Why should coaches have played?

Times Media


LANCE Klusener’s removal as Dolphins coach means only two of SA’s six franchises are led by men with international playing experience.

They are the Cobras’ Paul Adams and newly appointed Knights coach Nicky Boje, although Roger Telemachus is one of the two caretaker coaches who will do duty at Kingsmead until a permanent replacement for Klusener is found.

What with Malibongwe Maketa in charge at the Warriors, Geoff Toyana at the Lions and Rob Walter at the Titans, an argument could be made that, at a coaching level, franchise cricket is more amateur than professional.

But that would be to ignore the realities of a society in which many of those who might have played international cricket and then gone on to coach at a high level were denied those opportunities by dint of race.

Beyond the sociology, even though international teams began appointing coaches as recently as 1986 – when Bobby Simpson took Australia’s reins – has the role not evolved enough for it not to be tethered to playing experience?

Playing and coaching are vastly different fields. Why make success in one a pre-requisite of qualification for the other?

Perhaps change is afoot, what with three of the 10 test teams coached by men who never played at that level – SA’s Russell Domingo, England’s Trevor Bayliss and New Zealand’s Mike Hesson.

India, meanwhile, have dispensed with a coach. But they do have “team director” Ravi Shastri strutting his larger-than-life stuff and berating groundsmen who don’t follow orders.

Domingo and Hesson own not a first-class cap between them. Neither does Titans coach Rob Walter, who offered an interesting perspective based on his experience as SA’s conditioning coach and with two Indian Premier League franchises.    

“I was always in the mindset of being in the coaching framework, and with that I learnt from some of the very best coaches around,” Walter said.

“The key is in your ability to transfer that information onto the players you work with. But you also can’t be naive. There is a need for guys who have had international experience. That’s where getting a consultant to come in and pass on knowledge related to playing at the highest level comes in.

“Whether it’s me drawing from those guys and handing that information over to the players or the players themselves having access to those people, either can work and have been known to work.

“It’s really about managing people. Do you have to have international experience to be able to manage people? Absolutely not. But you mustn’t be closed off to the fact that they are potential areas that you can’t comment on.

“I can’t comment on opening the batting for SA in a test match because I’ve never done it. I’ve been there, I’ve watched it, but I’ve not lived it in the flesh.

“So if there is a requisite to get that information from a person who has done that then that’s what you’ve got to do. That’s the reality.”

Another reality is that players who become coaches do not have to earn their integrity all over again in their second career.

“There’s no doubt that if someone who has played 50 test matches comes down to a net the batsmen immediately hold some form of respect for him if they respect the way he played and the type of person he is,” Walter said. “There’s no way around that and you’re stupid if you try and battle that.”

But Walter was nonetheless confidently comfortable in the coaching landscape.

“I’ve probably been involved at some level with 10 different international coaches who were very successful. The key is to pick their brains but also to reaffirm that you know what you’re talking about.

“When you’re having a discussion and you find that your thinking is very similar to what they’re thinking then you know you’re on the right track.”

Nicky Boje played 43 tests, 115 one-day internationals and a T20 for SA. These days, he coaches the Knights.

“It’s important to have somebody (as a coach) who’s played in the different formats and has played international cricket,” Boje said. “But you still get good coaches who have not really played cricket. It all depends on your personality and the way you manage players.”

Indeed. Perhaps two out of six is no bad thing.


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