“Scared of the ball”: remove the fielding fear factor (it is possible!!!)

I have lost count of the number of times I’ve heard this phrase:

“He/she’s just scared of the ball”.

I object to this phrase for the following reasons.

  1. FEAR IS LOGICAL – catching a fast moving missile goes against everything your body is telling you.
  2. IT’S YOUR JOB TO HELP PLAYERS OVERCOME THEIR FEAR! – it’s an excuse, abandoning your responsibility as a coach too soon. You have to (at least try and) turn their fear around.

Too many players are dismissed as “scared” and never receive the coaching or support that will help them get over their fear. In short, coaches give up on them.

It is possible to reverse the instinct to avoid the ball, and encourage players to take any catch on. But it takes care, understanding of the pressures, appropriate feedback, the perfect mixture of incentives and criticism….and most of all, time!

IS IT THE FEAR OF BEING HURT?? OR….

The fear of failure? It’s embarrassing to drop or mis-field!

Say you are an experienced fielder prowling the outfield, one who swallows up most catches that come your way with ease. Now, substitute the ball for something else. Imagine you are outside a building, catching a falling baby.

This will give you an idea of how an inexperienced, nervous fielder feels.  

“What do i do with my hands, my legs”?” “Is this how it goes”? “Cushion it”. Don’t cushion it too much”! “Oh no, I’m not close enough”….Too late!

What appears on the surface to be a lack of thought, might be the opposite. Too many thought. Not enough action. Your main challenge is to remove this anxiety. Which moves us onto the next point….

IS THE FEEDBACK POSITIVE OR NEGATIVE?

Whenever a player drops a catch in training, the coach’s immediate response is to find an error. Why did the ball go down? 

This is natural, and sounds sensible. But it doesn’t always mean that a player hasn’t improved. They may have improved significantly…just not quite enough!

Of course, point out why your player dropped or mis-fielded the ball. But also compliment them if they have – for example – moved a lot better than usual, or held the right body position for longer.

When players lack confidence, even a small criticism may dissuade them from doing the right thing next ball. “Try to stay still when the ball hits your hands”, works better than, “you moved at the last moment”.

This is accepted more widely when coaching batting and bowling coaching. But for some reason, is applied less to fielding.

The PROCESS is much more important than the RESULT in training. Equally, a player may have caught the ball (sometimes in a way that “looks” spectacular) but in a very poor way….that is unlikely to hold up under match pressure.

AVOID DEMANDING PERFECTION

Again, you might be thinking, “why should I be ignoring mistakes”? But again, think about the personalities we are coaching – the “scared of the ball” group!

At a crucial stage, when you are building a player’s confidence piece by piece, the last thing they need is the pressure to be piled back on. 

“The target is 10/20 catches in a row”

Some people are a fan of this. I’m very much not. I feel it assumes that catching is about concentration alone. If they drop the ball, they must have “not been thinking”.

But this isn’t true at all! I much prefer setting bigger targets, but with a few “lives” for the group. Try, for example, 20 catches with 3 lives. A vital part of fielding is resilience (again, in this way it is no different from batting or bowling). Mistakes and lapses will happen, and the response to them is more important.

 

GET THE ORDER RIGHT!

Coaches are often talking about the last stage of catching (ie/the most obvious part) – when the ball hits the player’s hands. But remember, there are several stages before that! 

Ready position, movement, whether they got close enough to the ball in the first place. Avoid phrases like “move your hands to the ball” (a statement of the obvious that doesn’t help), and try to understand why they didn’t, or how they can next time!

BAD TECHNIQUE MAKES THE FEAR LOGICAL

  1. POSITIONING

    Fast moving ball + player in the wrong position = ball crashes into fingertips! By not committing to a catch, the player has made it MORE LIKELY that the impact will hurt. This means positioning has to come first.

    Nobody will consistently catch a ball unless they are in line or underneath it. Too many coaches only observe the player’s hands.”You took your hands away from the ball” – almost 100% of the time, this happens because the player isn’t close enough to it.Could they have moved more efficiently? Did they move towards the ball, but not completely in line? Many players move partially or gesture towards the ball. Talk about perfectly centering yourself with the path of the ball.

  2. BODY SHAPE

    If you can’t move into a strong position (and hold that position for long enough) you won’t catch as many balls as you should.

    Common poor positions include:

    “Night fever” – hands thrust towards the ball, while the player’s hips jerk away from the ball (resembling the dance move).
    “Cartwheel” – caused by legs being too straight. When a player’s knees are locked, they will topple over instead of dip towards the ball. Catchers should be able to “sway” to the ball when it is about 1m away….but how many do you see dive instead?
    Pirouette – many players spin around when they catch a fast moving ball. This exposes their finger tips to the ball, when it should be striking their knuckles. Players who do this need to work on their foot position, allowing them to take their hands directly back.

