In general, batters don’t want to block the cricket ball.
To put it mildly, this isn’t the most controversial statement ever made! But, nevertheless, every batter needs to sometimes! And we need to make them see the value of it!
……Not the easiest task! Here’s how I at least attempt it…..
The Problem: “But we need the runs” / “But the ball ______ so much!”
Children aren’t stupid. Deep down, they know their error. But they don’t always want to admit it. More often, they look for excuses (of varying quality).
EXCUSE 1: argue that they couldn’t afford to defend the ball, when they need _ runs per over. They can defend, there just wasn’t time.
EXCUSE 2: argue that the ball jumped up, span miles, stayed way too low. How could they possibly have hit it cleanly?!
As a coach, I can empathize with the first excuse. It at least comes from a point of logic, and can be countered by alternative logic (“you have more time than you think”).
I tend to have very short sympathy with the second excuse. Too often, it is used to mask failure to get forwards, play late enough, or a technical error. From my perspective, unless the batter has done everything right in their power to keep the ball out, and still it finds its way past you, look to YOURSELF, not the CONDITIONS.
The challenge here is:
Convince them of the long term picture: that they need to block some, in order to attack “the next one”
Convince them that defensive shots aren’t always a negative option!
WHAT TO COACH
There are a number of principles you can focus on. The key is to retain clarity. Stick to one or 2 fundamental points. In general – assuming a competent primary school level cricketer – I would begin with these:
GET IN LINE – make sure that the ball will hit you if you miss it
– Avoid pushing away from body
– Do most work with a confident first stride (avoid shuffling around)
HANDS/HEAD OVER THE BALL – there are a number of reasons a batter may “get underneath” the ball
– Playing too early
– Swing starting too early
– “Falling” into shot (head toppling after step)
– Bottom hand in swing (causing a “shovel” action, instead of a smooth motion)
– Trying to “hit” ball into ground, instead of using the angle of the bat
**TO STRESS AGAIN, CLARITY IS IMPORTANT. Even if a player may have used a different shot in a match, remind them what they are trying to achieve. Even if a player misses, choose your feedback VERY carefully….are they trying to do the right thing (just executing poorly)? Or was it a genuine lapse of concentration?**
**In this game, I often allow the batter a certain amount of “leaves”….thus minimizing the chance of them being penalized, despite doing nothing majorly wrong**
The defensive match:
Now, a chance to put this skill into a game! I have invented two versions of the defensive game. My aim is to encourage batters to add defensive play into their games….and see run-scoring opportunities in them as well.
**It is always useful to have variations of the same game. You can keep things fresh, and cater for different abilities and group sizes**
No game is perfect. It is easy to spot potential flaws in any drill. Most coaching resources focus on the activity, but the key is not WHAT is done, but HOW it is applied. This is why I have attempted to go beyond the description of these games, and add some of the different inputs.
Many coaches fall down because they believe the drill will simply produce the results. But then, they undermine it with un-targetted, constantly changing feedback.
PICK WHAT YOU WANT TO FOCUS ON
KEEP IT CLEAR
DON’T CONTRADICT YOURSELF!!
It’s difficult, but all you can do is try to instill important aspects of the game in your players.
I would be interested to hear how you encourage some of the more “boring” skills in your coaching.
It’s always nice to know that your colleagues share your experiences and struggles! I really admired Andrew’s honesty in his coaching blog, “The Teesra”.
Here, he talks about the process of coaching mental strength in cricketers……..and the importance of being sensitive to each person’s receptiveness to pressure.
It’s a difficult journey, and we all learn more every day about when and how to employ different methods!
Since then, I have endured an enforced break from coaching, to recover from a keyhole surgery to tidy up some damage to my knee — caused by an inexpert sliding stop in the outfield to save a long chase to retrieve the ball from beyond the boundary…or perhaps it’s just that my knees are getting old…
The time out has given me chance to reflect on the course, and on how it might apply to my own coaching, especially working with children.
Closely related to the discussion around self esteem was a question about how to manage mistakes to build confidence and self esteem. I wholeheartedly subscribe to the concept of the ‘growth mindset’, but sometimes this can come across as wishful thinking…
Most coaches must find this infuriating. The players in their team who look glorious in training….but for some reason, can’t perform in the matches.
It happens all the time around club cricket of all levels! On the sidelines: managers of junior teams pulling their hair out, exasperated….wondering why their meticulous plans are thrown out the window, as soon as the boys and girls step onto the field.
However, what a good coach will remember is, it ISN’T THEIR FAULT! It is perfectly natural for young players to feel the pressure of a match situation.
