WOMEN’S GAME IS LACK­ING IN ‘STAR’ COACHES

Ali­son Mitchell asks why fe­male coaches are be­ing over­looked in favour of males with first-class back­grounds

The Cricket Paper - - FEATURE -

Two months out from this sum­mer’s Women’s World Cup staged in Eng­land, In­dia have had a sud­den and ac­ri­mo­nious change of coach. Purn­ima Rau, the for­mer In­dia women’s captain, has been sacked and re­placed by for­mer Bar­oda bats­man Tushar Arothe, after se­nior play­ers de­manded they be coached by a man.

Whilst the World Twenty20 2016 on home soil was par­tic­u­larly dis­ap­point­ing for In­dia, they have been on a roll in 50-over cricket, win­ning their last 13 ODIs in a row. So it is cu­ri­ous that Rau has been dis­pensed with so close to the World Cup. Within a dress­ing room there are any num­ber of rea­sons why play­ers feel un­happy with a coach, and sev­eral fac­tors could have been at play in the In­dia camp. What is in­ter­est­ing though, is the spe­cific re­quest for a male coach by Mithali Raj, Jhu­lan Goswami and Har­man­preet Kaur, who met with the BCCI’s Women’s Com­mit­tee to make their feel­ings known.

It is no­table that when Paul Shaw was re­placed as Eng­land coach in 2015, the ECB’s Di­rec­tor of Women’s Cricket, Clare Con­nor, made a pitch, by de­fault, for a male coach, by declar­ing that she was look­ing for a coach with ex­pe­ri­ence of first-class cricket to guide the team into the pro­fes­sional era.

“The gen­der of the coach doesn’t mat­ter,” Con­nor said back in 2015. “But be­ing re­al­is­tic about where we are now and where the sport is at, the like­li­hood is that it will be a man, be­cause the qual­i­ties and ex­pe­ri­ence we’re look­ing for are go­ing to be found in a coach who has worked as high as pos­si­ble in the men’s game.”

By say­ing those words, Con­nor went to the very nub of the is­sue. Be­cause the women’s game is so newly pro­fes­sional, the num­ber of highly qual­i­fied fe­male coaches ex­pe­ri­enced in pro­fes­sional cricket is lim­ited. The ECB wanted to ap­point a coach who un­der­stood the new lev­els of re­spon­si­bil­ity, ac­count­abil­ity, pres­sure and scru­tiny that the play­ers would be com­ing under. It is un­der­stood that these are broadly the rea­sons be­hind the In­dia play­ers’ oust­ing of Rau.

The pref­er­ence to ap­point a for­mer first-class men’s crick­eter as coach of a coun­try’s na­tional women’s team is a trend that has set in world­wide. The only coun­try at this sum­mer’s World Cup that won’t have a for­mer male crick­eter in charge is New Zealand. The White Ferns are coached by for­mer captain Haidee Tif­fen, who man­ages her coach­ing ca­reer along­side a teach­ing job. In re­cent years, for­mer fast bowler Cathryn Fitz­patrick has been in charge of Aus­tralia (and won the 2013 World Cup), while for­mer bat­ter Sudha Shah and for­mer wicket-keeper Anju Jain have both coached In­dia. The last woman to coach Eng­land was for­mer captain and level 4 coach Jane Pow­ell in 2000.

There is no con­struct, how­ever, to say that a male coach with ex­pe­ri­ence of pro­fes­sion­al­ism will al­ways be the best op­tion for a team of women who are new to pro­fes­sion­al­ism. There is much more sub­tlety in­volved in the player-coach dy­namic.

For­mer Aus­tralia all-rounder Lisa Sthalekar has played under both male and fe­male coaches at state and in­ter­na­tional level, and re­calls when a switch from male to fe­male and fe­male to male coach worked both for and against teams she played in.

“Cathryn Fitz­patrick took over with a short turn­around to the World Cup be­cause they (Cricket Aus­tralia) had re­moved Richard McInnes,” she ex­plains. “It worked be­cause she knew ex­actly what the group needed. We just needed free­dom, whereas we weren’t nec­es­sar­ily get­ting that be­fore.”

“I also re­mem­ber when Lisa Keight­ley (for­mer Aus­tralia bat and Eng­land Academy Coach) re­tired from New South Wales and was given the Head Coach’s job straight­away. No one, in­clud­ing her, was sure whether that was the right de­ci­sion, but be­cause she knew us so well as a group, she hit the ground run­ning and our pre­sea­son was the best we ever had.

“We worked on things we needed to im­prove, in­stead of a male coach com­ing in, who didn’t know us, who might see how it all goes and make some changes at the end of the sea­son. She knew ex­actly what we needed, de­spite never be­ing a pro­fes­sional be­fore.