  3. CUSHION

    “Use soft hands” is the famous phrase. But that is too simple. Look at how soft the hands are, when they move and in what direction. Are your players taking their hands away from the ball as they cushion it? Are they over-reacting?

    Cushioning too much – young players often look as if they are catching a cannon ball….bringing the hands miles back as the ball hits them. This isn’t necessary.
    When your hands cushion the ball too much, they start to point towards the ground, giving the ball an opportunity to slip out. 10-12 inches is the most your hands have to move to cushion any ball.
    The same applies to cushioning with your legs. “Dipping” slightly is useful, but falling to the floor isn’t.
    Cushioning too soon – cushioning only makes a difference if done at the exact time the ball strikes your hands. Otherwise the impact will be the same as if you stayed still! Players who do this are often confused why the ball still hurts, when they have used soft hands. You just need to explain the timing to them!
    Spinning around (flat catches)- bring one foot back….as a “buffer”. This helps you bring your hands directly backwards as they cushion. Without this, your body will be forced to turn as you cushion the ball (exposing the ends of your fingers).
    Stepping away – some players line up perfectly for the ball, then move suddenly at the last moment. Often, this is because they think they need to cushion the ball in front of their body.
    Pushing out – other players thrust their hand to the ball suddenly, at the moment they should be cushioning. These players just need to be told to get their hands up ASAP.

 

 

 

Batting coaching: what to say, when to say it?

Batting coaching. There are a hundred different things a coach can potentially say, every single ball. But which (if any) is the right one?

When coaching batting, it is incredibly easy to make yourself sound good. There are so many points to mention, coaches (if they are so inclined) can lurch from point to point every 5 seconds. What is more difficult, is:

  • Putting this into a process – not just speaking your mind each ball, but providing the right information at the right time.
  • Separating SYMPTOMS (WHAT a player did) and CAUSES (WHY they did it). 

It’s not all about technique

When batters make a mistake, they are usually told to “move your feet”, “keep your bat straighter”, “get in line”, etc.

This might be true. But what else comes into play. Which mental factors contribute to consistent and high quality shots.

Below is my coaching checklist – looking at judgement, temperament and even fitness, before bringing up technique.

JUDGEMENT

How many players get told to “keep their bat straight”, when they have actually stepped in completely the wrong place? How many players can play the cut shot, the pull or leg-glances very well in practice, but don’t get them out during matchplay?

Did the player in the nets “play across the line” of the ball? Or did they mistake a leg-glance for a straight drive? Shot selection is a pre-requisite for technique. Without one, you can’t have the other.

Players are often a shadow of themselves in matches, compared to practice. A huge reason for this is that – for all their many skills – is poor or rash judgement.

  • Pre-empting a shot – as soon as a player is on the move, they are “married” to a certain type of shot. This might be the wrong shot!
  • Not picking up different lines and lengths – some batters simply don’t “see” the opportunity to play certain shots that they might be strong at. Picking the correct shot needs to be rehearsed and trained.

Case study: on-drive/straight-drive/off-drive

In this video, an U15 player is learning to pick up the line of the ball.

PROBLEM – with each play-and-miss, Sheraz is trying to step further, in order to meet the ball. In fact, this will make his struggle worse….as well as not being in line with the ball, he will be in a lower and more cramped position.

SOLUTION – working on shifting his weight across as well as forwards.

WHERE IS IT GAME – DRILL FOR READING LINE

IMPACT POINT DIAGRAM – USEFUL TOOL TO ASSESS A PLAYER’S JUDGEMENT

 

TEMPERAMENT

A lot of the time, the difference between a good shot and a poor shot is down to one simple thing – timing. Players who look agitated or rushed may come good sometimes, but will more often than not get themselves out.

  1. General timing – a majority of young players play their shots too early, either moving too soon, swinging too soon or both! The key to producing quality batters is helping them realize that they have so much more time than they believe. Before you comment on technique, ask yourself – ” were they able to use the technique”?
  2. “Previous ball” effect – players need to be treating each ball “on it’s merits”, before their technique comes into play. Look out for batters “over-compensating” (i.e/ trying to make amends for the previous ball, and not considering the current ball).
  3. Changes during the innings – look for patterns not just ball-by-ball, but during phases of an innings. When do your players begin to struggle, or throw their wicket away.
    EVERY batter will have a tough period to battle through, where their timing and execution is slightly off. Spotting the cause for this, and getting through, is crucial. Part of the secret is learning from yourself and past experiences. What is the usual reason for this flaw, and how do I fix it?

