“Chaos Fielding”: a game for expecting the unexpected

It is difficult to replicate genuine pressure situations in training. However you can add extra layers: decisions to make, instructions to follow….or a few distractions and confusion. 

What fielders traditionally lack

  • PERIPHERAL VISION – knowing what is going around you. Picking up cues such as the running batters….not an easy task when your priority is to focus on the small moving ball!
    When done well, it is almost an instinct. While learning, encourage players to “look up” and evaluate the situation. Decisions need information!!
  • COMPOSURE – run out chances are often wasted before they have really begun. Not being ready, and fumbling the ball.
  • RESPONSE TO MISTAKES OR CHANGE – the situation is always shifting. The ball can bobble or we can simply slip up! And in these situations, a cool head is needed.
    However what our brain wants to do is instantly amend that mistake. We rush, and can make the mistake even worse.
  • WHY IS THIS – fielding drills are often formulaic. Take the famous “Triangle Drill” for example. The ball goes round and round in a predictable loop.Sometimes you need some imagination to take a coaching staple, and include the unexpected, or even something a little bit different!

 

The “Chaos” Fielding Drill: making things deliberately confusing!

This game really isn’t rocket science. But I use a few twists to this simple drill, to keep fielders on their toes. 

Priority is speed. Attacking the ball – a) saving time with technique, b) quick release, instead of brute force and overly hard throws –  and “recycling” – constantly ready for the next thing, not giving players extra time to recover.

Set up:

  • 2 STUMPS – a keeper’s and bowler’s end
  • 3 GROUPS – 1 x fielding, 2 x backing-up

chaos fielding setup

How it works:

  • LOW FAST FEEDS – skid the ball into the fielder at pace
  • FIELDER ATTACKS BALL – instead of waiting for it to come to them. Emphasis on speed and closing down gap
  • THROW TO STUMPS – coach shouts which end
  • NEXT BALL HIT STRAIGHT AWAY! – no time for dawdling

chaos fielding process

What happens next:

  • FIELDER RETURNS – to back of queue
  • CATCHER RETURNS BALL – puts in pile and returns to their queue
  • NON-CATCHER RETURNS TO CONE – runs out for the next ball
  • COACH CAN SHOUT “CHANGE STATIONS” – entire group then moves to station to the LEFT.

chaos fielding next

Making it trickier:

  • FIELDER HAS TO FOLLOW BALL – runs to whichever end they threw it. Joins back of queue
  • CATCHER RETURNS BALL – to the pile
  • CATCHER THEN REPLACES FIELDER – joins the back of the fielding queue

chaos fielding stage 2

EXTRA COACHING POINTS

  • IT IS CONFUSING ON PURPOSE! – the criss-crossing players are deliberate. With this game, I intend to promote each player’s awareness. Instead of fixating, or tunnel-vision, a fielder needs at least half an eye on the bigger picture.
    AGAIN, THIS IS VERY DIFFICULT, but it helps your fielding get to the next level
  • GET OUT OF THE WAY – know when you need to be involved, and when you need to give your teammates a clear view. This skill is transferable to general positioning, in terms of backing up.
  • GET EVERYTHING IN ORDER – for fielders this is: 1. attack the ball, 2. get steady, 3. turn, 4. throw!
    For the backing-up fielders it is: 1. get in position, 2. correct body position, 3. catch, 4. tap stumps.
    Under pressure, it is easy to try to rush each process….for example, starting the turn and throw before the catch is complete.
    With practice, fielders can go through each phase much quicker
  • QUICK RELEASE BETTER THAN A HARD THROW – the time saved is usually the same. The extra control is huge
  • TURN INSTEAD OF “LUNGE” – a player needs their whole body in line to throw consistently. This means “swiveling” your body is a useful skill. However, sometimes fielders throw their arm or leg towards the target, without balance.

When is a “good” session bad, and a “bad” session good?

“….as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know.

But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know”.  (Donald Rumsfeld – 2002)

Donald Rumsfeld was (in)famous for this quote. Although he was often ridiculed for it, this quote makes a lot of sense (hear me out!)

Question your assumptions, and make sure you really “know” what you think you do! When your focus is narrow, you miss out on anything that might change your perspective.

In short, keep an open mind!