As a coach, it is OUR RESPONSIBILITY to prepare players better. How can we make the transition from a training environment to a match environment less stark?
Is it just that they “don’t listen”?
Let’s dismiss one myth straight away. Most often, players don’t fail under pressure because they “aren’t listening” to your coaching. Way more often, it’s the opposite!
If anything, players are more likely to freeze in the big moments because they are listening TOO MUCH! When batting, they may be too obsessed with “moving their feet”, or “playing with a straight bat”. And on top of that, there’s a match situation to dwell on as well!
All of this can mean the most important aspect – ACTUALLY LOOKING AT THE BALL – gets lost in the mental fog. And it can paralyze them.
In short, they are thinking. They are just the wrong thoughts!
1 step back, 2 steps forwards
Cricket can be humiliating! The game has a special way of making your failures feel intensely public….it feels the whole world is looking at you.
As coaches, how do we expose young players to these dangers – and the bad feelings associated with them – in training, without demoralizing them?
How can we push them, but make them more resilient at the end of the process?
The answer has to be to gently introduce these emotions into training, when the consequences are a bit lower.
The drawbacks: how does this come across to others?
There is no doubt that this approach involves a degree of risk. You can never be 100% sure how a player will respond – behaviorally and psychologically – to the struggle.
I follow an excellent coaching blog by Andrew Beaven, who is refreshingly honest about how he tries to employ the “growth mindset”….and how easy it can be for coaches to miss the mark slightly with their goals and objectives.
We all have gone in “too hard” at one point or another, and been forced to reign it in a little. The only difference is that, with constant reflection and response, you can minimize the times you do.
I must admit that, when coaching this theme at some clubs/individuals, i wonder, “is this worth the hassle”? Maybe it’s just a case of being brave. Just like anyone, coaches don’t want to be the “bad guy”. But it is our duty to prepare players for pressure….times when the odds are against them.
A small dose of failure should be useful in the long run! Even though you might get it in the ear from a dad or two!!
GAME: The Bowling Pressure Challenge
There are a few games I have employed, to introduce a degree of pressure to everyday actions.
Sometimes you can have a bit of fun with it too – using games can be helpful in making players laugh off their mistakes and move on! I have had success at times with this team game. As well as simulating the pressure of being watched, we can find out how each player copes with this pressure.
When we know what happens, we can begin to advice ways to control nerves better!
How it works
2 TEAMS: of 3-5 players
TEAMS TAKE TURNS: team 1 bowls, team 2 waits at side of pitch
AIM TO BOWL 12 STRAIGHT BALLS IN A ROW
IF ONE WIDE IS BOWLED: the turn ends!
THE TEAMS SWAP: team 2 bowls, and have a chance to beat team 1’s score
THE WINNING TEAM: is the first team to successfully bowl 12 straight balls in a row
THE DISTRACTION RULE: After 6 straight balls, the waiting team is allowed to distract the bowling team (within reason…set some limits on what they can do!)
HIT THE STUMPS BONUS: 3 points awarded instead of 1
HIT THE BOX: For higher standard players, try marking 3 different boxes on the pitch. Make each one a different color, and shout out one of the colors as the bowler runs in. You can also shout “left-hand” or “right-hand”.
The review: what are the symptoms of pressure?!
By placing your players under the spotlight, you will begin to find out how they react to it!
You will find that the responses to the same pressure come in several forms. In this context – bowling – some of the “symptoms” of pressure are….
RUNNING UP SLOWER – very timid approach, with short strides….meaning the bowler loses all momentum
RUNNING UP FASTER – due to an adrenaline rush that they aren’t aware of….result can be a rushed and frantic bowling action
PAUSING BEFORE BOWLING – under pressure, this kind of bowler lingers on their aim….but loses the “flow” of their action
1 MISTAKE LEADING TO SEVERAL – it can just be a minor error, but can start a “domino effect”
OVER-COMPENSATING – 1 short ball leading to a full toss
Finding out the symptoms, gives the player vital knowledge about how to fix their own actions. You can help them gain a better understanding of their games!
The classic cliche of passing a driving license, and ignoring everything you learnt up to that point, holds a grain of truth!
As coaches, we should always remember some fundamental points. Here is a list of 5 principles of coaching, that can often get forgotten over time on the job.
DO LOOK DOWN!!
What applies to heights, doesn’t apply to cricket. Check the feet, then work your way upwards.
If you go the other way round, you are in danger of missing a vital piece of the puzzle.
This principle is equivalent to laying the foundations of a large house. If this first, crucial, building block isn’t in place, every other piece of the structure is vulnerable to move. It would be redundant talking about interior design in the loft, when’s its floor could cave in any second.
