“When will they learn?”, the all too familiar phrase of a frustrated coach whose team has not executed their skills to the required standard. This may take its form in a variety of ways, be that through lack of skill transfer from practice to match, poor decision making under pressure or even inadequate preparation. However before pointing the finger at a players’ incompetence, a coach should be reflecting upon the work that he or she has done in order to give the players the best chance of success and it is often the assumptions that coaches make that is the hindrance to player performance.
In the modern age of information and constant connection to knowledge it may be assumed that players, at no matter what level they play at, have a basic skill combined with robust thinking and physical competence to execute that skill. Let’s take the young U13 cricketer playing for his school 1st XI at Primary school. Should he have the ability to set a field to his own bowling? Bowl the ball on one side of the wicket? Vary his lengths to different batters? Construct an over? If you answered “Yes” to all these questions, one should be making sure that time is taken in order to equip the player with the either the technical, tactical, mental or physical skill to do so. This is done through an array of interventions such as purposeful practices, in depth conversations and understanding of the player, but one word of advice – Be mindful of the assumptions you make!
So how to break the assumption barrier? Many would give advice of “Make no assumptions”, however this is not really practical on many occasions. The first road to take is one of asking. Through the art of good questioning and listening one should be able to ascertain the current reality in which a player sits and gain an understanding of his or her lens and level of proficiency. For example when coaching players the art of playing spin, one could ask questions such as; “What is your mindset when spinners bowl to you?”, “What shots regularly bring about boundaries against off spinners?”, “Recall a time when you played the leg spinner well, what did you do?”. The list could go on depending on your gauge of the player’s awareness. By utilizing their language to gain a deeper understanding of the players outlook and skillset it can provide a reference point from which to build and grow, but too often the narrative comes in at a level too high according to a preconceived idea.
The Second Road to take is Clarity of Expectation. Through this direct route of communication one can provide the necessary direction to avoid misunderstandings which open up the door to frustration and disappointment from both parties provided these expectations are “capable”. As Henry Winkler quotes, “assumptions are the termites of relationships”. As coaches we are in the relationship business and this can have a bearing on people and performance. In cricket circles, an assumption commonly misplaced is one in the fielding arena – having an individual placed in the field without clear expectation of his or her role is the cause of red mist rolling into the bowlers mind time and time again. For example, the inner ring fielder gives away an easy single to the new batsman. What is needed in this regard is a language of understanding between all team members of what their role is and even some tools on how to achieve that objective. By providing clear expectations, one removes the assumptions which may not be shared by individuals or a group, creating a space which is more conducive to performance.
Whether in the coaching space or not it seems we are constantly making assumptions based on “truths and facts”, often through our “glasses”, it is important that we challenge these beliefs through asking effective questions, listening without judgement, or by co creating clarity in expectation with our players in order to show care and be fair not only in performance but off the field too. Having the courage to do this can be a game changer for your coaching and development of your players and teams.