Case study: leg-glances

in the video below, a young opening batter is getting to grips with the leg-glance. This is a shot that requires technique, but above all, composure.

  • Balls 1 & 2 – the batter starts lurching across the crease, seeking room to hit the ball hard. The opposite of what is required.
  • Balls 3 & 4 – better and calmer approach to the ball. However, still trying to hit the ball, instead of trusting in a deflection.
  • Balls 5 & 6 – In ball 6 especially, the batter shows great composure to look for the faintest deflection.

In all of these scenarios, you can mention technique. But was technique the real issue, or just a symptom? Trust – that the pace of the ball is enough to score runs – is fundamental to this shot.

FITNESS

The average club coaching session lasts between 90 minutes and 2 hours. Many academy sessions run on longer. Cricket camps last the whole day. Players get tired.

When this happens, mentioning technique to a player is almost pointless. They simply aren’t physically able to perform it perfectly. There is no quick fix to get around this….the only solution is get fitter!

Dedicating coaching sessions to fitness is always controversial. Parents pay for their children to play, and have expectations of seeing them hit, bowl and catch….not run! To get around this, I use a mixture of challenges and skills games, with fitness blended in.

EXAMPLE: The cricket bleep test

I use this test to emphasize the importance of a) fitness and b) preparation. To repeat the straight drive over and over , players must have the endurance and balance to match their skill level.

The lazier a player gets….by leaving it til the last second to get ready….the more erratic the shots get.

CRICKET BLEEP TEST – READ MORE

TECHNIQUE

Technique is the most common form of feedback. It is the easiest to observe. It is the easiest way for a coach to demonstrate their knowledge of the game. 

Of course, it is important to have a sound technique. But when giving technique feedback, always think first:

  1. Is this the right time? In a match, or in the nets, one ball may be greatly different from the next. Will you mentioning a very specific coaching point benefit the player right now? Or is it better working on it later, perhaps with some throw-downs.
  2. How do I phrase my feedback? To avoid my player a) over-compensating, or b) being hesitant, afterwards. In a net and match setting, players need to be thinking about the ball ahead, and not dwelling on the previous ball.
  3. What have I said before? Avoid lurching from point to point. Sometimes, withholding information until a bit later, is best. That doesn’t mean you ignore the flaw! it just means allowing someone to focus on one aspect, before adding the next.

TIPS FOR COACHES – PRINCIPLES COACHES OFTEN FORGET

 

Coaching Dilemmas: “nailing the basics” V “keeping things fresh”

Is it possible to combine the two? Yes! But you need imagination – lots of it!

They need it, but…

….they get distracted quickly! We know this is going to be an issue in 98% of junior sessions. There is no point being in denial! Even though they are the most effective, the “old school” methods may not work.

Even though the era of lining up the entire group to practice “shadow batting” – imaginary shots over and over – may be gone, that doesn’t change the fact that young players need to master basics! So what do we do?

The answer is NOT to give in to short attention spans! All this will achieve is in getting some improvement, but not permanent improvement. You will have to go over the very same topics every week, as they never have enough time to “embed”.

Nor is the answer to plow ahead with a “dry” activity that is doomed to fail. An activity is only effective if players “buy in” to it. it matters not one bit whether you are right in principle!

The secret to junior coaching. Getting your players to do the SAME THING, but making each activity LOOK DIFFERENT. “Frame” the basics in a series of subtlety different ways. A points challenge, a learning-based game, some small group drills.

TRICK THEM into doing what is good for them!! 

Example: grip, stance, backlift

Having a good “set-up” is essential! But as coaches know all too well, very few players get it right every time. Hands apart, feet “closed-off”. Leaning on the bat instead of holding it. All these contribute to mistakes as they play their shot. 

One problem with coaching the set-up, is that it is time consuming. Getting one person’s back-lift right draws attention away from the rest of the (possibly large) group. It can feel like sessions grind to a halt. 

Instead of using the individual terms, I tend to use the term “getting ready”, and base a whole session’s theme around it. Here is how I would try and keep young players motivated and engaged, but essentially thinking about the same thing over and over.

Demonstration – show from all angles what a perfect “ready” position looks like. Ask questions about why the hands go here/feet go there. I talk about the “science” behind getting a clean straight hit….especially the power of gravity to hit the ball a long way. “Was I trying that hard”? “What goes back (bat) must come forwards“.