EXAMPLE – STUMBLING INTO SHOTS. A common flaw that players have is swinging before they have a stable base. The resulting swing causes a player to topple over.
On the surface, bat-swing or footwork might seem to be the problem. But the underlying cause is SYNCHRONIZING these movements.
Turn back the clock!
As well as the bigger picture, a coach needs to be mindful of the long term picture.
It is very easy to spot immediate, obvious looking flaws. If a bowler’s arm has dropped, anyone can see. If a batter plays with a cross-bat, anybody can tell. However, is this the CAUSE, or just the SYMPTOM?
What seems like an obvious flaw at the point of delivery/contact/miss, may have its roots much earlier….even in the first step of the run-up, or batting stance!
If a player hasn’t followed through (running past the stumps after releasing the ball), you could simply say, “follow through next time ____” (ie/ WHAT to do). But in order to really effect change (ie/ get them following-through consistently in future), you may need to look further back in the action or run-up.
LEANING BACK – when a bowler’s head tilts back (bending back, or exaggerated arm movement), it is difficult for them to propel themselves to the target. If you see a player pause before they release the ball, this is the most common reason.
LOSING HEIGHT – if a bowler’s upper body falls down, it restricts their ability to drive their legs forward.
LEGS KICKING BACK IN RUN-UP – poor running style may make it impossible for a player to get their knees in front of them after bowling.
FATIGUE – when a player is tired, they may not physically be able to do what you are asking of them. Be sensitive to signs of tiredness.
At the level 2, one phrase was hammered home in the practical sessions, probably more than any other….
“When observing, get firm evidence from MULTIPLE ANGLES”
EXAMPLE: BATTING STANCE – Check every player’s stance from the side. This is the only place you can really confirm their weight and balance is correct.
These two stances look remarkably similar from the umpire’s view. However, by viewing from the side, you can tell the distinction between “squatting” and “pressing”.
This small detail makes a big difference – in freedom of movement, and ability to get more weight and power into the ball.
Use catch-phrases, but AVOID cliches
Young players hear, “follow through”, “hit the top of off-stump”, “move your feet” so often, they begin to lose any meaning.
REMEMBER – a phrase only has meaning if:
a) IT HAS A CONTEXT – eg/ “move your feet, so you can lean towards the ball”, “hold the bat up, but still have a backswing”, “press forwards, but as the ball is coming, not before“, “get forwards, WHEN the ball is there again” (how many players have you seen who are told to get forward more, then lunge onto the front foot for a bouncer next ball?).
b) YOU REMEMBER PHRASES CAN BE MIS-INTERPRETED – for example, telling players to “pick the bat up”, might result in them picking it up way too high, saying “move to the ball” can result in players lunging at the ball.
c) YOU ADD THE “WHY” AS WELL AS THE “WHAT” – give them a specific reason that this is the most effective method (over time).
Catch-phrases are NOT COACHING. You have to flesh them out with context and added meaning.
You can even try coming up with your own phrases, “buzzwords” eg/ “move and stay” to symbolize the act of leaning to the ball, but still on contact.
Coach to educate: explain reasons
ANYBODY can make themselves look good in a 1-to-1 session:
You can guide a player through every step
You can easily instruct them to “do this/don’t do that”, every ball
Improvement is likely through repetition alone – they hit LOTS OF SHOTS AND BOWL LOTS OF BALLS
Not everyone can translate those improvements to the field!:
Can they solve their own problems and flaws
Can they deal with pauses between balls (over intensity of a 1-to-1)
Do you encourage them to think for themselves – or is there a dependency between coach and player?
Coaches are educators. Coaching for understanding – even if the process means sacrificing immediate gains – is much better than coaching as an instructor.
“Do you want to know the science behind it”?
(While performing an ultra-slow-motion demo….) “Where does this shot/ball start to go wrong?”
No child likes to hear they should do something just “because”. True, there are some stubborn little ones out there. Your job is to persuade them to do what is good for them, even though they might fight you along the way!
CONSISTENT FEEDBACK – try not to lurch from coaching-point to coaching-point, ball-by-ball! A player needs time to grasp, and make permanent, the themes you are giving them.
Clusters of red dots – this highlights a definite weakness
The batter in this image shows signs of reading the ball well. There is clear distinction between which balls are defended and attacked. However, the picture does highlight a clear “weak zone” – full balls outside the off-stump!
Looking at this data, I would guess the batter is not moving fully into position for front foot shots. Balls that bounce at a comfortable height are punished, but balls slightly higher or lower aren’t always.
