Surviving the “November feeling”

I won’t miss November. November is routinely the most difficult month in my calendar:

  • Tired children – long school terms grinding their attention to detail down. Added fact that we are never teaching them at the best times (evenings and weekends)
  • Weather – many primary schools still don’t have the luxury of an indoor hall!
  • Clocks change – more chance of finishing an after-school club in total darkness
  • Lack of competition – summer is still a long way away
  • Parent queries – eg/ my son’s getting frustrated at the behavior of the group”….made even more galling when stated by the main ringleader’s parent!
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Summer sunshine feels painfully far away!

November is a month….where you may have to be on your “A-Game” simply to limit the damage. Do the best job under the circumstances. Still possibly receive criticism for it.

November is the month….where all transport networks go down the pan. Journey times double. The prospect of sitting in a tailback or bus replacement service, as time to make your next session ebbs painfully away. This makes November a time of awkward phone calls and apologies.

November is the month….where children drop out of courses. It’s hard not to take these personally. Some leave for legitimate reasons, others for flimsy reasons. It’s easy to forget, but everyone else is feeling the strain of a long year as much as you. Anxieties come to the fore. Methods and intentions will be questioned, lingering doubts (that you wish you’d known about before) expressed if they have been held in.

November is a month….which often seems never to end. Session after session blend into one another, becoming a ceaseless treadmill of hard work.

November is a month in which to SURVIVE, not THRIVE!

Get used to this.

How to get through it….and stay sane!

FINIAN STANCE AFTER
You aren’t alone in struggling at this time of year! Try to keep going!

Coaching as a career can chip away at your psyche. Bad periods are inevitable. Every now and again, your best plans will come crashing down around you – a combination of unfortunate events. Unless you are incredibly strong-willed, setbacks will affect you to some extent.

I have an existential crisis about once every 4-6 weeks! After this long (a decade and counting) I’m not immune to self-doubt.

There is not a single winter or summer that passes, without my thinking, “am I doing this right?….are all these problems down to me?” at least once! The difference is in learning to become more resilient. Finding ways to cope, and not suppress bad moments until they become crippling.

And remember that better times are round the corner!

Eat & live well

With fatigue, it becomes tempting to plan meals around takeaways and petrol station cafes.

My diet was truly appalling in my first couple of years in the job. This contributed to my bad mood, and my tank would run empty very fast each day.

I am traditionally a “night owl”. But this has changed with the years. Catch up on rest whenever you can. This involves a large amount of sacrifice, if you are in your twenties and enjoy a night out. But it is only short term.

Be the bigger man/woman

This applies to in the session and between sessions. Try to avoid getting involved in petty arguments, that drag your morale down. 

Children are more likely to get overwhelmed at this time of year. Many factors contribute to this. But the result is that they are more likely to over-react, see unfairness where it doesn’t exist, or just be silly. Even though you can’t just let them run riot, have some empathy….it is inevitable this time of year.

People will complain in November. This is as inevitable as Christmas displays in Sainsbury’s on November 1st!

Sometimes complaints come across as a personal attack. A common strategy is for parents to pile on an extra 3 insignificant points for every (half) valid point. Try to a) have some perspective – we all vent about colleagues/horror groups/customer service at times – and b) justify your logic/position/methods as calmly as you can.

Sometimes, all people are looking for is reassurance that you have considered ____, or have thought ____ through. November is a time where diplomacy is required more than any other. Unfortunately, it’s doubly hard to maintain, when you are weary and under pressure.

Doesn’t make it any less true though……

Prepare

Even if you are not a routine-minded person, try and at least add a bit of structure to your day. Trust me, it will help.

Make sure you have a session plan well in advance. Even design a few in October, that you can draw on for inspiration….if you are lacking in any that day!

Recaps are often important around this time of a course. At this time of year, children often give the impression they have forgotten everything! They haven’t, their brains are just overloaded.

Put the phone down

You don’t need to go off the grid. But having periods away from technology helps refresh my mind a lot.

I read, do the crossword, write ideas in a notepad….anything to take the mind off the world. The paranoid side in me always assumes an email or phone call in November is a crisis or complaint!

