The point is that Loughborough, once it existed, had to do something. It was never going to maintain the status quo, or adopt a passive, non-prescriptive approach. Perhaps its greatest discovery has been that the game has a mystery that cannot be unravalled by throwing something like Loughborough at it. Some kid with a tapeball and an alleyway for a wicket will come up with a method that you can’t map, precisely because it has never existed before.
— The Old Batsman

This cuts to a much deeper problem in coaching. Science or instinct?

Does top down, planned and centralised coaching produce better players than tapeball in an alleyway? I am not sure it's an either/or and I know throwing out blame or attacking hard-working coaches is not the answer.

Science dominated the conversation for a long time. Loughborough was established as a response to Australia’s National Academy. The system from down under coincided with one of the most successful cricket teams of all time. No wonder England copied it. 

So did South Africa. So did India, the epitome of “jumpers for goalposts” player development. Despite recent arguments, there’s some evidence of top-down success. 

There's also plenty of scientists and coaches who will tell you that a model based on centralised planning is a terrible idea. Players develop best, they argue, when they are left to solve their own issues and deal with their own problems. There was a time the best way to find a fast bowler was to whistle for one down a Yorkshire coal mine. 

Right now a lot of people are saying how obvious it is that Australia won the Ashes because they had extra pace. The result has made this conclusion inevitable. But what if England had done something unexpected? The world of politics shows that nothing is inevitable. Trump was never going to be President. Brexit was never really going to happen. Until it happened.

Loughborough style planning can’t handle this. It can only look at what went before and try to emulate better. When it fails to produce 90mph bowlers for England we say it hasn’t done the job. If it had rolled out a few nasty pacemen we would call it a success. What we don’t question is whether 90mph bowlers are the answer.

Maybe pace is the answer. Maybe a central Academy can never find one because England can’t produce those players since the country stopped coal mining. The world has changed. Controlled science is fighting a losing battle.

Maybe instead of trying to copy better, England look to copy worse and come up with their own answer. Maybe there is a creative solution out there in England. The next step forward, the next switch hitter, the next mystery bowler. Loughborough will never unearth such a player because they are building from history not exploring the future.

It's no surprise that the countries with the least formal structures produces the wildest players: Pakistan and Sri Lanka with the West Indies in third. They are coming up with their own way.

The inconsistency of these countries shows that creative instinct is not the total answer of course. Neither is highly managed science. I think we need a little of both. Let the bird fly free and offer as much financial and high tech support as we can.

At my level - club and school - I am grappling with the balance too. If a kid I coach comes to me with a unique style, do I try to coach more "efficiency"? Perhaps. What is more likely is I will not see that kid enough to have an impact. Even the guys I coach most I see twice a week at best. Most I see far, far less. Besides, their aim is to play and have fun, not have the most efficient bowling action or put on 10mph. Context rules.

At every level of coaching, we are all doing our best to have a positive impact. Yet, no one coach can make a huge difference. Not even a system has total control because we can never fully control every aspect of a players culture, environment and upbringing.

Perhaps instead of trying to find blame, we work harder and smarter to find what works at the edges and admit to ourselves that there is plenty out of our control.

AuthorDavid Hinchliffe