August 3, 2014

Why West Indies lack talented home-grown coaches

An uncoordinated approach to coaching across the region has led to an influx of foreign coaches

Phil Simmons is the only high-profile Caribbean coaching export © PA Photos

Ian Chappell once described coaches as vehicles that ferry cricket teams from hotel to ground and back; by such a definition, the best coach would be a Japanese by the name of Toyota.

Times have changed. Somewhat behind all other sports, even cricket's sceptics have come round to accepting the idea of a team coach. Now every school, minor club and first-class and Test squad has one. Not only that. At the professional level, they have specialists to deal with bowling, batting and fielding. Melbourne Stars in Australia's T20 Big Bash even have a "chief hydration officer".

There are coaches of every nationality scattered across the cricketing map for every format of the game. The Caribbean Premier League is one such tournament. Unlike the IPL, the Big Bash, England's T20 Blast and others that are all run by their national boards, the CPL is Irish-owned, operating under a licence purchased from the West Indies board in 2012. For its second season it has assigned five new foreign head coaches to its six franchises and introduced the Australian, Tom Moody, as director of cricket.

In its first year, it used icons from the golden age of West Indies cricket - Sir Viv Richards, Sir Andy Roberts, Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes - as head coaches. They have now been designated "mentors", a none-too-subtle difference. The only combination that remains the same is the West Indian pairing of Roger Harper and Sir Curtly Ambrose with the Guyana Amazon Warriors.

The Englishman Paul Nixon was the only foreign coach last year. His Jamaica Tallawahs took the title. He has been replaced by Mickey Arthur, one-time national coach of his native South Africa and of Australia.

Tim Nielsen, Arthur's predecessor with Australia, has taken over the Antigua Hawksbills. Simon Helmot, also Australian, with experience in the IPL and the Big Bash, is in charge of the Trinidad and Tobago Red Steel; Robin Singh, the Trinidad-born Indian, of the Barbados Tridents. Matthew Maynard was promoted from assistant with the St Lucia Zouks in 2013 to chief in 2014.

Their understudies are all West Indian. Among them is Carl Hooper, the batting stylist over 102 Tests between 1987 and 2002. He was flown in from his home in Australia to be with the Hawksbills.

Galling as it may be to West Indian pride in a sport that once typified the excellence of these tiny islands, such an arrangement is not surprising. Perhaps those who call the shots in a league prefaced with the word "Caribbean" would have preferred a few more from the region. They seemed unconvinced that such candidates measured up to their standards.

The problem is the uncoordinated approach to coaching from territory to territory in the West Indies. WICB's head coach, Ottis Gibson, complains that players arrive at the highest level brought up through an assortment of processes.

Last November, the WICB brought in a complete outsider with no preconceived ideas to make a thorough assessment of the domestic cricket structure. Richard Pybus, an Englishman with a solid reputation in coaching and organisation in South Africa, was made director of cricket. In preparing a comprehensive report, he sought advice and suggestions from dozens of those involved in every aspect of the game - past and present players, administrators, umpires, journalists, regular fans. On the strength of his research, he recommended the appointment of a coaching manager "to oversee and implement coaching programmes regionally"; in other words for everyone to be singing from the same Karaoke screen.

This would be complemented by what he termed "an elite coaches pathway", identifying current and former players for fast-tracking into the role. It is a start to raising standards. In the meantime, the only international West Indian coach apart from Gibson is Phil Simmons, the power-hitting opener of the '90s, with Ireland, the long-standing No. 1 among the Associate teams.

There is another motive for the CPL's preference. While it lacks the IPL's financial power, it is using it as a template. It does not have the IPL's benefit of a window free of international matches, as agreed to by the ICC, so its scope for raising high-profile foreign coaches and players is limited. Those it can contract stamp the CPL as an international brand. Added to the typically Caribbean carnival atmosphere that provides its slogan, "The Biggest Party in Sport", it makes it an easier sell to television networks.

Apart from its five coaches this season, it has again managed to find 21 players from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Pakistan, England, Ireland and Sri Lanka (22 if and when Kevin Pietersen eventually turns up) to mix in with the West Indians.

Pybus has recognised a significant snag to outside coaches. The Australians Bennett King, David Moore and John Dyson successively held the position for West Indies between 2004 and 2010. It was a period that contributed to the rapid decline over the past 20 years.

"The introduction of coaches from other cricket cultures brought about changes in the team culture that manifested in a breaking down of the natural handling of Caribbean wisdom, senior player to junior player," he wrote in his report. "Informal coaching by elite cricketers was replaced by formal coaching from an alien cricket culture with a different values system. Confusion over the natural Caribbean way of playing and coaching emerged."

While it is a view widely shared in the West Indies, it did not refer to coaches "from an alien culture" assigned to mixed squads for a competition lasting five weeks, rather than on a long-term basis for West Indies.

The assessment by captain Dwayne Bravo of Simon Helmut's impact on the Red Steel is instructive. "He understands the players and knows how to get the best out of the them and this has really worked for us this season," said Bravo. "If you look at our team, everyone is performing and this is a result of a great working atmosphere created by the coach."

It is praise that has never been heaped on any West Indies coach by Bravo or any other player. It would hardly be the same were Helmut on a full-time contract looking after a floundering West Indies team under an often divided board.

Tony Cozier has written about and commentated on cricket in the Caribbean for 50 years

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Joshua on August 5, 2014, 2:13 GMT

    So many talented players in the region. Some can be shaped to be role players i.e. being an anchor, aggressor, tail-Shepherd, finisher, "Faf", containing bowler, death bowler, opening bowler, or the "intimidater". Some have to be allowed to play their natural game first before the coach steps in with his pointers. Some need to have their egos boosted to "superstar" levels while some just need to know that they won't be dropped if they play their natural game or fully express themselves. Some just need the objectives and the prescribed methods and they'll get the job done.

