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Goals Edition, Sports Aiden Blizzard Director of High Performance, Cricket ACT

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By: Aiden Blizzard •  4 years ago •  

I started my professional cricket career as a 19-year- old rookie with the Bushrangers in Victoria. Some of my greatest learnings and development as both a player and a person happened under the tuition of Greg Shipperd in the One Day and T20 format. As all domestic cricketers strive for, I too wanted an opportunity to play four-day cricket. The strength of the four-day team meant that after six years I needed to move to another state in order to gain a significant opportunity to play in the four-day format.

My girlfriend at the time (now wife) and I packed up and moved to South Australia to explore an opportunity to play cricket with the red ball – an easy decision in theory but it was not easy to leave behind family and friends. In the first year, things went to plan. I was in the team and managed to pull off the double of being South Australia’s leading four-day run scorer as well as player of the season, but after two years my four-day cricket opportunities had dried up and we moved to Tasmania where I managed to play just six games in two seasons.

Each state we moved to presented not only a four-day cricket opportunity but a chance to further progress my T20 career (formally known as the state-based Big Bash, now franchise-based Big Bash League). In Victoria, I was a part of three championship winning teams, lucky enough to be Man of the Match in two of those wins. In South Australia, we won the trophy in what is now known as the last season of state Big Bash cricket. The Adelaide-based boys and I signed on with the Adelaide Strikers in the first year of BBL but the move to Tasmania meant signing on for two years with Hobart Hurricanes.

Closing the book on red ball cricket in Tasmania meant there was an opportunity to move home to Melbourne and commute to Sydney for a stint with the Sydney Thunder. The recent BBL win with Sydney Thunder was my 5th Big Bash title. Quite a milestone for someone whose average was well below that of an International player and just above those who are spat out of the elite cricket system. It’s been a significant journey for myself, family and my wife, where my goals have evolved as my confidence and intuition have grown. I have learned through a number of mistakes to believe in my instincts and that if a goal is significant enough, there is always a way to achieve it. For me, it has usually been in the most unconventional way possible!

In 2006, playing for Victoria in the Big Bash final at the WACA, I was lucky enough to hit a pretty large six out of the ground. From my recollection, it connected with the middle of the bat, ran with the breeze and flew a really good distance. For quite a time, it was my claim to fame and is still listed on YouTube as the biggest six in cricket history. It was originally estimated at around 110 metres but as it gets retold (mainly by family and friends), it’s grown to 150 or 160 metres. In ten years’ time it might be up to 200. It’s pretty cool that people still talk about it but it’s definitely not my identity, something both athletes and coaches alike have little control over.

Moving around has been a challenge both within and outside of the locker rooms, but as an athlete, when you are chasing a goal, you are often able to place the fear and uncomfortable feelings aside. Your dreams come to the forefront and I have always been able to see moving as an opportunity to meet new people and learn a new way of achieving an outcome. Working under some of the best coaches in Australia and around the world has been really beneficial in developing a coaching philosophy in my current role as coach. It has been interesting to see how different coaches go about achieving a goal in similar situations with their playing group. It really highlighted to me that there is no one global way to coach. While some coaches been very much by the book, others have been very different, sometimes unusual and often brilliant.

I started out coaching and mentoring athletes, moved into a role as Athlete Development Manager and Coach at the Australian Cricket College in Melbourne, then into a role as the Director of Coaching and Education at Cricket ACT and now the Director of High Performance, also at Cricket ACT. To complement my roles at Cricket ACT, I coach the ACT Comets in the Toyota Futures League. We play against State 2nd XI teams as a development competition for future First Class Cricketers. Our athletes have quickly learnt that there’s more than one way of achieving an outcome. My personal way as a player isn’t necessarily the way they go about their game and their way at the moment isn’t necessarily the most efficient way for their game in the future. We have developed a really cool holistic program, empowering our athletes to make decisions, challenge themselves, and review their processes and performance honestly without fear or judgement. The biggest challenge so far has been managing some of more experienced coaches who pose an ‘old school’ technical coaching mindset. The dictator-style of coach has worked in the past for a number of teams, however, when developing athletes who wish to become a full-time professional, my belief is they need to be able to take total ownership for their career. This means making good decisions for themselves both on and off the field. We encourage the athletes within our program to make reasonable mistakes in a safe environment and call them learning experiences.

We have found that guiding an athlete and the team to review their learnings and development opportunities in a safe, honest environment to be far more beneficial to the young athlete than volunteering a load of my own thoughts and experiences on them. By providing a safe forum, we can normalise the group’s collective experiences from that day or game and help to fast track the group’s development. We have had a few challenges in getting some of our experienced coaches to understand that this also applies to coaching. I wouldn’t say that we have totally overcome it but we are definitely making great progress! Coaches are allowed to not know everything, allowed to make mistakes but are expected to be honest and accountable to both athletes and other coaches within our system.

Paddy Upton (Sydney Thunder) has had a significant influence in the way I approach coaching a team. Paddy’s philosophy is based on facilitating and guiding a group’s conversations and energy in a constructive direction. Much of Paddy’s one-on- one coaching is based upon a business coaching mentality, which is something I can now relate to on the back of some experience in life coaching. Before my experiences with Paddy, I hadn’t had the confidence to carry this approach into coaching a cricket team.

As for other coaches, Robin Singh who has been one of the coaches at Mumbai Indians for the last six years, is extremely technical and tactical in his approach to cricket in India. As a foreign player coming in to compete in one of the most challenging competitions in the world, he was very patient and influential, developing a technique with me that would stand up to the Indian spinners. Robin is extremely knowledgeable and would find a way of achieving our desired outcome. This has become very important in my coaching. I think, too many current coaches tell athletes what they should and shouldn’t do in a training session, but when you are out in the centre you are on your own.

