Juggling studies and cricket with Kate Green
It's not uncommon for England teams to be accompanied by an army of support staff. From specialist coaches to psychologists, nutritionists, conditioning coaches the list grows to match the squad itself and gives the players access to a network of professionals across the hall from their hotel rooms. What's clear is that the ECB likes to leave no stone unturned when it comes to overall player development. It's no different with the Under-19 setup and working behind the scenes is one such staff member who ensures the teenagers don't neglect their school work, even during a high-pressure tournament such as the U-19 World Cup.
Kate Green is no stranger to England's cricketing setup. As the national lead for personal development and welfare, employed by the ECB, she has been a regular with the U-19 and England Lions side and has been associated with the country's cricket for the last eight years. Green's job description isn't restricted to just academics, but encompasses a player's overall development. In order to safeguard the players' dual aspirations, she runs supervised study sessions, provides learning support and even lends a hand in revision techniques and tasks such as writing essays.
These 90-minute study sessions are integrated in the schedule, along with their regular cricket training. For example, those in the reserves for a particular match split their time between their skills session, gym workouts, 12th man duties and their studies. These sessions are flexible and can happen at any convenient time during the day. While the scheduling is easier on non-match days, during match days players sometimes get on it first thing in the morning, when they are fresh.
"We've done them all over the place - media centres, pavilions, behind the sightscreen, ideally in conference rooms in hotels," said Green. "In Dubai, in the apartment hotel where we are staying, we do them in the dining room area where 6-7 players will sit together on a rotation basis."
In the current squad, eight are yet to finish school while the remaining seven are pursuing their Level 2 coaching certificates and taking their modules online. While Green doesn't teach individual subjects, she visits their schools at the start of the year and stays in touch with them throughout, as a conduit between the teachers and pending schoolwork.
However, given the players' cricketing commitments and the attendant pressures and demands of a World Cup, is it really that simple to strike a balance between studies and cricket?
"It is always tougher than it looks," said Green. "When they're training hard under hot conditions it makes it tough for them to get enough energy to then sit for 90 minutes to do school work. We try and front-load it and get them ahead of the school schedule and we also front-load the tour. So in the acclimatisation week, that is the first week, they do way more (study) hours than they would do later on in the tour, so we try and make it less later on the tour when they need to maximise their energy and their recovery."
With the U-19 World Cup an important fixture in the ICC's calendar of events, some countries are now keeping their young players engaged through a series of tours and tournaments in the build-up. While it will come at the expense of school attendance, fortunately, the schools in England are flexible in granting leave. Green says the development program makes it a win-win situation.
"Cricket in England goes a long way towards giving the hours back. We take them for long periods and even when they're in the UK they study in the cricket centre so it's part of our commitment towards them that they will carry on with work in a supervised environment. We don't just make them study in their bedrooms. We make a commitment to their schools."
This concept, however, is not a recent development in England. Green, who first traveled with the U-19 team five years ago, says a personality development coach travels with the team only when the need arises. For example, a specialist wasn't sent with the 2012 Under-19 World Cup squad to Australia since the tournament was in August and coincided with the school holidays. In such instances, the sports psychologist looks after the performance and mental well-being needs.
The role of the personality coach, however, goes beyond academics. It involves coordinating with the other support staff including the nutritionist, psychologist in helping the players deal with issues such as homesickness, problems at home, relationships, and developing interpersonal skills when it comes to dealing with team-mates and coaches. Players are also encouraged to broaden their horizons through fun activities in the evenings.
"The other night at the apartment we did a cooking challenge, to help them learn how to cook healthy food for themselves, to work in teams," said Green. "All the coaches came down and tried the various dishes as judges. That was good fun.
"It ticked off loads of educational and lifestyle development boxes."
The dark wings of depression and similar stress-related illnesses have claimed the lives and careers of many an England cricketer, and Green says preventive measures are being put in place at the junior level and give the players coping skills in dealing with failure.
"We have a daily monitoring system, which looks at well-being, mood coping, the soreness of the body from the day before, and also the level of sleep: quality and hours. We do a human weekly check-in rating to see how the mood has been, the highs and lows (if any) and how they have coped, building their awareness of what's regular or normal on tour and how they fare as they're going up and down.
"One of the things professional cricketers struggle with is the insecurity in case they don't have cricket afterwards."
Having worked with players of different age groups, from county academy players to professionals and national level players, Green says the younger lot need a bit more attention and monitoring at times and adds they have to be educated on being more tactful when it comes to social media.
"All of them need education in social media, because they tend to tell the world how they're feeling, if they're unhappy with something. A few of them would have had consequences in the past if they said silly stuff."
Green draws on her credentials including career counseling for elite athletes and psychological counselling to help sportsmen develop into well-rounded individuals, which, she says, is the stimulating part of the job.
"I love getting to work with young individuals trying to find their way in a profession that's quite tough. The highs that come with it, the performances and the hard work and also dealing with the guys for whom it's not coming off at any given time having to learn some life lessons along the way."
Kanishkaa Balachandran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo