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Nothing at the moment frustrates me more than hearing a coach telling a player what they are doing wrong, especially when swiftly followed by what they should be doing instead. Are we - in my context of club cricket, at least - really so naïve to believe we know it all?
Think of every elite player in your sport, are they all the same? Are any? I'd be willing to bet that the vast majority of you will say no (if I'm wrong, I'd love to hear your perspective – please leave a comment below), so the absurdity of coaching them all the same way is apparent. I am fortunate to play at a club that is home to the local county setup and see their system's kids playing regularly throughout the season, and I assure you that once you put a bat in their hands and cover them up with the usual protective kit, you would do well to pick out who was who, they're clones! They are often taught from the so-called 'textbook' or 'coaching manual', and frequently go on to be decent recreational players, but rarely any further. Why could this be?
As a player myself who is far from a model of 'technical perfection', I have a serious issue with the textbook and the message of ‘right and wrong’ it promotes. I should clarify here that I am talking only about sports that have a primary focus on fine motor skills, in some sports – athletics, for example – there are biomechanically optimal techniques that ensure the most efficient performance, and in these cases I encourage you to drill technique to your heart’s content. Alas, with sports that do predominantly depend on complex movements and techniques, my feeling (and again, feel free to challenge me on this) is that the conventional wisdom coaching manuals provide is restrictive, due to the fact that it is based on what players have done before.
From the player's perspective, if you aim to imitate someone else's abilities, you can succeed. You can be good, compared to original exponent of these skills, but never better. You are always playing catch up because you are always playing someone else's game. The limit is always what the original achieved, you will never lose this ceiling on your ability. I would argue that in order to reach the very top you would be better served paving your own way and developing your own technique and your own method. If you embark on an unprecedented journey then there is no limit, there is no ceiling. There is no telling what you could achieve.
Doesn't that sound like more fun?
As coaches I feel it is our responsibility to support a player on their quest to discover the method that comes naturally to them. I myself try to achieve this through game-based practices accompanied with much two-way discussion and reflection from an early age, but if you have alternative methods I would love to hear them. If we allow our players to learn in this way then they have identity and freedom, and every success they achieve will be attributed purely to them as an individual.
What could be more rewarding than that?
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