How this applies to coaching

How do we “know” that our coaching has been effective?

We can’t simply judge on individual sessions. We can’t judge purely on whether players have enjoyed this or that particular activity. 

DO THEY REMEMBER? – A “good” session, is one where any improvement is retained for the next session or match. A “bad” session, is one that has no “legacy”.

What players remember is all that matters. Don’t judge a session’s effectiveness until the following week. “What did we work on last week”?

ARE YOU GETTING THE FULL PICTURE? – It is easy for a coach to only listen to positive feedback.

Feedback comes directly (conversations), indirect feedback (emails of praise or complaint) and, sometimes, hearsay and rumors. Internally (self reflection) or externally (parents or managers).

Progress can be objective (results or stats) or self-imposed “KPI”s (Key Performance Indicators). It can even be intangible – personal growth, an improvement in body language, an increase in independence.

We need to take on board all of these. Look beyond what is obvious.

The “Bad” Good Session

A session that looks good on the surface, actually be ineffective….or even detrimental. 

When a coaching session can “flatter to deceive”….

  • Have you made all of the decisions for them? – If so….have you just made them look good? Could they replicate these skills on another given day, without your input?
    Have they really learnt anything? There is a critical difference between detailed coaching and “spoon-feeding”.
  • Have you been blinded by “champagne moments”? – the smashed six, the brilliant diving catch or the perfect out-swinger. These stick in the mind. But they can obscure other memories as well.
    Cricket is about “joining up” these good moments into good performances.
    Look for overall trends. Was the performance generally high – or were there big peaks and dips? Was a good start sustained to the end?
  • Are you making excuses for them? – Was that shot really “unlucky”? Was that shot really “good”? Sometimes a player needs blunt honesty. They never want it, but they need it!
    Again, there is a fine line between encouragement, and appealing to vanity.
  • Is it just “improvement through repetition”? – do anything 100 times, and you are likely to be better at it than when you started. But there is a real risk of the wrong technique being practiced, or this practice lacking purpose or meaning.
    Repetitions are only as useful as you make them.
  • Is the session formulaic – to give an example, I am not a fan of relays….even for the younger age groups. Relays give the “illusion of control”, as there is no room for misunderstanding. But cricket is much more chaotic than this.
    With a bit of trickery, you can deliver a cricket session that looks brilliant to the watching parent, but doesn’t actually achieve anything. I prefer a session that looks disorderly at times, but allows for mistakes, learning and more improvement.

The “Good” Bad Session

The more I have coached, the more I feel able to do what is “right” (in my opinion), for my players’, and not necessarily what players “want” all the time. Sometimes harsh truths need to be learnt. 

Many coaches of the old school like to call this “tough love”. But that is too crude a term….it is a much more delicate skill. It is a coach’s role to achieve this without completely demoralizing a player or team.

  • EPIPHANIES – players don’t improve in a smooth, predictable way. There are plateaus….periods where a player seems not to be progressing.
    To get through these, a player sometimes needs to accept that another approach might be needed. What worked at one age group may not be enough at the next.
    Acceptance is the first stage. But when a player starts to work on the right things, they can experience a sudden leap in results.
  • REALITY CHECKS – A coach can “insulate children” from harsh truths, by spoon-feeding instructions, or playing consistently to their strengths in practice. But with this, you run the risk of an “Achilles Heel” that stops that player ever moving forwards.
    For example, the player who can play an elegant cover-drive, but never keeps out a yorker. At a certain level, a player like this will be “found out”. Intelligent bowlers will spot the weakness, and exploit it.
    It is your responsibility to point out vital changes – in approach, mentality or technique.
    EXCUSES: ZERO TOLERANCE – When a player has made a wild swing at the ball….but apparently the ball bounced “too high” or “too low”. When a bowler is hit for 4, but apparently to a “lucky” shot. When a player flings the ball at the stumps, without thinking about the consequences, then blames the catcher (or visa-versa).
    All these stop a player from looking at themselves, and what they could have done better. Even if there is a grain of truth to the excuse, encourage players to do everything in their power to prevent it from happening.
  • STRUGGLE – The best players do not find life easy the whole time. They encounter forks in the road, where they can take the “easy” route or the “hard route”.
    Sometimes they have to scratch around; force themselves to hang in there; make “ugly runs”.
    Training should always be a challenge. Sometimes, it is useful to run an “overload session”. Stack the odds against a particular player, or play constantly to their weakness….and see how they react.
    If you run a session like this, make it clear to the players. Reassure them that you expect mistakes. Let them know that you are looking more at their resilience and mental application than perfect technique. This helps them to battle through, knowing that they won’t face instant criticism.