I hate Novembers! Just 2 days to go!!

Lurchers, fixaters, wafflers….which coach trope are you?

shankar battingCoaches are human. Humans have flaws. Therefore, coaches have flaws! 

Not that some would ever admit it….

Below are 9 coaching “tropes”, that I a) have witnessed in fellow coaches, b) am myself, or c) both of the above!

Points:

3 POINTS – if you think this flaw applies to you REGULARLY

1 POINT – if you think you do this OCCASIONALLY

**Don’t pretend you are immune to every one of these. You’re only lying to yourself! I gave myself 11 points!!**

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1. FIXATORS

Every coach has one minor aspect of the game they have a keen eye for. It irks us to the core when young players ignore it.

No matter what the stage or theme of the session is – if we see this happen we HAVE TO jump in and fix it.

Obviously, these are important points. But be wary how and when you communicate it. By banging on, your advice is likely to have the OPPOSITE effect. Players will grow resentful and not engage. Don’t overdo it! The last thing you want is the group to collectively sigh, “here we go again”.

Sometimes in coaching it is better to hold your tongue….even though you’re right!

2. LURCHERS

Player misses ball……”move to the ball more!!”…..player lunges at the next (wider, shorter) ball…..”wait for the ball more!!” Some amateur coaches have a talent for contradicting themselves every other sentence. 

Of all the categories here, this is one of the easiest to lapse into. It’s even a sign that you care. When a player makes a mistake, every part of your being wants to jump in and fix it.

But clarity is so important! Players need to go into training clear knowing what the goals are. If the goalposts change every 30 seconds, confusion reigns!

3. CONE LAYERS

You turn up to training, to be greeted by the sight of the entire village green LITTERED with cones. 

Props, stumps, throw-down lines and other plastic gadgets are meticulously laid ….the children arrive, and are immediately divided into equal teams. The activity is simple, formulaic, and offers no room for confusion (although I’m sure some will manage)!

It’s great to be prepared. But what is gained in superficial order, can be lost by the sessions being over-regimented. Everything relay style reduces the number of times each player performs the skill as well.

Looks good to parents on the sidelines, but may slow down their adapting skills unless you add a bit of randomness somewhere.

4. CATCH-PHRASERS

Always get to the pitch of the ball, while moving your feet. But remember to follow-through when you bowl. Be side-on….it won’t work if you’re not side-on. And don’t forget to back up. Is that elbow high by the way?

Many of these phrases are a new language. And just like any foreign language, meaning can be lost in translation. Even some children who have been playing for years, may not fully understand the implications of these phrases.

Use your other communication skills. Elaborate. Demonstrate. Show the “how” as well as the “what”. Go beyond the cliche.

5. JOSE MOURINHOS

In match coaches are all over club cricket. People who feel the need to micro-manage ever ball of the game. If they could implant a remote controlled chip into all 11 players, they’d actively consider it.

If you simply must (and remember, in-match coaching is banned from 12 upwards), pick your words, or moments, very wisely.

Worst case scenario: after giving advice, your player will be too determined to right the wrongs of the last ball, and forget that the next ball could be completely different.

Another common example: child hits ball, parent shouts at them to run, child end up blindly following, child ends up 5m short of his/her ground. “Crowd calling” accounts for 1000s of run out victims a year!!

At junior level, a defeat or failure needs to be treated as learning experience. Many team managers react almost as if the failure is a reflection on them….and can’t help intervening. Trying to shape every moment – Premier League manager style – will delay this learning, even if it improves results that day.

6. “I’M BETTER AT”…….ERS

Yes, so are all of us….what’s your point? Coaches should be evolving. And that means finding new skills, and ways to thrive in situations you find uncomfortable.

  • COMMON PHRASE 1: “I’m better at coaching the more experienced players”
  • COMMON PHRASE 2: “I’m better at front line coaching than admin”

Are you really? Or are you just avoiding difficult work?

Start printing your registers on time. Answering your emails and recording details. Learning catch phrases to help 4-5 year olds. Becoming more patient. Mucking in with the difficult tasks.

