Would you be excited to see players make creative decisions in the moment by themselves?
A powerful way to develop this comes from having fast, effective reviews.
But this is not the review of old where we sit down for an hour while the coach tells you everything we did wrong at the end of a game. This is a review that can take 10 seconds. This is a review that be done on your own between balls in a match just as easily as it can be done with the whole squad during training.
It’s also a review that I have seen work for all ages from 9 up and all abilities from total beginners through talented age group cricketers and into experienced, (and often cynical) adults.
The role of this review is to take a moment to think clearly, see if you are achieving your aim, learn from your actions and make a decision about what to do next. This creates a fast feedback loop that you can put into action instantly.
Here’s the rules:
A review can be called by a coach or any player at any time. A helpful time to review is before the end of an activity.
Reviews can have all hands (everyone in the squad or team), a sub-group (such as a group in a net) a pair or even an individual.
Reviews are short; 10-30 seconds.
Reviews can be about techniques, tactics or behaviours. Both successful and unsuccessful.
Reviews are player-led. They can be coach supported but not dominated. Players can review with no coach intervention when needed.
What triggers a review like this?
Anything where you need to engage your slower, more rational mind for a moment:
You nail a practice.
You are struggling in a practice.
You want to check how committed everyone is in the practice.
There’s a natural break in practice or a game before the end.
You feel confused or unsure of how to solve a problem.
You feel confident everything is going to plan, but you want to confirm it.
For example, lets say we are doing a team fielding drill and the goal is to have no unforced breakdowns in two minutes. Not only do the players smash the time, they barely found it a challenge. The moment that two minute alarm is called, someone - ideally a player - should be calling a review.
Review feedback loop
What are the questions that make the magic?
Were we trying our best?
Why did it happen?
What do we need to do differently next time?
There is science behind these questions called an “experiential learning cycle”. As coaches we have probably been told this process is called plan-do-review. If you are old school you might say learning from mistakes, or looking for clues in success. Whatever we call it, the key principle at work is this: Compare our behaviours and outcomes to our aims, then think about how to develop.
As a important side note, the first question about trying your best is crucial because it allows players to review their commitment. If they were not doing their best then don't bother with the review, just go again. If we think players might be saying they were doing their best and not giving full commitment, point out the behaviour that you noticed and say, "What are you telling me about yourself by doing it that way?". If you have any Corinthians in your team, this is where you will see most push back, and gives you a good chance to influence them to switch by putting value on effort.
Let’s return to our fielding drill as an example. The fielders get together and say “We nailed that, we were on it from ball one. Every catch was taken and throws are on target. I think it was because we stayed focused” Someone else chips in and says “but also it was a bit too easy”. A third player says “Yes it was. Let’s make it tougher next time by aiming at one stump”.
All the coach says is “Sounds good. Show me what you can do!” and away they go again, pulling a stump out as they reset.
Yes. It’s that fast and that easy.
The benefits are huge. Engagement and focus go through the roof as players realise they can be in the moment while they practice and play because the review is always available to them. Players are able to reflect on what went right as well as what went wrong and come up with a non-judgemental, growth mindset practice plan either way. As coaches, we can use the review to encourage players to think more, learn from mistakes and come up with creative solutions on their own.
However, we can still have our input.
A review is also a time for us to hit our feedback points. No doubt we will have plenty.
Reviews in this structure are great because we are forced to have brevity. If players speak first and last because they are leading the review, we only have about 15 seconds to say what you want to say. We better be ready!
For me, feedback can be in four ways:
Probe: Ask for clarification if you think they are close to a solution.
Alert: Politely point something out they may not have noticed.
Challenge: More forcefully state your view as it’s in opposition to the players.
Emergency. Here you just need to step in and take command.
Generally, athlete-centred coaches prefer one and two. Command and control coaches prefer three and four. But they all have their uses whatever your philosophy.
For probing, you can start your statement or question with, “I wonder why...” or “how might you...”. Using these phrases encourages players to further explain what they mean if you think they are close to a useful answer.
To alert, you can start with “What if..” or “I noticed...”. Using this language you can state your opinion as a hint. It’s still up to the players to make the final call.
When challenging, players will be reviewing poorly. Perhaps they are reviewing something that is not the critical outcome. They might be too judgemental, assuming just because you can’t do something it means you will never be able to do it (a Corinthian mindset). They also can let their discussion drift past 30 seconds. You step in with something like “Can I challenge here because...”. After a challenge, it’s important to hand back decision-making to the players by saying “what do you think?” or “So, what are we doing next?”.
Finally, it’s rare, but in an emergency you just need to take command of the situation. Traditional coaching has jumped straight in like this and tell players how to correct their errors. It rarely works; evidence suggests a command style is effective about 2% of the time. I believe this method is best reserved for unsafe or hurtful behaviour rather than technical instruction. It also is helpful in a situation where a player has not got used to Rule of Three and reviews yet and you can guide them towards a stated outcome.
You only have one shot in your 15 seconds, so pick the right one for the circumstances.
When players get good at reviewing, you find you have less and less to say anyway. A review needs no coach input at all. I have stood outside a huddle and not said anything other than “OK, show me” many times during one of these reviews. Why add something for the sake of it if players are working it out on their own?
That said, there will be times when players, using the Rule of Three, will ask specifically for your feedback. “What do I do here, coach?” is a valid call for help if the player and his team mates have tried and failed to solve the issue themselves. However, this is not your excuse to deliver a lecture. You still only have 10-20 seconds maximum so make your point relevant to the critical outcome then ask what the players think about the solution.
Post review and long reviews
As we now know, the ideal end to a review is the coach saying “show me” and the players swiftly putting their plan into action with full commitment. This is what will happen the vast majority of the time.
However, there are also occasions where the fast review will throw out something that needs more time, possibly with more coach input. For example, a team decides to completely change a drill as a result of the review. We might need to spend time deciding rules and changing set up. I would say at this point, the review is over anyway so focus on getting to activity as fast as possible.
Our aim as a coach during these reviews - and post-review practicalities - is to say as little as possible to get back to activity. One neat rule of thumb for this is to make sure you talk less than the players.
Finally, what about longer, more detailed reflections?
This fast review designed to be in session and in game and is athlete-centred: It’s about getting back to bat and ball quickly. So, don’t let it drift and waste ball hitting time. That said, there is a space for reviewing between sessions and games. I would argue it’s critical for anyone with a Warrior mindset. With less anxiety, less emotion and more time we can do some brilliant thinking and collaborating from coach to players and players to each other. It’s something we examine when we look more into the psychology of the game.
Which is a good place to leave this area and move on to psychology next.