Webster Addresses 'Academygate'

Wed, Aug 4, '04

by MICHELLE MCDONALD

Shell Academy

It was dubbed 'Academygate' ? the scathing report by Australian coaches 'Toot' Byron and Tim Coyle and the subsequent meeting held in December 2002 between the WICB and the St George's University where the Shell Cricket Academy is based, to discuss the contents of that report.

Then, in 2003, the Dr Rudi Webster-led Academy came under scrutiny again, when the WICB's recommendations for the positions of Head Coach and Bowling Coach were rejected. Just what goes on at the Shell Academy, located in Southwest Grenada? Are all the allegations against Dr Webster true? Was Kenny Benjamin really not wanted as he asserts? Are the facilities and equipment adequate? Is there a structured curriculum?

What are the students' opinions of the programme this year? Should it be shut down, as was recommended by the Australians?

CaribbeanCricket.com correspondent Michelle McDonald travelled to Grenada to investigate and this is the first instalment of a series of in-depth interviews and articles. Here, Dr Rudi Webster answers some pointed questions on the Academy's programme, and responds for the first time to the allegations against him. He is joined in this Q&A by Barry Collymore, the former Public Relations Officer of the university who is now the Operations Manager at the Shell Cricket Academy in Grenada.

Dr Webster, how is it determined what to put on the Academy programme?

Webster: We have an agreement with the WICB. That was signed before the Academy opened. It was signed between Hon. Pat Rousseau and Dr Peter Bourne [then Vice Chancellor of St George's University]. That programme was worked out between the Board and the university; Reg Scarlett [former WICB Director of Coaching] and I sat down and we discussed it with the university people here. The WICB looked at it from their end and Shell [the sponsors] were involved as well.

The contract says that the university will appoint everyone. We appoint cricket staff after consultations with the WICB. According to the contract, we don't have to hire who the WICB suggests. But nine times out of ten we will, unless we have some problems with who they recommend -- things like social life, or competence or interpersonal skills or track record, or the amount of time he has been coaching or his track record with the WICB.

Collymore: The issue of background checks is a university policy. The university does background checks and full checks, including police records, on people before they hire them. This is standard procedure for all big universities.

We appoint. That is what the contract says; that is what they have agreed to.

When you say "we appoint", who is "we"? Is it Rudi Webster?

I recommend to my boss, the Dean, and he appoints. He hires and he fires.

And basically he does what you tell him because he trusts your competence?

Yes, what I request. Yes.

The decision to hire Roger Harper as opposed to Jeffery Dujon who was the Board's recommendation; what swayed the decision towards Harper?

Roger was Coach of the West Indies 'A' team. He was Coach of the West Indies senior team. I was the performance consultant with the team when Roger was there. Dujon was the Assistant Coach at the time. I had a very good opportunity to observe these two gentlemen operating and as far as I was concerned, Roger was the man because, forgetting his cricket ability, I saw him as an excellent teacher. I saw him as having fantastic interpersonal skills. I saw him as a leader. I saw him as a very good communicator. I saw him as a very caring person and I saw him as a very tough person. I saw him as a role model that any young person could copy and I would say that if I had a young son, I would say to him 'you see that fellow Roger Harper, you use him as a role model'. I am not sure I would have said that for some of the other people.

So the total package that Roger brought was more ideal for the Academy?

Of course, more than anybody else in the region. As a matter of fact, before I started the Academy, Roger Harper was the person I chose to be the head coach, but unfortunately for us at that time he went off to be coach of the West Indies cricket team. So when he decided not to renew, I thought 'oh gosh this is my dream coming through'.

It's alright to say other coaches have certificates but you have to look and see what their coaching record is, and I didn't think there was very much of a coaching record in some of the other people.

On one of your appointments, Darnley Boxhill, they said they didn't recognize his coaching qualifications...

It is very interesting for them to say that because all of the certificates that he has got, have come through the WICB. Not only that, but he topped the exams in every thing including the umpiring which he did too. All of it was done by the WICB under Reggie Scarlett. I mean if they are saying that, it means that they are saying that whatever Scarlett did was foolishness, OK, and I don't think that was a clever thing to say.

Darnley Boxhill was a damn good coach with tremendous knowledge and I think that the WICB has been looking at a scoring system that he designed to use in cricket throughout the region. Darnley came here as a tactical and strategic coach. He is very good at looking at information [statistics] and extracting the relevant stuff and using that to identify strengths and weaknesses in people and formulating plans, and there doesn't seem to be many people in the Caribbean who seem to have those skills at the moment, at least I don't know about them.

