There have been some interesting conversations recently around the perceived weakness of the current player development pathway in England & Wales, whether looking at the excessive cost (to parents) of inclusion on a County pathway or the impact of the relative age effect on access to and inclusion in the pathway.
The highly selective structure of the pathway works against players born later in the (age-group selection) year. Several suggestions to offset this unintended bias against the younger players have been proposed.
- County Age Group & District squads could be larger, and de-selection later.
- Parallel development squads be maintained for those born later in the year.
- Delaying selection to rep squads, with greater reliance on clubs to develop younger players (coincidentally removing the additional costs associated with County or District squads).
Any of these approaches would require more coaches, and probably coaches with different skills.
Possibly “better” coaches.
But what is better coaching? I have had several attempts at defining what training might support (better) coach development, without really looking at the skills that these “better” coaches would want.
“Skills” for “better” coaching
Some of these coaching attributes listed below might be better classified as attitudes or behaviours, rather than skills. But, whether behaviour or skill, I think they can be developed, or encouraged.
More focus on understanding and working with player motivation — it’s possibly not enough to assume that every player just wants to be the best they can be.
Working with children, Amanda Visek’s Fun Maps offer a useful corrective to the idea that “fun” is about having a lark — fun needn’t be a dirty word in “proper” coaching, but perhaps it might mean something subtly different.
Create Development’s Multi-Ability Model, a component of the toolkit offered to Activators on the ECB’s National Programmes, is a straight-forward way of thinking about and designing coaching activities to support child development.
UK Coaching offer Coaching the Person in Front of You (face-to-face) and a couple of online classrooms, all addressing the personal skills needed when coaching adults, but I don’t think they make enough of the applicability of the learning to all coaches — “soft” or “people-” skills are essential for participation coaches, development coaches, performance coaches…all coaches who work with people, in fact.
For a definition of what athlete-centred coaching is (should be), I turn to the “Barefoot Coach”, Paddy Upton.
And not the US college coach who claimed to follow an athlete-centred approach…and if the athletes didn’t get with his programme, he’d find some who did…
Athlete-centred coaching is a much misunderstood concept, and one that depends on the athlete having an idea of what works for them. I found it illuminating that teaching the player how to learn was given such prominence in The Spectrum of Sports Coaching Styles, edited by Shane Pill, Brendan SueSee, Josh Rankin & Mitch Hewitt.
Multiple coaching pedagogies — CLA should not be the only tool
I believe that better coaches will deploy a more varied toolkit, across the full range of Mosston’s Spectrum — sometimes instructing, sometimes “mentoring”, sometimes setting a challenge and getting out of the way.
Ironically, this is another way in which the ECB’s National Programmes might actually offer a more sophisticated approach to holistic athlete development than the traditional coach training. From Instruction on day 1 with the new All Stars through to Dynamos, where Activators are advised to “let them play”, not aimlessly or without some purpose, but Play with the intention of enthusing participation and challenging player learning & development.
The ability to plan age-appropriate coaching & development plans
The National Programmes provide a development structure from ages 5 to 11 (maybe 9, for those who do want to migrate into “proper” cricket, sooner). But beyond this, coaches are left to their own devices.
I have seen u11s sent off to play hand-hockey in full batting kit, “because they have to get used to wearing it”; players on the fringe of u11 pathways who want to bat against the bowling machines because “that is what they do at CAG”; rep squads spending half of their weekly off-season practice running shuttles and beep tests “because that’s what the pros do”, when they could be batting and bowling, playing cricket — even structured net practice must be better preparation for the season.
“Advanced” coaching should surely be so much more than knowing how to deliver a session that looks like a pro coach?
All of this is way above the pay grade of an old-school level 2 coach, admittedly…strictly, pretty much everything is above my pay grade, nowadays, as the only remuneration I receive is for odd hours of coaching and some tutoring for the ECB National Programmes.
But fascinating to speculate, nonetheless.
And, in the absence of a structured coach development pathway, this sort of speculation does provide some direction for personal development.
Better coaching ≠ “better (or Good) cricket”, the hugely aspirational vision of cricket that inspires passion & engagement — technically proficient, innovative, purposeful.
Better coaching ≠ Better Cricket, the brand I thought I would be coaching under, after leaving an office-based job in 2013 with no idea what I wanted to do other than not wanting to go to another office-based job.