Keeping up appearances

All professionals want to provide value for money. 

It doesn’t always seem good enough to deliver a good session. You also need to be PERCEIVED to be doing a good job. 

10 years after starting the job, and i still frequently get that sensation, of parental eyes burning into my back. Expectations may be high, or a certain way of doing things may be preferred. There will be novices who seem to think they are experts in your field. Some will assume that you are making sessions up as you go along….a spontaneous approach, rather than the huge care and detail you are pouring into your work.

Some of these frictions you will just have brush off. But there are ways you can reassure onlookers; little gestures that convey to the outside observer that you are under control.

Of course, you know what you are doing. But here’s how to help prove it beyond doubt.

Make sure you:

  1. Explain the content of the session explicitly. state the aims and goals at the outset. It stops players from second-guessing whether you are going anywhere with your lesson. If a parent or child still has a problem with your work, at least you have already outlined the principles of the session. Can prevent you from being put onto the defensive.
  2. Keep an eye out for everybody. This sounds easy, but in reality, unless you are very observant, the odd child can become disengaged (or at least appear to be). Being perceptive to this, you can at least ask if they are feeling alright….demonstrating that you care for everyone’s welfare. Which, of course, you do! But it helps to visibly reassure.
  3. Position yourself in the centre of the action. Obviously, within reason. The session is about the players, not you. Just ensure you are in a place where you can see 99% of what goes on, and intervene if necessary.
    If you need to address an individual, and take yourself away from the heart of the session, ask a colleague to keep one eye out for any trouble in your area!
    If this isn’t possible, try and keep your feedback short and sweet – safety comes first, effecting change second – and get back to your post!
  4. Paint a “future picture” for the group – sometimes, people may worry where you are going with your long term program. “Are they going to cover _____?” “Will there be any hard ball this year?” Give your group an insight into the topics you’ll be covering in the next 2-3 weeks.
    Promise them, “we’ll have that big match/net soon, as long as you work hard next week”. ie/ we will do fun things……but we have targets to hit first!
  5. Mingle with parents – a little bit of small-talk before and after the session never goes amiss. A good way of demonstrating that you care.
  6. DON’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY – the hardest thing of all. Pouring your heart and soul into your work, only for none of the graft to be acknowledged. And to compound the injustice, any slight lapse in judgement will be latched onto…..”surely you should have noticed that _____”.
    As hurtful as some comments can feel, most often they stem from a misunderstanding. It’s worth also remembering that you, child and parent will have had a long day. Everyone is calmer and more reflective the next morning. Think twice before you send that arsey email 10 minutes after the session!!

Look out for:

  1. Hard ball obsessives – some managers or parents simply won’t accept that a meaningful practice can take place without a hard ball. Everything for this band needs to be done faster, harder, better. They neglect to see the importance of technique. Players need to master these fine movements, and gain confidence with them, in order to thrive against hard ball.
    Often this will be the parent of the child who grew up with a bat in hand….and assumes children have “got it”, or “haven’t”. Players are often dismissed as “scared of the ball” too quickly. We forget that a player needs to be equipped with the skills to defend themselves first. Even the most timid batsmen can cope with hostility if they are well trained to do so.
    Stick to your guns in this situation. Explain the benefits, and point towards the results.
  2. “They’re just standing around” – cricket, being a taking turns based game, will involve a little patience. Sometimes, you feel deliver what you feel to be a very successful session….only for someone to complain that their boy/girl has felt left out.
    Fortunately coaching activities have evolved over the years, to incorporate as many players simultaneously. However, at some point, a young player will have to deal with the waiting game. Learning to “seize your moment” is as integral to cricket.
    There aren’t many walks of life where a child will learn to develop this quality anymore!

Player of the week: Sameer

Twenty20 work with Ernest Bevin School in Tooting.

Our activities there include developing a 6th form academy, PE lessons for lower year group squads, and a Saturday morning club, available to anyone in the local area.

Sameer has attended every week of the year so far, and his commitment is clear to see in his performances!

He is an attacking batsman, with a powerful sweep shot. As well as developing his strengths, n the last 3 months he has hugely expanded his all-round batting….adding a solid defensive shot and deft off-side strokes to his armory.

On top of this, Sameer’s ripping leg-spin makes him a genuine all-rounder. Below is an example of him learning to get maximum control and movement in his bowling…..with just a few subtle tweeks!