    Its not hard being a coach if you're a good listener, observer, communicator. Being of good moral standing and a proven track record makes it even easier. The main difficulty i guess, and more so with the West Indies, is getting such a diverse group of players with different backgrounds, motives and personalities to move in unison.

  • Philip on August 4, 2014, 22:53 GMT

    Australian coaches are not that great (I've seen and heard some things here which make me really wonder how much use some are at all) but maybe the modern WI player may listen to them in contrast to their seeming general disinclination to listening to their own former players. While it is correct to say that great players don't always or even often make great coaches, it is equally correct to say that those who didn't quite make it or did it the hard way aren't always great thinkers, great communicators or great judges of people's ability, motivations or character either. The very best will keep things simple. A relation of mine has a library of sports coaching books. I don't think that is what you need. One needs good instincts first and foremost, but also the ability to develop a rapport with a receptive audience. Without either of these, books, manuals, elite playing experience and even university qualifications are totally useless - its time then for new coaches, players or both.

  • GM on August 4, 2014, 15:48 GMT

    Mr Cozier is one of the finest commentators in the game , an institution. But I do think that West Indies talent has flourished on the ability of players like Sobers to deal with non standard self improvement methods ( for eg Sobers used to bat with sticks and stones rather like Bradman with stump and golf ball). Standard coaching will turn WI into England Mark II.Where coached can add value is inspiration

  • Clifford on August 4, 2014, 15:29 GMT

    10yearstudent is correct great players don't always or even often make great coaches. The great players often have such natural gifts (i.e. things you can't coach) that they find it hard to impart what they hardly even understand about their own games to other. In other words they're great but they can't explain why. Coaching is a body of knowledge and skill that one develops over time. Often the best coach was the guy who when he was a player was on the bench learning the technicalities of the game from the coach directly. You see this in sport quite often. There should be no doubt that coaching is necessary at every level of cricket (after all every other sport takes this approach).

  • Dummy4 on August 4, 2014, 1:39 GMT

    I totally agree with 10yearstudent re great players and great coaches. When a skill comes instinctively (as with great players) it is often very hard for them to analyse why. their performances often 'just happen' because of their natural ability. It is often the players who have had to scrimp and scrap to make it who can best analyse and appreciate what works and what doesn't because they have often had to put themselves through the process. These players I believe make the best coaches. NZ's John Wright is a classic case of a 'made' cricketer rather than a natural cricketer - and a very successful coach. Can I also use this analogy when it comes to cricket commentators. Some of the very best would not have made it behind the microphone under the current 'top players only' regime - Tony Cozier and John Arlott spring to mind.

  • Dummy4 on August 3, 2014, 16:27 GMT

    @ 10yearstudent & sboyce, you are spot on. Agree 100%. I would add, that coaching at the highest level requires every coach to have a career of coaching that began at the grassroot level, and demonstrate growth in his knowledge of, group dynamics, motivation, physiology, nutrition, media relations, public speaking, team building, behavior modification, etc. He must not only obtain a certificate in coaching, but has been has been under the mentorship of a seasoned coach. Conversely, the WICB and local boards, would need to understand the above requirements and provide the appropriate financial mechanisms to foster the development of coaches from a lower level. THis also includes ensuring the players coming into the national teams, complete a year long academic training that incorporates the expectations and standards of the WICB. Finally, the IDEA of coaching is a new concept in WI sporting culture, as we have depended on natural talent, without coaches. Many still believe it can be so

  • Stanley A on August 3, 2014, 13:07 GMT

    Yet again, Prof Cozier, you are spot on, insightful, incisive. How you so regularly churn out these excellent articles is beyond me. The powers that be at the WICB must turn to you as a mentor or some other capacity to help resurrect WI. I shudder to think this may never happen again in my lifetime. I have no doubt that you can put a committee together that will be critical to the revival of our cricket fortunes and not just on a short term basis. I certainly have no answers but what I do see is an immense shortage of the necessary level of pride in many of the players in representing our once proud cricket empire. The players have to reach down deep within themselves. No one should have to motivate you to go out there and do well so you can provide for yourself and your family, if you have one. No one has ever had to wake me up to get out of bed and go to work to take care of my family. Stanley A. George III, Chief Sports Agent Unique Sports Agency Brooklyn, NY

  • Dummy4 on August 3, 2014, 12:53 GMT

    Pybus has done well in doing his analysis qualitatively. However, several of the fans here highlight a major concern - getting the players to sustain their improved temperament. To do so, the regional teams need to be able to employ players on a continuous basis, so that the players can hone their game. It means getting more money into the sport regionally. However, I am not worried about where the coaches come from - the recent successes of India and England did not come from home grown coaches. Only Australia and South Africa in my memory have not employed foreign coaches, so it may be a case of a coach being able to do what Bravo describes above, and not where s/he comes from.

  • Sid on August 3, 2014, 12:14 GMT

    Focussing on coaches and ignoring the players all round abilities leads nowhere. Performance at test level is lacking, we don't seem to have players with the basic traits that would qualify them for performance over 5 days.

    Dr. Rudi Webster said that the players who attended the Academy in Grenada worked hard, learned a lot and improved significantly then went back to their home islands and reverted to what they were doing before.

    You cannot expect people to employ knowledge and skills gained unless it is part and parcel of their psychological profile.

    Otis Gibson in coaching England had one significant advantage, he coached a group of players who learned from him, practised their learned skills and took them on to the field of play where they performed.

    As West Indies coach you don't see the skills he imparted deployed in the middle.

  • Dummy4 on August 3, 2014, 7:21 GMT

    Jimmy Adams seems to be doing ok in his coaching role at Kent also.

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