May 29, 2002

Planning underway for next season in Northern Districts

Bruce Blair

We recently announced our winter squads to prepare for next season. Traditionally this time of year is busy one for me and coming off my first season as a first-class coach I hadn't realised just how busy it would be.

The coaching process contains four very distinctive phases: Observation, Planning, Implementation and Review.

When I first arrived in Hamilton to begin my new challenge, I met with a number of different people (including players, administrators, interested supporters and players from opposition teams) with a view to forming an objective opinion about what stage of development the Knights were at.

I have been in the role now for nearly nine months and this time encompasses four months of actual play. In this period I have observed the players in competition, in training and as people generally. While it is a relatively simple task for a skilled coach to look at a player and gain a good feel for the technical abilities of the player, getting to know the make-up of people in terms of their personal philosophies and values about the game, can take significantly longer.

It is important to me that I gain an understanding of:

  • Why the players play the game (because this assists me to understand where the motivation drivers lie)
  • What their ideal performance state is (in terms of arousal levels - psych up, not out)
  • The player awareness of the skills they require to perform consistently (this is vital if you value the players having the ability to self-analyse)
  • The player understanding of their strengths and weaknesses
  • The quality of the personal planning of the player
  • The player's ability to make decisions (whether they have a process they follow)
  • The player's ability to analyse (what needs to be taken care of right now, then the ability to execute)

People say that cricket is played 90% in the head and 10% in the hands, so for me it does not make sense to spend 90% of my coaching time on developing the 10%.

Coaches should not feel that they have to have all the knowledge because we don't and, in my case, working with elite players I know that each of them has a personal style which has been developed over a long period of time. They know far more about themselves than I do. The challenge for me is to develop this understanding. I would do them a major disservice if I looked to clone them technically.

I believe it is important to understand how much the player thinks about, knows and is able to verbalise about themselves in all aspects of their game.

Smart coaches get the players to teach them about themselves.

What I know is not as important as me knowing how much the player knows. Once I ascertain these things from the player I am better placed to assist them in the development process and therefore motivate, and develop, the tools that will release their maximum potential.

It can be daunting for coaches sometimes. I know I have felt intimidated when working with players who have exceptional skills, or a high level of understanding of the game's skills, because you feel that they know more than you. But that's OK, as long as someone knows.

Your role just shifts in its function.

The less aware technically and tactically the player is, the more leadership you are required to provide. At the other end of the scale with the high achievers/performers your role becomes one of challenging the player to think about the mechanics and tactics of their game - they are working if they are thinking. The other significant benefit in this approach is that you also develop your learning about the player which, after all, is paramount.

Over April and May I have been preparing my player reports on the State Northern Knights and also conducting the major component of my winter planning. It was quieter watching I can assure you.

There were some very positive performances through the season in both competitions for the State Northern Knights and as the result of the recent elevation of Robbie Hart, Ian Butler, Scott Styris and Matthew Hart to join Daniel Vettori and Daryl Tuffey in the Black Caps, things are looking promising for next season.

I feel we have made significant progress in our pursuit of creating an environment where the players are challenged, and encouraged, to be the best they can be.

Our primary objective is to develop the players and an outcome of that, if we are successful, is that we will be without players for our domestic competitions which will provide us with some interesting challenges and opportunities for an exciting crop of young players who seek to earn a Knights cap - roll on next summer.