. Yes, it worked for him, but he was a genius/one-off/must have super-human eyesight/reflexes.

All “n=1” really proves here is that coaching orthodoxy has triumphed.

Playing back, the back-foot must be parallel to the bowling crease. That’s what the coaching books (almost) all say, and it is what I coach myself. I have seen improvements for square cuts (where Bradman too pointed his back foot at point).

But for forcing strokes, from extra cover to wide of mid-on? Maybe Bradman’s technique, with the toe pointing to extra cover, or even straighter (the same technique used by Sir Viv Richards, by the way), has something in its favour?

In any case, I don’t think n=1 (or 2) is the right number to be considering, here. Surely it is better to look at Bradman’s Test average, or any of the innings that Sir Viv played in his heyday – could the outcomes really have been so much ahead of the rest if the basic technique was so fundamentally wrong?

There might just be something in this for mere mortals on the cricket field.

Coaching orthodoxy, innovation, and the scientific method

“There’s only one person who plays that way, your sample is too small to be convincing – it’s not very scientific, is it?”

TheTeesra, as it says in the tagline on the website, is dedicated to the search for innovation in cricket. That doesn’t mean the latest fad for a heavy bat, or a longer handle, or wearing a headband because Dennis Lillee used to (OK – hardly innovative…). Rather, the search is for sustainable, repeatable innovation. And that search, unless it is to no more than random, needs some methodology behind it.

Scientific method requires that new hypotheses are proposed and tested. Testing, in this context, might mean looking at averages (outcomes) and hours of performance video (techniques) to find match-ups, or it might mean getting into the nets and trying something new.

Bradman picked his bat up towards gully, and was very strong on the on-side? Try it.

Waqar swung the old ball “the wrong way”? Get hold of an old ball, and try it.

Saqlain or Murali spun the doosra like a wrist spinner?

And if you can work out how to do it, why not coach it? If it’s not in the coaching manual…I am still prepared to look in the score book.

Published by Andrew Beaven

Cricket coach, fascinated by the possibilities offered by the game. More formally - ECB level 2 cricket coach; ECB National Programmes (All Stars & Dynamos Cricket) Activator Tutor; Chance to Shine & Team Up (cricket) deliverer; ECB ACO umpire.

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