Summer 2017 is just round the corner! Good luck to Sameer, and all our cricketers!

What’s your “thing”?

Can you improve players permanently?! It is easier said than done!

Player independence is a crucial aspect of development. At the end of the day, come match time, a batsman or bowler is (but for a few encouraging sentiments) all alone in the middle. How can you equip your players with the tools to fend for themselves?! 

You have to let go of the handlebars at some point. Best confront this truth early on!

Self-remedy

I stumbled on this rather useful phrase –  “what’s your thing”. Basically, this is one specific and recurring flaw in technique or approach, that you should be mindful of above all else.

The aim is to place the emphasis on the player to find their own solution, after a miss or a bad ball.

The more player can come to self-diagnose their flaws, the closer they will have come to reaching that crucial independence. All this takes is some basic logic, to assess the most likely causes.

Young players are often prone to losing hope quickly,  or just “having a bad day”, if things start to go wrong on the field!

End this assumption. They are in control of turning their fortunes.

What is the most likely issue?

Batting

To illustrate this technique in action, I’ll take myself as an example. The more I have played, the more I have become aware that my innings’ follow a distinct pattern.

After about 25-30mins batting, I often go through a frustrating period. For some reason, I begin

profile
My batting doesn’t always look this good!

to mistime balls. The result is often the ball striking the inner-half of my bat.

Half-volleys aren’t capitalised on, and the “clunk” of ball on bat is very unsatisfying. Of course, frustration will only make the symptoms worse.

The only way out of this is hole is to allow the ball to come to me. I spend the next over or 2 (if the match situation allows) playing as late as i can, exaggerating the movement of my top hand, to keep the ball down. And it just takes a few more clean contacts, for me to feel hugely better about myself.

My “thing” is playing the ball too early. My “remedy” is “waiting for the ball”. More often than not, my game is fixed.

Bowling

Most of us will find that one of “length” or “line” comes more naturally to us while bowling. I certainly bowl the ball straighter than i am able to maintain a good length.

IMG_0452Nearly every bowler will have a recurring glitch in their technique…..something that consistently creeps into their game.

One indicator of improvement I measure, is their “recovery time. In other words, is bad form going to last the whole day, or just a few balls. Making this gap as short as possible is crucial for results on the field.

“If i bowl short, why does that happen, usually”? As coaches, we know this could be many things:

  • Rhythm – sudden change of speed or effort
  • Height – collapsing at the delivery stride
  • Over-trying – gripping the ball too hard, and body too tense
  • Falling to the side

Which of these, however, is my “thing”? And how did i fix it in the past?

A useful question after a wide-ball might be: “Using your knowledge, why might that have gone a little wrong”? Can they produce an answer….or at least an attempt! Start them on a path to independence.

“We need the runs”

A general rule of thumb for cricketers – at all levels – is that we nearly always have more time than we think!!

Cricket is a momentum-based game. Most of us will know from experience, that personal form can change on a single delivery. But you need that create feeling of success again to shift your fortunes.

Make the long term calculation. A couple of balls sacrificing boundary attempts, or just keeping a sensible line or length (bowling “within yourself”), may be made up if you suddenly begin to get your rhythm back.

Most innings involve these inclines and small dips in scoring rate. Hitting your way out of trouble (the bowling equivalent is slinging the next ball as fast as you can manage) very rarely works. When players are aware of how to get themselves back into form, they will become better cricketers.

How many runs can you score from the pavilion?! Zero!

Get a dialogue going!

Initially, you may have to put up with a few awkward silences. Children are sometimes used to being fed all the answers in sport. Rules to follow; what to do and not to do.

While coaching, I try to make the players more aware of patterns and trends, than the specific errors committed ball by ball. Over time, the aim is to make each player aware of recurring issues in their game.

Quite naturally, it is embarrassing to guess, and be called out as wrong. And we are the coaches after all; why should they be forced to come up with their own answers? This is why any attempt at an answer should be encouraged.

Keep asking , “why”? Get to the root of the issue.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________

CASE STUDY: BOWLING LENGTH

A classic (and understandable) answer to, “why did that ball go too short/full”? is, “i let go of the ball too late/early”. This may be true, but letting go of the ball while bowling is not a conscious act.

The root of the problem will be something else entirely, rendering the statement meaningless. 

What has actually happened, in the process of running up and bowling, that caused this to happen? You may have to look a little earlier than the release point.

