Lockdown coaching Q&A: Andy McCrea

Andy McCrea was appointed as NCU Coaches Mentor earlier this year but his first summer in the role where he should be meeting up with coaches and observing sessions has been heavily impacted.

He has still been able to pass on advice and help those coaches he interacts with on Zoom calls and provide drills for players to do both all over the NCU and at his home club Templepatrick, but there hasn’t been the usual contact.

McCrea was recognised for the impact his coaching has had in Ireland at the Cricket Ireland Awards Night in February, picking up the Sunday Independent Outstanding Contribution to Coaching.

In this Q&A, the school teacher talks about the challenges of lockdown on coaching, how it has affected his roles and much more.

Has it been a challenging time for coaches with everything that has been going on?

AM: “Yes I think it has. The fact that lockdown really kicked in when it did, when people were looking to get outdoors and wanting to get into the swing of things, everyone was thrown a curveball and had to think quite quickly about how we go about tackling it.

“I have to say that I’ve been impressed by what I’ve seen through the NCU. They’ve set up the Google Classrooms and that’s really good for keeping people engaged in cricket, keeping cricket in everyone’s mind and giving them the opportunity to practice at home even though they might be restricted.

“I see some people working on some tactical stuff as well which is great. People are being creative out there, both coaches and players.”

How much has it affected your various roles as the NCU Coaches Mentor and even within your own club?

AM: “It has actually made me think about if we could do things differently in the future. We have had a few Zoom meetings and I have to say I quite like it because it saves you travelling to and from the meeting and you can get a record of the meeting.

“I think the good organisers and thinkers will be looking at this and seeing what they can take forward. What I have noticed through the whole lockdown process as a teacher as well is that it has sorted out who the real innovators are, who the doers are and who says this isn’t a challenge but an opportunity.

“I think the good organisations will come out of this in a better situition.”

Speaking to another coach they thought coaching may have changed for good with the introduction of Zoom etc. Do you think along similar lines with that?

AM: “I do. I think the more innovative coaches were already using online coaching tools. For example, we’ve used video and sending the clips off to them via email so their parents can see them as well and doing voiceovers on the videos, so we have always done that.

“I see Shane Getkate videoing in their own premises and doing voiceovers so fair play to the likes of him who are thinking out the problems there.

“You can’t beat the one-to-one contact though with you and the player out there and working with a group of players. I think the good coaches will take a little bit of the online stuff and still keep their personal skills up as well.”

Have you been keeping in contact with the coaches you look after?

AM: “There has been a few one-to-one calls and there have also been some more general Zoom calls.

“I think my job as a NCU mentor is that they keep thinking about developing their own skills. I’m a great believer in that you have to keep developing your own education and I have been trying to do that during lockdown myself. There have been a few things I’ve had on the long finger that I hadn’t got round to watching or reading and I’ve made sure I’ve done that.

“I’m sure people have heard of them because they’ve been doing the rounds but The Test is superb. Justin Langer is very impressive. He is hard and knows what he wants but also understands the player. There is a bit of old-school in him but also some modern thinking about how to get the best out of a player. He’s also very good at using his coaching team and getting others involved so I really enjoyed that.

“The Last Dance is another one. I enjoyed basketball and played it as a kid, but it is top drawer. Michael Jordan is such an unbelievable competitor and you don’t really understand that until you watch it. That’s all coaching and the drive of world class players. They are all just things about learning and gathering information.

“What I’ve been doing for the coaches in the NCU and my own club is watching webinars, researching stuff and then passing the good ones on to them. There are a couple of very good podcasts out there which I would recommend.

“Inside The Mind of Champions by Jeremy Snape, who is a former international cricketer so it’s quite cricket relevant, but he’s a motivational speaker and sports psychologist so he’s very interesting to listen to. Help Me Coach is another good one from two coaches from the south of Ireland. They are GAA coaches but talk about quality coaching and very interesting to listen to. Another cricket podcast which is great is Pitchside Experts with Ian Bishop, Tom Moody and Freddie Wilde. They take different topics each week like spin bowling in T20 cricket, the modern fast bowler and is it a dying breed, so it’s interesting listening to that.

“We do have more time on our hands during lockdown so it would be a shame to come out of it thinking what did I actually do over the last few months? My job is to encourage people to keep learning, developing their skills and pointing them in the right direction for resources that are worth listening to.”

Although coaches haven’t been in their usual situation, do you think they might come out of it better because they’ve had to think outside the box and innovate?

AM:  “Yes I do and I think they’ll value their coaching time because people are missing cricket and coaching.

“We are chomping at the bit to get back out there, so once we get back out there and we’ve done all this learning and reenergised ourselves, there should be some really good stuff happening and kids will be looking forward to playing again.

“It has hit the refresh button. It has given people a break but it’s about using that time in an advantageous way and once we are allowed out there to do it again, we are doing it really well.”

Are you happy with how the coaches you work with have been dealing with it?

AM: “I think so yes. It was interesting reading James Cameron-Dow’s article where he was talking about how in the first month it’s all kind of new, it’s about sustaining it over three months.

“Fair play to them. The resources the NCU put in place with Google Classroom was excellent. I’m also very wary of the end user. As a teacher I’m wary of pupils and families, as a coach I’m wary of players and families and as a mentor I’m wary of the coaches.

“We have to look after people and what’s going on in their lives. Are they affected by coronavirus? Has there been deaths in their family? Are there NHS workers in their family that have been foot to the floor? Is there mental pressures due to the stress and strain of the whole thing?

“While coaches need to understand their players, mentors need to understand their coaches and the stresses that they can be under in their lives. It’s about knowing when to put an arm around the shoulder or when to give them a wee gee up. There’s a lot going on and we need to put people and their needs at the heart of things.

“Cricket is lovely and all, but people are the most important resource in life. If you’ve good people working for you and with you, your organisation is going to go in the right way so you need to value them.”

You play a big role in the youth side of things as well. Are you worried about the impact this break could have on the youth section and playing numbers?

AM: “Potentially, if I’m being honest, yes. When we come out of lockdown, every sport is wanting to get going because they haven’t done anything for three months so let’s have rugby and football sessions.

“Cricket has to keep its eye on that and make sure we are still getting our share of kids playing. I think if your organisation, whether that’s a club, school or Union, if they’ve kept the kids engaged throughout – at my own club we’ve been doing little quizzes and been using the Google Classroom.

“It’s nice to bump into parents at the shop and hear their kids really enjoyed the quiz or the little challenges where we’ve asked to see what skills they’ve been working on at home and put them on social media.

“Some kids have really bought in and loved doing that. If you’ve kept your kids engaged, I think they’ll come back again.”

Is there anything you’ve learned during this time that you’ll take with you as a coach when we get back to normal?

AM: “The big thing, and I’m speaking here as a father as well of a 15-year-old boy, he has really missed the social aspect of being in that team environment.

“While he has the odd Zoom call and quiz, he has just really missed being with his mates. While we are offering cricket to people, you are probably more importantly offering a really good social experience.

“I think coaches when they get back to playing need to think that it’s about getting people together and enjoying this great game. It’s great because it gives people a chance to enjoy themselves and have fun.

“If coaches are jumping in a bit early with technical stuff, I don’t think it’s what young players want at the minute. They want to be with their mates again. You just want two or three mates being together having fun and the coach facilitating that making sure they are enjoying themselves.”

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