Pairs batting: “drop feeds” – I enjoy using drop-feeds at first, as they demonstrate the importance of technique over brute force. The coach also has a chance to see from close up, making adjustments to the grip and stance.
Players put a cone down where there PB shot is – or their longest hit. They then aim to beat this distance by getting perfect “efficiency” with their shots.

Points challenge – moving to under-arm feeds.
Each player now has to try and hit the ball as straight and low as possible. 1 point for hitting the ball, 4 points for hitting past the bowler, 20 points for hitting the ball through a small goal behind the feeder.
**In indoor halls, i often award bonus points if the batter hits the skirting board around the bottom of the wall. This is a sign that players have hit through the ball with total control**

The “Ready” Game – this game involves the batters coming in to bat, having to set up properly, and then receiving a ball to hit. Explained in more detail below….

The “ready” game:

Once the children have some knowledge (best way to grip and stand), it’s time to put their independence to the test! Will they remember this in the excitement of a game?

I enjoy this game because players constantly have to go through the process of getting ready.

The “Ready Game” is a version of “Crazy Cricket” – a team-based game, where players aim to hit as straight and as far as possible.

crazy cricket 1
Setting up the game.
  • One batter is at the wicket. The batters are lined up, waiting to hit the ball.
  • The first batter hits the ball (3 attempts), then runs around the cones.
  • The fielding team chases the ball. The batting team get 1 run for every cone they pass BEFORE the bowler gets the ball back.

Each team has 5 wickets to play with. Wickets can be:

  • BOWLED – ball hits stumps
  • CAUGHT – fielder catches ball
  • NOT READY – if they have forgotten to use the correct stance, they are out

Depending on the age/experience/maturity of the players, I am sometimes less harsh at the beginning. Other useful reminders for your players include

  • HOLDING ONTO THE BALL – simply don’t release the ball until the batter has remembered to stand properly. This simple trick can cause them to think a bit harder.
  • “HANDS”/”FEET”/ETC – again, this is a prompt for the player to think. One step short of outright telling them to change their stance.
  • “WHAT HAPPENED THERE – bowl a difficult ball, and ask the player why they struggled to hit it. The reason is: they were never ready in the first place

Cricket Bleep Test

***This is a potentially useful drill, but only if you USE IT PROPERLY***

Here, the player’s goal is to strike the ball into a small target….while under a time pressure! One player hits. Their partner drops a ball for them to hit every 10 seconds!

  • 1st Ball – HIT (partner retrieves ball)
  • 2nd Ball – HIT AND RUN (to other side of hall and back)
  • 3rd Ball – HIT
  • 4th Ball – HIT AND RUN
  • 5th Ball – HIT
  • 6th Ball – HIT AND RUN
  • BATTER AND FEEDER SWAP PLACES (15 seconds to change roles)
  • SEQUENCE REPEATS (6 balls)

The point of this drill is to show the importance of “getting ready” in good time. Giving yourself time to get in the perfect stance, and not “coasting” the running (leaving things to the last minute), is the secret to consistent straight hits.

The players who grasped this managed to achieve many more hits through the goal.

 

Coaching dilemmas: pleasing clients v doing it “your way”

One important job of a coach is to COMPLIMENT the work of others around them. And this doesn’t just mean colleagues!

Parents, children, managers, club officials….everyone of these is a factor in the smooth running of a cricket team. We are never working alone. 

This means, when coaching an age group through the year, it is unlikely you will have license to do exactly as you please. The odds are, you will be steered in different directions. Sometimes, these will interrupt your original plans.

As a “guest” coach at several different clubs, I and my colleagues face this situation almost daily. You are left with a dilemma: When do I accommodate external suggestions and ideas, and when do I stick to my guns?

The answer isn’t simple.

Communicate your methods: long term plans

Just as you may disagree with the opinions of others, they equally might not understand your methods yet. 

It’s your job to explain the process. try and paint a long term picture for the group and clients. Demonstrate the process, because it may not be obvious to the untrained. 

Amateur coaches are often impatient. If they see a glaring error on evidence, they want to jump in and fix it straight away. This way of doing things leads to short-termism – jumping from theme to theme, depending on whatever the manager has noticed that day.

  • “There were a lot of errors in the field. We need to practice….”

  • “They don’t seem to be hitting the ball as hard as the other team….can we work on….”

Many see cricket coaching as a simple “tick-box” exercise, or a puzzle. Every weakness is a missing piece that needs to be filled.

The reality is very different: more like constructing a multi-storey building. Unless you set firm foundations, any decoration on the “upper floors” is futile.