The people who were saying this don't know Darnley Boxhill. He had the full support of Wes Hall who knew of Darnley's capabilities.

We also had Ezra Moseley but some other people said he shouldn't have been here either, that there should have been other people. I have been looking at cricket for a long time at the highest level, 40-odd years, and I have seen all sorts of coaches and what I have seen of Ezra, I would put him very high on the list of coaches who I admire. He was here last year too, he has enormous skills. Here is a guy who has played for West Indies, Barbados, professional cricket in South Africa and England so he must know something about his craft and he has been coaching in England too as far as I understand.

Let's go back to his [Moseley's] selection as opposed to the WICB's recommendation of Kenny Benjamin. What was it that prevented Kenny from getting the job?

I thought Ezra was a better person. It's as simple as that.

What about Kenny's statement that you didn't want him in the first place?

Well, I am glad that Barry is here because he can verify this. When the Board said they wanted Kenny, I said OK. So we wrote to him and said we would like you to come and coach here. We got a letter back from him with all sorts of things, and the last point was 'my fee is X number of dollars'.

When we looked at the fee, there was no way we could have paid him that money so we wrote back to him and said, 'look we can't afford this as we would be paying you more than the head coach'. Now, for us, that was a critical factor. I got in touch with the President of the WICB and I told him and they said they were going to speak with him. They asked me to call Benjamin to talk to him. He didn't reply at first, and I telephoned him on five different occasions, he was never at home. We had two telephone numbers, and I asked them to tell Mr Benjamin to call Dr Webster urgently, at least five times.

And this is 2003 right?

Yes. He never returned the call. We were getting close to the time. Roger was getting a bit worried. The programme had started. We were bringing in the bowling coach in the middle of the programme. Wes Hall and the CEO were kept informed of all of this, so I said 'Wes, this is the situation' and he said 'well go with someone else'. We were getting frustrated, Roger was getting very frustrated, so I picked up the phone, I called Ezra, 'is this fee ok', he said yes, he'd be there. He didn't ask any more questions, about who he would be reporting to and who would be in charge and would he get a telephone. I mean these are standard things we give them. I mean ridiculous questions.

And you are happy with the choice of Ezra?

More than happy.

So there has been some rough waters with the WICB Development Unit and the Academy. And has that been smoothed over now?

Well I would hope so, but one never knows. One never knows. You know the unit came here early and I spoke with one of the people involved and I said 'look, let's put the past behind us and let's get on with the job'. He said ok.

This is the head of the unit?

Yes. But subsequent actions would suggest that's not the case.

What actions?

The people who have carried out these actions know what I mean

Did the development unit have any input in the programme this year?

They set up the programme this year

With input from you?

They used our programme, and refined it and put it in some logical sequence, which I was happy with.

Does it detail what will be done each week?

Collymore: What I want you to see is that the programme that we have is the programme that was agreed upon.

But that's broad. Is there something that says Week 1 - X, Week 2 - Y? I just got a curriculum from an U-19 programme to be held in Jamaica in August which is very detailed, down to the times when various components are going to be conducted.

Let me tell you what the problem is. We have students who can't read.

You have students here now who can't read?

Well we have one or two and this is a good group so it's very difficult for you to sit down and set a programme when you don't know who is coming and what their quality is. What we do is when they come here we assess them.

What kind of assessment do you do?

We look at their English, we look at their comprehension skills, cricket skills, fitness skills, that's done in the first two weeks of the programme and we tailor the programme according to those needs. So you would have some people doing more of one thing than the others. It sounds really good having Week 1 this, Week 2 that; that is alright if you're running a university where you know all the people who have come in have a certain standard.

Would you say that a criterion for selection should be that all players must have basic English and Maths skills?

No, I wouldn't say that because if that was the case, if you used that criterion, some of our greatest players would not have played cricket. The number one priority is cricket ability and what we are trying to do is not just develop their cricket, but develop them as people. Now they all have different starting points in terms of education so you have to start from their starting points and bring them along as much as you can in a very short time.

Collymore: As Rudi is saying, it sounds good to have Week 1 etc; that's thinking inside the box. We have to, because we want to develop players in a short space of time, we want to see results, we have to react to their needs. Now what happens is that Roger and Rudi, two weeks in advance you can see English here, cricket there, so the timetable is always prepared. You saw Roger give me a time table?

Yes.

Collymore: That's the time table for the next two weeks. That would have been based on Roger and Rudi sitting down and discussing the situation and saying this is where we have to go.