It’s not just “hands to the ball”: fielding coaching, done well!

Get your hands to the ball

What about the rest of you? Always remember, the hands are the last part of the catching process! Just like batting, you need to be near it first!

One of the most common mistakes coaches make when fielding, is one of the most fundamental….they watch the ball not the player! By the time they are watching the right things, it’s too late!

Have a close look at your players, to see if they are consistently right under or behind the ball!

GROUND FIELDING: Approach at the right angle! – Set off in the right direction. Either forwards, diagonally or side-to-side.

fielding side-to-side

  • SWIVEL – turning your feet quickly, so that instead of shuffling, the fielder can sprint to the ball
  • UPPER BODY FACING THE BALL – as the legs move quickly sideways, it is important that your upper body is facing forwards. Use your arms for balance
  • GETTING DOWN AT THE RIGHT TIME – get as close to the ball as you can, before you start to reach for the ball. Reaching out with your arms, or stooping too early, slows you down (meaning crucial distance lost)!

BOUNDARY FIELDING: Use the “Banana Run” – the “Banana Run” is a phrase I have coined, to explain the movement involved when you patrol the boundary.

When the ball comes off the bat, a fielder picks up the line first – “is the ball to my left or right”? This is the direction you set off in. Why? Because if the ball is struck hard, every millisecond counts. By “hugging” the boundary rope, you buy extra time to cover more ground….if you need it!

Later on you will pick up the length. This is where the “Banana Run” comes into play. If the ball is losing pace, and you can attack it, start to bend your run in-field.

It may only take 2 or 3 steps for you to realize you can attack the ball. But using this technique, you can be sure you are taking the exact path to the ball you need, saving crucial split seconds!

fielding banana run

  • AVOID – “Reverse Banana”, where the fielder runs in too early, realises they won’t cut off the ball at this angle and suddenly has to curve backwards.

CHASING TO BOUNDARY – the “Scoop & Roll” – If you chase the ball back towards the boundary, your body position is crucial.

Think about how you approach the ball. Remember that it’s not just getting to the ball that matters here, it’s keeping it off the boundary. Not an easy task when all your body’s momentum is hurtling forwards!

Make sure you approach the ball slightly to the side. This allows you to hook the ball off the boundary, with a rotating body. Benefits of this include

  • MORE “SURFACE AREA” – you can use your entire forearm to keep the ball off the ropes. More margin for error
  • LESS CHANCE OF “DOUBLE CONTACT” – you don’t want to scoop the ball into your own body….as this will take the ball back over the line
  • RECOVERING FOR THROW – this action allows you to tumble over, and spring back onto your feet straight away

HIGH CATCHING: “X Marks the Spot!” – some players idly walk forwards, and allow the ball to drift over their head. Others hesitate, and are too late to realize the ball is dropping out of reach.

A third group pick up the ball quickly, run 99% of the way, but miss the crucial FINAL step underneath the ball.

Catchers want to be in a position they can a) get their hands to the ball, and b) cushion it with their arms, shoulders and knees (not just their hands).

FLAT CATCHING – Swaying Body – Move your hands to the ball, but make sure your body moves into line as well!

  • Bend “leading leg” (one closest to ball) – like batting, this will let your body move in line, and not get stuck
  • Steady “trailing leg” – don’t let it slide around, as this will turn your body

Not so good technique:

Net Matches: ways to make your net sessions more realistic

Here are a few ways I use to instill a little realism in nets. 

Nets can meander unless you have a clear purpose. I am always keen to set some more specific goals. 

The “3-Strikes” Game

  • Normal nets
  • When the batter plays a wild slog, or commits a silly error, they LOSE 1 STRIKE
  • When the batter is dismissed, they LOSE 1 STRIKE
  • When the batter loses 3 strikes, they are OUT (and the next batter can start padding up).

