Strut or Structure? What’s the game plan?

Part 1.
(part 2 next – World Cup 2007 Challenge – the plan)

How do you harness strut and structure to become a winning team?

Where do you start?

How do you strategise plan and prepare?

There are times when our lives seem to be totally consumed by planning – house plans, holiday plans, family plans, strategic business plans and financial plans.

Plans, lists & more lists!

There’s no doubt that whatever we do, it has some element of planning to it. For those of us who like a little more certainty, we are forever making lists of what needs to be done, when and by whom. For others, such a regimented way of life is not for them. Yet, as hard as they may try to deny it, such people do have some sort of plan as to what is important in their lives and what they see as priorities.

A Mixture of Personalities

Within the Australian Cricket Team, there is a similar mixture of personalities. For instance, Matthew Hayden thinks very carefully about his opposition, the type of bowling he will face, where they have bowled to him previously, and how the conditions will affect batting against them. With this clear picture in mind – his ‘game plan’ – he then sets about his preparation for the game carefully, and wherever possible meticulously, structuring his batting practice sessions to mirror the game scenarios he will face. Therefore, once the game commences he is prepared for what the game will throw at him, knowing that his extensive preparation (as well as his long-time experience) will stand him in good stead to respond to all challenges.

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The Batters

Most of the Australian batsmen have similar plans for their preparation, although they will have different methods in which they achieve that final goal of being ready to play – technically, physically, mentally and tactically. Even Andrew Symonds, who prefers to occupy that end of the planning spectrum which is more impromptu, has discovered that to be able to be himself through the course of a game, he needs to structure his preparation in such a way that he enters the cricket arena filled with confidence in his own abilities to deal with his opponents. Consequently, he has learnt over time exactly what he needs to do to give himself the best chance of performing – a basic game plan. The bowlers, on the other hand, are slightly different.

The Bowlers

Like the batters, the bowlers work backwards from where they want to be at the time they have to perform. That is, each bowler analyses the opposition in their own way – some using their years of experience (such as Warne and McGrath), some through watching detailed vision, and analysing statistics and batting patterns of opposing players (such as Bracken, Watson, Bichel and Kasprowicz). Others use group discussion, either in meetings and/or training sessions (Johnson and Stuart Clark), and then there are those who simply do what has always worked for them (Tait, Lee, Symonds and Michael Clarke).

The Team

Prior to games there is generally a combination of the above for each player. The difference for the bowlers is that they do not devote the same amount of physical time to perfecting their bowling as batters do. The principal reason for this difference is that physically they are not able to subject their bodies to the same degrees of fatigue as batsmen in pursuit of honing their skills. They need a fresh body to respond to the demands of the game. They will hope¬fully overcome any technical deficiencies through employment of strong mental and tactical skills. This is where the likes of Warne and McGrath excel.

The Essence of Planning

But herein lies the essence of planning:

  • Everyone does it and needs it, but it has to be in a format/method with which they are comfortable.
  • It provides the individual or organisation with a reference framework.
  • The framework provides great flexibility in its methodology.
  • The framework provides a ready means for assessment, review and improvements.

Elements to a Plan

The elements to any plan are:

  • A vision – something which takes the game to another level.
  • Aims – the elements to achieving this vision.
  • Measurable goals – a measure of what achieving each element means.
  • New challenges – identifying new methods to be adopted.

Shared Ownership

An overall team plan needs to be developed by the key stakeholders, such as the coaches, support staff, captain and vice-captain. There are many ways to produce such a plan, ranging from total consultation (every person for whom the plan may have some meaning or impact is given the opportunity to express opinions) to no consultation (the plan is owned and driven by one person).

Be Flexible

My experience shows that the best way to achieve a meaningful plan is to be flexible. Everybody needs to feel they have been included or at least have had the opportunity to have their say, whether they have taken that opportunity or not. At the same time the more people who have an input the longer the plan takes to produce; the impact is lessened because time has eroded the excitement of what it is and how it will affect each individ­ual, and the overall direction of the plan can be lost, or at best watered down from the original intent.

World Cup 2007 plan

The World Cup 2007 plan formed the basis of the way we were thinking as a playing and off-field support group for a couple of years leading into the 2007 World Cup tournament. If nothing else, to have many people thinking about being the best-skilled team the world has ever seen was a mindset that greatly assisted our performance once we arrived in the Windies. We certainly did not achieve all our aims and goals – but we were always driving towards them.

KEY MESSAGES

  1. Accept planning as an integral process to successful performance.
  2. Planning is simply a reference framework that allows great flexibility in methodology.
  3. Any plan must have shared ownership by all parties that will be affected by it.

Coming next, part 2
WORLD CUP 2007 CHALLENGE – the plan