So basically what you are doing, in education terms, is that you are informing the curriculum from feedback and assessments over the previous weeks.

Collymore: That's right, because people are starting at different levels. Let's take for example, fitness. Everybody has an individual fitness programme. There are general things that the group will do, but through fitness testing, Chris [the gym instructor] has given some people more flexibility exercises and so on. So you can't just say this at that time, because it sounds good, it looks good on paper, it makes you think these people are very organized, but if you want results and if you want to be effective, this is the way you have to do it.

Collymore: This is even how it works within this university. There is a broad general time table, but the Department of Education Services gives students who are having difficulties, specific programmes. And this is the new direction that education is going in. We don't want to be in the past, we want to be on the cutting edge.

You mentioned results. How do you measure at the end how successful you have been?

Webster: One of the things we look at, and this is not a good measure, is how many of our students have gone on from here, played for their country and played for the West Indies. I think that's the proof of the pudding but we wouldn't like to use that as our standard.

As Roger was saying, if you have third class lumber, you are going to get refined third class lumber at the end of it and I think what we would like to see is the general standard of the youngsters improve before they come to the university, like primary and secondary education, so that when they come to the university, they can take full benefit of the development process and I think a lot of attention needs to be put at that development phase before the people get here.

Some people say that academies are supposed to be finishing schools. In a lot of cases here, it is a starting school which means that the fundamental systems and processes are not in place and I think that's another area that we should be focusing on other than the Academy. What we need to get is first class lumber.

Back to my initial question about measuring success, you said when they come in you assess them.

We look at the improvement of their technique, of their fitness, in their tactical approach and mental skills. Those are the four pillars on which the programme is built. We then look at how they put all of that together to improve performance. We look at certain qualities like work ethic and discipline. In fact last year, our two top prizes to the students were not best bowler or best batsman; it was the 'Most Disciplined' and the person with the 'Best Work Ethic' because we think these are the qualities that we need to have in our present and future West Indian players because this is an area of weakness and the area of concentration and focus.

At the end of the programme what kind of report do you do?

We do a full report on everything that has gone on here. We send a report on every player.

Which includes what?

It's mostly cricket. The coach sends a very detailed report back to the WICB with strengths, weaknesses, recommendations for each player and he goes through the different components of batting, bowling, wicket-keeping and fielding. I would then get reports from the people dealing with literacy, my own area of mental skills, but the main focus is on cricket.

Just give us an idea, for each player you would have how many pages? I just want to get an idea of the quantity of information on each player.

Last year Roger had one page for each player, but divided up into tables, and supplemented by reports on other areas. The first report I sent in in 2000 was over one hundred pages. What I was told, they [WICB] asked if they could edit the report because it was too detailed and I said I was not too keen on having it edited and I don't think that that report was sent out.

I can say that I have spoken with the coach of the Jamaica team. He said that he has never ever seen any report on any Jamaican player who has gone to the Shell Cricket Academy and he criticized the communication problem that clearly exists.

That is not our problem. We have submitted all the reports and we have made recommendations and even we get frustrated when we make certain requests, for example we have some players with anxiety problems and we recommend that they get some anti-anxiety treatment in the islands, there are people there who can do that. If they don't learn how to deal with anxiety, their performance is going to be up and down. I know about three players now who should be in that West Indies team but who are not in the team because this problem with anxiety has not been addressed. It has affected their performance in a huge way.

Collymore: When they are here, they get treatment but then that treatment needs to be continued.

Webster: Now you are talking about reports. There was a gentleman who was sent home in the first year, in consultation with Reg [Scarlett] and Shell, this boy was sent home because of violence on campus.

Was that Runako Morton?

Yes. I wrote a letter saying he needs serious psychological evaluation and help. The guy went back, was never disciplined by the Board, the next thing we heard he was playing cricket for the West Indies!

Subsequent students that have come here, have said 'what you talking bout, if I get into trouble that won't bother me, look at Morton, he got sent home and he was on the West Indies team'. Now, what happened to the guy? Well you know the track record and our biggest fear was that this guy was going to get into serious trouble because he didn't know how to cope with certain pressure situations, he had one way of dealing with it, and that was with force. He did not learn how to deal with his challenges other than by using force. We recommended very, very strongly that he get treatment. I wrote a separate letter.

How then did you react to the fact that he was playing?

Funny enough, I was glad for the guy because I knew he had cricket talent, but I knew with certainty that he was going to run into problems and my biggest concern was that he was going to embarrass the West Indies cricket team. That was my biggest fear, Barry will tell you, because I knew that was going to happen because his behaviour pattern was such that he would resolve his problems with violence. Now if he was under pressure here at the Academy, what do you think it would be like in a competitive game against Australia when the language is flying around and stuff or when he doesn't agree with the coach on a particular issue?

