Revival of the West Indies

West Indies won the last Under-19 and men’s T20 World Cups and supporters might be tempted to say that West Indies cricket is on the right track. But in its 2011-2016 Strategic Plan the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) stated: “The performance of the senior men’s team is the key external barometer of the state of cricket in the Caribbean.” In the last few years there has been a rapid turnover of competent coaches and players and yet the men’s senior team has performed poorly. It is now near the bottom of ICC’s ODI and Test rankings.

Can the team reverse its fortunes with the advent of a new director of cricket and a new head coach in the upcoming series against England?  I believe it can. This change of leadership can initially stimulate the players to play better and break out of their failure spiral. But other important changes are required to initiate that escape. Ability is common in the team but this alone will not start a revival since ability is just a sign of what a player can do; it does not guarantee that he will do it.  Motivation on the other hand specifies why he might do it and how likely he is to do it. Both are needed for improvement.

The West Indies team.

A major part of the success of the champion West Indies team of the eighties was built on four solid pillars. The new director and coach will do well to examine these pillars and try to rebuild them in their team.  The first and probably the most important pillar should be built on self-image, self-belief and self-confidence. Since performance usually revolves around these factors the director and coach must strive to change the team’s self-image.  They must help the players to see themselves differently – as valuable, responsible, competent and committed players – and must help them to develop a sense of importance, a feeling of belonging and a healthy level of confidence.

Teams that execute the basics best usually win their contests. The basics are to sport what grammar is to language. The second pillar should therefore be built on mastery of the basics. Not just the basics of technique but also the fundamentals of concentration, of identifying and managing different challenges and game situations, and of coping with pressure. Players must be able to detect and handle the pressure that is placed on them, and know when and how to apply it to others.

The third pillar should be developed on motivation – co-ownership and co-responsibility for shared values and common goals and a commitment to teamwork, high standards, and continuous learning and improvement. It is important for the director and coach to focus strongly on the process rather than the result or the reputation of opponents. About 80 per cent of the team’s success comes from 20 per cent of its activities. Since information and priority overload sabotage performance especially in pressure situations, players should identify that 20 per cent, focus intently on them and execute them to the best of their ability.

The fourth pillar should be built on self-discipline and self-control, often ignored or forgotten factors in performance. Vision without discipline is just a dream. The depth of the players’ motivation and self-discipline determines the level of their performance.  In professional sport the correlation between discipline/motivation and success is greater than the correlation between ability and success.

No matter how well the director and head coach perform their results will be strongly affected by the performance of the WICB – its leadership, structure, attitude, priorities and the environment that it creates for the players.  So far, the performance of the Board has been extremely poor, much worse than that of the players.

The WICB has an antiquated structure and leadership model that were put in place about 70 years ago. Little has altered since then even though world cricket has been changing at a frenetic pace. This arrangement fits the adage that states, “When placed in the same structure people however different produce similar results.” If the WICB is unhappy with the performance of its team it should take a close look at its structure, because structure influences behaviour. If it is not player-focused it is working in a structure that isn’t designed to serve the players. And if it continues to resist change it is not working in a learning environment that values growth, development and performance on the field.

For some time the Board has had an adversarial and belligerent relationship with its coaches and players and has been foolishly expecting the players to perform well in a hostile and disorderly environment. This combative approach invariably results in lose/lose outcomes because of the difficulty of resolving conflicts with conflict thinking.

Over the years the WICB has exhibited a ‘plantation mentality’ that has become more powerful and overwhelming. One gets the feeling that Board members see themselves as the masters and view the coaches and players as their servants and subordinates.   Accordingly, trust and respect between the parties have been on a steep decline and are now at an all-time low. So too are the players’ feeling of belonging and sense of importance.

In recent years the Board’s cricket priorities have changed. Cricket performance and cricket development have given way to administrative and managerial imperatives and appear not to occupy the highest position on the Board’s list of first important priorities.

To enhance and complement the work of the new director of cricket, the new head coach and the players, the Board must commit itself to change – a change of structure, leadership, attitude and values. If the Board continues to resist change and persists with the status quo, the achievements of these participants will be cruelly limited.  

The Board is holding the trump card to change the fortunes of West Indies cricket but is refusing to play it. The Board does not seem to understand that self-leadership is the best and most effective form of leadership. But as Johan Goethe the German playwright once said, “People only listen to what they understand.”

One might very well ask, “What are the compelling motivational forces within the Board that are driving its members to put up such fierce and relentless resistance to change?”

Dr Rudi V. Webster is a Barbadian, former first-class cricketer and noted sports psychologist.

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