Logic: players will make mistakes, but repeated errors – or “throwing in the towel” – are a problem.

I use this game to give batters a chance to recover from their mistakes, in a way that “out-and-you’re-out” nets do not. It is training after all, and players are working on one thing or another.

**It is important that strikes are only deducted for SILLINESS, and not for small mistakes (eg/ if the bowler produces a brilliant ball, the batter shouldn’t be penalized)**

Net match

There are any number of variations you can use for this. Sometimes, I even score a net match like a real game – set fields and award runs based on them!

EXAMPLES

  • 2 V 2 MATCH
    – 3 wickets per pair
    – Set amount of time for innings
    – If pair 1 is bowled out early, pair 2 gets their remaining time to bat

EXTRAS

  • connor matchPitch Map
    – Measure where each bowler is landing their balls, to which batters
    – You can see whether patterns emerge. Is your team bowling too short? Where are most the balls going? Does this change at different stages of an innings?
  • Impact Points
    – This is my invented method to find out which balls a player is attacking, deflecting, defending or missing/edging/getting out to
    – It helps a coach to see patterns in a player’s approach, and figure out the reason behind weaknesses
    For more information, CLICK HERE
  • farazWagon wheels
    – Monitor where each batter is hitting the ball
    – Are there areas that each batter is playing shots to, or avoiding hitting shots to?

USEFUL APPS

We use NX Cricket, for it’s useful breakdown of stats – including wagon wheels, “Manhattans”, run rate charts and personal data.

CLICK HERE FOR AN EXAMPLE MATCH ANALYSIS

 

OTHER GAMES

“Side-To-Side” Fielding Drill – teaching players to cover the most ground

I use this activity to help demonstrate to young players that they can always get a bit closer to the ball than they think!

It is important that players know how to cover the most ground possible….without resorting to a dive or tumble. The key to this is learning to get into a full sprint as soon as possible.

fielding side-to-side

DON’T LOOK AT THE BALL!

The reason that many coaches miss the causes of fielding errors….they are watching the ball not the player!

This drill is not all about whether the player stops or catches the ball. It is about who can move the quickest and the furthest.

COACHING POINTS

  • SWIVEL – turning your feet quickly, so that instead of shuffling, the fielder can sprint to the ball
  • UPPER BODY FACING THE BALL – as the legs move quickly sideways, it is important that your upper body is facing forwards. Use your arms for balance
  • GETTING DOWN AT THE RIGHT TIME – get as close to the ball as you can, before you start to reach for the ball. Reaching out with your arms, or stooping too early, slows you down (meaning crucial distance lost)!

Bowling Grouping Challenge

The Bowling “Grouping” Challenge is a bowling game I use to encourage bowling consistency. I can also use it to bring up concepts such as the “best area” to bowl.

How it works

  • Teams work together: best in group of 2-4
  • 1 wicket keeper per group (rotates every minute)
  • Each group has 6-8 cones

PART 1: PUT YOUR CONES DOWN

  • FIRST 6-8 BALLS – players put a cone down where each ball pitches/lands
  • Players are either a bowler, wicket keeper or “cone putter-downer”
  • Bowlers bowl 5-6 balls before swapping roles

bowling grouping challenge 1

Coaching:

This activity helps the players to see where their “off” balls usually go. Is there a pattern? If so, then that’s good! It means that one bit of technique is responsible for the ball going that way. 

80% of “bad” balls young bowlers bowl are due to one specific reason. If you can get them aware of that “thing”, they have a good chance of fixing it during a game! Give them a simple formula to remember (eg/ “If the ball goes down, then my body must be going _____. This means I need to try and stay ____”).

Try to get them guessing how to fix their bowling action….a wrong answer is better than “I don’t know”. And DO NOT LET THEM SAY “I RELEASED THE BALL TOO LATE/TOO EARLY. 

