James Cameron-Dow on the challenges of coaching during lockdown

After being announced as new head coach of the NCU Women’s side earlier this year, this should have been James Cameron-Dow’s busiest summer to date.

Mixing his new role with CIYMS, Northern Knights, Ireland A and potential senior international playing commitments, Cameron-Dow will be leading an ever-improving women’s team alongside club team-mate David Miller.

The coronavirus pandemic has had a wide-reaching impact on sport and society in general and it has thrown the chance of any local cricket season taking place into doubt, but it has also changed the way coaches have had to go about their business.

Swapping net sessions for Zoom calls and regular training turned into online content, Cameron-Dow and his fellow coaches have had to think outside the box in order to provide their squad of players with worthwhile drills and constructive practice with many limiting factors.

As Cameron-Dow explains, total trust has been passed onto his players to try and do what they can during these unprecedented times to keep sharp for the eventual return of cricket.

“Everything has obviously gone online and we have been using Google Classroom, but to track players and keep tabs on them is impossible,” he said.

“The responsibility all turns onto the players now and how much they want to get done. We can’t track them at all so it’s very difficult.

“I also understand as a player that it’s very difficult to keep motivated yourself, to do these sessions and feel like you’re making progress and working towards something.

“From a coach’s perspective, you have to trust that each player knows what they can and can’t benefit from and that when the season comes around they are motivated.”

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Cameron-Dow batting in last season’s Twenty20 Cup final. ©CricketEurope

Cameron-Dow would have had a general season plan in mind on what he wanted to achieve with the women’s side in 2020 but the enforced break has made him truly focus on the fine details moving forward.

Any session has had to be planned in advance and to great detail due to the limited interaction between coach and player in the current climate and there is also the requirement of making sure that the group are progressing towards their targets.

“It’s quite easy to sit down and plan a pre-season or sessions going into a season with a progressive plan and structure, but now you’re literally looking at anything that you can do at home that is going to be semi-constructive and add benefit to the players,” he added.

“You’re taking those things and trying to put a session together but there’s no real structure to it.

“For me, the real difficulty at the start was sitting down and planning out a six to eight week programme and making sure we were progressing through the levels and working towards something as opposed to just throwing everything into one session and going random but doesn’t make sense.

“Putting that together was actually quite difficult. The big change is obviously that everything is done online.

“I’ve been posting once a week onto Google Classroom and then sending a couple of extra sessions to the girls who want to do more.

“We did seven or eight sessions like that and I had a chat with the girls last week so we are going to do a session every second week now.

“We try the likes of a Zoom quiz where we can talk nonsense and get some team building and a Zoom fitness call.

“It’s really the difficulty of having a progressive plan and having a target with everything you set out.”

While a coach’s main job is to improve their player’s technical ability and their all-round game, another important requirement is to make sure that morale within a camp remains high.

That will have taken on every more importance for cricket coaches in general around the country with the season being thrown into doubt and players potentially losing motivation due to not being rewarded for their hard work on the pitch.

Cameron-Dow is in the prime of his own playing career and will be able to relate to those concerns and worries that his squad will have but says the motivation must come from within.

“That was one of the main things I felt we needed to discuss when we had a chat last week because I felt as time was going on the responses were getting less and less and the enthusiasm wasn’t there,” he said.

“It was quite easy early on when we were in lockdown for three weeks and everyone was buzzing to start fitness programmes and there were videos everywhere online, but as the light at the end of the tunnel so to speak was taken away and you didn’t know what you’re working towards, motivation can go out the window quickly.

“That motivation has to come from within a player and I’m speaking from both the perspective of a player and coach because I know what it has been like.

“That can be very difficult when you don’t know what you’re working towards and there’s not too much a coach can do about that motivation to be fair.”

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Cameron-Dow helped CIYMS win four trophies last season. ©CricketEurope

An extra challenge that Cameron-Dow has faced is the lack of training time he had with the group before lockdown came into place.

He is still getting to know many members of his squad while trying to keep everyone occupied with relevant content.

“I’ve only met probably 10 of the players in the team out of a squad of 16 or 17,” he added.

“There are quite a few of the girls that I’m not too familiar with.

“I’m trying to put together a programme, keep them semi-busy and make sure they are still switched on and not thinking that cricket is done basically.

“That can also be a difficult thing if you go 18 months without cricket. All of a sudden you come back into season and there will be questions of who will play or if that’ll be the end of cricket for some people. I think that is the really alarming thing.

“We have been trying to tick over but planning sessions for a team that is very new to you makes things very difficult.

“You can’t track players at home and see how they are progressing so it’s tough making sessions that are relevant to the team and making sure they can learn and progress.

“One or two wasting time videos and it’ll be the last time they watch! It is difficult with a new team and not knowing the girls as I don’t yet.”

Coronavirus has brought problems aplenty, but it has also handed people the opportunity to improve certain aspects of their profession and chance to put time into areas that they wouldn’t have been able to normally.

In Cameron-Dow’s case, he has had to work hard on the planning side of his coaching efforts and is hopeful that it’s something he will be able to carry forward with him.

“One thing that I’m not fantastic at is sitting down and planning coaching programmes and this has forced me to do it as opposed to thinking on your feet most of the time,” he said.

“You have a rough idea what you want to do in a session and are able to adjust if it’s not going well and add in something else.

“Now, I’ve had to sit down and make sure there is some sort of structure to everything which has helped me a lot.

“Not only are you coming up with new ideas but for me personally it has made me spend a bit more time on organising and planning which hasn’t been a strength of mine in the past.

“Johnty (Simon Johnston) has been sending me different coaching social media accounts to follow and I have 10/15 new coaches or academies I’m following that I wouldn’t have been and getting little drills and learning a lot from that.

“The emphasis on having to be organised and switched on in planning will hopefully serve me well.”

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