“It’s all about getting them active”. What cricket could be….if it decided?!

“It’s all about getting them active, really”.

Beginners coaching. It’s harder than you think! Don’t listen to any of those coaches who avoid working with the youngsters….on the grounds they are, “better with the older ones”. Usually, they are scared about dealing with the younger ones.

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Thinking outside of the group? Have we got it right?

Done well, beginner’s coaching is as skilled an activity as any in the profession!

It isn’t just the activity. It is the manner you deliver it, continuing to make the basic diverse and meaningful. The pressure to appear constantly upbeat, positive, encouraging and forward-looking, can take it’s toll. The challenge of creating a “buzz” without descending into a frenzy, is the finest of balancing acts.

With out an experienced hand, reading the mood, things can get chaotic very quickly. Tears will flow, petty bickering will start, and gazes will divert left and right.

Then there is the “learning” over “making it fun” conundrum. A classic chicken-and-egg scenario….which comes first?!

Arguments can be effectively made for both. The truth lies in a constant yin-yang between the two. Use the fun activities to engage attention, drawing them in, picking the right moment to introduce valuable knowledge. Then loosen or tighten the reigns accordingly.

In reality, there are many routes to success. But one core phrase is never disputed, and almost universally repeated…..

“It’s all about keeping them active and moving”.

Sunday mornings. This only means one thing for Twenty20’s coaches. U6s-9s training. 200 little ones, making their first steps into the world of cricket.

The village green bursts into life, teeming with excited young players – asking questions; telling you what they’ve done in the weekend (as you are explaining how to follow through); way more with bat in hand than necessary (a minimum of 4 fielders will be holding them). It is an exhilarating feeling. A little overwhelming sometimes. But eventually all things settle down, into a formal activity.

The more you coach, the more this anxiety eases. But that doesn;t mean you are completely immune from self-consciousness…..

In the background, you might notice small minority of parents appear to be fretting, that not enough of the boys are “involved”. The instinctive urge is to address that concern swiftly. Those girls and boys sitting, waiting for their turn to bat….Get them up and practicing some catches.  Pack as many balls into a game as possible, and not “burdening” them with technical knowledge….quantity over quality.

You manage to keep them moving. The atmosphere is good. People go home satisfied, and not too many tears this week! Repeat process week upon week. Then it occurred to me:

Is it, really ALL ABOUT keeping them active”. or are we missing something?

What if we’ve got it all the wrong way round?!

What cricket could be….

Cricket could be used as a tool for personal growth. An agent for actively increasing attention spans.

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How do we prepare young cricketers for the future, and keep them?!

A medium of teaching the virtues of patience, the concept of taking turns.

Are we insulating young athletes from the harsh truths of the sport, only prolonging the inevitable “shock to the system”….that cricket isn’t so easy! And like all things we put off, the magnitude of this shock can only grow with time.

Cricket could be used to educate the youngest generation. Lessons that used to be learned implicitly, but thanks to the convenience of society, are no longer.

This is a path taken by other sports – martial arts in particular. Participants in judo or karate speak highly of its effect on discipline and control, praising positive implications at school and in daily life.

If cricketers are more prepared for the rhythms of the game, will they be more likely so succeed and remain into adulthood? Should we be more willing to risk small losses at an early age, in order to retain more at an older age?

The danger….

Is cricket abandoning the qualities that make it appeal so much, to so many. Are we denying children from ever realizing the joys that make it so infectious? Overcoming fear and lack of belief. Working hard for a well-earned triumph. Achieving moments that genuinely matter, and live long in the memory.

What if the entire current system is a race to the bottom – that pandering to low attention spans will devour the sport completely. What if publicly stating all the time that nobody likes cricket, results in exactly that conclusion from everybody.

Is it any wonder that so many people drop out in their teens, when they aren’t remotely prepared for the rigors of “proper” cricket….or the pitfalls of failure (watching the rest from the sidelines!!).

Involvement at a young age, may have actively caused this exodus later in life.

The solution

  1. EDUCATE – there are ways you can give players the tools to succeed, even if it is as simple as correct basic stance and grip. Moving is fun, but the feeling of success will give a more lasting, positive feeling.
  2. FIND CATCH PHRASES – I have found this the best way to consistently drill in coaching principles. This way, even if you are running a classically “fun and active” session, the phrase can be repeated, and may sink in.
    It allows you to give advise, while keeping your attention on the bigger picture.
  3. BE PRO-ACTIVE – when you have grabbed their attention, seize the opportunity! Introduce some knowledge and technique, before it’s too late again!
  4. LET THEM WATCH – It might not be what they want to do, but it’s good for them! Watching teammates from the sidelines, can best illustrate what to do and what to avoid doing. Even if you can;t keep them parked for ages, try it for a short period.
    Give them challenges or roles. For example, counting the score, or helping the batters decide when to run.
  5. REWARD DISCIPLINE – give extra points for remembering key themes. For example, getting ready and lining up for their first ball.
    Reward the process, which includes preparation, as well as the result.