Back in November I completed an online course, Coaching in the Knowledge Era, led by Paddy Upton of Deakin University and hosted by FutureLearn –

I was struck by the parallels between Paddy’s definition of coaching in the knowledge era and the thoughts of Julian Stodd on the Social Age, of Ian Renshaw on a constraints-led approach to coaching, and of Trent Woodhill on being a batting coach in the modern era.

But I also found myself wondering if the concepts espoused by these elite coaches were going to be applicable to my own work with cricketing beginners.

Definitions of “coaching”

Paddy Upton

Paddy defined coaching (as compared to “instructing” or “mentoring”) as a collaborative process, with the coach and player together identifying options (technical and tactical) to explore, then the coach setting up practices to help the player refine and develop the chosen option. Rather than telling the player what to do (instructing) or relating what he (the coach) would have done when faced with a similar challenge (mentoring), the coach’s role is to help to explore the player’s options, and then to observe and provide feedback.

Coach as collaborator.

Julian Stodd

Julian Stodd, speaking at ECB CA Conference [1], described the emerging Social Age in which hierarchical structures, including the traditional coach-player/instructor-learner relationship, are being replaced by increasingly collaborative working partnerships.

And as this is the age that athletes (and coaches) are now (or soon will be) inhabiting, it becomes ever more important that coaches develop the skills needed to build trust within communities that offer the space for excellence to emerge.

Coach as social engineer.

Ian Renshaw

As Ian Renshaw put it in his presentations to ECB CA Conference in October [2] – players are shaped by the environment in which they learn; the clever coach shapes that environment.

Coach as environmental engineer.

Trent Woodhill

According to Trent Woodhill, speaking on the Grade Cricketer podcast [3], coaching is finding what a player does well under pressure, then developing it into a super-strength. When Trent first encountered a 16 year-old Steve Smith, the future Aussie skipper and world no. 1 ranked batsman could already consistently play deliveries from “fourth stump” through the on-side. So rather than coaching this out his charge, Woodhill worked with Smith to develop the stroke.

Coach as a mirror to the player.

What about coaching for beginners?

Of the definitions above, Paddy’s and Trent’s derive from experience in the “performance” space, Paddy after working in business and with the Rajasthan Royals in IPL and Trent in Sydney Grade cricket.

Ian’s perhaps overlaps “development” and “performance”, spanning the early life and emergence as a first-class cricketer of his son, Matt.

Membership of Julian’s Social Age “tribes” does assume a pre-existing familiarity with the cultural norms of the early 21st century…but this is the environment inhabited by us all, so is (should be) accessible to those of us outside the exclusive “performance” space.

So – can “collaborative coaching” work with my 4-year old Little Legends?

I shan’t be sitting down with the Legends to discuss what they can and can’t do, and then designing a programme to help them master their own techniques.

But I shall be striving to create an environment in which they can find out what they are good at, hopefully discover their own solutions to the cricketing puzzles they will be presented with, where they can find themselves part of an emerging (social) community, and, most importantly, play the game.

And I shall certainly be striving them to find out what they are good at and helping them to get better at it.

I have signed up for Paddy’s next FutureLearn course, on Player-Centred Coaching – should be interesting!

[1] see Change the game…or change the coach?

[2] see The challenge of games

[3] The Grade Cricketer podcasts and books have been described as a “frighteningly honest portrayal of amateur cricket” – always funny, equally profane and profound.

In episode 29 (iTunes download) of the podcast Trent Woodhill spoke about coaching – the section with Trent begins at 36.37.

Trent also discusses the selectors’ (and spectators) “eye test” and the problem with tradition, working with top players, his thoughts on “profile” appointments, and T20 cricket – well worth a listen!

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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  1. Pleased to see you address this issue – the applicability of high performance coaches’ precepts to grassroots coaching. Woodhill’s experience with 16yo Steve Smith is like nothing I (and vast majority of junior coaches) will ever come across. I like what you say about your approach to your youngest charges and would aspire to something similar. But do the approaches of the celebrated pro coaches really inform what you will be doing? Hope you will be writing more on this topic. Best wishes


    1. I am coming to a similar conclusion on the games-based learning debate, especially the “game as the teacher” approach.
      I like games; (most of) the children I coach like games; some of them have not yet developed the basic skills or understanding to actually play (some of) the games.
      So there will be drills (or drill-like games, or “gamified” drills) as well.

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