Dutch footballer Johan Cruyff once said that six out of 10 coaches actively damage the team, two out of 10 have no effect and the remaining two have a positive effect.
These words should be taken seriously, because Cruyff was no ordinary player or coach.
In 1999, he was voted European Player of the Century, in an election held by the International Federation of History and Statistics, and came second to Pele in their World Player of the Century poll.
After retiring from playing, Cruyff became a highly successful manager at Barcelona and Ajax football clubs.
If Cruyff’s observations are valid, in which of his categories do the majority of West Indies cricket coaches fit?
There are now more academically qualified coaches in the Caribbean than ever before. And yet the need for good coaching has never been greater.
In the last two decades, our cricket has plummeted.
Overcoming negative thinking
Players must take responsibility for their development and performance. But they will not reach their potential in a coaching environment that inhibits smart thinking, the expression of natural talent and the improvement of self-belief, self-confidence, self-discipline and self-reliance.
Jacques Kallis, the great South African all-rounder, feels that in some ways, coaching today is like a dictatorship.
He says that players are too dependent on their coaches and that coaches don’t encourage them to think for themselves or stand on their own feet.
He adds that when something goes wrong, the player instinctively goes to the coach for answers and instructions, instead of trying to figure out the problem himself.
Negative thinking and negative communication dominate our culture.
In 1982, Jack Canfield, an expert in self-esteem, conducted a study to discover how many negative and positive statements a group of young children received during the course of a day.
He found that on average, each child received 460 negative or critical comments and only 75 positive or supportive comments, six times more negative than positive ones.
Regrettably, too many of our coaches communicate with their players in this fashion.
The young mind is quite fragile and can be harmed by the wrong words, even if they come from the right lips.
Using the right words
Conversely, the mind can be improved by the right words, even if they come from the wrong lips.
Improving players’ thinking, self-belief, concentration and motivation should be one of the coach’s first important priorities.
Vince Lombardi, the great American football coach, once said that coaches who can outline plays on a blackboard are a dime a dozen. The ones who win get inside their players and motivate.
Understanding the players’ personality, thinking patterns and culture is critical.
Motivation depends more on the needs and aspirations of the players than the desires and goals of the coach.
Coaches who do not understand this often place their egos, needs and aspirations above those of the players. Therein lies the cause of their failure.
More than fitness
Fitness and good technique are vital for success, but they should be the servants, not the master.
Most of our coaches believe that physical skills are the ultimate component of performance and look at their players’ performance through spectacles that focus predominantly on technique and technical faults.
These coaches can learn a lot from the old African saying: “When someone falls, don’t look at where he falls, but where he slips.”
So when examining a technical fault, coaches should find out what went wrong just before the fault occurred. In most cases, the trigger will be found in the mind, not the body.
The body depends on the brain for instruction and direction before every action that it takes.
And yet most of our coaches place mental training way down in their list of priorities. To them, it is just an unimportant add-on to that list.
Napoleon Bonaparte, the great French general, highlighted the importance of strategy and the mind in his successful war campaigns when he said that in his campaigns, strategy and mental control were to action what two is to one.
Making a great player
Sir Garfield Sobers once said to me:
“If I had a free hand in coaching, I would initially spend most of my time teaching the basics of the game. And then I would devote an equal amount of time teaching players how to identify and handle the many different situations they will face during the game.”
Sir Garfield added that the main difference between the great players and the others is the capacity to identify the most important demands in the situations they face; the ability to think simply, clearly, sensibly and creatively about those situations; and the competence to tailor their skills, resources and strategies to fit those demands.
Sir Garfield went on: “I have come across lots of players who have had more natural skill than some of the great players, but they never made it, because they couldn’t think clearly and sensibly. No matter how good a player you think you are, you won’t reach the top unless you develop your mind. The top players know how to think, how to concentrate and what to do in tough situations.”
This is priceless advice from one of the most brilliant minds in cricket. West Indies’ coaches should take note.
“Do no harm”
Their priority should be to do no harm.
They must work hard to improve their weaknesses, especially in the critical areas of strategy and mental conditioning.
Then they will have a chance of reaching the 20% category of those that have a positive impact on players’ development and performance.
To speed up that journey, they should ask themselves three questions.
First, what goals and standards do we want to achieve; what do we want our players to become, and why?
Second, what do we believe in and stand for and what are our values and priorities?
And third, will our action plan improve the players’ thinking, concentration and self-reliance and will it meet their needs and aspirations?
Rudi Webster worked with the World Cup-winning West Indies side in the 1970s and has worked with teams in Asia ahead of the IPL tournaments. He is the author of the new book, Think Like a Champion (Harper Collins, India).