However, as Head Coach of Cornwall U12s (a minor county) I am very confident in saying that as always, I have come away learning just as much as a coach, as the players in my team have (I hope!). It is these insights that I wanted to share and hopefully, receive some from others as well. The teams in our group were Yorkshire, Essex, Worcestershire, Somerset and Wales – that’s four first class counties and the Welsh team. Yorkshire, at present, have provided nearly half of the full England team and are Division One champions however it is worthy to state that all of the remaining teams in this group – with the exception of Cornwall – have a consistent record of producing England cricketers. But, why is that?
Initially, you cannot ignore the demographic. The human population of Yorkshire (5.3mil), Essex (1.3), Worcestershire (569,000), Somerset (530,000), Wales (3.0mil) and Cornwall (523,300) is interesting to note. When compared to our fixtures against Somerset (lost by 20 runs), Worcestershire (lost by 3 wickets) the demographic may hypothetically suggest that a similar human population may correlate to a more competitive fixture. When compared to our fixture against Yorkshire, we lost by 9 wickets, therefore underpinning the aforementioned hypothesis. We didn’t play, unfortunately, against Wales due to the weather so this crude hypothesis needs more testing, but there is some merit. However, any reader of Matthew Syed, Malcolm Gladwell, David Epstien, Daniel Coyle (and others!) will know that this isn’t everything – the theories of outliers, talent hotbeds, purposeful practice and the talent code! This would suggest that human population isn’t necessarily an indicator of success, or in this case, producing and supporting young talent so as to nurture them (notice I didn’t put it, there) to help them become the best they are capable of being (some John Wooden there, too). If Gladwell’s David and Goliath is anything to go by, the Cornwall captain’s tactical awareness against Somerset very nearly created a superb victory. Equally, the same can be said against Worcestershire. In this situation, it’s not what you have, but rather, making best use of what you have. Yet, the boys (at times) have put other players from the first class counties on pedestals and play cricket in awe of them. I reminded them that they may play for a first class county at this age, but that may be by virtue of the school they go to, or the place that they live. In other words, they have not been born with an innate ability (I would argue anyway) that makes them a first class player at age 11 or 12. However my curiosity grew, what scaffolding do these boys need to help them compete?
Now at U12 I am not concerned with results whatsoever! The players need to learn how to play the game and competition structures the format which provides stimuli for the players to learn from experientially and this is important. This view I share with our team manager who is also a very effective coach. We discussed our player’s development at this moment in time to those of the players our team played against and discussed it chronologically suggesting that they are approximately a year behind. This isn’t necessarily tangible though and I am not so sure how it can be measured but it is a mutual conclusion we both agreed with. And so, based on the argument in the previous paragraph, what is it that the players from the first class counties are getting to support them in their development that keeps them that step ahead? Why is it that first class counties consistently produce international cricketers in comparison to the minor counties? You could throw suggestions on facilities, quality of coaching, the demographic (and therefore a larger talent pool), funding, a higher standard of club open age and youth cricket, or better support networks (family, friends and club) (not exhaustive). The progression of minor counties players into first class county 2nd XI’s, academies and MCCU’s cannot be ignored either. However, from discussions with other coaches, it isn’t necessarily to do with the quality or quantity of the county coaching programmes (in one instance, I coach my team for longer than a first class county). Nor did the quality of facilities appear to have a major bearing on the first class players ability at this stage (Epstien and Coyle would agree on this). The standard of open age and youth cricket may be a contributor with tougher fixtures producing greater challenges for the players to overcome. What can be concluded is that this is complex – the academic literature would agree here too.
For me, based on my experiences (and knowledge) of coaching is that talent development and supporting players to be the best they are capable of being is all about timing. Initially, the players must have an excellent support network from their family, friends, club and county that provides an excellent scaffold at every stage of their progress over time. Second, no matter what their team results or personal performances, a step up (or challenge) is never closed off from the player – those opportunities are always open and available; an inclusive, progressive system. The player’s individually learn how to harness fundamental emotions such as determination, drive, passion and a competitiveness longitudinally (not exhaustive). Finally, and physiologically, the players must develop the key physiologically attributes that are going to support their role in a team. What is absolute, though, is that this support network underpinned by innate characteristics and physiological development dovetail at the right time and are available to everyone, regardless of where they live and regardless of who they play for. As coaches, our job is to ensure that all of our players in all of our counties have access to such support and that all coaches have knowledge of the various stages of development.