Australia, India, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, West Indies - you name it, there isn’t a single nook and corner in the world that Simon Helmot has not explored as a coach. SportsCafe caught up with the Aussie to shed light on his experiences and to discuss the challenges of being a foreign coach.
Coaching is a thankless job, unless you’re a prominent name. Coaches are, unfortunately, almost always the first ones to suffer the axe and they are, on top of that, also the last ones to be credited. Having now been on the coaching circuit for well over a decade, Australia’s Simon Helmot knows it all. A former assistant coach of Sunrisers Hyderabad, Helmot has worked in a plethora of T20 franchise leagues across the world, including in the IPL, BBL, CPL, BPL and APL, and also spent three years in Bangladesh as the head coach of the country’s ‘High Performance’ academy. Being a foreign coach - particularly in this T20 era where there’s a crossover between a dozen different cultures - can be daunting, so we caught up with Helmot for the fifth edition of the Cricket Talk to get some valuable insight on the art of coaching, and how he goes about his business in shedding the ‘outsider’ tag.
What do you do as an assistant coach, and how was your experience working in the role?
When you’re an assistant coach, the term or the name of the title is exactly what you do - you’re there to assist the head coach. You’re there to work with a head coach, to help develop strategy, help develop squad lists, assist in everything that happens from matchday to training. Basically, you’re there for the coach. And I’m very lucky, the seven years I was with the Bushrangers I assisted Greg Shipperd (former Delhi Daredevils coach) with great success, and he and I have a great affiliation. And that’s exactly the case with Tom Moody - he and I have great mutual respect. Tom’s an excellent person to work with; he gives you open license to be able to perform your role as best as you can and he is very loyal and supportive. Sure we had challenging discussions and debates, absolutely, but they were healthy. In Tom Moody and Greg Shipperd, I’ve been very fortunate to have had two great cricketing brains who I was able to work with and learn from. When I’ve had the opportunity to go and function as the head coach, I’ve had two guys who have always been happy to pick up the phone and take a call from me. I’ve been very fortunate in my assisting roles, in which I’ve spent a lengthy time.
What was one of the first lessons you learnt as a rookie foreign coach?
I learnt this when I first went to Trinidad to coach TKR in the CPL, I realized “Don’t come over as an Australian coach with all your Australian ideas and thoughts”. Go over to the country of the team you’re working with, and invest time in developing relationships and gaining a very good and clear understanding of how to get the best out of the group. I suppose as a greener overseas coach, at times I might have tried to enforce what I knew and what I’d experienced back in Australia, but that was a mistake. The best way is to invest in people and learn about the environment you’re working in. Once you do that, all of a sudden, you’ll quickly get some common ground.
You’ve worked in a lot of countries where the local players might not understand what you speak, so how do you solve the language barrier problem?
You need to use people who are multilingual (chuckles). Find someone who knows both English and the native tongue and get them to assist you in the process.
Do you have any funny “translation-gone-wrong” stories in your time as a coach?
In my time as a coach in the Afghanistan Premier League, there were a lot of players that weren’t going to understand a fast-talking Aussie coach, so I had to use the team manager as my translator for what I call “very short and sharp team meetings”. The problem was that I would have a short and sharp message, but the team manager would go on for a lot longer (chuckles). So I had to intervene at times and talk to one of the players who understood both English and the native language. Every now and then he (the manager) jumped in with his own thoughts and ideas, which was very humorous, and the players ended up laughing and actually making fun of it. So I used to plead with the manager, “Please, manager. Can you just talk to the players about this; these are our targets and this is what we need to do.”
Is there one particular coaching philosophy you adhere to?
I’ve had a great affiliation with Dwayne Bravo and something I’ve learnt with him - not just from him, but with him, because I had him at both the Renegades and Bushrangers - is that it’s important to understand how to get the best out of the players (from different cultures). It may be different from the players who you have worked with back home. As a coach, you continue to learn and grow. And that’s the number one important aspect for me. Learning about your playing group, learning about your environment and investing time in the people you’re working with are the aspects that have remained consistent in all the countries I’ve worked in.
What do you love about coaching?
One of the main reasons I love coaching is the challenge of getting a group of people up and playing in a harmonious, clear-thinking way which would help them cope with pressure and attain success. Yes, strategy is important and yes, talent identification is critical, very critical, but it’s about how you work on developing a group; not just the eleven that go out on the field, but the players sitting outside who want to be on the field, plus the support staff and the administration. The art of coaching is how you get all to hold hands and walk together the same way.