Are We ‘Guardians of the Environment’ or ‘Babysitters’?

Now that we’re into May it is fair to suggest that the cricket season is well and truly underway. With the typical British climate like it is however, it might also be fair to say that the first month (at the very least) belongs to the bowlers given the favourable conditions they have at their disposal – not too many batsmen besides Chris Rogers & Daryl Mitchell of Middlesex and Worcestershire respectively would disagree! Early season in most sports players are finding their feet in terms of performance; going back to the hard hours of refining their technique throughout the off-season in the hope that the transition from indoors to outdoors is as smooth as possible. Naturally though, such a transition rarely occurs without the occasional speed bump or failure. How to then deal with players’ emotions and behaviours as a coach?

This notion has subsequently become the topic for discussion this week – how does our role as a coach change during different times of the year? What does it look like in the sporting world? Whether you are coaching the local under 12s football team, leading the school rugby 1st XV, or indeed head coach of a high performing or professional team, Peter Moores (England Cricket Team Head Coach)  and Mark Robinson (Sussex CCC Head Coach) raised some thought provoking points in an article which is worth sharing.

So what what is your role as a coach? What are your daily duties and responsibilities? Developing and offering technical/tactical support; building and improving relationships with players & staff; creating an enjoyable yet challenging learning environment; encouraging a culture which promotes independent thinking and self-sufficient players…..something along those lines I would imagine, and probably a few more no doubt! But do some of these take precedent during certain times of the year? Robinson offers his views;

“You’re more of a coach in the winter and more of a manager in the summer. Summer’s about managing relationships, trying to get people to perform. Winter is when you can change technique.”

How much can you relate to Mark’s statement? I know I can. Perhaps the biggest challenge I have come across so far this season is the managing people side of coaching. Sure, you build good relationships with players throughout the winter to the point where you can engage in honest and critical feedback when necessary. When they’re trudging back to the pavilion as some have this week, having scored single figures for the fourth innings in a row, or slumped in the corner of the changing room having scored an own goal in the last minute, such a discussion might not be appropriate! Some players need a shoulder on the arm, some need some quiet time on their own, some can actually benefit from proving people wrong. Going back to their emotional state though, it’s fantastic on the one hand that they care so much about doing well, but how do we then go about lifting them back up to a position of strength where they can go and perform effectively? 

For me, it comes back to the notion of empowerment, and creating an environment that challenges players to think for themselves which encompasses managing emotions in the face of success or adversity. Moores refers to coaches as ‘guardians of the environment’, a mirror for players to reflect their own game against as oppose to coaches projecting their knowledge. With regards to what a coach’s role is he goes on to say – 

“You’re a resource. You’re lots of different things. What you’re not is how lots of coaches are portrayed – as this technical guru who’s going to change people technically”

Do you agree? Of course, technique has it’s place regardless of the standard, but by being a ‘guardian’ as oppose to a ‘babysitter’ (control over everything that happens in the environment), players surely have the capacity to generate solutions in relation to the problems they encounter, be it from a technical, emotional or psychological perspective. We can help facilitate that process as coaches, that’s one of our roles. We are there for when a player doesn’t know how to correct something, or is struggling to come up with an effective solution to a problem – the quality of the coach-athlete relationship takes on even greater significance during these times. Crucially however, for players to achieve their greatest potential they must learn to manage their disappointments and problems independently.

This brings us back to Moores’ notion of the ‘guardian’. Once we as coaches create that independent thinking, holistic type environment with our players, one of our roles surely has to be maintaining and developing that so that our players can further enhance their skills and mindset, which can transfer across to life outside of the sporting context. 

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