Tim Neilson, former Australian Coach was great for me as a scholar at the Centre of Excellence, now the National Cricket Centre, always up front and honest. His approach was very refreshing; there were no politics with Tim, so you would always get a straight answer whether it was what you wanted to hear or not. Tim was also very influential in the way I deliver selection news, and in reviewing games or seasons with athletes. Personally I’d prefer to be honest and allow the athlete to review and recalibrate their approach than to sit on the fence. Ricky Ponting as a coach is extremely emotionally intelligent and a real leader of men, and I have been very lucky in playing under him at Mumbai. He reads people very quickly and picks up on the little things, often before the athlete recognises them for themselves. His approach is to simplify your thought processes while out there in the middle. A unique and inspiring individual when it comes to coaching, I personally believe that he would be a great national coach or High Performance manager.

As touched on above, I have been lucky enough to play for the Mumbai Indians in the Indian Premier League for four seasons. The IPL is probably the most prestigious domestic cricket competition in the world but with the prestige and global recognition come a number of challenges. You are playing against world class cricketers in foreign conditions, with humidity levels through the roof, and all the IPL athletes live in hotel rooms for 8 weeks. You cannot leave the hotel without informing security, which usually means a police officer or plain clothed member of the police force will escort you where you need to go. There are no facilities to cook your own food, wash your own clothes, drive anywhere, shop at the local markets or shopping centres without being noticed, all while anyone in the world with internet connection can “google” your IPL salary, having been auctioned off prior to the tournament. Please don’t get me wrong, this tournament is such a privilege and honour to play in, the capacity crowds, big wins in tight matches and exposure to the cricketing community are some of the greatest memories and opportunities I have ever received.

Upon reflection, this tournament is one of the great challenges and learning experiences I have had as both an athlete and a human being. I now have more appreciation for the basics of Western society. What I learnt about myself, coaches and in particular other cricketers, has shaped a significant portion of my coaching. I believe it has equipped me with knowledge to differentiate between the insignificant and the significant issues that coaches and athletes face. I would love to go back again, more likely in a coaching capacity some time down track.

Naturally, I have always really enjoyed helping people, so in 2011 decided to do something about it. I started life coaching and mentoring some friends of friends under a new business called Smashing Boundaries. I had studied a life coaching course at the Coaching Institute as a possible path to pursue after cricket. After coaching these friends of friends, I began working with small businesses looking to find a way to balance their work and life. Growing up in a family business, I have seen how challenging it is to give full attention to work and family without burning out. My own parents are miracle workers!

Smashing Boundaries was a great way to get away from athletes and experience coaching people outside of my sporting bubble. I found that working with people from different backgrounds was really enjoyable but I still craved working with highly talented and driven people, which led me back to working with athletes. My initial goal in learning about life coaching was to learn how to view the world through another person’s perspective. The more I coached others, the more I learnt about myself and about out how I had learned to successfully hide behind my own limiting beliefs. This learning, along with many others, was quite confronting however has been significant in the way I now coach both teams and individuals now and into the future.

Although balancing my own work/life balance is now a stretch, I still enjoy coaching a couple of clients outside of cricket in my spare time. One of the joys is to see these clients achieve such great things in and out of their chosen sports, like Sharni Layton – Australian Diamonds Netballer. Sharni is scoring goals (not literally as she’s a defender) both on and off the court. In working with athletes like Sharni, I like to understand the athletes’ motivations before getting too far into understanding their goals. Discovering whether they are intrinsically or extrinsically motivated is a crucial piece of the puzzle to attain before we get into the goal-setting phase. If I can understand how they are motivated, then developing an action plan becomes the easy part.

A perfect coaching session for me in a team environment is similar to working one-on- one where the athletes are engaging and providing feedback for each other, self-analysing and reviewing their performances without input or direction from myself or other coaching staff. Developing athletes who have the ability to reflect and self-coach is a key ingredient to developing highly successful athletes and teams.

For new coaches, I would recommend setting these three goals:

1. Gain 3 meaningful coaching experiences outside of your chosen sport. Observe local senior coaches, junior coaches, even listen to post-match interviews on TV.

2. Find a coaching mentor, outgrow them, and then find a new one and repeat.

3. Find a positive in every ‘mistake or perceived negative’. Learn to re-frame your own thoughts and assist your athletes in re-framing theirs.

My current personal goal is to say yes to every reasonable Personal and Professional Development opportunity with the aim of becoming a head coach for an international cricket team.

Coaching has many rewards but I still really enjoy the little wins along the journey! Those ‘ah ha’ moments of realisation from someone you’re coaching, that thank-you SMS you receive, the development plans that result in success, and the positive reinforcement your athlete delivers to the group during the challenging times of competition.

Traditional coaching practices are evolving as the next generation of athletes come through. I believe there are going to be significant opportunities for the new age coach moving forward. The age of holistic athlete development is arriving.____________________________________________________________________

At 31, Aiden Blizzard has already had a stellar career playing for the Sydney Thunder, Adelaide Strikers, Canterbury, Hobart Hurricanes, Marylebone Cricket Club, Mumbai Indians, Rajshahi Division, South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria for a total of 5 Australian Big Bash titles, as well as being involved in over a handful of other successful campaigns both in Australia and around the world. He is also credited on YouTube with hitting the biggest six in cricket history. Now as Director of High Performance for Cricket ACT, he is one of Australia’s New Age coaches making an impact on the sporting world.

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