When coaching a cricket team, one of the big secrets is performance comes from behaviours: Winning games, improving skills, enjoying sessions and putting in the best performance on the field are achieved by how players go about their business.
This is true for everyone: beginners, young club players, performance pathway players, senior club cricketers and high performance players. The behaviours are different, but principle is the same.
If we take this as a fundamental, what is the role of the coach?
First, we help the players define the important behaviours. Second, we hold them to their promises with support and discipline.
Here's what I think that looks like.
Define acceptable behaviours
We have already talked about purpose and expectations. If you have not clearly defined those with everyone, do it as soon as possible. At the end of the process you will have agreed your one to three minimum acceptable behaviours.
These behaviours are not up for negotiation, so they are the most important standards everyone must agree to do all the time.
This is crucial.
Don’t skip it.
Even if you skipped or rushed all that stuff about purpose because it’s too touchy-feely and not tangible. If you think like that - I certainly do - this is the bit you do to avoid that frustration and confusion we talked about before.
To break defining behaviour down more, the rules are that each behaviour must be:
Based on purpose. The behaviours must resonate with the team on the deepest level. They must believe in the power of sticking to them.
Agreed by everyone. If even one person doesn’t agree overtly to do it, it can’t be a behaviour standard. So a behaviour can’t be handed down from the coach without input from players.
Non-negotiable. Once agreed, no one can make an excuse about why the standards are not met. Failure to meet them can be accepted but not tolerated.
Low in number. Ideally, to begin, you will only have one behaviour to make sure everyone nails it. Over time you can add more as players feel ready to take it on. There will be no more than three.
Clearly defined. “Elite honesty” (for example) is not a behaviour because you can’t tell when someone is being honest to an elite level. A better example for honesty might be “no mankads”. You can tell right away if you met that standard.
Minimums not aspirations. These behaviours are not the team at their best, they are the team at their least worst. Everyone should find them an achievable challenge, but not something aspirational that only a handful can regularly achieve. It’s a standard not a goal.
Some examples of minimum standards of behaviour are:
Listen quietly when the coach is explaining.
Practice twice a week.
Wait patiently if team is batting.
Turn up to games in full training kit.
Warm up as a team, without coach prompting.
Being a supportive balcony: always at least three players watching the match.
Be able to clearly state your role in the team.
Overtly recognise every exceptional performance in training and matches (for example through fist bump or handshake).
Ask for advice regularly (at least once a session).
Do gym work at least twice a week.
Give 100% effort in practice: Go no more than three balls in nets without focus.
Always have a focus during practice and review progress without prompting at least once per session.
Help someone else at every session.
Learn a new skill you could not do before and test it under match conditions.
Do at least 15 minutes of fielding practice at every session.
Clearly we don’t use them all. You don’t have to use any of them. We can use these examples to prompt players, or we can come up with our own. Remember to keep it down to one (three at most). Players might want to create a longer list at first, but make sure they can meet the minimum standard consistently for a while before adding standards.
The final step is to agree how much chance you give players to self-correct before intervening. Then we get to work.
Accountability with the "Rule of Three"
So far this has been something of a paper exercise. Accountability is where we get going with some coaching.
It's not coaching the technical and tactical side directly (although don't worry you will get plenty of chance to do that). It's coaching behaviours. It's keeping the players on track to their agreed standards.
The best way I have found to do this is to use the "Rule of Three" first outlined by Mark Bennett. Here is how it works.
Rule of One is the ideal state.
The player is self-aware of their behaviours in the moment and understands if they are acceptable or not. If they are not acceptable they self-correct.
Rule of Two is the second line of defence. Here an individual player is not behaving acceptably but their team-mates have noticed and told the player in the moment what is happening to get them back to Rule of One.
This rule is critical to successful accountability but is the hardest to learn as it requires high levels of trust, self-awareness and confidence from a team. It takes time to get this one right, but stick with it.
Finally, Rule of Three comes in when One and Two have failed to bring behaviours back to acceptable. The coach steps in to get the players back to Two or One quickly.
This third level is what most coaches would consider a traditional intervention. Good news for coaches; we are still needed! It also takes skill. If we jump to it too quickly we don't give players the chance to self-correct and they become reliant on us as the police. If we wait too long players see us and the rules as inconsistent. Frustration reigns either way.
