Paddy Upton

Old school vs new school coaching

“Knowledge of cricket, and knowledge of coaching, are two totally different gifts”.

I was at Mainland China restaurant in Pune India last night, having dinner with my wife, daughter, bowling coach Allan Donald, and cricketers Callum Furgeson, Wayne Parnell and Rahul Sharma.

We were discussing a particular well-known and successful ex-International cricketer turned coach. Despite his success as a cricketer, it was concluded that he was too ‘old school’, and that his methods had actually caused some key players to get injured.

What is ‘old school’, and what then does new school look like?

In sport, coaches and coaching have been around for ages, probably for a century or more. In contrast, coaching in business has been around for only two decades. In this short space of time, over 70% of managers in the Fortune 50 companies are now benefitting from this new coaching, as the profession has risen to become the second fastest growing profession in the world (behind IT).  Not much has changed in sport coaching over these same two decades.

In business, the different people who help others to perform better include a coach, mentor, instructor, trainer and/ or a facilitator. Each is trained differently and each uses different methods, relevant for different people and situations. In cricket, one finds only coaches; the head coach, batting, fielding and bowling coach. The distinction between the different helping approaches has not yet been made.

Coaching, mentoring, instructing, training etc do happen in cricket, but are somewhat randomly wrapped up in the package called ‘coaching’. Of all these methods, the one that is least used by cricket coaches, may well be coaching.

The coach being discussed by the cricketers mentioned above believed that the way he did things as a player was the best way, and so that’s how he told all his players to do things. For example, he may have told all his bowlers that they have to bowl lots of overs because that’s the only way to get bowling fit, or that they all have to pump heavy weights in the gym, or pump no weights at all. This coach is combining mentoring (‘this is how I did it’), with instructing (‘so that’s how you must do it’). This cocktail of mentoring and instructing will benefit only a very few players; others will find it anything from OK, to irritating, and at worst, to cause injury. This is classic ‘old school’.

Other coaches may or may not have been hugely successful at the highest level, but have learned to become technical experts. They understand say the biomechanical detail of batting strokes, bowling actions or even fielding techniques. Their method of helping is likely to be to tell players to ‘get your front arm higher, get your foot to the ball, transfer your weight through the shot’ etc. In snow skiing and in some tennis schools, a person who does this is correctly called an instructor.  It works at more junior levels in cricket, and less at the higher ones.

Another method that could be used in cricket coaching is where a group of senior players all share their thinking, and the coach facilitates a process whereby the best of all the different ideas is pulled together and employed. This method, called facilitating, will play more of a role in the new school – particularly at older ages and higher levels.

Possibly the least used method in cricket, one that is slowly gaining popularity following its recent popularity in business and in the mainstream, is coaching.   This is a complex process whereby the coach asks more than tells, encourages players to find their own best answers, whilst skillfully creating a fertile adult-learning team environment. Players are encouraged to learn for themselves, using a mixture of their own ideas, unique technique, strengths, learning styles, behavioural preferences, and combining these with information from others. The coach understands that the best answers are most likely to emerge from within the performer. He becomes the players learning partner. This coach will seldom need to motivate players. Rather he will create an inclusive and appropriately flexible environment that aligns with players natural motivational flows. This method, called coaching, will characterize some of the new ‘coaching’ in sport.

In contrast, old school coaching remains characterized by inflexible, dictatorial, instructional, my-way-or-the-highway approach. The leader feels he is the expert who needs to fix people or tell them what to do. Particularly at higher levels, this approach does little other than frustrating and de-motivating players. Most respond with silent resistance, by ‘acting’ subservient around the leader, yet all the while silently disagreeing and remaining unhappy. The my-way-or-the-highway approach provides the dictator with perceived power and the feeling of being in control. This leader is deluding himself, he is far in control.

New school coaching will understand that knowledge of cricket and knowledge of managing people are fundamentally different, and that the latter will be come at least, if not more important to success. Performance environments will be characterized by a more collaborative, empowering and inclusive style of leadership. Coaches will be trained not only to understand cricket, but also to understand others, and themselves.

Players of tomorrow will not only ask for this new coaching, but will demand it. Because it works better, delivers better results, and makes people happy. It will dominate the future of business and sport, no matter what measures old school die-hards use to maintain their so-called power through an authoritarian style of leadership. Individual and team performance will move to yet another new level. So will enjoyment. A new enthusiasm and excitement to play and be part of a team will emerge.

We have a lot to look forward to.