Barney Ronay posted this, typically insightful, article on the recriminations after England’s latest Ashes drubbing — Not all failings of England’s Test team can be blamed on County cricket.

One line stands out, for me.

“Root’s complaints about not replicating exactly the conditions of Test cricket in advance are the words of a sports person who has been cosseted through a system from boyhood, who feels it is an oversight not to be spoon-fed the perfect prep…”

Not, perhaps, that players expect to be spoon-fed, but that they perhaps don’t know how to learn if they are not spoon-fed?

This might be key, beyond discussion of central contracts and what the England coaches actually do, beyond CAG & Academy pathways and inclusion, right back to how young players are first introduced to the game.

So the question might be — do coaches know how to teach young players to learn?

The learning environment — very different to “back in my day”

Backyard cricket

There is, in Australia, a folk history around “backyard cricket” as the source of so many greats.

There is a wonderful book on the subject. Steve Cannane’s First Tests Great Australian Cricketers and the Backyards That Made Them — very highly recommended.

First Tests — Steve Cannane

I was fascinated, then, to read this, from Greg Chappell (who features in Cannane’s book, along with brother Ian).

…we must…enable them [coaches] to become managers of creative learning environments in which young cricketers learn the game with minimal invasion and interference from adults.

Greg Chappell, Highly structured coaching dehumanises cricket. Here’s what we should be doing instead,, 26th January 2022

“Managers of creative learning environments” — more descriptive than my “learning consultant”.

Chappell’s comment is recognition that, whilst the backyard itself might have been tarmac’d over, that the backyard learning environment could be replicated.

What do they know…

It’s not only in cricket.

I am currently working through an online study course on “Football: More than a Game”, hosted on futurelearn,com for The University of Edinburgh. Certainly worth a look if you are at all interested in the globalisation and commercialisation of sport.

In amongst the stats and financials of the global game, there is a little video with Alan Hansen (Liverpool FC & Scotland) talking about his experience in the game.

In the video, Hansen claims that he “never had any coaching at Liverpool, any stage” — this was in a period when Liverpool won 3 European Championships, 8 First Division titles, and the FA Cup twice.

On questioned about the decline of Scottish football, Hansen replies “I think the first thing is you’ve got to encourage the kids to play more.”

It is perhaps relevant to mention that the success of many pro footballers from South America is attributed to playing futsal, or beach football, or community football, at a young age, and not to coaching schemes. Belgium, currently punching way above its weight on the global soccer stage, have a coaching system predicated on play, as do the Scandinavian countries — in Norway, the early emphasis is on play and engagement.

If the kids aren’t playing, what can coaches do?

It is certainly true that, in the past, players learnt to play by playing. There were fewer distractions “back then” (no internet, much less exam pressure), and young players had time to play.

Today, there are multiple distractions, and the opportunities to play are much reduced. Dedicated players (or their parents) turn to coaches and academies…who potentially are failing to re-create that learning environment.

Indeed, the expectation is that a (cricket) coach will coach technique — the only complaints we ever received at a prestigious indoor cricket centre was that “the kids aren’t lining up and taking turns”! No, they are learning to play, and (hopefully) learning to learn.

Per Ronay’s comment, above, players do seem to reach the professional game without learning how to learn.

It probably is fair to suggest that there has been a failure of coaching in the UK (not just cricket), and it’s not in the technical/tactical/physical/psychological quarters.

I would argue that this is the responsibility of coach education programmes that do not emphasis the importance of the learning environment, and of helping young players to “learn about learning”, and not of the coaches themselves.

Coaches need to be empowered to become Chappell’s “managers of creative learning environments”. Maybe “learning consultants”.

I wrote previously about Coach as Learning Consultant, from a more theoretical perspective.

This blog post has been in draft for a week — Greg Chappell’s article was the catalyst for completion of my own post.

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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