Nevertheless, get the timing of your intervention right, and behaviours will be outstanding.
For example, in session you can stop the entire session, or a sub-section; the offending group in the net or drill. You can ask something like,
"Why am I stopping you at this moment?"
"What did you notice about what you were doing when I stopped you?"
If they remember the agreed standard they will tell you.
If they don't remember you need to go back to the drawing board about agreeing standards.
However, assuming they remember, you can follow up by asking them to show you the drill, net or activity done at Rule One or Two. Finish with a statement like
"Can you show me what you need to do to get back on track?"
Resist the urge to give a long lecture, talk about anything except the behaviour, or ask lots of questions. That's something I have to remember all the time. I'm a verbal coach. Keep it extremely short and let them get back to the task once the reminder is given. Stay focused on the behaviour.
If the unhelpful behaviour continues, you can repeat the cycle until it is self-correcting. If the players can’t self-correct, eventually you will need to review the agreement; it's probably too difficult.
During games or if your behaviours are agreed over longer periods, you can follow the same process. Let's use training attendance as an example. Imagine someone doesn't train two sessions in a row when they have agreed to train every session. Ideally, the player will - without prompting - apologise to you and the team after one failure and recommit to the agreement (Rule of One). If they don't, the rest of the team will pick up on it within two failures and remind the player who apologises and recommits. Only if this does not happen do you intervene as coach and try to get the player - and his team mates who missed it - back to One or Two.
Sanctions and punishments
One coaching tool that has not been mentioned yet is punishments.
The idea is simple and often very effective with younger cricketers. If behaviours are unacceptable, the coach will issue a punishment. They can be as severe as sending people home or dropping them from the team, or as simple as a time out or clearing up kit.
Punishment is tricky because it can be misused. Many coaches in the past have punished inconsistently and severely out of anger. This won't help even it if feels good in the short-term. If you feel angry or frustrated at behaviour, take a moment. Instead of meting out an immediate punishment, explain why you are stopping the activity. When coaching younger players we can explain how the player could have handled the situation differently.
However, this may not work with children who have a underdeveloped focus. The activity can take far to long to to restart with an issue every few moments. Sanctioning is an easy way to get past a problem and back into an activity that is otherwise totally disrupted.
Like any other standard, agree the rules first.
We might agree with players they get 10 seconds to realise what they are doing and self-correct, then they get one warning, on repeat they have to sit out for one minute. Even during a sanction we must be clear they understand why, and what they can do to get back to Rule One or Two.
Recognise exceptional behaviours
The other side of performance behaviour is to recognise when cricketers have gone beyond the acceptable and into the exceptional. Here we have gone from catching people out, to catching people in. And that's much more fun as a coach!
Exceptional behaviours are much closer to goals: achievable but at a stretch. Also like goals they are best when specific and measurable. However they are not as tightly constrained as minimum standards. In other words, if someone does something great out of the blue, take time to recognise it.
The Rule of Three applies here as well. Players are encouraged to recognise the exceptional in the moment, with the coach only stepping in if something brilliant goes unrewarded.
When players first start applying the Rule of Three, it’s often much harder to do it for exceptional behaviour than for the unacceptable. This is because it’s harder to clearly define the exceptional. We can come up with some examples but we will never cover the entire gamut of things people can do to be exceptional. This means we might need to spend more time intervening at first, depending how fast players pick up on exceptional behaviours.
What you can agree is how a player will behave when someone does something exceptional: A fist bump, clap, high five, nod to the coach, whatever. The response itself doesn’t matter, but understanding we have a symbol of recognition is important.
I like to restrict praise for the exceptional to times where it is both truly merited and unrecognised by peers. If our star batsman hits a half volley out of the middle, that’s helpful but not exceptional. We were probably expecting it. It’s far more useful - according to research from Carol Dweck - to praise exceptional effort and clear improvement. In my experience, player’s certainly value this feedback more.
If we accept performance comes from behaviours, we need to be as clear about them as we are about cricket techniques and tactics. This article has given you a framework to define behaviours and hold players accountable to them at any age or ability level.
The core of this is the Rule of Three. We will return to the Rule of Three again - especially Rule Two - but for now as long as you understand the basics of it, you have the structure to get players agreeing performance behaviours and working towards nailing them.