All successful teachers of less than average students begin with a belief that the children can learn. Successful cricket coaches also believe that all players if properly taught can learn.
Teachers, coaches and cricket boards say they believe this and preach it, but when their students and players fail to reach expected standards they blame the students and label them as poor students or poor learners and hardly ever consider the possibility that they might be bad teachers. During the last two decades, West Indies cricket has been in a steady decline, a deterioration that multiple coaches, boards and board presidents have failed to arrest or reverse. Are our players the only poor learners?
Research has shown that teachers’ expectations of students have a dramatic effect not just on their grades but also on their IQ. It has also shown that if a manager’s expectations are high productivity is likely to be high, but if expectations are low productivity is likely to be low.
We are now preoccupied with management arrangements and reform of our boards. Though necessary, do they contain the answers to why our players are not learning to play better? During the successful Clive Lloyd era, the captain and the management team expected their players to learn and improve. And they repeatedly communicated that expectation to them, continually boosted their self-image and self-belief and gave them the necessary time and support to achieve those expectations.
It is amazing what can happen when teachers and coaches really do believe – and make their students/players believe – that they can learn what they put their minds to learning. But are they telling the students what they should put their minds to learning? Students who are taught Spanish should not be expected to master French. Are our coaches and boards teaching their players the right priorities, values and standards and are they doing so in the best learning environment?
In sport, statistics and records only show what players have learned and done not what they can learn and do. The importance of the learning environment cannot be overstated. I am told that goldfish will grow larger or stay smaller according to the size of the fish tank. If the tank is large the fish will get bigger but if the tank is small the fish will stay small.
So too, players will grow larger or stay smaller according to the type of environment (physical, emotional, mental, strategic and leadership) the boards and coaches create for them. By expanding and improving the quality of the players’ environment and teaching them self-reliance and self-leadership, the boards and coaches will help them to grow and become better players and better people. But before this can happen, the boards and coaches should start with themselves and set the right example by expanding and improving the quality of their own environment and self-leadership.
Our boards and coaches believe, and try to convince us, that they are doing the right things. But do we believe them? It depends on whether you listen to what they say or watch what they do. They will tell you with the straightest faces that they believe that all players are valuable and can learn to do the right things and play better. But watch the boards and coaches and see what they do. They profess a faith that they refuse to practise. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone associated with West Indies cricket would pledge for the next three years to act as if they really do believe all their players can learn? It might mark the beginning of our cricket revival.
When patients go into hospital they often leave their commonsense on the hospital steps in the same way that West Indies’ players left their commonsense in the pavilion on the last day of the Grenada Test.
Of the mind and commonsense, Sir Garfield Sobers once told me, “The proper use of the mind is the one thing that separates champions from the merely good players. No matter how good a player you are, you won’t make it to the top unless you develop your mind. The top players know how to think, how to concentrate and what to do in tough situations.”
As I have mentioned many times before, Sir Garfield also stressed: “If I had a free hand in coaching I would initially spend most of my time teaching the basics of the game. I would then spend an equal amount of time teaching the players how to identify and deal with the many different situations they will face during the game. I feel that this combination gives the player the best preparation and the best chance to do well.”
West Indies players don’t choose or execute the basics consistently well and often misread the situations and challenges that they face.
To Sir Garfield’s combination I would add the improvement of self-belief, self-discipline and self-motivation and the enhancement of the players’ capacity to handle the pressures of the day; the ability to gauge when pressure is being applied to them and when and how it must be applied to others.
At the highest levels of sport, performance revolves around mastery of the basics and the power of expectation, self-belief, self-motivation and self-discipline. The depth of your motivation and discipline determines the level of your success. Experts now claim that the correlation between self-discipline and success is greater than the correlation between ability and success.
If these things are true, are we teaching our players the right things? Perhaps the players are not all bad learners; the boards and coaches might be bad teachers.
Dr Rudi Webster is a former West Indies cricket manager and performance enhancer.