Perhaps colleagues are, “so good with the little ones” because they try harder. Not down to some innate skill. Confront the things that make you uncomfortable, and you’ll expand your skills – not stand still.

7. WAFFLERS

Monologues have a place in coaching. But make it interesting, or you’ll lose the crowd fast!!

In the effort to pack information in, the valuable coaching points can become lost in white noise. This happens frequently when a group of 3 or 4 coaches are addressing children together – every one of them keen to impart their own take on events.

Overkill is common. Topics can be exhausted. Silence can be better than the same point 50 times over. Many people’s Winston Churchill attempt comes across as Iaan Duncan Smith (football fans in 2002 will get the reference)….

Don’t be an Iaan Duncan Smith!

8. GRUDGE-HOLDERS

We all know that certain children can drive coaches up the wall! Trouble makers exist, and they can’t be allowed to run riot. But every session should begin with a clean slate. Try not to carry over the frustrations of last week’s session, into the current session.

One fact that is worth remembering – you are not the sole influence on every children’s behavior and mood. Children who are often told off in your session, are likely to suffer the same fate in school and other clubs. The constant reprimands can often give them a feeling that the world’s against them.

Don’t give them more evidence to feel aggrieved! try to be consistent with praise and criticism across the group.

9. “ONE MORE TIME” ERS

The opposite of grudge holding. Give too much rope, children eventually realize you are unlikely to follow through on a warning. 

Some children know they can exploit this, knowing that they can complain at any point. Some parents will simply take their son/daughter’s word over yours. This fear can put inexperienced coaches in an awkward position.

This was the longest, most difficult lesson I had to learn. Early in my career, I was sometimes too afraid of complaints. If the children weren’t happy customers all the time, I had failed. Even scarier, the prospect of dealing with an angry parent. This prevented me from doing what was right from time to time.

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SUMMARY

Add up your total score:

0 POINTS: don’t be silly. Next please….

1-5 POINTS: you are either real-life Mary Poppins – “practically perfect in every way” – or David Brent (The Office UK) – “severely deluded in practically every way”. I hope it’s the former! Work on the latter….

5-9 POINTS: you are the Crocodile Dundee of cricket coaching. Your magic stare calms the most hostile group into calmness. You can walk into anywhere, inspire them like Churchill and keep the patience like Gandhi.

Alternatively, you work in a private school!

10-18 POINTS: you are a good coach, with some great qualities. But you are still learning. The journey to enlightenment is a long one, child. try and find ways to cope with frustrations.

19-24 POINTS: you are very honest with yourself. This reflection is a great skill for all coaches (and one many more talented coaches do not possess).

You may have just started out, or be a reluctant volunteer, putting their hand up to make sure your child gets to play. There are ways you can improve. A few simple skills and activities would go a long way!

Remember, you are not alone! And this site has some examples of how to deal with the harder aspects of coaching cricket. 

25+ POINTS: really quite impressive! Thank you for taking time out of your busy super villain/Tory cabinet (apply as appropriate) schedule to read my blog. Coaching not for you….

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Drills…..it’s not how good they are,it’s how you use them!

One of my most “successful” – most viewed, liked and shared – activities was published on the Twenty20 Facebook page recently. The batting bleep test.

HOW IT WORKS:
Players work in pairs – 1 batter and 1 feeder (drop feeds)
Each player hits 6 balls (aiming at small straight drive target) before switching over
BALL 1 – Player 1 hits ball. Player 2 has 10 seconds to collect ball, and be ready for the next shot
BALL 2 – Player 1 hits the ball AND runs to the end of the hall and back. Player 2 collects the ball as usual. Again, they have 10 seconds to be ready for the next ball
BALL 3 – HIT
BALL 4 – HIT AND RUN
BALL 5 – HIT
BALL 6 – HIT AND RUN
END OF OVER – players have 5 extra seconds to swap roles. The game repeats.

Why this one?!

Now….it’s great to do something that’s so popular! But why this one?! Many other posts I have written, that i feel more proud of, get eclipsed by others like this.