All our reports have been over one hundred pages, and they're too long? They're too detailed? Come off it!

Did you know the information was not being filtered down?

I knew the first year that the report was not sent. In fact I had to get someone to deliver a copy of the report to one of the directors in Barbados. I don't know if the other directors received it, I might be speaking incorrectly, but it is very curious that the report, which was a very good report, did not go to the respective boards, or did not filter down, however, a report from Toot Byron on the Academy hit the press before the CEO, I think, or Executive Committee had received the report. Isn't that curious? You see what I am saying?

It is not our fault that the things have not filtered down. I know the Academy is taking the blame for all these things.

Would you say it would be better for you to send the reports to the individual territories?

That's not our job to do that.

But doesn't then lack of follow up of the recommendation in those reports, doesn't that then cast a bad light on the Academy?

Well it might, but we can only recommend.

Because I was thinking that you would want continuity...

Collymore: We do, but the Academy has a specific role, and we fulfil that role. We can't step beyond those boundaries.

It's a shame though, because if you have all those different inputs into a report, it's a shame that it wouldn't be passed on to help the cricket, because by passing it on and implementing some of the recommendations, you would think that it would improve the cricket.

At least it would draw the attention of coaches. You might have seen things in their players that they haven't seen, or you might be reinforcing various ideas that they have already had.

Collymore: And it's a comprehensive report on a particular player. The coach might just be dealing with the cricket and technical elements. You can look at that report and see what other problems (anxiety, stress) there are and he gets a complete thing and he can tailor his teaching and some of his guidance to some of those things.

Chris Parke also says the players go away with a fitness programme?

Yes, that's right. He gives them a fitness programme.

Do you think they follow it? The West Indies trainer has complained that his players don't follow theirs.

It's very difficult to get these players to do it. They go back to a particular environment that may not be conducive, but what I will say is that in my long association with sport, I have found that the people who make it to the top, they designed their own programme and they went and trained when the others were not. It is the highly motivated ones who really have the hunger to get to the top that are most likely to continue. The other ones who say they want to go on but say 'I don't want to train today, leave it till tomorrow', you find that those will get to a certain standard and don't get any further. It is the ones that really go out there and do the unusual who succeed.

There is a feeling that you really can't motivate anybody, because motivation comes from within. What kind of motivational techniques are you using here to get players to want to continue with the fitness programme, to want to practice that extra time?

You can fine tune it. You try and find out what their needs are, what makes them tick and then you try and create those situations that will give them the opportunities to get the rewards that they are looking for and you can do this by all sorts of things, stories, all sorts of thing. But very early on you see the ones who are highly motivated, you can pick them up.

Do you pick up on that in the first week, see who are the people who are a little bit resistant about being here, maybe they have come because their board has nominated them and then do you try and change their perception?

Well yes. Sometimes you don't know in the first week, it takes sometimes a little bit more time to get to know them, because there are a lot of them, 18 or 24, but what you try and do is to show them a different future, you show them the possibilities.

You say 'this is where you are, this is what you are seeing at the moment' and quite often what they see is a very short sighted view of what they can become and what I say to them is we regard you not as human beings but as human 'becomings', this is what you can become, these are the possibilities for you and quite often they sometimes never think about those things, so when you show them those alternatives at least you are going to change the way they look at various things because now they can see different alternatives and outcomes for themselves.

You know one of the things you can get them to do is to imagine themselves in the future, sitting back in a rocking chair looking back at their lives, what sorts of things would you like to say about yourself then? Or what if somebody was giving you a dinner when you were an old person and they were talking about your career in sports, what sorts of things would you like them to say about you?

And then you tell them about your own experiences, because sometimes they might see you as a successful person and they think it just happened like that, that you didn't have any failures, any setbacks, any disappointments. That you didn't come across any racial discrimination, all the problems that they may be experiencing at the moment, and you say to them look, we had the same problems but we learnt how to circumvent them, how to overcome them and the reason we did it is because we knew where we wanted to go and there was a very strong pull towards it so we overcame most of the things but it required effort and dedication and discipline. And they will say something like 'we didn't know that you had the same problems that I am having'.

Do you have one-on-ones with the players?

Yes, I would like to have more of that, but the time is so short, particularly this year.

You had mentioned that the Academy was ready to start on the 18th of May but it was delayed. What was the reason?

