It’s easy to jump into coaching with warm ups and drills. The “what” of coaching. I do it all the time. It feels right and comfortable. We want to get on with it as fast as we can. So do the players we coach.
But hold on.
First, we need to know why we play and how we can work together to achieve our aims: Our purpose and principles.
You might think it’s obvious.
Yet we have already learned jumping in too fast is unhelpful. Coaching before purpose makes it difficult to develop players. We overthink or run on emotion. To manage this we need to know our motivations. Our deepest purpose.
Or to put it another way; how can you get somewhere unless you know where it is?
I feel this process is now a vital part of modern coaching. If we don’t have a purpose we don’t set expectations clearly: We end up unfocused, frustrated and confused. Business solved this issue decades ago: Every planned project starts with a purpose and core principles.
Clinical psychology has a similarly well-established method. In CBT, we learn behaviours are drawn from thoughts and feelings. The goal is to become aware of what we think and feel so we can alter our actions. If we are feeling angry and confused we know we have not identified our mutual purpose and principles yet. We can prevent this confusion with clarity of behaviour.
These ideas are easily transferred to coaching.
So how do we achieve this step zero, this crucial meta-coaching?
Ask “how” and “what”.
Of course, you want true, honest answers. Getting that from a group of beginner six year olds is different from a professional cricket team. Nevertheless, we are looking for the same thing. We are looking for a mutually agreed purpose. Here are the key questions:
Why do you play cricket?
Why do you come to training?
Most people say to have fun and to get better at playing cricket. But dig deeper if you can. We don’t all agree what is fun and we don’t all agree what to get better at. Here are some deeper questions:
What’s the most enjoyable part of cricket?
What style of cricket do you want to play?
What type of team do we want to be?
What do you expect from your coach?
What support do you expect from your team mates?
What support do you think your team mates expect from you?
What does someone in our team do when they are at their best?
What do you think your coach expects from you?
What can stop us being successful?
You don’t need to know the answer to all of them in detail. Ask as much as you need to have a clear purpose for the team: The big unique idea, the motivation that gets us up on cold winter mornings and travelling miles to matches on wet summer afternoons. The reason why we choose this life and not one of a million others.
It’s not just rabble rousing inspiration: Together with the players you can agree well-defined standards based on your ideal. And we know what happens once we nail those expectations down.
Is there a problem?
It’s not always as smooth as this. Any change to the status quo is hard and meets resistance. Purpose is a vague idea. It smacks of Instagram posts telling us the “Chase our rainbow”. We know differently but players can be cynical.
For example, players start to clam up and agree to anything because they are running on emotion; bored, insecure, impatient, angry, frustrated, afraid or confused.
In this moment they want to to get past the painful talking and “just hit balls”. That’s secure. That works. That feels right. They don’t see the big picture and they want to get on with something tangible like having a net. This is a perfectly understandable reaction, especially from a group who are not yet self-aware of their emotional state (sounds like most children and most cricketers to me).
However, we also can’t let it go. That’s an abdication of our responsibility as a coach to get the best from players.
If you face this kind of resistance - passive or clearly stated - ask an even deeper question:
What do we want to change?
This question is great because everybody wants to change something. Nobody wants to have problems. Everybody knows the only way to solve them is to change behaviour. Even the players who think they need to change nothing personally can get behind the idea the team can make improvements as a whole. It’s something tangible to hold on to. It gets people back into a clear and present state of mind.
The answer you get back will be unique to the players and team you coach. Things to change usually hover around words like commitment, focus, effort, mindset or teamwork. Often it’s about something technical (because again it’s the easiest thing to see). Whatever your specifics, the next two questions are:
Are we prepared to change this?
Can we accept help to make the change?
If the answer is yes to both, we can start to make progress. If more examination is needed you can go deeper still with these questions:
What pain is caused by making a change?
What is the cost of not changing?
What benefits are there to changing?
What ways can we have more fun if we change?
How is this problem stopping our success as a team?
Is this problem causing a loss of respect between team mates?
What part of the problem do others notice the most?
Why has the problem not been solved yet?
Are we willing to do whatever it takes to solve the problem?
Do we accept making change requires us to think and act differently?
What single goal can we all work towards to make this change?
What could go wrong if we change our perspective to try and solve the problem?
Are we open to a new plan?
If players recognise the need for change, you won’t ever get this deep into the discussion. You can outline your purpose, set out your key principles and move along quickly towards the batting and bowling. However, these questions are tools if you need them.
The goal is to help players see how important it is to focus on both training the way you play, and playing the way that rings true to your ideals. We are unlikely to solve our cricket problems any other way.
Whether you have worked with a team for years, or are doing your first session, it’s crucial everyone knows this. Take as long as it takes to get to your purpose and define your principles. We face a lot of frustration and wheel-spinning if we take another route.
Don’t get me wrong, action is still paramount.
Once purpose is in place we can get on with doing stuff, safe in the knowledge we are moving towards mutual purpose.
But that’s not the end either. It’s not a one off. We all need commitment to reviewing and applying our purpose and principles. We can’t spend time on purpose and defining our core principles then never apply those expectations. We need to live this every day in the way we act.