  • Ball “released too early” = body falling away to the side (“get into your aim position”; “line your body up”; “try not to twist around as you bowl”)
  • Ball “released too late” = body and head falling downwards (“use legs more”; “keep your knees up and chin up and back straight”)

PART 2: IMPROVE YOUR “GROUPING”

  • When all the cones have been put down, the team has a chance to “improve” their cluster
  • IF BOWLER BOWLS A GOOD BALL – the team can pick up their worst cone, and replace it
  • IF BOWLER BOWLS A BAD BALL – the team can leave the cones alone

bowling grouping challenge 2

Coaching

I will be watching how the players decide their strategy. Do they figure out where is the best place to land their cones? Do they know which cones to move first? This helps me get a concept of whether they know the best line and length.

Questions I might ask:

  • “Where would we like this cluster to be? A bit shorter/fuller/wider?
  • What would make this happen? How can we change our bowling a bit?
  • What do we need to use a bit more (legs)? How do we need to be at the crease (more balanced)

WINNING TEAM

  • WHO BOWLED THE BEST “LENGTH”? (1 POINT)
  • WHO BOWLED THE BEST “LINE”? (1 POINT)
  • WHO HAD THE BEST “CLUSTER”? (1 POINT)

PART 3: HIT YOUR CONES

  • “You have 3 minutes. You get 1 extra point every time you hit your cluster”
  • This is a good way of demonstrating that “grouping” and consistency is important. The more tightly packed the cluster, the easier it is to aim. 

Bowling “4-Ways”: helping bowlers focus on one thing at a time

There is a lot going on with a bowling action! So how do we coach it without bombarding our players with information?!

With such a bewildering list of potential flaws, it is easy to “lurch” from statement to statement – “get your arm higher” one ball, “keep your chin up” the next.  But in order to improve consistently, player’s need consistent feedback.

This “4-Ways” Bowling Session is one way of keeping a consistent message. It also prompts your players to think on their feet – moving from “what” went wrong” to “why”.

HOW IT WORKS

Divide your group up into 4 teams. Each team rotates around the 4 activities below (about 10-15mins on each).

BOWLING LENGTHBOWLING LINEBOWLING TARGETBOWLING FOLLOW THROUGH

1. BOWLING LENGTH

  • Target Area: from “good length” (about 5-6m from the wickets), to the batting crease (“yorker” length)
  • Coaching Theme: height and balance. Making sure your bowlers a) get up tall, and b) stay tall through their action
  • Get Them Thinking: what MAKES the ball come out “too early” or “too late”. These statements mean nothing on their own….releasing the ball isn’t a conscious thing!

2. BOWLING LINE

  • Target Area: between middle stump and “5th/6th stump (2 or 3 imaginary stumps outside)
  • Coaching Theme: run-up and the correct angles. Making sure bowlers are concentrating their effort to the target
  • Get Them Thinking: what makes the ball go straight, left or right? To many young bowlers have no idea how to diagnose these flaws

3. BOWLING TARGET

  • Target Area: Bull’s Eye, Small & Large Targets (more points the closer to the Bull’s Eye)
  • Coaching Theme: Focus on where to “pitch” (bounce) the ball. Do they have a firm eye on the EXACT target from start to finish?
  • Get them Thinking: a) Am I looking at the right target (spot on the pitch)? b) Am I always looking at that spot?

4. “BOWL-AND-FOLLOW” GAME

  • Target Area: get players bowling to keeper’s hands
  • Coaching Theme: momentum! Moving forwards in a smooth and constant way, from start to finish!
  • Get Them Thinking: is my bowling action smooth? Or am I jerky (stop-start)? Any change in effort, pace or intensity should be gradual.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

SOME MORE ANALYSIS

1. BOWLING LENGTH

  • BOWLING LENGTHTOO EARLY: the ball must have slid out of the hand as it is coming over. This could be because of
    – Leaning to the side – which means the fingers are no longer behind the ball
    – Wrist position – everything could be right, but a “floppy” wrist could undo it all!
    – Poor gather – look to see if your bowler is preparing their arms correctly. If the arms are out to the side, their action will be more of a “sling”
  • TOO LATE: nearly always because a bowler is falling down
    – Legs collapsing – look for bent knee. This will make it impossible for a bowler to stay tall
     – Back bending – look at the run-up, for signs of “stooping”
    – Arms lifting to sky – what goes up, must come down! Make sure that a player’s arms are up AND IN FRONT OF THEM. Not vertically upwards, and dragging their body to the floor
    – Legs stopping – keep the legs driving “throught the crease”. Look to see if a bowler’s knees are high, so they have support for their body each step.

