Working with 4-6 year olds: getting the VERY basics right

Remember:

Cricket skills are not exactly “natural” movements. The combination of intricate movement, while remaining still and balanced. It’s complex!

At the tender age of 4-6, is it far more important that a child develops sound fundamental balls skills. This means learning to be comfortable with even being around a tennis or cricket ball – getting used to how it reacts, and how to keep it under control.

ABC’s (agility, balance, coordination) are essential. They act as a platform for EVERY follow-up skill.

We coach many children who have missed this first step in the process. And whereas it’s never too late to learn, convincing groups to take their skills back to such basics becomes more difficult with time.

Try…

Giving everyone a ball. There are an infinite number of different movements and tricks you can try out.

High and low (bounce) catches, pushing the ball around with a bat, even kicking – any activity that encourages a player to keep the ball close, and always under control, helps!

This allows you to provide basic goals for beginners and those who are struggling….and add additional layers or difficulty (eg/ moving and weaving while catching/one hand/faster) to children who are more advanced. Everybody needs an opportunity to progress at their own pace.

Keeping two 1 or 2 very simple skills. There is always a temptation to try and do too much. But I have grown to realise that moving swiftly from game to game doesn’t always have the desired results.

It can be a tough balance; giving them an opportunity to nail the basics, while still keeping engagement levels high. Over time I have found the best way is to add plenty of targets, and “level-ups” (a more demanding version of the same skill), in order to keep them motivated for what could be a monotonous activity.

 

Strengths & Weaknesses: forming coaching partnerships

Working together helps!

Coaching programs work best when you have a reliable colleague at your side!

  1. You don’t have to be similar characters: In fact, sometimes the opposite is an advantage. Coaches who don’t completely see eye-to-eye with each other, may prove to deliver the most effective sessions.
    Sometimes, the most unlikely partnerships work! Working on a professional level, and getting along on a personal level, are entirely different.
  2. Communication style vary: As much as you may try, not every player will respond to your messages in exactly the same way. Another coach may be able to convey exactly the same points, but its impact will be greater among certain children.
    This shouldn’t be seen as a weakness on your part….it’s just a fact of life. We all respond differently to different styles.
  3. Make sure your qualities compliment each other: Two or three coaches can combine their skills and talents, and make sure all the bases are covered….or that no child slips through the net.
    Some coaches are better at technical observations, some are powerful motivators. Other coaches have an ability to put a smile on player’s faces, or show them not to take themselves too seriously.
    Some coaches (few) are brilliant timekeepers, and run a day like clockwork. But these coaches always benefit from having a colleague to spot the details, keep an eye out for individual needs, or sense when when some points need reinforcing.
    Combined (and as long as you give coaches responsibility) you are, essentially, a “supercoach”.

Be aware of

  1. Taking over: This is the tricky bit!
    In any coaching setup, one of you is likely to be appointed the “Head Coach”. Automatically, it is your responsibility to ensure standards are to a high level. Equally, you will bear the brunt of any criticism – warranted or unwarranted – that comes the group’s way.
    There is a hierarchy of power, but also responsibility. In reaction, many head coaches are reluctant to step back. They can be lured into doing all the talking, and qualified coaches can get relegated to “cone duty” status. And after a while, they begin to lose motivation, feel untrusted and undermined.
    Remember, you can’t do everything yourself.
  2. Talking over each other: This isn’t the tricky bit! Well, it shouldn’t be, anyway.
    In short, if you are about to say something, think first. Am i adding to the message with this comment? Or, conversely, have I made my point, already?
    It’s very difficult to resist talking. Years ago, as a junior coach at a batting workshop, I was once asked if “I wanted to add anything”……..after a 35 minute roundup! Not only the children, but I, had long-since grown rather bored.
  3. Talking behind each other’s backs: OK, putting my hand up, I have made comments about my colleagues before. I am sure I’m not the only one!!
    And I’m sure others have spoken about me before. A comment or observation here and there isn’t the worst thing in the world (it’s not the best thing in the world, but frictions are inevitable when working long hours under high pressure).
    When this morphs into a constant groan, however, group cohesion falls apart.

Player of the week: Shree

At the Twenty20 Academy, our coaches work hard with every player, to develop a game that suits them, and that they are comfortable with. We also try and make our player’s more adaptable, and able to stay in control of the match situation.

In an effort to make the step up to adult cricket, Shree has been developing his range of shots, and a more attacking game…..to go with his resolute defence and concentration.

He has been working hard on positive movements, and setting up his swing, to allow the option of playing powerful drives, pull shots.

He has also very quickly learnt how to manage and build a long innings. This involved improving his glances and deflections, giving him the ability to rotate strike….a crucial part of shifting pressure onto the bowler.

Why I wrote this blog….

There’s no need to brag….

Sometimes it feels that as coaches, we get too obsessed about looking good in front of our peers.

I remember a couple of years back, attending a Chance2Shine workshop.

