Thinking about thinking about cricket…

I attended my first ECB CA Conference in January. It would be unfair to single out any of the presenters for special mention – every session left me with enough ideas to keep me busy into the summer, and beyond – but I did especially enjoy the opening day, which I spent listening to Matthew Syed, Michael Caulfield of Sporting Edge, and Louise Deeley from Inside Performance, all talking about the “inner game”, and how to think about thinking about cricket. And then, on the second day, the key-note from Peter Moores, simply entitled “Winning”.

One theme emerged in all four sessions – the absolute importance of adopting a “growth mind-set”, the belief that improvement is always possible, and that the role of the coach in developing this mind-set can be as important as any technical and physical improvements they can instil.

As a player, I don’t think I ever stopped to really think about my own performance. I worried about not scoring enough runs, and I certainly fretted over bowling no balls and full tosses, but I never really thought about what I was thinking about, whenever I bowled badly, or trudged back to pavilion with not many runs to my name (again).

And as a recreational coach, I had not yet come across the level of sports psychology support that might help me, as a coach, to help my players avoid the self-imposed pressure I subjected myself to.

So the chance to listen to Louise, Michael and Matthew, talking about thinking about how to think about cricket, was too good an opportunity to miss.

I read Matthew’s “Bounce: The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice” a couple of years ago. Perhaps because it confirmed some existing prejudices of mine (“the harder you practice, the “luckier” you get”), I maybe missed some of the subtleties in the treatise. That the role of the coach is to facilitate growth, not to play the task master. That some practice (purposeful) is better than others (repetitive hard work does not make fine). That talent by itself will get you nowhere.

One phrase stood out – adopting the growth mind-set (for both coach and player) is essential.

Michael presented several revealing interviews with coaches and players in the course of a fascinating discussion of how successful sportsmen focus on “doing the ‘elusive obvious’ under pressure”.

Great expression, that – we can all recognise the components of superior performance, but can we isolate, practice and deliver them, when it matters?

This from Dave Brailsford (echoed by Toni Minichiello, on day 2) – to instil confidence, break the performance down in the constituent parts. Know that you can do the parts (whatever that might mean – a complete a task in a given time, hit a target repeatedly, dead lift a particular weight), put them together in practice, and you know that you only have to do the same in competition and you will perform well.

Now, I know, I glossed over the “only” in the previous paragraph. But that’s the point. Put in the detail work, and you know you can do it. One less thing to worry about on the day of competition.

But the role of the coach here is not (just) to set the individual targets, to drive that incremental development. It is to convince the athlete that improvement is achievable (if the hard work is put in), and that performance comes from continued improvement, not a single moment of genius.

I have sat through a couple of NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) training sessions for business – I thought I understood some of the “what” for NLP, but not the “why”, so I went to Louise Deeley’s presentation with a few challenges in mind. How can sub-conscious communication skills make a difference to the coach and athlete?

How wrong.

Louise explained how NLP can be an exploration of how we think, feel and act. A model for learning how to recognise excellence and the thought processes associated with excellence, and then to model and teach those thought processes.

For the player and the coach – by understanding how success feels, it is possible to consciously recreate those feelings and to influence future performance.

In his closing keynote, Peter Moores talked about his philosophy of coaching and how it drives his coaching in practice.

Again, one phrase really stood out, for me – “we train dogs, but we educate players” – the basic principles of coaching should be

  • to provide the right environment (psychologically and emotionally supportive);
  • to instil confidence in the athlete (both in competition and in practice – the confidence to try something in practice and fail, then try again);
  • to deliver coaching sessions that are focused on outcomes (to build intention into every practice – “purposeful practice” writ large)
  • and thus to draw excellence out, never to try to force excellence onto the athlete.

A lot to think about.

Intention and the growth mind-set – heady stuff, indeed.

Published by

theteesra

Cricket coach, fascinated by the possibilities offered by the game. More formally - ECB CA cricket coach working at the MCC Academy, the Essex Indoor Cricket Centre, and with the junior sections at Oakfield Parkonians CC & Regent's Park CC. ECB ACO umpire.

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