Saturday, December 16, 2017

The rise and fall of Andy Flower

When Andy Flower was appointed team director to the England cricket team, the team was in sorry state and was playing well below its potential. At that time, Flower was the right man for the job and his values, coaching philosophy and coaching strategies soon reversed the form of the team. He improved the players’ self-belief and self-confidence and transformed them into a highly motivated, disciplined and successful unit. During his five-year tenure the team won three Ashes series, two series against India, a World Twenty20 title and for brief periods was at the top of the rankings in the three formats of the game.

Late last year the team travelled to Australia with high expectations of winning another Ashes series but alas, the wheels fell off and the team lost badly in all three formats of the game. The philosophy and coaching strategies that had earlier propelled the team to stardom somehow lost their power and eventually impaired the performance of the captain and players.

Flower is an intensely task-oriented coach. His attention to detail, planning and preparation, his autocratic style and demanding personality, his commitment to the highest standards and his fixation to constantly challenge and drive his players took a toll on them. Fear and anxiety followed and his players seemed to lose their confidence, concentration, and enjoyment of the game as well as their ability to cope with the pressure situations that they faced. Two of his best players left the team mid-series, another lost his place in the team and there were strong rumours that the team’s best batsman would be discarded at the end of the series. The pursuit of excellence by the coach and his staff somehow appeared to distract them from addressing the basic needs of the human being inside the players.

After five years in the job, Flower resigned as coach.

Ian Chappell, a former captain of Australia, once said to me: “Captaincy (coaching) is a very taxing job. I think that a four or five-year period is just about the limit for most captains (coaches) because the pressure sometimes gets to them after that, dampens their initiative and creativity and interferes with their motivational and leadership skills.”

Coaches are given a great deal of power that they sometimes misuse. To be successful, they must play two critical roles; a task-oriented role in which Flower excelled and a maintenance role, the blending of talent, promotion of cooperative relationships, motivation of players to work together to achieve team goals, and the creation of a learning environment that brings the best out of the players. Appearances suggest that there were deficiencies in this role in England’s off-field leadership team.

These two roles should be balanced. If the task-oriented role dominates and the other one is neglected, the tasks might at first get done but after a while harmony, team spirit and eventually performance might suffer. The coach will then be seen as tough, uncaring and autocratic. And if the maintenance role is emphasised at the expense of the other one, performance might decline and the coach will be regarded as a nice but weak person.

If the coach is strong in the task-oriented role but weak in the other role he should appoint someone in the leadership team who is strong in that role to cover his weakness.

Mickey Arthur, a former coach of Australia, was a very hard taskmaster who appeared to play the maintenance role poorly. He had multiple problems with his players and never got the best out of them. He was unceremoniously removed from his job and was replaced by Darren Lehman who at the moment seems to have struck the right balance between the two roles. He is now the coach of a happy, united and successful team.

Task-oriented and autocratic coaches who rely solely on the power of their position to get things done and ignore the feelings and motivation of their players and the management of important relationships in the team usually fail. An inherent power gap prevents them from reaching their goals. That gap can only be bridged by empowering the players, by building harmonious and cooperative relationships with them and by creating an enabling and learning environment in the team.

Ottis Gibson, the coach of the West Indies team has been, and probably still is the epitome of the autocratic, inflexible, controlling and task-oriented coach. During his tenure his team has performed very poorly but unlike Flower and Arthur he has retained his job. I hope that he appreciates his good fortune, learns from the mistakes of these two coaches, commits himself to becoming the best coach that he can be, adjust his teaching style to fit the learning style of his players, and adopt a new and productive set of values and coaching techniques that will bring the best out of his players. Former players from the Worrell/Sobers and Lloyd/Richards eras who took their teams to the pinnacle of success, as well as the millions of loyal West Indies supporters deserve no less.

Rudi Webster is the author of the new book, Think Like A Champion and a former manager and performance enhancer of the West Indies cricket team