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Cricket news - "My professional development for the year, is to play more golf"
Justin Langer left the rest of the Australian team's senior coaching staff in absolute befuddlement at the start of the summer in Adelaide when he announced that his "professional development for the year" was to "play more golf". After all the head coach had never played the sport before developing an interest earlier this year.
In an engaging interview with Cricbuzz, Langer speaks about how golf has since become a passion that helps him both relax and also socialize with his players. He talks extensively about his philosophies to coaching and life, about getting players to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, how he believes the darkest phases of life provide the best learning opportunities, about constantly masking emotions, and encouraging players to be themselves - citing how his own battles with self-confidence as a player drove him crazy as he tried to show Mark Taylor and Mark Waugh that he could bat.
He also reveals having found a letter in 2016, which he'd written to himself at 16, which read: "If someone can give me a contract to tell me that I could be involved in cricket for the rest of my life, I'd be the happiest person."
From the time you took over the job to now, how much has your coaching philosophy evolved? Looking from the outside, early on you seemed to be on the edge of your seat, living every ball. You just look a little more relaxed from the outside.
I think when you first come in, you're new to the role. You are getting to know people. You're getting to know systems and basically you need to get your feet under the desk. It took a while for me to do that. The other thing in our job, which is different to a lot of jobs, is that we're judged every day on performance. I think my first five games we ended up being beaten 5-0 by England in England. So the stress increases. But over time, you get your feet under the desk, get to know your people and systems and then you put a mask on a lot. You're never really relaxed but it's nice to be coming to a summer having had a reasonably successful winter and knowing that you have really good people who you are working with.
You've always been someone who had so many interests away from the field even when you were a player, from martial arts to meditation. How much have those things helped and have you developed more interests away from the field as a coach?
They've helped. I realized very quickly that you've got to give some time to yourself. Otherwise you get totally consumed by it. And funnily enough, I started playing golf. I've never played golf before. I actually said to the whole high-performance department when we were in Adelaide before the T20Is, that my professional development this year is to play more golf. And they all laughed. I said I am serious. Because too many good people have been telling me that I've got to have other interests. I'm still doing my meditation every morning. I still like keeping fit. Although there've been times in the last 18 months, where the fitness drops off a little bit because you're just busy the whole time. My meditation every day is non-negotiable. And now also my golf. That's something that's a bit different in my routine.
Knowing you and how intense you were as a cricketer, you'll at some stage want to be equally competitive with your golf too.
(Smiles) That's the only problem with it. I've started thinking a lot about how I can get better at it. But I know the benefits outweigh anything. It helps in me listening to my body more. Ricky Ponting came to the World Cup with us. My dad, who cares for me more than anyone else in the world, has been telling me for the last 6-7 years, 'Mate, go start playing some golf. It'll give you a release from working all the time.' I've said, 'I will one day'. And then I played a few games with Punter during the World Cup and then he got me some new Callaway clubs, measured up for me. All of a sudden, I started chipping in my room, putting in my room and I got out and played a few games with the players. What I found was that, not only is it a big stress-reliever for me. It's also a very good way for me to be social with the coaches and the players away from the game. It gives you four hours. It's not really my style to socialize that much with the players. But this is a good way to do it, in the fresh air and I found that really helpful, and I'm really loving playing golf. You slide out every now and then and you feel guilty every time you play, but it actually makes you happy as well.
You often refer to your players as your sons. In a world with so much scrutiny and intensity, do you advise them to go out and find new interests too?
No doubt. When I was working at Western Australia, I realized the importance of players having outside interests. When I started, I always worked. I was playing Sheffield Shield for WA and I had a job. I didn't get paid unless I made the first XI which was hard to do. So right until the age of 28 or 29, I was always working. It made me a much more rounded person. I couldn't wait to get to training and I couldn't wait to play games of cricket. It's also helped me in my post-playing life to become a coach because I learnt about dealing with different people and the discipline of having to be at work every day. It's the same with the players. At one stage at WA, we had 75 per cent of our guys studying because when you are playing domestic cricket you've got so much time. Even with the internationals, they get paid a lot of money now. But what I do know is that once you retire at, say if you're lucky at 30-35, you still have 35 years to work. And money dries up. So you need to have more interests, one for post-playing but two I am convinced it helps your performance because you just love playing the game. We talk about great players and great people. Part of that is becoming well-rounded and learning to deal with people and other issues, not just cricket issues.
Coaching is so much about man-management. But can you take Langer the player out of Langer the coach?
One of the greatest pieces of advice I ever got was from Jimmy Adams, the former West Indies captain. I remember asking him about coaching. He goes, 'I started coaching when I 100 per cent knew I don't want to play anymore'. It took him a while to become a coach because he loved playing so much. I knew the day I retired, I was finished as a player. So there are parts I miss, like the preparation, I miss the fight. But I knew I didn't want to play cricket anymore. I never want to face fast bowling ever again. I'd rather run from here to Perth and back rather than face fast bowling. I've had my time with that. The biggest advantage being a past player as a coach is that you've walked in those shoes. So you can help them with advice in different areas, not just bat and ball.
Till 2001, you were always on tenterhooks as a player not knowing if you were in or out. In some coaching philosophies, coaches like everyone relaxed and comfortable. The other school of thought never wants any player to ever get complacent. Where do you draw the line?