 

2. BOWLING LINE

  • BOWLING LINELEG-SIDE (ASSUMING RH BATTER & BOWLER): usually this is caused by a bowler’s arm dropping down
    – Use shoulders more – you need your shoulder working to get your bowling arm higher. Are your bowlers’ shoulders “engaged”?
    – Poor aiming – if your aiming arm is lazy, your body can “open up”. This will mean you can’t drive your arm properly to the target
    – Not “completing” the action – if the bowling arm is slowing arm, is begins to droop. Result = balls fall to the leg-side. Make sure your bowling arm carries on until it is pointing behind you.
    – Delivery stride – if the last step is across your body, is blocks you from bowling the ball to the target
  • OFF-SIDE: caused by a twisting body, that pulls the ball to this direction
    – Delivery stride – get your front foot and leg pointing to the target. The body needs this leg for support. Without it, you will fall away to the side
    – Twisting shoulders – your shoulders need to move in a “vertical plane” (eg/ right arm up and over, left arm down and under). When they move in a “horizontal plane” (eg/ twisting round”), the bowling action becomes more of a discus throw.

 

3. BOWLING TARGET

  • RUN-UP – is my run-up balanced, allowing my head (the heaviest part of the body) to be stable
    – Stooping – sometimes a bowling action is ruined from the first step of the run-up!
    – Poor running style – look out for knees and heels. Are they staying in line?
  • JUMP – am I stable “in-flight”? or am “falling” into my bowling action?
    – Arms and legs “inside the vehicle”! –
  • FOLLOW-THROUGH – am I able to see where the ball hits the pitch? Could i pinpoint exactly where it landed? If I can’t, then why (have I fallen or leant to the side)?

4. “BOWL-AND-FOLLOW” GAME

  • DECELERATING – a bowler is more likely to bowl a ball that drops short or “sits up” to be hit
  • SUDDEN BURST OF EFFORT – straining to hard for speed.
  • LEGS – each step needs to be a similar length and at a similar “rate”.  Check to see if your bowlers are moving smoothly from one step to another, not “putting the brakes on” (pause between steps, often caused by lunging forwards), or “shuffling” (series of short steps, that lose the momentum you built up).

We need to talk about nets….

Are we doing nets soon?

Will we be going in the nets soon? I’m a bit concerned there haven’t been any nets so far. This training seems a bit basic for my son/daughter.

If I was to sum up the parental feedback we typically get over the winter in 10 words, it would be something like this….

Nets, nets, nets, hardball, nets, nets, hardball, nets, nets, nets!

Why is it all about the nets?!!

Battling false impressions

Deep down, we know why. Hard ball, full batting gear, Everything about nets indicates “proper” cricket. 

We are often caught between what is the right thing to do and what will ruffle the least feathers. Between what the players need and what they (and their parents) want.

At some cricket clubs I have worked at, I wrestle internally between the two. Sometimes even the journey to the ground, I still haven’t chosen my path. Do I want another evening (probably a chain of emails the next day too) justifying my methods? Do i have the patience to stand my ground over and over?

To put it simply: is it worth the effort? Can I be bothered to do things my way?

Limitations of nets

  • Difficult to handle mixed standards – potentially dangerous situations
  • Limited balls faced and bowled – soft balls allow for greater intensity and frequency of repetitions

Net “Non-Negotiables”

Of course, net practice can be really useful – or you may have to factor more in than you previously planned. So how can we make them as beneficial as possible – not just at the time, but improvement that will stick long term?

The key is making them so, not assuming they are useful automatically. To be a productive use of your time, nets need….

A purpose

Try not to treat nets as an “end in itself”. Give batters or bowlers carte-blanche to do whatever they want, and your session will meander. There will be peaks and troughs. They will “try new things” – probably once every 2 or 3 balls. Engagement will fluctuate….even more wildly than normal!

Set a scenario – “You are the opening batter. It’s a 30 over match. Set the platform for the rest of the innings”, would be the simplest. But even this gesture will give some direction to the players.

Set a theme – eg/ “today, we are going to learn how to deflect and time the ball. You score a point every time you hit the ball into the ground, before it hits the net”.