In the Q&A section, one person raised a perfectly reasonable question: “What should we do if it rains?” It’s a valid point, that rain could put the spanner in the works of a carefully planned session. Not many schools have adequate space to do a meaningful activity, that stays fun and inclusive…….

“I successfully coached 30 kids in a badminton court”, one twenty-something man, sporting a Surrey jacked, exclaimed.

OK. I’m listening.

“Well, it’s just about organizing the space into small groups. In one quarter, I played continuous cricket, in another quarter I had a catching game……

Hmmmmm.

……a game of hand hockey in the third quarter, and in the fourth…”

Oh did you. Did you REALLY.

In conclusion, no….no you didn’t. This coach had either a) been privileged to work on behalf of the best behaved, most observant and able group on planet earth, or b) had exaggerated his story to a ludicrous degree.

Does this really help your colleagues rise to challenges? Or does it set unrealistic expectations. Many coaches around the table were newly qualified. I would argue that overstating your “solutions” only serves to intimidate inexperienced coaches.

At the other end of the spectrum….

Everything is “ridiculous”. All groups are, “too old”, “too young”, “too big”, “too small”. They, “don’t want to be here”, and “behave like animals”. 

Again, there is no point lying about your situation, or saying that everything brilliant. But there is a difference between frank honesty, and simply playing a blame game. Throwing toys out of the pram is never going to make your life easier.

At least exhaust some options, seek support, or consult others for a Plan B/C, before you abandon all hope. If you don’t at least try this, your attitude will just breed resentment.

There will always be coaches who have an uncanny ability of attaching themselves to anything good……and dissociating themselves from failures.

Such coaches won’t dig in when the going gets tough.

Do you want to be a coach like that? Or do you want to be proud of all the work you do….not just those jobs where the dice were loaded in your favour?

This blog: honesty, empathy, solutions

There HAS to be a middle ground, between, “I can do anything if I set my mind to it” (hopelessly unrealistic) and , “the kids just don’t want to be here this is ridiculous”. 

This blog is intended as a frank, honest, reflection on coaching, as a career or volunteer. Warts and all. 

To be honest, nearly every job in community coaching involves some adversity. Groups are large, support may be inexperienced (or unwilling). You tend to be delivering sessions at awkward times, after a long day, when tempers and concentration spans will inevitably be strained.

You are fighting to change the tide of opinion. The onus is on you to convince children that cricket is the sport to play….not the other way round. Be prepared for a battle.

Finding a way forwards

It is VITAL to discuss the difficulties that you will have to confront. And to get through these, you need pragmatic solutions, not ridiculously fanciful ones. 

You have to be able to reflect on your own performance. Be truthful to yourself; have you done the best you could – sometimes there genuinely is nothing you could have done to change your fortunes – or, looking back, is there anything you’d do differently.

In my opinion, the best suited people to this job, will criticize themselves a little more than is justified. But as a result, they are more likely to turn tough situations around positively.

In an ideal world, these coaches will have a tight network of colleagues – to reassure them that they are doing a good job, to talk to, and discuss potential solutions with.

 

Why I coach?

  1. I am acutely aware how lucky I have been – my upbringing has been fortunate, not only from an economic perspective. I had the luxury of sampling tens of activities, and my parents put the time and faith into helping pursue my passions.
    This job allows me to give children from all backgrounds a taste of what could be. And provide further opportunities to play if they enjoy cricket. You can start children on a course for life!
  2. You CAN do this! – even if cricket isn’t a child’s passion, I can at least use the sport to enhance their skills and coordination. Sometimes success isn’t gauged in how many County cricketers you can produce. Just allowing someone to conquer a challenge, or perform a feat they never thought they’d be able to do (or were scared to try), is a triumph for them.
  3.  I want cricket to be seen as a sport for all – it feels that there are still associations of cricket as a “private school” game. But there is no need for it to be.
    Of course there are advantages to being introduced to cricket early, and having access to the best facilities. But sadly, many children who start cricket a bit later in life, don’t realise how good they can be. I want to change that wherever possible.
  4. You can teach qualities beyond the field – patience, building things up over time, taking turns and looking out for the group’s needs, to name a few. I like to use cricket to demonstrate life principles, such as not looking for excuses in life, setting aside annoyances, and always looking forwards with optimism, as well. Cricket emphasises these truths more than many other sports.
  5. Cricket appeals to different personalities – I was a shy boy growing up. One reason I was drawn to cricket as a small child, because you could express yourself with actions. I continue to appreciate this about the sport….the range of ways you can stand out, and prove your value to a team. You don’t have to be the loudest or (necessarily) the biggest.
  6. I need it! – coaching (for all it’s difficult, tearing-out-hair moments) is good for my self esteem. I like having a tangible effect on cricketers’ ability and confidence. That feeling gives me energy and purpose, inside and outside work.
    When I am feeling down, there are plenty of moments in coaching that will lift your spirits.I don’t know what I’d do without it!