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School of sport: The two greatest coaches


IT is an interesting and encouraging fact that on a number of reputable websites which seek to determine which have been the greatest cricket coaches of all time, two of them have been Zimbabweans – those are Duncan Fletcher and Andy Flower, both of whom coached the English national teams though neither of whom have coached the Zimbabwean national teams! Is it something in the Zimbabwean air that made them such successful coaches?

It is a popular pastime, more so in pubs probably, even if not in Sunday newspapers, for sports enthusiasts to debate who the greatest sports coaches have been. In soccer, many currently would rate Pep Guardiola as the best though it is interesting that previously the best British football coaches would be acclaimed as Sir Alex Ferguson, Bill Shankly, Jock Stein, Walter Smith – all of whom hailed from Scotland! Is it something in the Scottish weather there that produced such great coaches?

Andy Flower

Of course, in any such debate we would have to agree first of all on the criteria by which we will measure the greatness of a coach, while we may also question how much of an influence on a team the coach can actually have. Are they simply great motivators? Do they rather create a warm, clear environment that inspires effort, development and growth? Is it simply that they develop a positive, supportive, focused, patient relationship with the players that enables the players to go out with confidence and pleasure?

Interestingly, according to Trevor Bailey, an English cricketing all-rounder who played 61 Tests, as well as playing soccer for the team that won the FA Amateur Cup in 1952, and one who later became a sports journalist and broadcaster, Zimbabwe currently has two more of the greatest coaches in sport today, as explained by Scyld Berry in a recent book. “The two best cricket coaches,” declares Bailey, “are sunshine and space.” Excuse me? We might know of Gavin and Stacey but sunshine and space? Do they have any of those qualities of great coaches mentioned above?

Sunshine is a great motivator, that is for sure. It is so much more pleasant to listen to the coach and to play when the sun is shining on our back, as opposed to wind, sleet, hail or rain driving into our face and penetrating through our numerous layers of clothing. It is so much easier to play with freedom when we can play in shorts and shirts. It is so much more conducive to playing when the sun is shining and bringing clarity and colour to all the surroundings, producing a positive frame of mind to being with. It is so much more enjoyable to play on a surface dried by the sun instead of muddy, sticky, rutted fields. Sunshine motivates; sunshine inspires; sunshine energises; sunshine brightens – all the qualities of a great coach!

Space, too, fulfils many of the criteria of a great coach. Space suggests freedom; it opens up the mind and the world to greater opportunities. Players play with more freedom when they have space to breath, when they have space to move, both on fields of play as well as with clothes on their back. Space is such a key ingredient in introducing to the team’s play and when the team is playing in an uncrowded space they can understand that much better. Space also implies there are less people and when that is the case it shows that the youngsters who are there have more chance to play. Freedom provides greater opportunity.

Stevie Wonder recorded the legendary song entitled, ‘You are the sunshine of my life’, and such an epithet would be a fitting description of a successful coach – “You are the sunshine of my life. That’s why I’ll always be around. You are the apple of my eye. Forever you’ll stay in my heart”. A great coach does that too. Then there have been various singers, including the great Johnny Cash, who have recorded the wonderfully simple yet lyrical song ‘You are My Sunshine’, with the chorus of “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are grey”, as does a coach.

The truth then is out; it is something in the Zimbabwe air that made Fletcher and Flower great coaches – sunshine and space! It is no coincidence that many teams in winter months go to train in places where they know the sun will shine. So we must employ and exploit sunshine and space when we can. It is not Pep talks we need; just sunshine and space, both of which come scot-free!

  • Tim Middleton is a former international hockey player and headmaster, currently serving as the Executive Director of the Association of Trust Schools Email:

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