Preparation

Don’t even bother turning up unless….

Measured a run-up – Sports halls are inadvertently useful for cricket training. They have lines to run down, and any number of “markers” for your run-up.

However you do it, mark your start point, and test whether you are “hitting the crease”.

Warmed up & stretched….or “engaged” different muscles! – Just trotting up and bowling some half-paced balls does not constitute a warm-up!

Muscles that need “engaging”:

  • Shoulders – arms move freely, but a bowling action is dependent on free-moving shoulders too! I find a “exaggerated swimming” action effective.
  • Hips – Bowling involves picking your knees up. This means the upper leg join needs to be loose. Lean against a wall, and swing each leg back and forward, across. Try to gently extend its range of movement.
  • Core muscles – abs, lats, side and back. There is a lot of twisting and contorting involved with bowling. A strong core is needed help you to fully aim, bowl and complete your action.

Empowered players

There is a little trick to looking like a “good coach” in the nets….just be opinionated! Every ball will present an opportunity to say something new. But effective nets need more consistency and variety – “command-response” coaching might achieve some quick fixes, but isn’t enough to have a lasting effect. 

The answer is blending in lots of “player-led” coaching. Start with assessing your opponents, and deciding on a plan! Some young players talk about their teammates’ strengths and weaknesses, as if they’ve never met before in their lives!

You do have to prompt them to analyze each other. And ween them off the classic cliches: “Bowl at the top of off”. “Keep it on the off-side”….all mean next-to-nothing, unless a player understands why they want to aim at these places.

A full grasp of a bowling plan will make them bowl with so much more intent, drive and purpose.

The last 10 minutes

This is the most critical phase of any net session. The closing stages will determine whether any improvements are crystallized, or whether your players jump straight back to “square 1”.

Quite naturally, people’s attention wanders towards the end. This applies to players and coaches. But a pep talk may be in order here, if you notice focus waning. Why spend 95% of your time building a player’s game up, only to undermine all that in the last 2 minutes.

I usually start with a compliment – “you have come so far in this hour” – along with some specific personal gains – “____, “your run-up is so much smoother”; ____’s movement to the ball has improved out of sight”!

Last over! You need 20 to win off 6!

Think. Are your targets realistic? Are you making the players earn their runs? Usually a coach will just award “2 runs” for any old slapped shot into the net.

Think of more imaginative ways to motivate your batters, other than a wildly unrealistic “last over” target.

Some games I use

 

How to create successful fielders: it’s more than technique

 Fielding isn’t just a skill. It’s a state of mind.

Despite being no more than a middling standard club cricketer, there is one part of the game in which I have always been able to stand out….fielding!

Through countless of hours of solo practice, and actually enjoying the art, I managed to develop high competence levels in any position – from the covers to short-leg.

Deep consideration of the discipline….how it is taught, how it can be generalised, and where teams go wrong with their approach to fielding….has also given me some insight into coaching fielding.

Is a reason why many teams who pocket every catch in training, can’t replicate it on the field? Despite hours of practicing “soft hands”, why does everybody’s grip seems to tighten under pressure? Players who are very competent at catching, frequently panic, when a crucial wicket depends on it.

Finally, is there anything we can do about it? Below are a few insights, from a lifetime is devotion to fielding, and being driven mad at club training sessions by the same fatal errors.

Why practice does not always make perfect?!

The common reasons for this is as follows:

a) Mis-diagnosing the causes of drops – typically, when a catch is grassed, everybody looks to the player’s hand position. Did they cushion the ball?; were they in the right place; were they together?

However if you look elsewhere, or trace the movements back to the beginning, you will often find the CAUSE of the drop, not just the SYMPTOM.

Start looking at the following instead:

  • Positioning – you can’t cushion the ball if you are too far away from it! Not only getting in the right position, but getting there as early as possible (so you can make small adjustments if the ball swerves).
  • Stability – you are best off looking at the feet first. Did the player steady themselves and have both feet planted? Rate your player’s “composure levels” as they catch.
  • Readiness – again, you’ll have no chance of taking a reflex catch if your hands arent in front of you, and palms facing the batsman. Sounds obvious, but this is commonly forgotten.

b) Judging success in training by the RESULT, forgetting the TECHNIQUE – in short, when a catch comes your way in training, you are more relaxed. The opposite is true when you are under a high ball in a match. 

