Under review by Eddie Norfolk: “Coaching Youth Cricket” by Ian Pont (Human Kinetics, 2010, approx $21 Canadian, plus taxes) This is one book in the ‘Coaching Youth Sport’ series.
Ian Pont’s book, “Coaching Youth Cricket”, should not be viewed as a run of the mill book on coaching. For one thing, it is aimed at coaches, or those who want or, indeed, serve as coaches, to youth cricketers. It contains a mixture of a proper English upbringing, with practical visions of reality and it makes demands of those who wish to coach youth. Demands young players would be able to read and understand as they mature in life’s education, as well, hopefully, in cricket.
In the book’s ‘Foreword’, Andy Flower, who reached the great stages of test cricket and ODI matches playing for Zimbabwe, and is now Director of Cricket for the England and Wales Cricket Board, begins: ‘If I was asked the most important thing for a youth coach to be if they want to be successful, I would say, “to be encouraging. Because the truth is, if you do nothing else in your coaching career but encourage, you will have one of the best tools for bringing through any cricketer.’
Flower points out, “This book is written in a thought-provoking way, which I urge you to read and enjoy. It’s aimed at first-time coaches and those who want to get a grounding in how to teach the basics correctly.”
Sharing ideas and being open-minded
Some authority figures in the game, great though they may be, might not share enthusiastically in some of the content. But that’s their problem; and one that cricket in the broader sense is saddled with. Pont’s “Introduction”, for example, boldly proposes that budding coaches “Be open minded. Share ideas with other coaches. Remember that no one- not even cricket authorities!- has the exclusivity of being right all the time. That’s why it’s important to remain flexible and to work with people to achieve your coaching goals.” His early comments include the truism that “without young cricketers, cricket will die.”
In an overall introduction to three coaching books, new to the shelves in 2010, I previously made reference to the start of Chapter 3. Namely, “You can’t run a team or manage a junior side without knowing the rules and regulations of the sport you are coaching and the equipment your players will be using.”
Sage advice, oft neglected by leading gurus, particularly financial and political ones. Sometimes, sadly missed, by religious leaders and ‘leading’ academics in certain fields. By contrast, Ian Pont, began his first chapter with the proposition that to be a successful coach, “you need through self-examination and hard work five tools that cannot be bought: C Comprehension; O Outlook; A Affection: C Character; H Humour”.
“People learn from making mistakes.” – Reality in the middle
Ian Pont points out that “People learn from making mistakes.” Well, I would suggest some do so quickly, and make appropriate adjustments.
Others? Well, they have outsourced their mistakes and try not to be responsible for that outsourcing decision. Some might be a bit slow to learn from mistakes, and one category never make mistakes, but they only turn to a single source for advice and counsel; themselves.
Reality was of little consequence, for example, to one Bernard Madoff, a New York securities dealer back in 1986. In “Markets: who plays, who risks, who gains, who loses”, by Martin Mayer (1988, W.W. Norton and Company, Inc< New York), Madoff is quoted as saying: “More mental masturbation goes on in this business than in any other. You’ve got all those mind trades that go on- Did he buy it? Did he sell it? The really smart guys don’t pay attention. They think about what they want to do.”
Well, out in the middle, there is nowhere for the batsman, or the bowler to hide. Although away from certain matches, it might be possible to provide a glorious tale of a mighty innings, or a haul of wickets which, some day, the listener might find was mere imagination.
Oddly enough, Mr. Madoff’s confidence saw him move up the ladder, but if you read and understand some of Ian Pont’s ideas. “A sense of humour puts into perspective the many mistakes your players will make. So don’t get upset over each miscue or respond negatively to erring players.”
“Communicating as a Coach” (Chapter 2) “might be the most important in the book.” If you cannot communicate reasonably well, you might not get as far as the need to understand the rules and regulations of the sport, or the league your team plays in. Well, you might still act as coach, but you might not even know the rules, etc. Some in Associates and Affiliates cricket might have empathy with the opening remarks under the heading “Fans and Supporters”: “The boundary probably won’t be overflowing with crowds at your contests which means you’ll more easily hear the few supporters who criticise your coaching.” And you keep calm.
There is some excellent advice about ‘providing feedback’. But some of the metaphorically blind and deaf, as well as some of the mighty powers of cricket, might take a while to understand such advice.
Planning plays a major part in becoming a successful coach. It must be admitted, if merely by me, that even the best of coaches might be ‘challenged’ if there are too many issues with the ‘Facilities and Equipment Checklist’. It includes checkpoints such as: “The outflied is free of low spots or ruts”; “The outfield is free of protruding pipes, wires, and lines” (one ground I visited a couple of years back had a spare ‘square leg fielder’, a water pipe with tap, or fawcet as they are known in Canada). At a recent international, I discussed knee injuries for wicketkeepers, for which Ian Pont’s checkpoint “The field is not too dry or hard (protecting players who dive or fall) might apply.
