There is a worrying pattern that has unfolded over time for the South African cricket team. The pattern is wrapped up in the nature of the relationship between the coach and the captain, which sours over time resulting in the departure of the coach. The most recent departure being that of Mickey Arthur.
There have been three coaches who have come and gone, with Graeme Smith as captain. Each of these coaches had made it known that the relationship with their captain had been damaged to the point of being irreparable, causing an untenable situation for them to carry out their responsibilities in managing the team.
The coach/captain relationship forms the core of the leadership group that determines the culture and strategy of a team. It is the primary relationship in a team and can be equated to the father/mother relationship in a family. The family becomes dysfunctional if the primary relationship between husband and wife is unhealthy and destructive.
I remember consulting with a client who had gone through three divorces and was again in a relationship that he felt held some promise for the future. In the initial stage of each relationship there was the dream that this was the one relationship that was going to provide all the happiness he ever wanted. And then came the harsh reality as the relationship deteriorated over time.
In the early stages of our therapeutic process I noticed his ease of interpretation and explanation of why his relationships had failed. He had a ‘water-tight’ argument for why things had not worked out. What struck me was that he never truly saw himself as being part of the problem. He made flippant remarks about knowing that he was a difficult person to live with, of having high expectations and standards, and of being demanding. While there was an acknowledgement of these parts of himself that he felt may have contributed to the destruction of his relationships, he never came across as wanting to change or address these aspects of himself. My feeling was supported when he stated that all he needed was to ‘find a woman who could deal with all of my shit’.
I do not believe that the South African team will be able to move forward, be creative and play to their full potential, if the role of the captain in these crises around the coach is not carefully examined. The reason for this is simple. No coach can ever feel secure in the relationship with him. There is no evidence to suggest that a fourth relationship will be functional. In the beginning it may seem fine, but the historical pattern of deterioration is so entrenched which suggests that there is an inherent flaw in how the participants (coach and captain) conduct themselves in the relationship.
Elite sport often has to do with power, self-importance and ego. However, these characteristics need to be carefully managed since they have the ability to create mistrust and resentment which in turn, damages the interpersonal fabric of a team.
A leader needs to gain respect from all those around him. But this respect is reciprocal in nature. Any hurt or damage that has occurred in any relationship in the team (past or present and especially if this has occurred in the leadership group) will undermine the respect and trust that is necessary for the team to achieve new levels. This will be the reality that will confront Graeme Smith as he absorbs the after-effects of yet another coach who has severed the relationship with him.
Sometimes life lessons are difficult to fully comprehend. It is even more difficult (maybe impossible?) for individuals in power or administrators in power to act on this learning and to make decisions that only have the best interests of the team at heart. And that is why I think that Graeme Smith will do everything in his power to retain the captaincy and why the administration will support him, and why this crisis will eventually pass by and why a fourth coach will be appointed and…