With the higher stakes, and added pressure, your catching technique is under more scrutiny. Here is where you rely on the instincts and muscle memories from your body.

So where you may not be able to perfectly replicate this pressure….you definitely can take a perfectionist approach to training. Have your players perfectly centred themselves underneath the ball? Are their hands ready WELL IN ADVANCE of the catch? Did they keep the rest of their body perfectly still, or over-react as the ball hit them?

You must focus on the process, not the result! Getting the catches just right, is 100 times more important than doing your drills harder and faster.

In training,you may often find me being more harshly critical of some catches than dropped catches. While this sounds stupid, catching in a casual way in training is worse than no practice at all.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE – players often appear to be “scared of the ball”, when in fact they simply need confidence in their technique. For these players, you need to gently crank up the intensity and difficulty level, allowing them time to be more assured movements. Macho high catches will simply ruin their prospect of ever reaching this point. It’s more than about just “being brave”.

c) Panic – Nothing prepares you for that jolt of surprise and adrenaline, when the ball comes your way all of a sudden! 

In training, our focus is largely on “massed practice”. There is a certain formula to the drills….even if the feeding is random, you “know” the ball will find its way to you soon.

This is a difficult aspect of cricket to coach. The fact is that it takes time; building a mindset here is more important than flawless technique.

  • Good habits – always down and always pointing hands to ball
  • Team ethic – through positive atmosphere, everybody is automatically slightly more confident, alert and ready.
  • Togetherness – the feeling that we all field “as one”, sharing in each other’s good moments, is vital.
  • Sense of control – a player’s “body language” has a significant effect or the performance of every individual….this is hugely under-valued in its importance.

Don’t be that person who ends up diving or sprawling when they don’t need to. Don’t let that ball burst through your hands, because they are snatching at the last moment. Be calm at the right times.

Activities for “match pressure” catching

A favorite drill of mine is the “bowl a team out” slip catching game

Ideal group: 5-8

How it works:

Arrange the field around a batsman. Ideally a keeper, slip(s), gully, point, cover and short-leg. One person in the group is a “feeder”, throwing balls at the batsman who “edges” the ball.

The aim of the game is to take 10 wickets, all by catches….for the least number of runs possible.

This switches the focus from simply catching the ball, to retrieving it as well (I like to call it “finishing the job”). There is now an incentive to stop everything as well as catch. If the ball runs between fielders, or is fumbled, their job is to recover the ball to the feeder as quickly as possible.

Once the group has “bowled out” the imaginary team. They have another go. Their new aim is to get all 10 wickets for less runs.

If you have time for a third attempt, add extra hurdles to make the feat more challenging.

  • Up the pace of the feeds
  • Less “genuine” catching chances – make them wait for the crucial moment
  • More balls into gaps

MAKE THE GROUP WORK FOR THEIR WICKETS.

MAKE SURE THEY ARE ENCOURAGING EACH OTHER, AND LOOKING FORWARDS NOT BACK.

CELEBRATE EACH WICKET! CEMENT THE GOOD MOMENTS IN EVERYONE’S MIND, AND USE IT AS MOTIVATION TO CREATE MORE.

Three years with the Legends and Masters – cricket coaching with 4-year olds

Too true. Take note, all coaches who shirk working with the “younger ones”.
When done well and properly, beginners coaching is so much more than the derogatory term “babysitting”.

The Teesra

Back in 2014, I started coaching at the MCC Cricket Academy, and was assigned to support a coach delivering a “Little Legends” session for a group of 3-5 year olds.

Not really cricket, I thought – more 45 minutes of childcare, with a cricketing theme, perhaps, but not really cricket coaching.

I found out later that some of my new colleagues had directly requested not to be scheduled to work with the Little Legends, and I could understand why. But as the new coach, I didn’t think I could get away with opting out.

Three years later, I find myself leading the delivery for 5 weekly sessions for 5s and under. And the more I do, the more I appreciatethe valueof coaching the very young players in theAcademy’s Little Legends and Mini Masters programmes.

What changed?

I remembered one of the first pieces of advice I was given when I…

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