To outside observers, however, getting the basics right comes across as simplistic – that you are ignoring important aspects of the game. This is where your expertise as a coach comes in. Even though it’s difficult, and leads to awkward conversations, it is better to resist this impulse to lurch from theme to theme.

However, you need to explain this. Reassure that you will get to everything eventually. That it’s in the long term plan. 90% of the time, parents don’t understand that you have considered training weeks in advance.

Coach/Colleague/Manager frictions

Your client is the paying customer. But is the customer always right?

No. But that doesn’t change the fact you have to work in harmony! Plus, some insights can be gained from their viewpoint.

At times, some compromise may be required, in order to not clutter the minds of the players. Sometimes it is worth holding your tongue, so that a message can be consistent.

Many times in the past, I have wanted children to focus on one thing, while another coach or manager is fixated on another thing entirely. In this situation, what is best? To plough on regardless? Or to ease off?

Coaches often talk over each other. There are times when coaches almost feel compelled to have the “last word” (just watch any end-of-session monologues around the country), This leads to frictions, or contradicting messages, when different ideas clash. But compromise doesn’t have to be seen as sacrificing your principles.

The time IN BETWEEN sessions is better to settle any friction between styles. This is where you can state your point of view, and suggest changes/clarity. There is no point confusing the players with 2 opposite messages during the session.

Nets and Hard Ball

Some players just want to “net”. Some parents and managers just want their children in the nets. Nets = hard ball = “proper” practice. WRONG. 

Some believe their child has simply moved on from soft ball at a certain age. This is completely untrue. Using soft ball allows coaches to:

  • Maximize no. of balls faced – More people involved at once, more times rehearsing a skill, less waiting around! This can only be a good thing! Hard ball training can be slow, as safety must be checked constantly.
  • Target one particular area – in a sustained way. With a higher frequency of balls faced, you have more scope to master a skill, and convert it into muscle memory.
  • Highlighting mistakes – there is less margin for an error with a softer ball. Timing and movement has to be spot on, for a satisfying, pure, strike. Because hard balls ping of the bat, a player’s mistakes can be masked.
    The same applies to bowling. Using a lighter cricket ball means that any flaw in a bowling action will be amplified – the ball will swing wildly off course, or lose much more pace on release.
    One of the most common complaints from young cricketers are that they “can’t play with a tennis ball”, or they are “better with a hard ball”. True, but that’s the whole point!! Drawing attention to imperfections helps us fix them. Masking them (which nets and hard ball can) delays this process.

Bide your time!

The more you demonstrate your methods are successful, the more freedom you will have to do things your way.

For a successful club to run, all stakeholders need to be on-side. That includes parents, managers, colleagues and the club committee members. The most successful clubs will have all of these groups singing from the same hymn sheet.

Play the long game. Work with others, while pointing to evidence that your methods are working….this is a more powerful way of getting your own way in the future!

cropped-kingston-cricket-girls-1.jpg

 

Things coaches always say….but shouldn’t!

Pick your words carefully when you coach!

Coach comments can be split into two main categories. Phrases that are useful reminders to do the right things. Or meaningless cliches, that describe instead of inform. Separating the insight from the cliche is vital.

snasy-practiceThere is a third category too: phrases that are correct in principle, but are in danger of being misunderstood. Just because your comments are right, doesn’t mean they will be effective.

In order to have a positive effect, coaches need to analyze their language – not only what to say, but how to say them. We need more nuance than a list of “buzzwords” and cliches.

Below are a list of common statements on the training field, that are meaningless, or can even have a damaging effect on players.

BATTING

1. Move your feet/Step forwards

Why: Mis-interpretation. Move your feet where exactly? Think about how your player’s brain will process this instruction.

When we urge players to “step forwards” or “move their feet, they will often over-compensate. The next ball you see will most likely be a lunge towards the bowler. Foot movement is only useful when connected to the path of the ball. Get that wrong, and you’d honestly be better off not moving at all!

Alternatives: You need to make sure that any footwork is in the right direction. Better things to say include ‘lean to the ball’, ‘get in line’.

These are principles that apply to every ball, no matter how big your step (or which foot steps). Players need to play the ball ahead of them, and move accordingly. Too often, a coach’s comment forces them to over-compensate for the previous error.

2. Keep your bat straight

Why: This is WHAT to do. HOW to do it it another matter entirely. Why is the bat coming down at an angle? There are many potential reasons. 

Players who are fixated on keeping a “straight bat” often start to jab and prod the ball, losing their smooth swing. When their hands take over even more, the problem can get worse instead of better!