What does the success of this kind of post tell us about coaches? Perhaps we are keen for the “quick fix”? An activity that will instantly produce results? Unfortunately it rarely works like that.

The dilemma of the coaching blogger: If this sort of post goes viral why not create more like them?!

Because the drill is only 10% of the job! 

How to make it work? 

Each drill has its advantages and flaws. Each drill can be used in different ways.

Everyone will get better at a drill if they repeat it enough. But that means nothing in itself. Have they developed toold to APPLY THEM?? This is where the coach comes in….

Amid all the likes, shares and positive comments….one person stood out: in criticism! 

“Now then, i don’t like that drill, but I guess you lot do…..

….the quality especially gets lost in the rush to complete it”.

After recovering from the initial dent to the ego (easy to get carried away by praise!!)…..I was grateful for this dose of honesty. On analysis, there are big holes to be found.

Criticisms

deando ruxley
Does what we do in training always apply to the real world?
  • Shots are poorly executed – in a rush and off-balance
  • Running is not done with the appropriate technique (as much as it should)
  • Not enough technical input during the drill

Conclusion: in itself, this drill would be disastrous!

So was there any point in it at all? Is it broken from the beginning?

No. And this is why….

Turning the negatives into a positive…

….or more accurately, a learning experience! 

The correct way to use this drill: as a gateway to discussing a finer aspect of the game.

  1. OBSERVE – allow the players to find a methodsnasy-practice
  2. USE QUESTIONS – to identify what made the drill either easier or more difficult
  3. EXPLAIN – the key to success in this drill: efficiency. In the LONG RUN, sound technique and attention to detail prevailed.

It became apparent that pairs who were giving themselves more time for each shot, were far more successful than those who were scrambling to be ready. However, this is only achieved by:

  • ATTENTION TO DETAIL – correct shots minimizing effort to retrieve the ball
  • GOOD RUNNING TECHNIQUE – thus saving time and distance covered….every calorie counts!!

We now had undeniable evidence to the players. It was in their interest to.

  1. Take care over the shot – thus no need to chase the ball across the hall
  2. Run earnestly – and with a good technique (running and on the turn)

Going beyond technique

Even the best technique in the universe needs to be EXECUTED. In order for this to happen, technique is just one part of the puzzle.

Other qualities that are VITAL include:

  1. TEMPO CONTROL – when the going gets tough, will you choose the right moments to speed up, and the right moments to slow down
  2. PREPARATION – use the time available to get into the position, and temperament, that will help the shot
  3. ENDURANCE – managing precision under fatigue. This requires a mental endurance as well as physical. For the shot to be right, the mind needs to convince the body to keep doing it properly!

The reason I enjoyed this drill, was that I was able to examine how young players responded to pressure….in this case, time restrictions.

How did they cope with a setback or bad luck (eg/ other pairs in the way, or a deflection off he wall). All part of the game….but did it affect them?

When was their “tipping point” into laziness. Were they sharp enough to save every possible split second? And even if they were, did they then use that time wisely?

Were they consistent, efficient and calm from start to finish?

Use your drills properly….and adapt them!

I am often surprised at many coaches’ lack of nuance. Activities are either “rated” as good or bad. Glorified or dismissed. There is less awareness that a good drill can produce bad results, or a mundane drill can be elevated or adapted. 

Very often, we are lulled into thinking that a drill “speaks for itself”. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The input – what you choose to say and when – is crucial to its success.

ALWAYS PICK A THEME – and be consistent with it. Don’t be in a rush to fix everything at once
ALWAYS HAVE VARIATIONS – Massed practice is crucial at times. But sometimes, leave in a bit of potential for chaos/randomness. Some drills can be overly controlled and formulaic….almost completely sanitized from the on-field experience.
DON’T BE AFRAID OF FAILURE – use these moments as a chance to explain wider truths about cricket. Mentality, clear thinking and consistency in applying these two (regardless of the situation). Seeing how they respond to mix-ups can tell you a lot.

We forget that it’s not WHAT you do, it’s HOW you do it!