'I want to be a World Cup winning coach for SA' - Peterson

Robin Peterson joined the South Africa Under-19 coaching staff in 2017 as a technical consultant Cricket South Africa

Robin Peterson was a month into retirement when he received a call from Cricket South Africa to become the Under-19 team's technical consultant in January 2017. Gary Kirsten, who was head coach of the national team when Peterson played, believed he would be a good fit. Although apprehensive initially, Peterson warmed up to the idea and accepted the offer. A year on, he calls this one of the best decisions he's made in his professional career and is at his first Under-19 World Cup in a coaching role.

"I spoke to Gary. We've had a lot of conversations that have ranged from mental to personal life to cricket. Maybe he saw something in me," Peterson tells ESPNcricinfo. "Every now and then, we chat about where I am in terms of my coaching. He coaches around the world and even won the World Cup with India. He understands I have passion for the game and learning new things. Since I've been involved, I'd like to be a World Cup winning coach of South Africa."

"We're so focused sometimes on the batting, bowling and fielding element that we forget that we're dealing with humans" Robin Peterson

Peterson is part of a big support staff. Lawrence Mahatlane is head coach, Wandile Gwavu and Chris van Noordwyk are his assistants. Then there's also a performance analyst and a mental conditioning coach. It's in sync with these people, who bring in different elements to the game, that Peterson goes about his job every day.

When Peterson joined the group early last year, he spent considerable time in getting to know the players off the field; how they were as people, their backgrounds and cultures. Once he understood that, it was a matter of bringing together experiences from his career and passing them on.

Wiaan Mulder, the former Under-19 captain who has already made his ODI debut, comes from a privileged background in Johannesburg.

Akhona Mnyaka, the fast bowler, comes from a humble family with limited means. At 17, he was CSA's youngest draftee at the Global T20 League that was postponed.

Andile Mokgakane, a top order batsman, is the first beneficiary of the Sunfoil Education Trust. Raised by a single mother who had to do odd jobs to get by, he started playing township cricket and progressed to playing at a private school on a sports scholarship.

They are just three examples of the varied team South Africa are, and that by itself fosters a great opportunity to learn. "Sometimes it's not even technical stuff, but just about life as a cricketer," Peterson says. "It's such a long game that it's important to get to know people and understand what makes them tick more off the field than on it. Those are aspects I try to concentrate on. My approach is to get to know people outside of cricket. We're so focused sometimes on the batting, bowling and fielding element that we forget that we're dealing with humans.

"Once we started doing that, we've formed some pretty good relationships. They always come to me for advice, not just on cricket but also on studies and other things That's been really good. Living in South Africa, there are other things you can decide to do. Cricket isn't the only thing. You can play in a band, be a surfer or whatever. The fact that they've decided to play cricket is an encouraging sign. There are a lot of boys that want to be in their position so they do realise how fortunate they are."

Peterson draws examples from his own career and corporate journey. When not at the cricket with the Under-19s, he is involved with a tech start-up - a curriculum-linked app - that conducts business programs and camps on entrepreneurship for high school kids.

"It's a bit of a disruption in the industry, but it's good to test your skills outside of what you've done for 20 years," he explains. "In South Africa, the education system is under pressure. There's too big a gap between what is good and what's not.

"If we can get those systems closer together through the digital age, we can start creating opportunity for kids from disadvantaged backgrounds to see a future for themselves. That's the idea behind it. It's still in its infancy stages. At the moment, we operate in Western Cape and Free State. We're hoping to expand. Hopefully in the next two years, we can make it a national thing."

"Living in South Africa, there are other things you can decide to do. Cricket isn't the only thing. You can play in a band, be a surfer or whatever"

Peterson's life now has a reasonably neat split: sifting between corporate presentations to drive in funding for his business in the morning and then cricket in the evening. "It's my role to source business," Peterson says of his job. "My partners are more into the technical side of things. Three combinations are at work. Sometimes these presentations make me more nervous than playing in front of 100,000 people at Eden Gardens.

"When I was about to retire, a friend of mine who is into education wanted to grow what he was doing. He came up with the idea of going digital to hit the critical masses quicker. This chat was on a golf course. I stumbled upon cricket accidentally. I wanted to study and that was my passion at the time, when I left school. It never occurred to me I'll get back into the business world. Sometimes you have to trust faith a little bit. That's why I enjoy working with the Under-19s, because it's almost like helping their education along with the cricket. Maybe that's where I need to find myself at this point in time."

Does he apply some of that corporate philosophy with the Under-19 team? "I don't think I need to get into the details of that with them," he points out. "Corporates use sporting philosophy these days, in terms of being creative, ability to handle pressure and dealing with setbacks. That's what I've found interesting, being in the other side of the fence. Businesses can learn a lot from sport.

"Also as a coach, you have to detach yourself from the game a little and allow players to make decisions. I am a firm believer that the better you can empower players; the better decisions they will make under pressure. You can't get stressed out. You got to trust them.

"They have to trust you about the information you will pass on to them, and you have to trust they will use that information when under pressure. That's been the biggest challenge. It's in my nature to be relaxed, so I don't find it too hard or I don't get too nervous watching tough moments in the game. I enjoy watching player enjoy such situations."