The importance of a mentor or a senior figure cannot be, and should never be underestimated. – A well versed elder can transform a player, improve thought patterns, but most importantly eliminate much of the worry which effects performance within our everyday lives.
Cricket is visual and errors often blatantly stand out. Warwickshire and England stalwart Jonathan Trott spoke about how our worth as cricketers and people are judged solely by our performance on a particular day. Score 50 or 100 and everyone acknowledges you, wants to buy you a drink, spend the evening with you – Get a low score and you`ll often experience the complete opposite. The highs and lows, the disappointments and nightmares need monitoring. It is after all, just a game. Sadly, cricket is a game that is only just waking up to the importance of supporting each other. Better late than never.
People often ask about who were the main influencers in my cricketing career at Edgbaston – I know I was blessed with some pretty special mentors in my time.
Prior to Warwickshire my father coached and took me to a million games in my formative years – In terms of engagement, encouragement, and inspiration Dad was top draw. My mother was exactly the same. Personally I knew I had a massive advantage over many peers. The fact that both my brothers became professional cricketers indicates that the support we received was the key to our development as kids and into adulthood.
Once you leave home, and in my case I was just 16, you are effectively on your own. Being that age and living in a strange city has pros and cons. The looking after of young players is another side of the game which has improved 100%. Monitoring work rates and off pitch activity has almost become as bigger a part of the game as bat and ball. In fairness it was about time.
A massive part in the growing up process at Edgbaston was Warwickshire and England fast bowler David Brown. I first met Brownie as a 13 year old at the time when he was soon about to make the transformation from opening bowler into the team manager role. In all the years we worked together I rarely saw him get things wrong. His interpretation on how to manage things was a key part in our education. Brownie always stressed the importance of not panicking, which is more often than not the reason for things continuing to go wrong for many. Another thing DJB was good at was giving you his ear if you needed to talk.
Having Bob Willis as club skipper was reassuring; it was a security blanket, and his clear cut advice eradicated so much of the data which infiltrates the heads of youngsters who are supposed to be improving. Sometimes he`d start a conversation with “You might not like what I’m about to say but it`s the way it is!” Personally I found Willis was the best ear for general advice and car journeys often started with him saying “Go on then, what’s up!” – Bob was capable of handing out a bollocking if he thought it would get the penny to drop, yet he`d regularly suggest going for a drink at a local hostelry once his point had registered. I always felt that Willis was of the opinion that “we are all in this together.” He was real, knew the importance of working hard, but always retained a sense of humour. Being mentored by someone I`d wanted to play sport with since I was nine was easy for me…
Bob was a free thinker; a lover of music, a man of strong opinions so was always good company. His ability to demonstrate what he was explaining was made so much easier by the way he`d explain things. Bob always made you acknowledge that whatever skills you had, those skills would only come to the surface if you worked damned hard. Even then, with all the hard work the chances of being spot on every time were dictated by other faculties such as your opponents, an umpire, workload, playing conditions, and your body.
Dennis Amiss was another guy who played a major mentoring role. Den loved to bat and would often say “stay with me” when in a batting partnership with him. Known as a man who forever fiddled about with his technique, despite this fact he`d normally ask if you were sure you were watching the ball from the bowlers hand all the way onto your bat, should you mention that you weren’t feeling in great form. More often than not Dennis was right with his suggestion – It wasn’t technique, it was failure to do the most basic thing. Try it….., (watching the ball) – It works, honest.
The other thing about Den was that he being at the other end was like having a brick wall batting with you. One knew Amiss was never going to throw his wicket away and by nature would keep the scoreboard ticking over, and thus releases pressure one may be feeling.
Amiss`s big pal Bob Woolmer came to Warwickshire as head coach after spending one forward moving summer at Kent as head coach. Politics lead to his departure from Canterbury and we at Edgbaston were to be the recipients of the sort of knowledge that comes along once in a lifetime – We soon became the team to beat and telepathically we seemed to possess WIFI when everyone else were sending smoke signals. During his introduction to Warwickshire’s playing staff he said “If I can make you five percent better people then you will automatically become better cricketers.” My ears automatically pricked up. This guy thought differently on so many parts of the game of cricket that it was genuinely exciting, and it made going to work every day much easier.
Woolly made each of us have a partner to do warm ups and throw down with, each morning. He believed that within each pair there would be one of the two who`d inspire the other on any one particular day. Bob talked affirmation, he cared, and he believed we could achieve anything. A cricket season lasts a long time and no matter what anyone thinks looking in from the outside, trust me, the routine of professional sport is hard graft. The mental demands are so often overlooked because the physical is obvious, it’s observed, and so, comment on. Few understand what is going through the mind – It is a massive overlooked flaw.
Key to Bob Woolmer`s presence was that he himself had learned from Colin Cowdrey, who himself was mentored by Donald Bradman – So when Bob spoke cricket you knew he was not only well versed, but he was also streets ahead of the pack in how to develop young people through their cricket. He was a one off who I’m not sure has been replaced in the game. Those that worked with him haven’t forgotten what was learned, or the way our education played out. Post career his words of advice have proven so relevant in everyday life.
Encourage if you want to be a good team player, a good club man, or a proper mentor. From experience the game has always been about the people. The most successes I saw in my own career came at a time when everyone had each other`s back, when communication was at its best, and people clearly cared for one another. The lessons learned through bat and ball continues to strike a chord through friendships which stand tall to this day.