Alternatives: There is no simple alternative! Use your observation to check every aspect of the player’s shot. Are they picking the bat up straight? Are they moving directly to the ball? 

  • GRIP – hands apart, or bottom hand holding the bat too tight
  • BACKLIFT – many players take the bat behind their bodies, blocking the downswing
  • SHOULDER TWIST – instead of shoulders and arms driving forwards, they are wheeling around
  • FALLING HEAD – if a batter’s body is leaning to the side, the rest of their body is dragged away from the ball. Sometimes an angled bat is a “last resort”, in an effort to reach the ball last minute
  • LINING UP THE BALL – many young batters keep their body “inside the line” of the ball. This makes a straight bat impossible. Check to see how many stumps you can see after the shot

3. Don’t play across the line

Why: Again. This is descriptive, but offers no explanation, no solution! We all know not to do this, but how can we stop it. There’s no point being correct if you don’t change anything. 

where is it gamea) READING THE LINE – in my experience, lots of batters don’t really know how to judge the line of the ball. This applies ESPECIALLY to the leg-side. Any ball heading towards their pads or body is thought of as “going down the leg-side”.

Solution: Test their “reading” of the ball. See if they consistently pick whether the ball is heading onto middle-stump/leg-stump/etc. 

b) EXAGGERATION – young batter often need convincing that a straight bat shot can get the ball to all corners of the field. They believe that balls need to be “hit” sideways….when in fact, they need to be deflected.

When they realize – and accept – that using the pace of the ball works, they will do it much more! But this is an education, and you need to demonstrate this truth to them – at first they simply won’t believe you!

Solution: Mass practice. Focus on the leg-side for a change! It is generally thought that off-side batting is more “correct”, but this isn’t the case. I often under-arm balls to batters on the full, at an angle onto their legs.

In order to play these balls, the batters need to meet the ball, and bring their bat through straighter. Because of the wide angle, any movement across the line will make them miss it. Get them learning that small changes in the angle of the bat are sufficient.

BOWLING

“You released the ball too late/too early”

Why: Does this actually mean anything? No. The phrase is useless, merely describing what has happened, and without any explanation.

IMG_0452A bowler doesn’t actually consciously let go of the ball, squeezing it tight until the right moment to release it. What affects the release time is a) how we stand, and b) how smoothly we bowl.

Alternatives: To figure out why the ball really goes too far, short, left or right, players need to know the “science” behind it.

  • SHORT BALL (OR “TOO LATE”): a result of the body or legs collapsing.
  • OVER-PITCHED (OR “TOO EARLY”): at some point, the bowler’s fingers have lost grip, and are no longer behind the ball. Leaning to the side is the main cause of the ball sliding out “too soon”.
  • WIDE BALLS: balls go off target when the body twists, closes off or opens up. Look very closely at each player’s “gather” position. How have they moved from the jump, to the landing and bowling action.

FIELDING

Don’t “move your hands away from the ball”/”don’t be scared of the ball”.

Why: This comment betrays a lack of nuance, and doesn’t really give a player a way out. There is often a very logical reason that a catcher moves their hands, or flinches as they catch. 

Was hand position really they dropped the ball? Did the rest of the catchers body move into position? Most players who withdraw their hands from the ball at the last moment, do so because they aren’t close enough to the ball in the first place.

By failing to get in line with the ball, the catcher’s fingertips are exposed to the hard impact of the hard ball. It is therefore perfectly natural for them to back away. 90% of players who appear scared of the ball, lack a technique to help them cushion the ball properly. But repeatedly urging them to keep their hands there won’t address the problem.

Wouldn’t you be “scared of the ball, if all your experience had taught you that catching is painful? As a coach, it’s your job to help a player overcome this.

Alternatives: “Body behind the ball”. “Skip into line”. “Did you get all the way there”?

All these statements are reminders to get an extra step/half-step nearer to ball, thus give yourself a chance to absorb the impact. Don’t be distracted by the hands, and instead look at the bigger picture.

EXAMPLE: In the video below, one of our Academy boys is working on his movement to the ball….to avoid flinching as it hits his hands.

Going beyond technique. How to bat through the “phases”

With so many elements involved with batting, it is easy to get lost in details. 

What about the psychology of walking out to bat in a match? Technique is important. But you have to be in a state to use it!! 

Watching hundreds of junior matches, it is clear that a majority of players are “capable” of scoring way more runs than they actually do. Some never convert ability in the nets, to runs on the field. Others struggle to capitalize on good starts. This has less to do with technique, and way more to do with coping in the middle, at different “phases” of an innings.

