Kids go searching.

I’m no fan of Kevin Pietersen and never have been; I’ve never believed in him. I know plenty of folks think he’s a genius, a rare and special talent who’s simply been mismanaged but in accepting the bulk of that statement I reject him, utterly. If the Steve Harmison story is true about KP flatly refusing to take throw-downs from senior England coaches then let that be my reason. If it’s not, let it be that I think his arrogance and his consistent failure to think of his mates and that team-thing marks him down as an arse.

But hey guess what? Recently I’ve been ploughing through ECB Coaching Workshops and the thought struck me that KP – yes him with the ego – might have done something which may yet turn out to be profoundly positive. Maybe.

Between the Level 2 ECB Coaching Certificate and the new Performance strata there lies a bunch of workshops. These are important in that they set out a good deal of the new ideology around coaching cricket in England and Wales. (Ideology? Oh YEAH, you better believe it.)

In the last eighteen months or so, following an epic lump of research, sports-scientific wotnots and cross-bi-lateral oojamiflips, the ECB has re-emerged from the swamp. Or should that be… the nets? There’s been a fascinating and genuinely radical shift in the thrust of coaching. Personally – and maybe I should be careful with what I say – I reckon you can feel the hand of the Sports Development Militias in it and you can certainly taste the political correctness of the era; neither of which is necessarily bad. But with generic views may come the occlusion of that which is unique to cricket.

The titles alone, of some of these workshops (and the fact that they are known as workshops, eh?) may tell you much of what you need to know. “Creating the Learning Climate for Children”. “Game-based Learning.” “Skill Development for Children”. Cutting through the inevitable (and inevitably transient) verbiage, there’s a powerful move towards ‘player-centred’ coaching, going way beyond tokenism towards the individual. This is big, ideologically-driven stuff aimed at making coaches work more about the player and less about the recall or display of their own cricket knowledge. I think some of this may have been prompted by KP, whose profile has been such that he could, conceivably, be a catalyst here.

Those last two paragraphs may have had too much cynicism lurking so let me immediately contradict. Or at least re-calibrate the tone. The changes are huge, or will feel that way to coaches brought through previous regimes – regimes which have themselves been rotated or cheese-grated through development over the years. But (genuinely) my experience of Cricket Wales/ECB Coach Education (and therefore my sense of the philosophical intent) has been both encouraging and challenging in a good way. Surprisingly perhaps, things feel quite dynamic back there. People seem to be alive to the need to transform; rapidly.

But back to KP. I’m guessing that opinions in the ECB hierarchy are about as divided when it comes to Pietersen as they are in the general population. In a private space 60% would describe him with a brisk four letter word beginning with ‘c’. 38% would say it doesn’t matter what we think of him or his methods – ‘e dun it on the pitch’. The remainder would splutter into their Pimms. What is interesting to me is that having seen/sat through these workshops, the voice of KP –in fact the noise that KP makes- about ‘not coaching talent out of kids’ booms out. Credit the ECB that he is the first face turned to the camera in a key video on skill development.

Predictably, Pietersen goes straight into his ‘Bell plays classically, I don’t: don’t go coaching kids there’s just the one way’ argument. Understandably. Justifiably. But it’s almost as if in their scramble to appease the twin-headed monster at shortish mid-off (Pietersen/the multi-sports-conversant, child-centred modernist and funder?) the ECB have changed everything. Perhaps, being broadsheet-reading, report-assimilating types they fear being called out for old fartdom? Perhaps they are high on that elixir of the coaching industry age, branding – branding in the sense of renaming, re-infusing with sexy new jargon rather than psychotic (aaaaargh!!) market-driven branding.

This is certainly how the swing away from the previously central notion of (accepting the validity of) certain ‘Technical Models’ feels to many coaches who qualified pre, say, 2012. Many are cynical. I am not, despite how this might sound. I view this stuff as a healthy challenge.

If Pietersen has bullied us into reviewing the very essence of coaching that is remarkable. That has happened. The talk is of ‘Core Principles’ now not ‘feet shoulder-width apart and blah-di-blah high elbow’. Skill is successful execution not necessarily a particular movement pattern. Players finding things and coaches asking questions are central. The essence of ECB coaching is bravely empowering… and that’s good.

Now because I don’t like the man I’m reluctant to give KP too much credit in this but the fact is too many coaches did have a very fixed idea of what skill looks like and they bored generations of twitching, net-bound youngsters with those ungenerous notions. They can’t get away with that now. The newer, younger coach on the block will either call them out or intervene, as I do, when somebody is saying too much/presenting 44 ideas not four to a group of nine year-olds.

So KP as crusader, then? Hardly. The man’s a tad more fixated on his image, his contracts and the most efficient route to the limelight for that. But he has stirred it, made his point and rendered this debate necessary. That’s a singular contribution.

It may be that the new, updated ECB risks alienating traditionalists and fails to address finer, technical points; I’ve heard it said that there are gaps in the essential knowledge, that ‘Core Principles’ are all very well but what, precisely do you as a coach fall back on when a particular skill proves beyond a child? Generic answers aren’t always viable.

I’m hoping the ECB have thought of this. But it may just be that they are choosing to let kids go searching.


@bowlingatvinny is proud to work for @cricketwales. These views are his only, right?

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