Echoes of the Young Lions roar

As a Leading Edge Team Coach, it’s a privilege to support wonderful clients and their teams. And sometimes, an opportunity comes up that makes you think this is meant to be!  A chance to facilitate development sessions for the ECB (The England and Wales Cricket Board) at its Men’s Under 19s training weekend – held at the National Cricket Performance Centre in Loughborough – was definitely one of those opportunities.

[I should add: the weekend coincided with my wife, Nicole’s, birthday, so of course I ran it by her first. She had no hesitation in encouraging me to go for it, knowing what a huge cricket fan I am, someone who still plays competitively and is a member of MCC!]

As I write this, the 15 ‘Young Lions’ I had the pleasure of working with are heading to Australia for an Under 19s tour. Our job at this pre-tour training camp was to help the squad win in Australia by focusing on the critical components for performance away from tactical and technical. We were there to help bring the squad closer together (some had played together before; some were new), to help them learn about themselves and others, and to help them develop skills to deal with pressure.

One big question drove every activity: “How is this going to help us win in Australia?”

Capturing imagination

Even though this group of lads are top of their game, they’re still relatively young (17 and 18) and many are quite introverted, probably not particularly comfortable with the idea of ‘sharing feelings’ as a way to get to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. So, we needed plenty of innovation and creativity and a practical approach that would capture their imagination and encourage them to throw themselves into the learning.

It was brilliant to see so many coaches involved, too – including new Young Lions Head Coach Mike Yardy; coaches for spin, bowling, fielding, and strength and conditioning; and those responsible for nutrition, administration and team management. An entire community there to support the future generation of England Men’s cricket.

History says that at least three of these guys will go on to play at the highest level for England. What an absolute privilege it was for me to be able to play just a small part in their development by facilitating sessions and guiding those moments when they recognised how the weekend’s development would help them in Australia.

Skills development, served many ways

The weekend kicked off with a ‘Big Brother House’ activity on the Friday night, inclusive of diary room, cameras and tasks! Making a three-course dinner was on the agenda, with three teams taking responsibility for creative recipe planning, cooking and serving. They did a really good job and were definitely up for the task, nominating leaders and working together to bring out the best in each other.

Up bright and early, on Saturday morning they were asked to plan and deliver a coaching session for young cricketers from a local team.  We wanted the squad to reconnect with their first memories of cricket, really thinking about everything they enjoy about the game. They got a huge amount from this, again getting to know each other better by working hard as a team towards a clear objective of making sure the children loved their session. Gaining a better understanding of strengths and weaknesses – both individually and collectively – will support how they deal with pressure out in the middle.

In the afternoon, players were briefed on a scenario that gave them conflict and, therefore, a difficult conversation they’d need to have around priorities. For my group of players, the conflict was being accepted for an exclusive apprenticeship and being selected to play for England at the same time. They needed to ask their tutor (played by an actor) for the offer to be held open so that they could fulfil their England duties. Strong communication skills were required here, with players needing to think carefully about how best to build rapport, what information they’d need to know and, most importantly, how to get the tutor on side – and to agree.

After the session, I asked: “How can we relate this to cricket?”; “What can you take to Australia?”  I saw definite lightbulb moments as they recognised what this was all about: understanding more about themselves and how they handle themselves in difficult situations, along with the many skills they can learn from watching each other.

Sunday was a full-blown cricket coaching session, the perfect opportunity for Chris and I to support the players to put their learning into practice. We were pitchside – not up in the stands – with the go-ahead to interrupt the session and helpfully challenge players on how they were using what they’d learned, what they’d taken away, and what they were doing differently.

Just seeing these highly skilled, amazingly talented players going through their paces was a moment I’ll remember. Not forgetting the coaching staff, who embraced our role and were themselves incredibly open to helpful challenge.

Going on the journey together

Leading Edge have a longstanding relationship with the ECB. For this event, we teamed up with our sister company Performance Edge. It was brilliant to work alongside Chris Musgrove, who devised an innovative programme of activity with input from Sarah Wright – Leading Edge’s Concept Designer.

I love how Leading Edge are all about great client relationships. We partner with our clients and go on the journey together; nothing we do is off-the-shelf. This weekend with the ECB was a brilliant example of this, and it was such a pleasure to spend a few hours chatting with Mike Yardy on the Saturday evening, and for him to feel comfortable to ‘pick our brains’ while we shared our very different leadership journeys.

As the England Men’s Under 19s begin their tour of Australia, I’d like to thank them for throwing themselves into the experiences we put on for them back in Loughborough – and wish them all the very best. It’ll be exciting to follow the progress of these Young Lions and to have the opportunity to support future cohorts with skills development.


Nigel Rothband, Team Coach

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