“So there are def­i­nitely times in the teams I’ve played in, where fe­male coaches have been re­ally ef­fec­tive. Then there are times when we’ve had male coaches that have come in and taken it up an­other level. It’s about as­sess­ing your group and where they’re at.”

The as­sump­tion is that fe­male coaches are be­ing de­vel­oped to coach the women’s game. But what scope is there for fe­male coaches who might want to work in men’s

cricket? Cricket Aus­tralia, with its pro­fes­sional women’s do­mes­tic struc­ture, are ac­tively de­vel­op­ing their fe­male lead­ers and to that end have sent four of their best coaches, in­clud­ing for­mer Aus­tralia bat and Perth Scorchers coach Lisa Keight­ley and for­mer all-rounder and SACA Coach­ing Path­ways of­fi­cer Shel­ley Nit­shke to the USA on a week-long study tour.

Each of the quar­tet has been iden­ti­fied as a ‘long-term coach­ing as­set’ of CA, who are al­ready in­te­grat­ing them into the men’s game. Nit­shke has worked as as­sis­tant coach to Ryan Har­ris for a Cricket Aus­tralia XI at the Under-19 Na­tional Cham­pi­onships, while Keight­ley has had some in­volve­ment with the WA 2nd XI. Sthalekar her­self is cur­rently Head of Coach­ing at Mos­man Cricket Club in Sydney, a men’s grade club.

“I stepped out of coach­ing fe­males for a bit of a chal­lenge,” she says. “This will be my third year with Mos­man. I over­see the whole pro­gramme, and when I’m around I’m there hit­ting balls with the guys, throw­ing balls, warm­ing the guys up on Satur­day morn­ings and help­ing with se­lec­tion.

“I be­lieved I could ap­peal to the guys a lit­tle bit more be­cause they work in full-time jobs, they train twice a week and we ex­pect them to com­mit for six months of the year. I said, ‘I get that. I’ve lived that as a crick­eter.’ So I know what they’re go­ing through and I know how to get the best out of ev­ery minute we have. That un­der­stand­ing of jug­gling ev­ery­thing has helped me build a re­la­tion­ship with the play­ers. It’s taught me a lot about coach­ing.”

The ex­pe­ri­ence has also taught her to laugh at sug­ges­tions that women can’t coach men be­cause of that old ch­est­nut of need­ing to go into the dress­ing room when the men are chang­ing. For­mer Eng­land women’s coach Mark Lane con­firms that when he was in charge of Eng­land women he sim­ply gave the play­ers time and space in the dress­ing room, and if he wanted to speak to them in the rooms he’d go in once they were all ready. Sthalekar con­curs that it works per­fectly well the other way round as well.

“I don’t re­ally go into the chang­ing room, but if I have to, I knock and call out, ‘I’m com­ing in! Please have some clothes on!’” She laughs. “It’s never been an is­sue. It’s about re­spect. The play­ers’ chang­ing room – even if you’re the man­ager or the an­a­lyst – should be a safe haven for the play­ers, and not many other peo­ple should be in there.”

Women’s cricket is where fe­male coaches are likely to get their first op­por­tu­ni­ties, but there are only a hand­ful of full-time coach­ing jobs avail­able with the ECB in women’s cricket due to the fact that do­mes­tic cricket is still am­a­teur, save for the few weeks of the KSL.

Sal­liann Briggs is the most highly qual­i­fied fe­male coach ac­tive in the coun­try and along­side her job as ECB Eng­land Women’s Academy Coach she is Per­for­mance Man­ager at Lough­bor­ough MCCU and Head Coach of KSL side Lough­bor­ough Light­ning. The KSL is pro­vid­ing new part-time op­por­tu­ni­ties for coaches, and there are also roles to be found in pub­lic schools too such as Welling­ton School in Som­er­set, where Caro­line Foster (nee Atkins) is Head of Girls Cricket. But as play­ers such as Char­lotte Ed­wards re­tire and look to move into coach­ing, it should be just as fea­si­ble for them to be in­volved in men’s cricket as women’s, pro­vided clubs are for­ward think­ing enough to em­ploy them. Given that the women’s game has a long way to go to es­tab­lish it­self pro­fes­sion­ally at do­mes­tic level to the ex­tent that it could sup­port more full-time coach­ing roles, men’s cricket looks in­creas­ingly like the best way to gain the ex­pe­ri­ence de­sired for the modern in­ter­na­tional coach­ing job.

The pref­er­ence to ap­point a for­mer first-class crick­eter as coach of a na­tional women’s team is now a com­mon trend

Mak­ing a stand: New Zealand’s Haidee Tif­fen will be the only fe­male coach at the World Cup

PIC­TURE: Getty Im­ages

Pref­er­ence: Eng­land Women are cur­rently coached by for­mer Sus­sex coach Mark Robin­son

No­tice the change: Lisa Stha­laker has played under male and fe­male coaches

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