Some ‘experts’ may wish, therefore, to skip Chapter 4 on ‘Providing for players safety’, but at some stage if there are no players, old or young, there is no need for committee and board members, or executives in the world of cricket. I leave it to the imagination whether I mean a small world, such as a town, city, or county/province/state, or a much bigger part of the world in that context. But such ignorance might be overcome by reading, thinking and learning throughout life. “We are not perfect”, as Pont points out. We all make mistakes, believe it or not. But some may need to develop the skill to see yourself as others see you, in order to realize one is not perfect. One can, and does, make some mistakes in life.
A book could easily be written about the checkpoint “Scorers, scoreboard, and umpires are available and have all the equipment required to do the job”, based on personal experiences at club and international levels over the last six years, or so.
“Proper coaching begins” – the technical basics
Horror of horrors for some of the ‘old school’ is that ‘proper coaching’ of ‘cricket skills’ does not arrive until chapter seven. Worse still, it involves ‘coaching fielding”. This has a certain personal irony. I have no idea how many might have heard me on the FAN590 during Canada’s loss to Ireland in the 2009 Final of the ICC Cricket World Cup qualifier, held in South Africa. I mentioned how the previous night, South Africa and Australia had posted tons of runs in an ODI, despite some wonderful fielding. That Sunday, some of the turf at the Centurion ground was springy.
The chapters on coaching fielding, bowling and batting are well supported by text, illustrative photos, diagrams and examples of exercises for indvidiuals and groups of players. These allow the coach to teach each skill as an “IDEA”. Where “I = Introduce the skill; D demonstrate the skill; E Explain the skill; A = Attend to players practising the skill.” This includes dealing with players on an appropriate basis, when situations demand and when you have considered the action to resolve challenging situations.
Coaching requirements on match days, as well as in-season and out-of-season practice plans are also addressed. Some additional team drills that help develop fielding, bowling and batting skills are appended after a section outlining cricketing terms.
A book that is well worth a read. The author is pictured wearing Dutch cricket colours, dating back to the preparations for the 2007 ICC Cricket World Cup. Lest we forget, or even the late 2006 days in South Africa on safari with Bermuda, Canada, the Netherlands, some umpires, officials, a couple of journalists and the bus drivers. Lest we forget, indeed. The joys and experiences of learning on the cricket trail. But part of the greater trail; the journey of life.
A life journey where I now find, certain corporate governance legislation “strikes at the heart of the traditional orthodoxy of the confidential relationship between lawyer and client”. (Excerpt from Chapter 8 of “In the Public Interest”, a report from a Task Force of the Law Society of Upper Canada, published in 2007)
But “the client” might be a non-personal legal entity. A public corporation with related founding documents, probably drafted by certain lawyers, paid for the task, and which required various approvals. An entity beyond the individuals who might, from time-to-time, hold high office in such an enterprise. Surely, you would think, the lawyers understand the rules and regulations?
Or perhaps they need to read some of Ian Pont’s “Coaching Youth Cricket”, especially chapter’s two and three! Interestingly, the ‘Coaching Youth” series includes a book on Tennis that is the official handbook of the US Tennis Association Junior Team Tennis body. I can imagine what a certain Mr. John McEnroe might think about the question “What is Law?” posed early in H.L.A. Hart’s book “The Concept of Law” (Second Edition, Oxford University Press, 1997 paperback edition). A book seemingly only found after the death of the author. Yet, “probably the most important book of legal philosophy produced this century”, according to the back cover. First published in 1961.
Ian Pont seems to think that if the umpire’s finger goes up, then, the young player must accept the decision, as should the coach. At least in the short-term, unless there are provisions for replays, etc under the rules and regulations of the particular competition.
“No vast literature is dedicated to answering the questions ‘What is chemistry?’, or ‘What is medicine?’, but a veritable array of books deal with questions on the philosophy of law, or indeed, ‘what is law?’. Pont’s book provides some reasonable ideas on how cricket is played, despite being focussed on the teaching of a coach. Perhaps some learned friends in the legal teaching profession could do with some advice and counsel from the likes of “Mr. Pont, initial I”? Or am I being presumptuous? Or too simplistic compared with certain philosophers? By contrast, the cricket coach might consider a tactful discussion with the umpire might come after the game to confirm the specific reason for a batsman being given out.
Youth cricket, the sport of young gentlemen and young women, potential icons for a more peaceful world? There will be the odd dispute or two where time can heal temporary wounds, and some unhappy folks at the end of a tightly fought game, but overall people can come together in cricket, and other sports, with the spirit and enjoyment of the sport as the key interest. Not some local or ultra-nationalistic ‘death or glory’ – losing is the end of the world attitude, especially if that attitude is driven by folks with almost no clue on how the game is played.