This is a very common junior batting flaw, and one to look out for. Young players are often unsure why they miss the ball, despite having “moved their feet”.
By practicing PRECISE movement the batter may be able to expand their “strong zone”. Or at least be in a better position to control the late-moving ball.
Another frequent flaw among young players, is that they are often going hard at the ball, or defending….with nothing in between.
They could convert a lot more balls into run-scoring shots, by using the pace. This is a crucial step between looking good in the nets, and scoring big runs in matches.
In this image (apart from in one area), there is a complete absence of deflected balls.
A mixture of reds and green dots is a sign that the batter is throwing their hands at the ball. Commonly happens when the ball is wide outside off-stump. Young players often prioritize a firm whack, over actually placing the ball.
In nets, it is worth pointing this out to your batters….balls that fly hard into the net may not be effective on the field, and flaws may be masked until its too late to change!
Coaching as a career is not simple! There are many dilemmas you will have to consider. Choices that have no right or wrong answer….even fellow coaches’ opinions may well be split right down the middle!
Fun V Serious
It doesn’t have to be “either/or”! But we often get stuck in these debates.
Say you have are in charge of a player/group with all the talent in the world. But try as you may, you cannot get them to take things as seriously as you’d like. How can we get them to “push on” with their training, without alienating them from cricket altogether?
Throw in a parent or team manager, who is expecting results, and things get even trickier!
READ THE GROUP! What kind of players do they want to be?
All players deserve some level of ownership over their game. At the end of the day, this is their hobby, and they need to have reasons for playing.
Why do they play the cricket in the first place?
How do they want to express themselves as cricketers? And crucially, how far do they ACTUALLY WANT TO PROGRESS with their cricket. Now, the easy answer to give the coach is – “I want to get better”; “I want to get to a high level”. But is this their primary motivation for playing?
Their answer to this question determines how hard you can push them. Or whether you will need to relax the reins a little. Reading your group is key to getting the most out of them, and keeping them in the game for longer.
What is the “end game”?
Build them up over time!
I GUARANTEE that a lot of coaches didn’t agree with this first point. They will argue that your job is to make players better. My question to them is: how do we ultimately achieve this?!
Just to clarify, “reading your group” DOES NOT mean you give up on developing certain, “less serious” groups. It simply means seeing your role in terms of multiple years, not just week-to-week! In order to get cricketers to fulfill their potential, you’ll need their cooperation. This may you require to meet them half way….for a while!
The more you build a rapport with the player, the more influence you will have. And you may be able to convince them to take their cricket more seriously….or train more earnestly. You can scale up the intensity of certain drills. You can begin the process of MAXIMIZING their potential.
But this is a JOURNEY. And it’s a long one! There is no point in subjecting a player to grueling drills, enforcing a regime on them that will kill their desire to play in the first place. There is no point running serious sessions that make you look good, when the players have actually been going through the motions.
A session is only as good as it is performed. A well thought out drill isn’t an end in itself. Do get the maximum effect, you need a firm understanding of why we are doing it, and acceptance that it is for their own good.
REMEMBER: games can be used for learning too!
Just because a group gets older and better, doesn’t mean you have to leave fun at the door!
Some of the best Winter training sessions I have run are based on the same concepts of the games I use for small children. However, you can make the targets more demanding, adjust the points system, add penalties for lazy play or simply tailor your theme and feedback, to reflect the group’s ability.
This is a simple game where the batting team have to hit the ball, and run around cones. The fielding team have to get the ball back to the bowler as fast as possible, and prevent extra runs being score.
How to set up the game
In this example, the batter has scored 3 runs!
Even in this game, you can change the playing conditions to challenge high ability players:
Off-side shots only
Using a swinging ball – feeder points the seam up and aims to “wobble” the ball either direction
Penalties for not being in the correct stance
Very fast or spinning deliveries
Ball must bounce within a zone – emphasis on controlling the ball into the floor
Getting the best out of a young player, may involve understanding them as individuals. The same outward behavior (for instance, joking in training) can have multiple different reasons.
What are their sporting and life circumstances?
When we coach groups, there will always be a range of personalities, motives and levels of confidence. If a child reacts adversely to one style, or refuses to fully engage in an activity, why might this be?
A VERY COMMON reason is low self belief. Without admitting it, many young players are self conscious. A small setback – and the embarrassment of their friends seeing it – may hit them very hard.
The player may have many different hobbies and pursuits, cricket being lower down the pecking order. Cricket may be their “pressure release”, from being pushed hard in hockey, or football.
These factors all influence what a player wants to “get out of” training – what makes them “tick”.