POSSIBLE REASONS FOR LETTING GO OF BALL “TOO EARLY”

  • Head dipping – this makes the fingers (which are usually pointing upwards) change angle. The ball can then fly out the top of your hand.
  • Front leg collapsing – causes the same effect on the fingers. Instead of “hitting the pitch”, your ball will slide from your grip.
  • Focus – many young players often let their head “flinch” away from their target. This can cause a twisting motion, that turns a smooth circular bowling arm into a “slingshot”.

POSSIBLE REASONS FOR LETTING GO OF BALL “TOO LATE”

  • Lack of follow through – at the crucial moment – just before releasing the ball – you need your legs to carry on driving forwards. If they don’t your body may begin to head downwards, dragging the ball with it!
  • Not “using body” in action – bowling is a “whole body” action. One arm cannot make up for the speed that using both arms, and legs creates. If you don’t engage your shoulders in bowling action, your circle will be smaller, speed slower, and delivery point much lower.
  • Back bending – again, body angle will head towards the floor.
  • Tensing up – you need to be loose to bowl. Too much tension restricts the movement you require. Most likely result will be flinging the ball into the ground.
  • Leaning forwards in run-up – means you will never get to your full height as you jump and bowl.

Getting the most out of players: “adding layers”

Effectively coach batsmen, without disrupting the flow of the session (and assuring the safety of all participants), is an inherent difficulty of net practice.

It is definitely more difficult to coach batsmen than bowlers in a net session. Logistically (they are further away, and you may have to stop the net for a couple of minutes to explain something to them), and philosophically (teaching batting technique, or learning how to build an innings?), there are challenges you must consider.

It’s easy to get into bad coaching habits (I am still sometimes guilty of this). Unlike a closed practice session, where you can control the feeding, every ball can be different. If you highlight a flaw or mistake too strongly, the batsman might be so keen to fix it, that they forget the all-important element of batting……watch the ball.

A coach has to very carefully select when and what to say. By fixating too hard on a specific ball, rather than a trend, you run the risk of your players “over-compensating”. For instance they will be so intent on “getting that stride into the ball”, that they neglect to judge the length, or pick the appropriate shot for the next delivery.

How can you avoid this, and make sure your batsmen progress in a more sustainable way – meaning they not only play good shots, but understand the “good habits” that will make this more permanent?

The process! Read the ball, pick a shot, get in line, stay balanced

My solution. Focus instead on the broader, more abstract, principles of batting. How well do your player “read” the ball? Are they moving confidently? Do they look decisive and in control?

It is an imperfect solution. But the best option you have in this scenario….blending judgement, shot selection and a small dose of technique.

GIVE PLAYERS MANAGEABLE TARGETS: it is worth remembering that children won’t progress from consistently missing, to David Gower like timing and poise, in a single session. Sometimes, making contact more often represents a success, regardless of where the ball is going. Sometimes, they may still be missing the ball but their technique and approach is gradually improving.

This is especially true for players who are initially scared of the ball. When they are in the nets, they need to be made aware of what they are doing better (gains will probably be intangible).

FOCUS MORE ON THE PROCESS THAN THE RESULT: And praise attempts to get this right, even if the execution isn’t quite there.

Fundamental to this, is getting the sequence right. Firstly watch the ball. Secondly, lean towards the ball. Third, pick a shot. Finally, move and swing.

Without the first stage (“where is the ball”) the following stages are instantly more difficult. Many shots will appear to have technical flaws, when in fact the player has misjudged the line and length….making every subsequent movement imperfect.

KEEP YOUR PLAYERS LOOKING AHEAD, NOT DWELLING ON THE PREVIOUS BALL: This is more about phrasing than anything else. For example, “if you want that shot to be perfect, what do you have to do next time” (if you are able to, try and deliver an identical ball to them yourself, and see if they approach it differently!). It’s very simple, but easily forgotten, when you are keen to highlight a player’s flaw.

Adding layers

PRINCIPLE: POSITIVE CONTACT WITH BALL

  • Layer 1: Sound movement. How many times in the next 10 balls can you move right forwards (get on top of the ball), or right back (giving yourself time to play the shot).
  • Layer 2: Bat coming “through the ball”. Arm swing not “flicking hands” at the ball. How many in the next 10 can you “finish” in the correct position (hands end up in front of your body).
  • Layer 3: Points game! 10 points for good movement, 10 points for firm swing. 25 points for combining the 2.

