May 30, 2018

'I don't think Warner and Smith will be discarded'

Wade Gilbert, an authority on coaching who has worked with the All Blacks and Melbourne Storm, talks about what Cricket Australia need to do in the wake of the tampering scandal

"What I've seen among fans is that - I don't want to say they're okay with losing - if their team doesn't win but their team fights with honour, they will understand" © Getty Images

As Australian cricket charts a path back to respect and better performance, the nation's coaches have spent time in Brisbane with Wade Gilbert, a professor at California State University and a global authority on coaching, who has worked with the likes of the New Zealand All Blacks, Melbourne Storm, and a wide array of elite sporting organisations in the United States. He spoke to ESPNcricinfo about what he saw in Australian cricket over the past two weeks, and about the challenges facing national team coach Justin Langer in particular.

You've just spent time with Cricket Australia, the coaching set-up and Justin Langer. A couple of months after Newlands, how do you think they are placed in terms of getting back on track?
They have good people, particularly with Justin in place. They have a leadership I've spent time around. The coaches and Cricket Australia's leadership understand the significance of what happened and they are viewing it as an opportunity to reshape their identity a little bit and regain the trust of the cricket world and Australians in particular, so I'm really optimistic. I had some good time with Justin. We talked about his vision for the team. I'm excited to see what comes next.

In the experience you've had with different sporting organisations, can you think of similar scenarios in sport where an organisation has faced a fairly cataclysmic cultural event it has had to come out of?
It was a very dramatic event. All sports seem to go through scandals at some point or another. Melbourne Storm with the salary cap, British and US cycling with doping and the Tour de France, and now in the United States we are going through some major scandals with gymnastics and swimming, sexual abuse scandals and things like that.

Unfortunately it's not all that unusual to have turmoil and scandal, but I think what happens is that you never really achieve the culture you want. The best organisations understand that it's constant diligence, constantly trying to shape those environments towards what you want, but you never really get it. The moment you think, "Oh, we've got our culture now", you're in trouble. It's about every day.

[In South Africa], it wasn't some sudden moment that caught everyone off guard. It's "Yeah, in hindsight there were signs, we saw cracks, there were things starting to happen." There's the analogy of noticing a piece of trash outside your building, and you could pick it up but it's just a small piece of trash, not the end of the world. But the little things we walk past every day that in the moment we don't think are that big a deal - it's all the little things that add up. That's exactly what happened here, from what I can gather.

"Smith and Warner have a tremendous amount of impact and wisdom and capital. That's important for Cricket Australia. They'll have opportunities to prove they deserve to be a part of that experience again" © AFP/Getty Images

There is some recent history around the culture of the Australian team - players suspended in India in 2013 and the effects that had. Does that speak to how this is a constant battle to stay ahead of these sorts of issues?
Definitely. In North America a few teams like the New England Patriots, the San Antonio Spurs, teams that are constantly competitive, they are constantly innovating, trying new things, replacing players. It's an opportunity for CA, the team and the leadership to reset and be reminded that we have to be more diligent with helping our players and our organisation understand the significance of our position in Australian society, not take it for granted, and have more discipline.

Langer is known for trying to take lessons from as far afield as possible, trying to learn as broadly as he can about how to build a team. Did you get that sense in talking with him?
He's a great learner. He's very open, very thoughtful, very serious about his craft, but also has tremendous perspective on life and tries to empower people around him to take ownership of that experience as well. He has a strong personality, a nice mix of strength and caring. That's something I see with other great coaches I've been around. They are not too far at either extreme - they can be very strong and have very strong leadership and cultural conviction. There's no doubt when they walk into a room who is in charge - but at the same time, he can step back and let others lead.

Meditation is an important part of his life. Family is very important. So cricket matters, winning is important, but it's more about winning the right way and honouring traditions and what cricket means to Australians. He understands that because he lived it. He had to battle to earn the privilege of being in that squad. I think he's going to spend a lot of time trying to help the current team and the next generation really appreciate the significance of the honour they have - playing for Australia.

Is there a bit of a balancing act for the coach and the team in terms of recognising the importance of their role and the honour of playing for Australia but also adjusting how they play on the field given the reputation they have developed among opposing teams?
They are going to have to re-earn trust. It's going to be one moment at a time, one press conference at a time, one training session at a time, one match at a time, one ball at a time. It's going to be hard and it's going to take time. I think Justin understands that - it's not a switch, like repainting a house or a room and now you've got a new colour. It's all the little things, the little details, little moments, little behaviours, and that's going to take time.

There are expectations of the Australian team's behaviour but also that they win.
I've spent time with the All Blacks, Olympic teams and other elite groups. Everybody wants to win, so it's got to be bigger than winning. What I've seen among fans is that - I don't want to say they're okay with losing - if their team doesn't win but their team fights with honour, they will understand.

"We talked about why people in Australia care so much about cricket - because it's part of the identity of what it means to be Australian" © Getty Images

There are some epic, phenomenal matches that you remember, but you don't win. Fans appreciate that. Yes, that's got to translate into wins at some point, but Australians aren't going to abandon the team. It's how we go about trying to win - that's what's more important and that's what people are going to notice.

At one of the coaching breakfasts you spoke at on this trip, you mentioned a book by Linda Swindling called Wintegrity. Did that concept get discussed?
We talked about why people in Australia care so much about cricket - because it's part of the identity of what it means to be Australian. Playing cricket as a little kid on the beach - everyone has that image and those memories. Helping the players reconnect with that idea, of becoming your hero, and thinking back to when you first started to play and why, who you dreamed of emulating, because there's a kid out there right now in that same moment and same kind of experience.

It's good that there was uproar about South Africa, because people cared so much.

Do you have any thoughts about the reintegration of Steven Smith or David Warner, given what happened in South Africa?
That was talked about, for sure, and I think they will be given an opportunity to redeem themselves. They have a tremendous amount of impact and wisdom and capital. In a sense, that's important for Cricket Australia. So I don't think they're just going to be discarded and forgotten. They'll have opportunities, if they want to, to prove that they deserve to be a part of that experience again.

Justin's reaching out to all the players. He's having those conversations, and what I like about him is, he's not afraid to have an uncomfortable conversation with somebody. He understands that coaches build people. It's all about relationships. You can argue that the sandpaper issue would not have happened if you had the right kinds of relationships in that team. Somebody in that room should have been courageous enough and have had the right kinds of relationships with the other guys to say, "No, that's not going to happen, that's not who we are or what we do."

The story of Richmond winning last year's AFL premiership was a part of discussion in Brisbane also. Some lessons there for Australian cricket?
[Tim Livingstone, Richmond coaching manager] shared with Justin and CA some good examples of the types of things they do and how they navigated their crises.

Every club that I've been around the last couple of weeks, we've shared the same message and had similar conversations. All around culture, people, relationships and the little things you do on a daily basis across your organisation that help strengthen relationships and trust. If you're doing those things, you're going to be fine. You'll have good days and bad days and losses, but you're just going to have a better environment. People are going to be more resilient. They'll come back after a bad loss.

Another part of your work is ensuring that coaches have their own support network around them, even as they go about supporting their players. Did you go through that with Justin?
We talked about that too. He's going to be tested, he's going to be frustrated at times. I think he will be fine, but we talked about how he's going to need a board of advisors, just like corporations have a board of directors, people around him who we might call truth-tellers or energy-givers. Not just cricket people, people who will fill his tank and keep him honest and grounded. We did a little activity related to that and he's identified people he needs to keep close to him who will keep him grounded, energised and fuelled.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig

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