Be honest (in a harsh way)
If you think a group has real potential, let them know. Stating that you believe in a player can do wonders for their self esteem!
But at the same time, be crystal clear about what needs to happen on the way.
Remind them of their responsibilities….that the coach alone can’t get them to elite level. Most players don’t realize this gradually, but through sudden “epiphany moments”.
A classic example is the player who relies on superior size and strength at junior level….only to be a) caught up in size, or b) out-thought by their peers (who had to rely on brains instead of brawn) later on in life.
The next stage is critical. How quickly will they realize that the old ways aren’t enough to succeed alone? Will they turn to excuses, or new methods to overcome this setback?
Your responsibility is to point out the facts, and try and guide them to the right process, before it’s too late! This is doubly hard for the children who are succeeding at an early age.
You may have to wait for them to “be ready” to step up the intensity. And the cruel fact is….they may never be ready. All you can do is point out the facts to them….and hope they realize it one day!
DON’T ASSUME THEY “DON’T WANT TO BE THERE
If a young player is messing about in training it can be down to a number of factors.
FATIGUE – from a long day at school/of work (we rarely get to see them at their best!)
LOW SELF ESTEEM – This is a far more common reason for poor behavior than many think. Put simply, it’s easier to play up, and not try to achieve a goal, than take a risk by trying….and possibly coming up short
ARROGANCE – they may be good, but they know it!
TIME OF DAY/WEEK – some players are morning people, some are not. Some have burnt out by Friday evening, and have reached “saturation point” for knowledge. Take their stresses outside cricket into account.
PEER PRESSURE – take one angelic child, and put them in a livelier atmosphere…..the differences in their attitude can be poles apart! When a group mood is traveling in one direction, the majority of children cannot resist it
CLASHES IN STYLES – the other authority figures in their lives (teachers/parents/mentors) may have a different approach to you. And this (through no fault of your own) can cause friction.
CLASHES IN EXPECTATIONS – between coach, club, parent, and the child themselves! It’s difficult for the coach to juggle these (often wildly varying) demands
……..and maybe they genuinely don’t want to be there! – but your job is to exhaust all other possibilities, until you accept that! An on-the-surface, “I don’t care” attitude, might not be the real truth.
Bilal is one of the talented players from our Wandsworth Borough program. We analized in detail is performance in intra-club matches and nets – in order to give him a sense of what it would take to reach the next level.
The team were playing a series of indoor matches, where we analyzed performances – team and individual.
March 9th 2018
Being a senior player, there was an expectation on Bilal to perform, especially with the bat. This came with pressures, but also benefits….some of his teammates were slightly intimidated by him.
The result – as you can see from the wagon wheel below, Bilal was able to consistently smash the bowlers over their head.
For Match 2 of the series, Bilal was made to work a lot harder for his runs. The bowlers had a better strategy – both changing where the balls pitched (outside the hitting arc), and the angle (away and into the batter).
The field positions also improved dramatically. This cut off Bilal’s favorite “get off strike” option (push into midwicket).
Despite scoring less runs, Bilal was made to show a greater range of shots, and more discipline. In 22 balls (6 less than last week), he managed to score as many 1s and 2s.
Below you can see the increase in DEFLECTIONS (orange dots)
In this graph you can see that Bilal has a relatively well organized game. It is a good sign when you can see a strong pattern in the data. The green gots are all full or full-ish, spread between middle stump and 4th stump.
Balls between middle and leg stump Bilal has looked to defend (YELLOW dots). Everything else he has attempted to deflect (ORANGE dots) into a gap, using the pace.
There is one big issue, however. RED dots are balls that Bilal has missed or edged. And it was interesting to see that these all had one thing in common – outside off stump, good or short length!
Why was Bilal struggling to take advantage, or effectively deal with, this type of delivery?
In between the training matches, we were back to normal training sessions! In these, we were working on flaws highlighted in the matches.
Bilal has a fantastic attitude to his cricket. Over the weekend he has given some thought as to his weaknesses. During a bowling machine session, he wanted to practice shots outside off-stump. I fed him some balls on a good length, subtely varying the line.
Stage 1: Approach to ball (shot options open)
This session allowed us to zero in on the root cause. We found that:
Bilal’s approach to the ball was a little casual
His bat face often closed on impact
We were able to spend an hour working on a range of solutions:
Precise footwork and head movement
Staying higher on contact
Using both hands in the shot
Stage 2: Cut Shot
Shot options were another factor. The way Bilal moved, and set up to hit, the ball, he was in no place to play a cut shot.
Adding this shot to his armory would give him a crucial extra scoring option….and stop him getting bogged down by some bad deliveries!