It’s a fact of biology that the age-groups Mahatlane are dealing with can be almost too self-aware, self-conscious and unassured, but the 37-year-old is experienced in handling youngsters and he believes that giving them confidence in their techniques will provide them with great security out on the field.
“My job is to get them ready, mentally as much as anything, for senior cricket. It’s about how they adapt to match situations and we need to accelerate the process of their up-skilling. It’s all linked in to their self-awareness. Are they comfortable with their own technique?
“Technical matters can create doubt – thinking about your head falling over or your hands not going through the ball while you’re batting is not ideal. If you’re worrying about your technique, worried about where your toes are pointing when someone as fast as Dale Steyn is running in to bowl at you, then you’re in a lot of trouble.
“A player is going to run into a hundred coaches through his career and if he’s not self-aware, he will struggle emotionally. You need to understand your technique and grow with it. The game is a lot more about the mental aspect higher up and the youngsters need to be able to survive the heat.
“So that’s why I had all my squad fill in questionnaires about how they see their own games. By writing it down, they become more self-aware and then we have video analysis to see if they are actually doing it – it’s a different thing doing it under pressure in the middle,” Mahatlane explained.
Mahatlane’s method forces the youngsters into honing their techniques so they become second-nature.
“When you first start driving a car, you have to work really hard on using the clutch correctly and that’s your focus. But after a while you just do it naturally and it’s the same with cricket. You must deal with the technical issues in the winter so that you don’t even have to think about it when you’re in a match.”
The former Highveld Lions assistant coach faces the daunting task of replacing Ray Jennings straight after the former senior national coach won the ICC U19 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates in March, with some critics chanting the usual insulting allegations of political expediency and affirmative action.
But to be fair, Jennings had been at the helm of the U19s for 10 years and was always going to leave sooner rather than later. Nevertheless, many feel that Mahatlane has been given a hospital pass.
“I don’t see it as daunting, I see it as exciting. At this age-group, every year there is change and growth and if players are going to perform at such a young age, then they need to be mentored better and for longer,” the popular radio commentator said.
Although he was a talented player himself, the St Martins and St Stithians educated Mahatlane knew his future was in coaching. He first worked with the SA U19s in 2002 as the assistant coach and the next year, he was in charge as the team won the Junior Commonwealth Games title, and he also worked under current Proteas coach Russell Domingo in the 2004 Junior World Cup in Bangladesh.
He would then leave the juniors and take up the position of Gauteng Strikers coach, leading them to the three-day title in 2006/7 and the limited-overs crown the following season. Promotion to the Highveld Lions coaching staff followed, before he took a break from coaching in 2011 and began working as a cricket commentator.
Mahatlane is adopting a long-term view with the national U19s, with his focus being the 2016 Junior World Cup in Bangladesh.
“At this age-group, every year there is change and growth, different individuals putting their hands up. There are only three players eligible from the World Cup-winning squad, so the rest are guys that just missed out or boys that have newly become eligible. Which makes it quite a challenge.
“I’ve planned the process of how best to prepare for 2016 in Bangladesh, we need to get ourselves ready, mentally as much as anything. We need to accelerate the process of getting these players up-skilled and there are three tiers of players involved – those who are in matric now, those already at varsity and the ones with 18 months still to go in the U19 age-group.
“It’s not even just about cricket – the guys have to get used to being forced to make a three-hour drive from their hotel to the cricket ground, the sound of all the hooters, the smells of the sub-continent; they cannot be shocked when they arrive at the World Cup,” Mahatlane said.