PHASE 1: GETTING “IN”

katie batting
Do you “freeze” or “panic” early in your innings?

Several players are “out” before they have even walked to the crease. They simply don’t know how to get themselves ready. They may get lucky, but a good ball in the first over will almost inevitably result in their downfall. 

Although the problem these batters face (inability to keep a clear mind) is the same, the symptoms are different. Coaches must be receptive to these differences, and adapt their advice.

Just saying “concentrate more”, doesn’t cut it. Get inside their thought process (which is different for every individual), and help them find a way to overcome their nerves.

  1. Freezing
    Nerves push us one of two directions: hyper-activity, or freezing. Freezers will walk into bat, take guard….and then stand motionless on the spot, regardless of how long before the bowler decides to steam in.
    Warning signs: Straight/stiff legs and arms. Body weight resting on heels (instead of toes). These are just a consequence of being motionless for that long. A player should never be in their batting stance for more than 10s.
    Solution: Pre-ball and pre-innings routines! Encourage these players to “wake up” their legs early on. This can be done with some simple footwork drills. Even hopping from foot to foot a little! Anything to avoid a flat-footed prod at the first delivery!
  2. Panicking (or “anti-freezers)
    For other players, surging adrenaline makes them want to move and swing too fast and too early.
    Warning signs: looking agitated at the crease, unable to stay still. Little flamboyant movements with the bat. Picking the bat up very high, or lots of practice shots between balls.
    Solution: Relax! Spend the time before an innings slowing things down.
    Regulate their breathing. Have a calm routine between each ball, and stick to it. Watch the ball. Keep things simple!
  3. Hit-and-run
    For some players, their early-innings nerves manifest in the desperation to get down the other end, for their first run!
    Sometimes a solid defensive shot, and a decisive “no!” achieves the same confidence boosting effect. Forget the scoreboard. Just get comfortable!
    Solution: Give positive feedback for good habits, not just for scoring runs. Players like this have to be weened onto “process” related feedback, and not “result” related feedback. Remind them to look up first. Reassure them that runs can always be caught up.
  4. Good contact = run
    A frequent symptom of spending too much time in the nets – yes parents, “playing a game” isn’t (always) just a way for us coaches to have an easy session!! Good shots don’t automatically deserve runs. And calling isn’t a reflex. It’s a process….of which decision making is a vital part!
    Just saying “yes”, before thinking, is NOT calling. Again, good shots DO NOT automatically deserve runs.
    Solution: Long term thinking. Ask players where they would like to be in 10-15 balls.
    Players often convince themselves that they can only settle after getting “off the mark”. Telling this player that they “should have called “no””. will not stop them from making this mistake again. The real issue is that they are calling based on the wrong information.
    Get past the obvious, and move to the root cause!

  5. Pre-meditating
    Playing down the line of the stumps, regardless of where the ball is. Try asking your players what they think about when they come in to bat, and you will often identify the ones who will pre-meditate. Answer like, “defend it”, “play straight”, are sensible, but indicate that they may look for a default shot.
    Warning signs: Finishing shots in strange positions. If your player ends their shot on one knee, feet very wide apart (almost doing the splits), or staggering after their shot (back foot wheeling round), this is a sign that they have moved the wrong way, and been forced to adjust their position last minute!
    Some step down the pitch, only later realizing that the ball is wider than expected. Others rock backwards, and have to jam the bat down at the end. They will frequently complain that the ball “kept low” or jumped up”. The truth is that they didn’t look at the ball in the first place.
    Solution: “Where is the ball”. “Where is the ball”. “Where is the ball”. “Where is the ball”!

PHASE 2: “STAYING IN” AFTER “GETTING IN”

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Sometimes players are too keen to “get on with it”….and forget there is a whole field to hit into!

So, you’ve negotiated the tricky early phase. You’d expect things to get better and better from here! The second phase should be easy…..

Not always! Many batters start confidently, but for some reason they lose their way as time goes on. The mounting frustration usually produces a mistake. A huge number of good players never learn to convert their starts into decent scores. What specific pressures contribute to players struggling to “kick on”?

Again, simply saying “you lost concentration” will not get them to change this. What happened? What pressure are they under? And how can we fix it next time?

