Are you doing the right thing?

from Chasing Mavericks

Is there such a thing as the ‘right thing’?
Kevin Shine, England Cricket’s fast bowling coach believes there is. And he knows where to find the answer.

England Cricket Coach Kevin Shine

Unless you’re a cricket fan you’ve probably not heard of Kevin Shine. Which is a pity because he’s a wealth of knowledge, insight and, most importantly for me, positivity.

Following his own professional career as a fast bowler that started at the tender age of 17 (a good story you’ll be able to listen to on the Dair Podcast), Shiney, as he’s better known, moved into coaching. This included a successful spell as Head Coach at Somerset, plus running their Academy. For more than 10 years now he’s been at the top end of international sport as the lead fast bowling coach for his national side: England.

For those not in the know, much like in baseball, the role of a fast bowler is to out-smart, out-pace and often times intimidate the opposition. It’s the sharp end of a sport many perceive as genteel. It’s anything but. Unlike baseball, these guys release the ball at speeds of up to 100 mph whilst running full bore at you. And they tend to be big too. It’s gladiatorial, vicious and unforgiving. It seems contradictory that these are words that never spring to mind when I think of Shiney. We’re chatting on FaceTime and when this comes up he laughs,

“It’s not complicated. You just need to be a good bloke. As you know I just love life. My main thing is trying to get the balance right”.

“It’s not complicated. You just need to be a good bloke. As you know I just love life. My main thing is trying to get the balance right”.

“How do you do that?”

“I’ve been in professional cricket since I was 17. What I’ve always been fiercely guarded about is making sure I have the ability to go and do other stuff. Family time; surfing, mountain biking, skiing together. I’ve learned, over the years, to be good at switching off. It’s my place of balance and harmony”.

The distinction between commitment and obsession is a line that easily gets blurred in professional and elite sports. It’s a line that is crystal clear in Shiney’s mind,

“Pro sport can tip too far and become all consuming. I feel it and I’ve been an idiot at times based on that pressure. I don’t actually crave this bit, the sport. I absolutely love it and I’m lucky but I’d much prefer to be on top of a wave or talking to my wife and kids. My idea of relaxation isn’t the same as most people, I go and chuck some metal around or get the surfboard out. I go and do something where all I can do is concentrate on what I’m doing”.

“Pro sport can tip too far and become all consuming. I feel it and I’ve been an idiot at times based on that pressure.”

“And I guess some of your best ideas come from those times?”.

“Absolutely. If you relax you become a better coach. I look around and I see a lot of brilliant coaches, from across many sports and some have balance, some don’t. They’re all still brilliant at their jobs but do they have a point in life? Could they be better coaches? My dad always used to say ‘Do the right thing Kev.’ That was the main value that was deeply ingrained in me by him”. He pauses, evidently reflecting, “And you always do know what’s right, even if you don’t listen to that voice inside”.

The trick of listening to that voice means looking after yourself. It’s similar to the instruction you get prior to every flight: in the event of the masks dropping down, first administer oxygen to yourself.  International cricket is amongst one of the most demanding sports when it comes to the toll it can wreak on you personally. It’s not unusual for an England coach to spend over 250 nights away from home in one year. That takes its toll, whatever your environment and however well you manage yourself. Shiney continues,

“I’ve not always been an angel, I’ve made my mistakes. I’ve learned from them and I carry on learning. Of course I want to be professionally successful. But my point in life is to be a good husband, dad, and bloke. I fiercely protect that”.

“What I’ve tried to do is have a bit of fun, have that ability to laugh at myself and take the piss out of myself a lot.”

In addition to his family and energetic hobbies that he refers to as his ‘fortress of solitude’ Kevin employs an age old coping strategy: laughter and learning,

“What I’ve tried to do is have a bit of fun, have that ability to laugh at myself and take the piss out of myself a lot. I know my level of intelligence and I’m not afraid to say ‘slow down’, when I’m around someone cleverer than me. That approach is one of my biggest attributes. When someone intelligent or experienced is around that you can learn off, don’t be afraid to say you’ve lost me. I’m not afraid to look cerebrally challenged!”.

There’s a difference from ‘on the job’ learning and formal education. In 2000 he was invited onto the new level 4 coaching course for England Cricket: the highest level of coaching that can be attained in the sport. It was an unbelievable opportunity but he wasn’t going to take it. Shiney picks up the story,

“I remember phoning my wife, who has a degree from Exeter Uni and saying ‘I’m not going to do it’. I was two years into being Head Coach at Somerset, I had a young family and felt I was too busy. And she said to me, ‘you’re scared’. That wasn’t the response I wanted. She said ‘you’re scared of going outside of your cricket village’. My bottom lip came out and I was feeling pretty tender. But she was absolutely right!  She said, ‘we’ll be fine – I’ll look after Jack. Get out there and do it’. I did and it was amazing. Then, a few years after that you did something that had a massive impact. Here I pull up short, surprised, “I did? What was that?”

“You recommended I read ‘The Flinch’. That book changed my entire outlook. It was a Eureka moment for me. I did the first challenge and failed miserably. It was a revelation”.

The Flinch by Julien Smith – do yourself a huge favour and read it.

Note: The author of The Flinch, Julien Smith, is soon to be featured in Dair Magazine. In the meantime do yourself a huge favour and read it. You’ll find it free or for a measly few bucks at Amazon. In short it’s about how you face your fears. If you go with it I guarantee you’ll notice a difference. Be warned – it’s not easy but it is hugely rewarding!

Enjoying this article?

“There are a lot of things I don’t like doing and I continue to be stubborn but I’m still working on it very hard. We all have insecurities and I may come across as a big hairy cave man but I’m actually incredibly sensitive”.

“There are a lot of things I don’t like doing and I continue to be stubborn but I’m still working on it very hard.”.

Whether a coach is incredibly sensitive or not, the thickest of hides won’t protect you from the wrath of the press when things go wrong. With the media glare usually focused on athletes or results, the role of coaching and what it means to be a coach is rarely documented well. I never know if this is down to disinterest, obstinance or a genuine lack of understanding. It could be that coaching, at least good coaching, is one of the least understood professions going.

I was recently chatting with Pete Moores (Head Coach of Notts and previous England Head Coach) about the unfortunate irony that the best coaches rarely put their own case forward for the simple reason that their primary motivation is always the interests, performance and improvements of others. This resonates with Shiney,

“As a pro-player you walk off and that’s the end of the day. Whatever happened; good, bad or indifferent, it’s all about you. Coaches, on the other hand, dwell on everything and everyone else – there’s enough to keep you occupied 24/7.  If you don’t make yourself switch off, you never will switch off and that causes problems. The mixture of the demands of top end sport and not being able to step away, combined with the consequences of not performing and time away from home means that there is a lot of pressure you have to soak up. Sometimes you have to say ‘I’ve had enough’ and find time to re-generate”.

I think back on some my own experiences with other coaches over the years, “I’ve seen it for myself though – that’s not easy”.

“Unfortunately some don’t, won’t or feel they can’t switch off and that can result in some pretty dark times for those individuals. Without the ability to walk away from it occasionally and find a positive diversion, elite sport can be a very unhealthy place for a coach”.

I’m glad Shiney did the right thing and learned to walk away from time to time. It’s a lesson for all of us.

This is part of a series

This article is from the Chasing Mavericks channel.

Share this article