The Board didn't seem to be able to get the players together in time and then it was postponed a second time, because they still didn't have the players.

I see Darren Holder here, newly appointed Coaching Manager for WICB. What has his involvement been so far?

He came here during the first week of the programme and he just returned now to have a look at what we are doing, to speak with the coach and to have a word with me.

One of his responsibilities is overseeing the Academy...

Yes, overseeing the Academy but that is supposed to start in 2005 according to the documented information that we have, but he started a bit early.

I see he has set up some cameras, what is he going to be doing with that film?

He will be using that film and he we will be discussing things with Roger, the head coach.

But he leaves today [10 July 2004]. Is he coming back?

I'm not sure.

The discussion with Roger would take place today?

Well they've been talking since he has been here.

You said this group of guys is a lot better than last year. In what way?

Well not in terms of talent. I don't know, it's difficult to tell. They seem to be a little bit more disciplined, I don't know if it's because the programme is shorter or what, and they seem a little bit more dedicated too, but that might just be appearance, I don't know.

One of the issues which came up in previous years was about pastoral care. I noticed that you have Steve Mahon [former Windward Islands player] living on the dorms.

We had him last year too. We have always had that.

So do you know why that came up as a talking point?

What issue with pastoral care?

The report mentioned that there was a concern that there was not enough.

Collymore: Well Michelle, we have always had liaisons for the players, living in the same dorms, we always have the coaches, myself and Chris living within close proximity to players. Grenada is a very safe place, the 17th safest place in the world. The university is a very safe place; we have got 24-hour security, well-lit areas, so I really don't know what the issues with pastoral care are.

I read somewhere that we were being blamed for a murder. One of the girls who worked in the cafeteria was murdered by her husband at her house and some where between her house, which is probably about 20 miles from here, we got involved in that. I don't know how that came about. So I don't know how that evolved, but these players are well looked after, in every way, they are treated well, so I don't know what the issue of pastoral care is.

There is also the issue of a curfew, or lack thereof.

Collymore: When? Before?

Yes.

Collymore: Yes, when the Academy was initially set up, the university thought that the players should be treated as any other university student. They were allowed the same access to all of the facilities and did not have a curfew. The WICB then asked us. The president asked us.

Webster: Not asked us, insisted, that we put in a very tough curfew. And Dr Hollis [Dean of the Faculty of Arts and General Sciences] said 'look we really don't want to do something like this. We don't want to put something in place that is different from that that relates to the other students, but if you insist we will do it', so Wes Hall said, we insist, so we said we would accommodate you. The curfew is 10pm Sunday to Friday, and 1am on Saturday, and the curfew is in their rooms, and it's no point having a curfew if it is to be on campus, because there is more temptation out there. They have to be in their dorm area by 10pm.

Collymore: But we put things in their dorm area. They have a TV, they play cards, darts, dominoes, all of those things we have provided for them.

How did the gentleman take to that?

Well I think most of them, they didn't like it at first. There were of course a few of them who broke it last year.

Who checks?

We don't do door-to-door checks. We do random checks and the coach is very good at that. We could have put him up at a hotel, and he said no he wanted to be here on campus.

The programme is probably so intense that they probably need the rest.

I don't think people realize the importance of recovery. If they don't rest, they are going to find it very difficult to do the things they need to. They are being exposed to activities that they haven't done before and it is not just a physical work load that is being put on them but it is also an intense mental work load and they need to rest.

Are they doing their exercises [concentration exercises]?

I don't think they are doing them as often as they should, but I make sure they do them every day in class. Now they are beginning to understand the importance of this.

At first, did they probably think it was a bit of 'mumbo-jumbo'?

Of course, they thought 'what does this have to do with cricket'? But I mean you use your common sense, and this is the biggest weakness in our cricket - the mental toughness and mental skills of our players. Look at them anytime we are under pressure...we just fold up like a pack of cards. If you ask any of these people, when you are out in the middle in competition, what's the most important thing, fitness or technique or so on. They will say 70 - 80% is mental, so if you accept that, then you say 30% is technique and fitness. How much time do you spend on your technique and fitness and they say 95% of my time. How much time do you spend on the mental? 3 or 5%!

Now this doesn't make sense because somehow we think that you can train somebody how to get strong, how to develop muscles, you can train them how to improve their technique but you can't train them how to cope with pressure. You can't train them how to concentrate; you can't train them how to regulate their level of confidence; you can't teach them patience; you can't teach them persistence.

That's rubbish. You can do all these things. They are skills that can be taught. The good players learn them early.