  1. Accelarating too quickly
    There is a voice in every batter’s head, whispering/saying/yelling, “get on with it”. Sometimes, this pressure comes from the sidelines too!
    Many young players believe they need to keep accelerating from start to finish. However, the odd dot ball, or maiden over, is not the end of the world!
    Warning signs: Players who talk to themselves. Visible frustration after missing the ball, or hitting to a fielder. Look out for their batting grip too. Are they “choking” the bat handle more and more over time?
    Solution: “Keep going”. “Look for singles”. There’s no need to change something that is working!
  2. Losing momentum
    For every mid-innings slogger, there is a mid-innings ditherer. Somebody who seems to get stuck in the mud. All their shots in this period seem to lack strength, as the run rate drops.
    They are usually thinking “we need the runs” just as much. The only difference is that in their case, the pressure to score has a different, paralyzing effect on their game effect.
    Early warning signs: stifled movements. Less confident body language. Flicking the ball instead of swinging. Missing out on wider balls (especially leg-side).
    Solution: “Wait for the ball”. “Move late, and all at once”. “Stand taller”.
    90% of the time, these players are trying to attack, but move too soon. What appears on the surface as a “soft” shot, is actually a disjointed one. In order to strike the ball hard, a cricket shot needs “rhythm” and “fluency”. The annoyance causes them to lose their body shape….stooping more, and leaning on their bat.
  3. Sudden rush of blood
    When a player looks completely in control, then inexplicably throws his/her wicket away. Usually, this happens after a boundary.
    Early warning signs: repeating the same successful shot next ball. When some young players score a boundary, their brain often tells them to repeat that shot. However, the next one might be completely different.
    Solution: “Watch the ball”. 
  4. Lunging/Pre-meditating
    We all get a little bit lazy during an innings. But can we snap out of it? Over time, batters can lose the precision of their movements. Instead of picking up the line and length, they lurch forwards or backwards automatically.
    Warning signs: Head falling forwards. 
    Solution: “Pick your shots”. “Front foot or back foot”? If a player can read the signs – realizing that they are getting lazy in their movements – they can fix it during their innings.
    However, the risk is that they never work it out, and get out shortly afterwards.
  5. “Snatching” at the ball
    Instead of a smooth swing.
    Warning signs: “Choking the bat”. This is usually a result of tension in the arms and hands. Without realizing it, a player can begin to squeeze the bat too hard. This is often fatal. They will now stab or thrash the ball, instead of playing a controlled shot.
    Solution: “Relax your hands”. “Walk away”. Encourage your players to get away from the crease between each balls. Letting go of the bat with each hand helps keep the tension away. Small details like this can make a huge difference, and improve a player’s ability to bat for long periods.

PHASE 3: END OF INNINGS

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How can we make the most out of the “death” overs? It’s more than just slogging!

OK, fair enough. We probably do “need the runs” now. But that doesn’t mean we have to resort to baseball. Always keep in mind: “attacking” is different from “slogging”. 

An attacking batter still watches the ball, has a number of scoring option, and values placement as well as contact. A “slogger” forgets everything other than the contact.

This principle is even more important when coaching young players….who don’t have the muscle mess to pump the ball into row Z. If they want to hit harder, they need an approach that stands a chance of working.

  1. Over-swinging
    Trying “too hard” to hit the ball, can often have the opposite result. When the bat goes up too high, a player’s wrists will start to take over – possibly twisting and turning. From this point, there is no guarantee the bat will come down the same way as it came up!
    Solution: “Use your shoulders”. I often try and remind players to “save their energy for the swing”, instead of winding up in their backswing too hard. 
  2. Charging
    Instead of coming down the wicket in a controlled way, players often almost sprint at the ball. This runs the risk of off-balance shots, or running past the ball altogether. The bowler may also see you coming!
    Warning signs: Bobbing (head) or twisting (shoulders or hips) as they come down the pitch.
    Solution: Talk about “balance” and “allignment”. Hold your body angle as you skip forwards. This way, your arms can have a full swing at the ball.
  3. Backing away
    Doing this reduces your scoring areas to a “slice”. Any attempt to swing with power is diminished….distance from the ball prevents a full swing.
    Solution: A slightly more open stance may be useful. This increases your swinging potential, but makes sure you can still hit the ball all around the field.
  4. Pre-meditating
    Pre-meditated shots may be a useful calculated risk at the end of an innings. But picking one shot, come-what-may, could mean you miss out on a boundary somewhere else.
    Solution: It sometimes helps to have a “Plan B” – if the ball is outside your “hitting arc”, or cramps you for room. Smash the ball if it is in your “slot”, or work the ball into a different gap if it isn’t.
  5. Forgetting “behind square”
    Late cuts, ramps, and even glances, can produce boundaries! Using the pace of the ball is an option at any stage of an innings. For smaller-framed batters, it might just be their best option too!
    Solution: “Look around the field”. “Where are the gaps”?