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By Peter Della Penna (on Twitter)
Last month in Florida, Cricket Australia conducted a Level Three coaching course for the second consecutive year. At first glance, one might think that having a few dozen cricket coaches participate in a certification program would revolve around seminars and discussions about nothing but cricket. While cricket may be the main purpose behind the course, there’s actually far more attention paid to mechanisms outside of bat and ball skills and cricket in general for the participants to learn from.
“The biggest thing about coach education is Level One is all about technique and right or wrong. Level Two is about giving options so you’ve got one way to do it or an alternative. Level Three, there’s no real right or wrong answers,” said Matthew Betsey, Global Program Manager at Cricket Australia, in an interview during the first course that was organized in the USA last year. “It’s more about managing people. That’s a big focus of ours. So Principles of management, communication, group management, sports psychology, all of those play a really big part in this course and how that relates to getting your message across to your players. So it’s really a big part about not what you have to coach, but how you coach.”
In a Full Member nation like Australia, a coach can focus more time on working specifically with players due to the presence of support staff both on tours and locally in an administrative capacity. However, administrations in Associate countries often have less resources at their disposal from the local level all the way up to the national team. It can result in coaches who have to shoulder a much bigger load of responsibility both on and off the field. Betsey says this is an area where the Level Three is designed to educate attendees on how to handle the increased workload.
“The first thing we spoke to the group about was being leaders,” Betsey said. “We want these people going back and being leaders in their own region. In some regions, they’re agents for change so they have to show leadership in doing that. We focus on a number of things that will help them do that, help them fulfill their roles whether that be full-time employment or the role of that which comes into a whole heap of things. Governance issues, political issues, financial issues, human resources. So there’s a whole heap of other factors that come into actually what your role as a coach is affected by and how you manage that affects your ability to coach. It’s more than just the players on the field.”
Besides cricket equipment that would naturally feature in the course, other sports equipment is noticeably involved and gets plenty of use. There are several purposes for this such as seeking out which sports have compatible skills that can enhance the impact on actual cricket training and techniques.
Image (right) - Former Bermuda coach David Moore speaks to the Cricket Australia Level Three participants during a seminar at the 2012 CA Level Three course in Florida. [Courtesy: Peter Della Penna/DreamCricket.com]
“The main reason we’ve got all of the other equipment we’ve got here is to teach different principles,” Betsey said. “All of the biomechanical principles and skill acquisition principles are all related to movement and different ways of learning movement. So that’s why we try to bring in theories and practices from other sports so we can learn how the body moves. That’s probably one of the differences between a Level Two and a Level Three or high performance course is that we’re actually starting to investigate what the body does and how it moves and how you can become the most efficient because as a player as you go up the pathway, you’re reaction times become lower and the pressure on you to perform your skill becomes increasingly difficult.”
Cricket Australia has also used an American sports manual called, “Successful Coaching” as a textbook for coaches to use for looking into the mental side of the game, something that goes along with Betsey’s theme of stressing “how” and not necessarily “what” you coach.
“I think the US market particularly is extremely professional in the coaching area,” Betsey said. “They’ve got really professional sports. They’re really specific about the outcomes that they want and we need to learn from them. We’d be mad not to look at other sports. We do it in other countries, the UK, India. We look at other cricket boards. We look at various sports. In Australia we’ve had some members of the Boston Red Sox talk to us about their talent management system and throwing technique. So we need to expand our horizons to get better and through this course we’re happy to share that information with other cricket coaches around the world because if we do that, world cricket becomes better and Australia sees a benefit in world cricket being strong.”
Former Bermuda coach David Moore, a Level Three coach originally from New South Wales, was involved as an instructor with the first CA Level Three course in the USA. He says the opportunities for coaches in the Americas region to learn from such a course are especially valuable because they are so rare.
“They don’t get an opportunity to be educated,” Moore said. “Often people in Associate countries hit Level Two and then they don’t get exposure to Level Three because the opportunities just aren’t there so it’s great that Cricket Australia has come up and is going to work in this region to give these guys opportunities.”
Moore observed that the non-traditional methods used at the course can take some time to adjust to but hopefully make coaches realize that there are better ways to build a sharper functioning player and team than the old stand-by of sessions built around “warm-up, nets, fielding drills and go home”.
“The emphasis is on an open mind for these guys so don’t be restricted by your traditional thinking,” Moore said. “Open your mind and look towards other sports, other organizations, education, business and so on to get your ideas from. The conceptual way of coaching, that technique isn’t the be all and end all because lots of different people have different techniques that can still be effective at the top level. The presenters are bringing world class cricket coaching ideas and activities to these guys.”
Former West Indies fast bowler Kenny Benjamin, who served as Technical Director for USA at the 2004 Champions Trophy, participated in the course last year and said the two biggest things he took in from the course were communication skills and managing resources more effectively.
“One of the most important things for me is the way you actually teach people to do their skills,” Benjamin said. “There were methods that we were using but once we came and did our skill acquisition workshop there were lots of new ideas in terms of making people develop their own style rather than telling them how to do something. You give them an opportunity to go and do it and develop their own brand rather than you telling them how to do it which would be how you [personally] would.”
“In terms of club, quite a few things I have learned is that we have to try and manage the resources that the budget can afford and that is afforded to us. It teaches you to be very versatile and flexible and to be innovative. We have to live in a realistic world. All of the clubs and associations that we work for do not have big budgets. We have to be innovative and creative with whatever resources our budget can afford and make the best use of it.”
Even though he played 26 Tests and 26 ODIs from 1992-1998, Benjamin says he disagrees with the notion that playing at a high level automatically qualifies a player to be a good coach without any formal training. It’s why he was eager to come to the course, along with a half-dozen other former West Indies players including Mervyn Dillon and Vasbert Drakes.
“If you look in the NBA, a lot of your great players are not great coaches and if you look at some of your great coaches some of them hardly played any high level basketball,” Benjamin said. “Yes you have to have some knowledge of the sport but coaching isn’t the same as playing. You have to know how to deal with people, you have to know how to communicate and manage resources. A lot of these things, even some of the best players have to go and train to know how to do these things. To me, coaching is teaching and teachers have to go to train so they can pass on information. I think coaches have to go back to the classroom to train to become coaches so they can be as effective as possible.”
The cost of the CA Level Three course is $5,000, but attaining Level Three status is not a matter of writing a big check and getting a rubber stamped seal of approval. Certification is a year-long process. The five-day in person training sessions and seminars in Florida are just the first step. Coaches who participate in the course then must go on to prove they can apply coaching skills through a series of evaluations before getting official Level Three recognition from CA.
“Over the course of the next 12 months we ask them to provide a coaching diary where they reflect on how they operate,” Betsey said. “Within the guidelines and the competencies that the course actually runs by, they have to show evidence that they’ve actually ticked off all of the competencies that are involved in the course. So that can take a number of forms whether it’s video, email, or planning budgets. There’s a whole heap of forms but they submit that at the end of the 12-month period.”