My personal coaching journey started during the winter of 1984. I was invited to attend the ‘senior’ coaching award, held at West Somerset Community College in Minehead. Bob Cottam was the lead coach, who presented a thoroughly enjoyable and active course. I recall Bob saying, “a good demonstration is worth a thousand words”. It’s a premise I still agree with to this day, although it seems wordsmiths are faring very well in the modern coaches’ world.
Once I had passed the ‘senior’ award, I was enrolled onto the ‘junior’ award, as I wasn’t allowed the senior certificate before the junior certificate. No, I don’t know why they weren’t set up the other way around! The ‘junior’ course was held at Millfield School and led by Graham Wiltshire (Gloucestershire CCC coach) and Tony Corner, who had been my first coach at my first cricket club, Temple Cloud. Tony had a huge influence on my approach as a coach. Tony was firm but fair. Mostly, he loved the game and his enthusiasm was infectious. One of my key coaching philosophies is that cricket is a game to be enjoyed. And as a coach, if I’m not enjoying myself, what impression am I giving?
I helped Tony regularly during off seasons, either at Millfield School or Weston-Super-Mare CC. One of the first young players I encountered was a nine year old Wesley Durston at Millfield. He has recently co-written a very good fielding book, which he asked me to write a review for. Wes sent me the book. On opening, he had written me a short note thanking me for playing a part in establishing his long found love of the game. I was obviously delighted that Wes had an extended career in the game professionally for both Somerset and Derbyshire. However, his note is far more satisfying as a coach. Of course we want players to aspire to as high a level as possible. Not everyone will become a professional, but everyone can remain within the game if a true appreciation of cricket is instilled. And that is my goal.
During my time playing for Somerset CCC (1983-89) I regularly wintered abroad and found myself in various coaching positions. Saturday morning coaching roles before games, holiday coaching camps, NSW ladies coach 1987/88 and club coach for Kew CC in Melbourne 1988/89. All enjoyable, although a hard-nosed Aussie approach surfaced one Saturday morning. One young lad (ten years old or so) was struggling and didn’t possess natural ball skills. The lad had attended two or three sessions before the coach wandered up to him on week three and simply said, “mate, you’re no good, don’t come back”! And that was it. I pleaded the lad’s case, but the coach was adamant. And that was that. I am guessing the lad didn’t foster a love for the game…
On leaving Somerset at the end of the 1989 season, I did little coaching, other than running my own holiday coaching courses in 1990, before being asked to return to Somerset CCC as schools coach in 1991. The toughest part of this particular role was timetabling the schools. At this stage, we were allowed into schools during school hours. It meant scheduling sessions from 9am to 5pm daily, which entailed
zipping around the county from one school to another, trying to fit in four or five sessions per day. North Curry to Chard Independent to Elmhurst in Street to Bawdrip near Bridgwater to Millford in Yeovil or something similar wasn’t a usual day. Grabbing a sandwich and crisps on the run, learning new cross country routes year in year out and trying desperately hard not to draw the attention of police and speed cameras!
In 1996 I was offered the joint role of Youth Development Officer / Academy Co-Ordinator at Somerset. The Sir Christopher Ondaatje indoor centre had been newly opened and I was given an office to share with Andrew Moulding, the Cricket Board Development Officer. It was nice not to be charging all around the county, with the opportunity of working somewhere stable for a change.
The Youth Development role was designed to oversee all County Age Group cricket from under 11 to under 19. It was a privilege as much as a job. To work with the most promising talent in Somerset was both exciting and challenging. To work with some talented young coaches was also a great experience. As with all things we are constantly learning and there were casualties along the way. It’s impossible for it to be anything else. Some coaches came and went, many players too. Any environment that refuses to change or make changes will eventually stagnate. It’s amazing seeing the same people in the same roles that they have held for over thirty years. It makes me question 1. Are they really that good and / or 2. What hold must they have over their environment for them to last that long? Sepp Blatter springs to mind…
I felt we made huge strides in those five years at Somerset within the County Age Groups, as we regularly fielded competitive teams that not only played with freedom, but also respect for the game. Not only that, but many players progressed onto the county playing staff.
The Academy role was totally new at the time, as the ECB funded academies were not introduced until 2001. This was the brain-child of another person that I had huge respect for. Tony Davies had been involved in Somerset youth cricket for many years and as Chairman, he had encouraged the club to step into unknown territory. Initially, we signed six young cricketers from Somerset, one of whom played for Torquay many years later, Matthew Bulbeck. A huge talent and, but for injury, would surely have represented England with distinction.
Very quickly, relationships with Devon, Dorset and Cornwall developed and the Academy represented the West Country. In addition, a south west junior academy was established, although this was allowed to fall away from 2001. It was a shame as the junior academy was fostering relationships between Somerset and its neighbours, a factor that to me was essential. Over the years the relationship with Devon has been mostly strong though and especially now, with a huge number of young Devonians representing Somerset.