Say you have been hired to manage a team that has been marred by scandal. Top players have been kicked off the team, and the whole country is embarrassed by the episode.
So, anyone for cricket?
Such is the story of Jason Langer, who takes over Australia’s national cricket team as head coach months after players were caught cheating in a test match versus South Africa. Langer’s unfolds in a new documentary, The Test: A New Era for Australia’s Team, now playing on Amazon Prime.
The good thing is you don’t have to know anything about cricket to watch and enjoy how a leader goes about rebuilding an organization that has been gutted, disheartened and ashamed.
Watching the series unfold, we gain insights into how to restore confidence by selecting and developing the right players and getting them to believe in themselves, not merely as players but as teammates. Test match cricket is essentially a nation’s all-star team. Each player is accomplished, but each must learn to play together, and that’s where the head coach enters. He must mold the team. Here’s what I learned by watching.
Build on tradition. “Make Australian Proud” is the national team’s slogan. Langer coaches pride. He speaks of the cricket greats to get his team to aspire to be better. When first taking over, on the way to play in their first international match in England, he takes them to Ponziere in France. There is the Anzac memorial to the thousands of Australian and New Zealand soldiers who died in the Great War. It is a sobering moment, but one that seems to focus the players on the importance of representing their country.
Train hard. “By failing to train, you’re training to fail.” Cricket to outsiders looks like a lot of standing around, and yes, but you must be fit to be on the field as a bowler, batsman, or fielder. The team has its own fitness coaches, and there are endless scenes of the players running, practicing, or working out in the gym. Fit bodies lead to competitive wins.
Rely upon your captain. Australia’s captain is Tim Paine, the wicketkeeper. He’s in his mid-thirties when the series starts, but he acts with the wisdom of a much older player. Like baseball’s catcher, the wicketkeeper sees the game from the front, which gives him the perspective to judge each play as well as each ball bowled.
Instill values. What holds a team together is shared beliefs. There is a scene where Paine, as captain, runs through team values. The message is to believe in and practice them or find another place to play. Juxtaposed, before most of the values, is the word “elite.” It is a reminder as well as admonishment: you are the best, so act like it.
Choose good assistant coaches. Befitting a national team, there is a coach for every position, and then some. Langer uses his coaches to keep his players at the top of their games and relies upon them to serve as his window into the psyche of players. An assistant coach is the go-between player and manager.
Coach up your players. (good and bad). As a former player, Langer knows the highs and the lows of playing Test cricket. He had the good fortune to play on some of Australia’s most significant national teams, and his expectations are high. At the same time, he listens to his players and finds ways to connect with them to bring out the best.
In one episode, while the team is playing in India against arguably the world’s best cricket team, Langer talks about developing players who are self-resilient and self-reliant. Resilience enables a player to bounce back from adversity; reliance upon oneself provides the backbone upon which to move forward.
Build confidence. The manager must believe in his players, yes, but when he can get them to believe in themselves, well, that’s when the magic occurs. Langer’s team is tested early, losing its first five one-day test matches to England.
None of these steps are unique to cricket; they are basics of good leadership. What is instructive is watching how Langer deals with the team’s challenges and gets them to play together. There is a saying in cricket that is is true of every professional sport.
The fans can make you famous.
A contract can make you rich.
The press can make you a superstar.
But only love can make you a player.
And it’s players who love the game that win