Bob Woolmer - A Dream Coach

Published: Thursday, October 2, 2003, 18:23 [IST]
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Bob Woolmer - A Dream Coach

Long ago, we had a Lala Amarnath from among the Test cricketers and just a handful of other international cricketers wanting to pass on the experience and practical knowledge they gained on a cricket field. Now, suddenly you find many former cricketers wanting to turn coaches.

How did this revolution come about? How and when did it dawn on so many that teaching is, after all, a noble profession? How is it that so many, suddenly, decide that they want to give back something to this great game? Or is it the plain lure of money that is available in the game, which has ignited the spirits? Will this deluge of coaches help improve the standard of the game? If yes, to what extent? To clear my mind, I needed to first of all identify a truly professional and successful cricket coach.

To my mind, the one person who could be termed pioneer of professional coaching is none other than BOB WOOLMER. Bob Woolmer is the coach who introduced technology to this gentleman's game. Rightly or otherwise, today all international sides feel handicapped without the aid of technology.

Bob Woolmer is also the pioneer of Trans-national coaching. Wonder why Bob, who played for England, chose to coach South Africa? Well, in 1993, the ECB preferred Keith Fletcher as England coach and Bob had no choice but to opt for South Africa. England's loss was South Africa’s gain. The English bosses will rue their decision to this date. Bob Woolmer transformed the South African side into the world's best One-day side and second only to Australia in Test match cricket.

Today, an Australian is coaching Bangladesh, a New Zealander assists the Indians, all thanks to the trend set by Bob Woolmer. Woolmer brought vigour and science into the South African game. He modernized the game. Though the basic principles remain the same, he does not believe in the old school of thought. His analysis is thoughtful and his applications are studious.

He transformed the fielders into wicket takers. Jonty became the most feared fielder with his brilliant fielding eventuating in astonishing run-outs. Woolmer's video analysis helped fielders and wicketkeepers to minimize their movements and optimise their results. He certainly is not a 'do as I say' coach. He is a friend, philosopher and guide who subtly suggests and wins over. He is passionately professional. He is blessed with an eye for detail. Bob Woolmer is flexible but strong in basic viewpoints. One finds him adaptable to the needs and requirements of cricketers - as varied as successful internationals to the juniors who are trying to make a grade.

Bob Woolmer agreed to answer my queries on 'how and why' of cricket coaching. How I wish I could meet this 'DREAM COACH' but I had to settle for an interview with him on the net through a common friend.

Please enlighten us on your India connection

I was born in India in Kanpur in the old green park hospital opposite the Test match grounds on May 14th 1948. My father had been working in Sri Lanka (Then Ceylon) and India since 1936 and was in the Indian army during the Second World War. He met my mother who was then in the Red Cross. My father also captained Uttar Pradesh in the Ranji Trophy. Not very successfully by all accounts. I have a copy of the scorecard!

How and when did you decide to take up professional coaching?

took my coaching exams as long ago as 1968 but my coaching career started when I was eleven, not successfully either. I was walking with my father behind the nets at Tonbridge town cricket club when the batsman in the net a Mr David Hamilton asked my father why he kept missing the ball on the leg stump (He was a left-handed batsman), Before my dad could offer a word of advice his young son shouted out 'Mr. Hamilton you must wait for the ball a bit longer and get your front foot outside the line and hit it straighter!' Oops, it was not quite the thing to do.

Mr Hamilton stormed out of the net uttering words that he wasn’t going to be told by an eleven year old what to do! But to answer your question I decided that I would like to coach professional cricketers in 1985, when I took on the Boland side and I was also coaching (professionally) hockey as well with the Varsity Old Boys side in Cape Town. I then went to Kent in 1987 and captained and coached the county second XI to share the second eleven titles and assisted the first team at the weekends.

What kind of preparation did it require?

I suppose the preparation had been occurring for some time. I had already coached the Natal University side and at school level and had been running coaching clinics from 1968. I also watched my coaches and how they ran their show and I felt that I could do it better as my philosophy on coaching was to coach as I would have liked to have been coached and not copy others.

Make the role better. I had always been a player coach and having a school teaching background helped me to prepare. So, the preparation period was over many years. I was also lucky that I had been involved in many camps held by the South African cricket Union and had the benefit of scientists, psychologists and physiologists who continually stimulated my cricket thinking. So, when I realized that this is what I should do I decided to do it thoroughly and made a conscious effort to do it well.

What qualities or qualification should one look for in a cricket coach?

I believe that a coach should have a rounded knowledge of the game, that he should be flexible, democratic with a smidgeon of autocracy. Be flexible but strong, to be mindful that no two players can be treated the same. To be enthusiastic and humble. To be prepared but open to change, to adapt to situations to take the talents of the individual and enhance them. To find the weaknesses and make them strengths. To be hard but fair. But above all have the humility to realize that you are only the custodians of the game for the next generation and to pass on as much knowledge as possible.

What are the Coach Accreditation courses available? What are costs involved?

Most major countries have levels 1-4/5, and I believe them to be excellent in the teachings of the game. I would like to see an international standard set for world cricket but we might be a little away from that just now, but it is a dream.

Do you think trained coaches can make a living by coaching?

Yes I believe that they can make a living from the game but like a players life a coach’s life will be only so long. After all I believe the better coaches will have experienced and studied most of what they teach and therefore playing the game is important that means that if you play the game until 40 then coaching lasts until about 65 depending on fitness etc, then coaches should commit their knowledge to paper and that is why there should be a world standard.

You are more popular and famous as a coach than you were as a player. Your viewpoint

Professor Noakes said that psychologically I wanted to achieve the things I missed as a player! I can’t argue but I enjoyed both facets of my cricket life.

What do you look for in an up coming cricketer?

What do I look for in a player? Natural talent, co-ordination, ability to put into practice what he is being taught, a love and desire for the game. The 'right attitude' generally.

It has been noticed that at times a coach may have misplaced faith in some cricketer who never blossoms and writes off a potential lad. Why or how does this happen?

It is a natural phenomenon of the game. Players change from year to year. Some develop over a longer period some quicker and then go off the game. One of the worst traits of coaching is to give up on a player. It has to happen sometimes as they just do not listen or are too bigheaded. But a coach should never pigeon-hole a player. He should always try to see the best in a player and make the most out of it. The bottom line is that it will be the player who makes the grade not the coach. It is up to the desire of the individual that will lead him to his goal.

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