Coach with a caring touch

Coach with a caring touch

Understanding the human element has been the key to Gary Kirsten's success

Coach with a caring touch

Understanding the fragility of the world's top players and the human element of the game have been the cornerstone of Gary Kirsten's approach to coaching international cricket teams.

The 45-year-old is on his last assignment with South Africa at the the Champions Trophy in England after deciding to quit the post to spend more time with his young family.

It will leave the world's top-ranked Test side without a coach who has a studied approach to leadership which comes from almost two decades of playing at the top level.
"I got to understand what type of leadership made an impact on," Kirsten said. "That helped me tremendously when I began to lead people. As a coach you are a leader and that means you have a significant impact on people's lives, no matter how long you are with them.

"So the more care you take in those relationships, the more difference you can have on individuals," said Kirsten who was the coach when India won the 2011 World Cup. "At this level of the game, the actual technical work you do is limited," he said.

"The most important work that you do as a coach is around game strategy. It is also about working with individuals looking at their game and saying, 'what can you do with your game to be successful against the best batsmen or the best bowlers in the world in different situations'."

Kirsten said coaching was also about creating an environment for success.
"To get a great group of individuals to play for a bigger badge is one of the great leadership challenges of our time," he said. "Not only in sport, but in any industry."
India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni flourished in partnership with Kirsten, thriving on a dressing-room environment that was less about individual egos and more focused on team success.

Kirsten briefly played in the same South African side as Graeme Smith before his retirement and when he took over as coach allowed Smith's dominant personality to propel the side forward as captain.

Virat Kohli has developed into one of the world's leading batsmen having been given his break in international cricket during Kirsten’s period. For the three years they spent together, the coach tried to get the precocious youngster to understand his own game better, convincing him that bowlers should have to get him out rather than throwing his wicket away. "When I took the India job it was not because I thought we were going to win the World Cup," Kirsten said. "I did it because I thought I could add some value to those guys; same with the South African team.

"I want to move a group of players forward from where they were. If that is a 10 percent tweak, so be it.

"If you look at quotes from some of the greats in any sport, you will usually always find a quote about a father figure or a mentor. A guy who was a massive influence in their career. It's great as a coach if you can be that guy."

Kirsten, a gritty opening batsman in his playing days, said it was important for players to have someone to look up to.

"As tough as cricketers might look on the exterior out there, the pressure situations of international competitions are great and to have someone to guide you through that space is critical," he said. "If you don't have that person you are going to start making errors in your decision making."

Kirsten thinks it is vital not to view players as performance tools and to always remember that they are human beings.

"It's not like you leave your issues back home and come to work," he said. "They come together. If a player has an issue or something that is bothering them, talk about, deal with it.

"Leadership is not about power, it is about influence. If you influence in the right way you can have an incredible impact on people's lives. If you influence by power you might have an impact in terms of results on people's lives, but more times than not, it is negative."