EXAMPLE: “movement and swing”

PRINCIPLE: IMPROVING TECHNIQUE

  • Layer 1: Picking the correct shot. Have you decided to go with straight bat (vertical), or cross bat (horizontal). Stress to the player that without this decisiveness, the shot will be inconsistent. Don’t get stuck in between.
  • Layer 2: Move and stay. Get as close to the line of the ball before executing the swing. Once you are going for your shot, look to be as still as possible. Check the “pose” after every shot.
  • Layer 3: Shot execution. How many balls can you honestly say you were “in control” of your shot. remember that if you feel out of control you can always a) just hold your position, to try and keep the ball down (avoid “feeling for the ball” out in front of your body!), or b) leave the ball!

Player of the week: Marcus

You don’t have to be a county standard player to stand out. We help cricketers of all standards, and levels of experience, reach their potential…..which is much higher than they often believe!

Most of all we ensure our players reach a point where they find enjoyment out of the game of cricket.

Having only taken up hard ball cricket 2 months ago, Marcus has taken on board a host of new skills….proving to everyone what can be achieved with a good attitude, and plenty of effort.

Every session he attends, Marcus is making breakthroughs, and experiencing a new “personal best” regularly. Last Sunday, his bowling improved leaps and bounds, adding a short run-up and follow through into his action.

Coaching qualities: do you have to play at the highest level?

It is a commonly held belief that in order to coach at the highest level, you must have played at the highest level.

Of course, elite cricket will give you a unique experience, along with insights into the full picture of the life and habits of a high performance group. But in a coaching role, knowing the process isn’t enough.

You are in charge of the whole picture….not just setting the agenda, but guiding everybody through it successfully (and willingly).

Having “been there and done it” goes a long way, but there are no guarantees. 

What personal qualities do you think are essential – or underrated by the public – for a cricket coach? 

1. Empathy

We have all been in places where cricket feels impossible. While you always want to inspire all your players, and help them master all the skills, it helps if you can relate to their struggle.

It’s a nice break from a, “do this…..you’re not doing that”, communication style.

2. Humility

Just like any cricketer, we can make mistakes. You don’t always have to exude confidence to make an impact. Sometimes admitting some vulnerability can help.

I often tell a group I coach about a personal embarrassing cricket moment…..and there have been many! This helps to stress that a) them finding something difficult is a shared experience, and b) they can get out the other end stronger and better!

Take away the fear of failure, and you can inspire many cricketers who are afraid to try new things.

3. Adaptability & Sensitivity

Things don’t always work as effectively as you’d like. You have be forced explore new avenues and techniques, to get the message through to a group you are coaching.

“My way or the highway” could work……or it could spectacularly fail. Are you malleable enough to thrive in diverse and unexpected situations. You may have to exhaust many options before stumbling across the correct one.

Be sensitive to how your sessions are truly being received. When you have planned an activity in detail, and you know what you want to achieve in principal, you can blind yourself to negative symptoms.

 

Players who don’t know how good they are!

The most frustrating children to work with? 

It isn’t the worst behaved. Not the least coordinated. In my opinion, a strong case can be made for another group.

Seeing potential

There will be occasions in your work, when a spectacular moment makes you sit up and take notice. A boy or a girl will announce themselves with a crunching drive out of the net, or send down a spinner that fizzes from one side of the wickets to another.

Talented.

But despite the special ability that has caught your eye, this child seems to be oblivious to it. They have a tendency to live in the moment. Their mood swings from the elation to striking a ball to the boundary, to extreme disappointment of being bowled 2 balls later.

Talented, but fragile in confidence.

A long journey

The time ahead will be difficult work. Be prepared to live with their ups and downs. Your heart soars with theirs when they break new ground, and you feel their pain when they fail (again) at the big moments.

You’ll have to be strong, and inject belief into them. With every string of poor shots is a temptation to throw the towel in. Thrash wildly at the next few balls. Console themself with the belief that they are “just a slogger”.

Every now and again, you will see them arrive to training, with a cheeky expression written on their face. Your heart sinks. Another hour of stagnation. The journey begins again.

A degree of pride and determination are pre-requisites. Without these, progress on the training field will be fleeting.

You hope that this player stays in the game long enough to get a taste of what they can achieve. Just one innings where they overcome adversity, and play a defining role in their team’s victory.

At the end of the day, nothing will truly tell them, “I can do this” than actually doing it.