It was always the great paradox for me in the sense that it was so competitive to get into the Australian cricket team. It was so hard. So you're always on edge. But when you walk into the change-room, it was like a night-club. Honestly, everyone was so relaxed and happy and looking after each other and there was this camaraderie. But every player should be on edge because it can change like that (snaps his fingers). You've got to have the instinct that you can never get too comfortable in this game. You've got to get comfortable being uncomfortable. That's the art of it. Actually what the game does is it ensures you're always on edge. Mother cricket won't allow you to relax because as soon as you do, she will come and give you a slap and a reminder. Our job is to create an environment, where everyone's relaxed and happy and enjoying themselves and it's like a family.
You were a batting nut, loved talking about it. You're lucky you have a Steve Smith in your side but you think enough young guys are talking batting and understanding their batting as much as they did during your time?
I mentioned to Steve Smith the other day that the great legacy he will leave is not just performance. You watch the Australian team prepare now. They hit so many balls. And they're practicing so hard and they're talking cricket. He couldn't leave a greater legacy than that for the health of Australian cricket and batsmen going forward. Watch his preparation and how he goes about his business. That's what is so heartening about seeing Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne spend so much time together. It's like the master and the novice. It's brilliant to watch. It doesn't surprise me that Marnus is going so well. His journey will be accelerated because of the time he's spending with Steve Smith - like I was able to do with Allan Border and then David Boon and Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting.
You speak about your faith a lot. Do you reach for it more or say perceive it differently as a coach, considering you are in less control of what's happening in the middle than you did as a player?
No, it's constant. It doesn't change. Like meditation. When I meditate, yesterday I was in Queensland, today I'm in Adelaide and sometimes I'm at home. My meditation is my safe place every day, doesn't matter where I am. It just comes in. It's like my faith and it stays the same.
For someone like you, who has a greater understanding of life itself, do you take events like the Leeds defeat as almost a good thing in terms of how much you can learn from it?
Because I'm an aware human, right at the time it makes you sick. You don't want to have that result. But then what happened next was without doubt the best 10 days of coaching I've ever been involved with. Personally and collectively because you had to find solutions and find ways of getting the boys back up and refocused and bring them back together and face the issues front-on. Like so many things in my life, the darkest days, I look back on as having been so hard to go through, were the best times of my life. Last year, you've heard me tell the story of when my wife got upset in Sydney and she started crying [Langer had earlier talked about how his wife had broken down during India's tour of Australia in 2019 ]. It was a dark time. I'd been in the job and it was hard and I was really in a dark place. But I'll look back in 10 years and will go that as hard as it was, it was the best time of my coaching career.
When Ben Stokes hits those winning runs, it was probably the worst day of my coaching career. But I look back, and see I'm not even saying it 10 years down the track but now, it ended up being the 10 best days, and then we go on to retain the Ashes 10 days later. If you're open to it, your darkest days are when you learn your best lessons. It was actually a fact, when I got dropped in 1993 and got dropped in 2001, and the start of my coaching journey with Australia. The tough times have been the best parts of my last 18 months. I've learnt so much about leadership, people and life in those times. That's why I love coming to work every day.
You are so hands-on and want to be in-charge. Has it also been important in the last 18 months to surround yourself with people who can play specific roles for you?
Of course. Every leader in every business and every entrepreneur talks about the same thing. People. Great systems, people and leadership. One thing I really love is Ben Oliver has already brought Andrew McDonald to the role. He'll hopefully bring George Bailey too. Great people. I never went to Harvard but I employ a lot of people who did. Some people get intimidated by that. I'm the opposite. Bringing in great people like Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting, Graeme Hick and Michael Hussey, Ryan Harris. That's how you create great environments.
You spoke about putting on a mask. But is it natural too with you, that you just don't like showing emotions?
Probably who I am but since I was 21, I've been in the public eye. I played Test cricket early. I've been in this business where you can't afford to show too much emotion. But there's a lot of emotion. Having said that, people used to talk about how much I used to hug Matthew Hayden and how pumped we used to get. This is me, but sometimes you have to put on the mask. I say that a lot because there are lots of things going on. But ultimately, I'm just being me and I feel comfortable being me now. People say you're too serious, you're too intense. But that's ok, that's me. Some people will like it, some people will have opinions on it, some people won't but that's ok. If you try and please everyone, you please no one.
And you have a team currently with so many unique characters all of a sudden.
(Smiles) It's great isn't it. They're being themselves. You've got to let people be themselves. I learnt a lesson when I was younger. I tried so hard when I first became an Australian cricketer to show Mark Waugh and Mark Taylor that I could bat. It actually drove me crazy because it was me not being myself. I was trying so hard because for some reason I thought they didn't think I could play. So I would try and show them and the harder you try, the worse it gets. That's life. You have to be yourself. I also have empathy for these guys. I know it's a hard business and a hard journey. We all want them to be overnight successes but it's not how life works. There'll be ups and downs. They'll get dropped. You watch how they come back. I loved seeing Joe Burns miss out on the Ashes and come back and score 97. That shows great character.
The joy you take from the game as a player and a coach must be different. Can you even describe it?
I pinch myself every day that I'm in this job. This is a true story. When my mum died, she left a whole lot of stuff. One of the things we did back in December of 1986 was this time capsule for the family when we were young. I was 16 years old. And I wrote this letter to myself. "I'm at a crossroads now. If someone can give me a contract to tell me that I could be involved in cricket for the rest of my life, I'd be the happiest person." I've got the hand-written letter that mom left me when she died two years ago, when I was 47. So I saw this letter again 31 years later. I didn't even know there were contracts then. I pinch myself every day. There are stresses, you get stressed and grumpy and tired. I remind myself every day, no matter how tired you are, you are so lucky mate. I have a great family and I'm doing this for a job? My god, lucky man, lucky man.
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