5 rules of coaching

1. Good drill doesn’t always = good coaching

“This is a brilliant drill, to get your players ________”

Sometimes the best looking, well-thought-through drills, don’t have as much impact. This is usually because of:

  • LACK OF RELEVANCE – is the skill too abstracted from any real-life match pressure? Will it actually hold up when it matters?
  • LACK OF REPETITIONS –  relays are a good example. They may look controlled (and impressive to parents on the sidelines), but are very often just crowd management exercises. They drastically reduce time in contact with the bat/ball.
  • ILLUSION OF PROGRESS – repeating pretty much any skill 100/200/300 times, will make you improve at it….no matter how flawed that skill is. Are they performing the skill the “right” way?

Drill A doesn’t automatically achieve objective B. No matter how much thought you have put into it.

2. Play the long game

“Why do you put up with that behavior, he’s so disrespectful”?

I was asked this by an onlooker at a cricket camp, last Summer. One of the boys had just snapped back rudely at me, after refusing to come and join the group. 

My response was, “you haven’t seen what it was like last year”!

The boy in question had made super progress, become much less self-absorbed and was now frequently a positive influence on the younger . This rude comment was now the exception, not the rule.

I have already admitted that I have a tendency to give players “too much rope”. But at least this gives me the opportunity to sculpt young people’s behaviors for the better. For me, a little social embarrassment was a price worth paying, to achieve something other coaches simply wouldn’t have.

People can often talk a tough game on discipline. But sometimes this results in large sections of the group being left behind or condemned.

The way to become an inspiring coach is by turning around behaviors, not declaring who “wants to” or “doesn’t want to” be here….

  1. BE RELATABLE – make sure you are a seen as approachable to each individual. Have a “clean slate” every session. Prove that you don’t hold grudges (no matter how bad the reputation). This may require you to be the “bigger man/woman” at times. But hey, you are the adult here!
  2. EXPLAIN YOUR POINTS OF VIEW – Too many coaches take being challenged to heart. Children and adults can be contrary. Go out of your way to explain your methods and why they work.
    A player will commit so much more to a technique/theme when they accept in their hearts it is right.
    Good coaches often need to be good “lawyers”!
  3. INSTILL BELIEF – the reason for a lot of poor behavior is down to this crucial factor….low self esteem. In short, it’s easier to not try at all, than to try and possibly fail.

    Working towards the high standards you expect can take years. But coaches need to “earn the right” to do things your way. This mindset helps to keep more players in the game. 

 

3. “Read” your group: be adaptable

Every team and group is a different organism. Your challenge as a coach – find out what they will best respond to. Achieve this, and your life will be much easier. Fail, and you risk plenty of arguments and friction.

Many coaches try to achieve what they want, not what their group needs. Do they want to become the best players possible? Or do they have other motivations.

With both groups, your primary aim has to be to develop and improve. You don’t give up on groups who are a bit more laid back. But you may have to take things more slowly, or use different learning styles.

I usually have 3 or 4 session plans based around the same skill. A “one size fits all” approach will not work. Sometimes the finish line will take longer to reach the finish line than you would like.

4. Are your players really thinking?

…..or are they just saying what they think you want to hear? There is a difference!

Often you will find that they are parroting coaching cliches.

  • “I’m coming down the wicket, to put the bowler off his/her length”
  • “I’m mixing it up to confuse the batter”
  • “I’m trying to hit through the off-side”
  • “I’m going to hit the top of off-stump”

The best players will go beyond catch phrases, and get analytical – both about themselves and their opponents. Good themes include:

  • STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES – a useful way to demonstrate that the same bowling, with a slightly different target or angle, can have more success.
  • “WHAT’S THE PLAN – Batters and bowlers considering what each other are trying to do. This gives them a chance to adapt and counter the plan they need to, or force a “Plan B” if they have been figured out.

5. Coach the “Why’s” not the “What’s”

A bowler “releases the ball too late/early”. A batter didn’t “get to the pitch of the ball”, or “keep a straight bat”. A catcher didn’t keep their hands “in line with the ball”. 

Yes….but why? 

If you only talk about the “what’s” – or symptoms – a player may never understand the “why’s” – or causes.

EXAMPLE: RELEASING THE BALL “TOO EARLY/LATE”

Here, you are talking about an “unconscious” act. A bowler doesn’t actively decide when to let go of the ball. So pointing out release points is close to meaningless. 

To improve, a player needs to know what makes this happen. A ball usually sticks in their hand too long, when they are falling down. Conversely, the ball flies out too soon when their fingers slip from behind the ball (leaning to the side, or slinging the ball).

EXAMPLE: GETTING “TO THE PITCH”

Think about how a young player might interpret this information. They will probably attempt to use their feet more – and this is potentially a good thing!

But there could be unintended consequences, as they look for a solution. They may start charging or lunging forwards, or going onto the front foot to every single ball.

Good footwork isn’t just about how big your step is. It is the ability to move your head and shoulders forwards too. “Leaning” to the ball is as vital as “stepping”!

 

4 Biggest mistakes in Fielding (and how to fix them)

1. “It’s all about being energetic”

It’s not. Fielding is as much about staying still as it is about moving!

Being fast and agile will give you more potential to impact the game. But composure will determine whether you consistently take that catch or run out chance.

Without composure, the ball never sticks to your hand! It should be highlighted lots in training. You do not want the ball to burst through their hands (unstable base), or “colliding” with the ball (still sprinting as ball hits your hand).

DRILL FOR UNDERSTANDING: “Fast – Slow – Fast”

I use this drill to teach fielders when to rush, and when to take their time. Use FAST BOBBLE FEEDS – skid the ball into the players from a low start (kneel down to feed the balls)

  • “FAST”: ATTACK THE BALL in the 1-2 seconds available, try and close down the gap as much as they can
  • “SLOW” – When the ball is about to hit your hand, get steady! Your priority shifts from moving fast, to being as still as possible.
    The better you get at fielding, the less time you have to allow for getting yourself steady. But for an average young player, I usually say to begin this process 1 second before the ball reaches them.
  • “FAST” – When the ball is securely in the hand – and it MUST BE IN YOUR HAND FIRST!! – speed up again! Shift body in direction of target (NOT just arms) and release.
    Make sure that the player is rotating their body, and not “lunging” towards their throwing target.

If you see your players “over-reacting” to relatively simple stops, point it out! If you see them taking the “easy way out” (sitting back, to get more time), point it out!

 

2. “ALWAYS/NEVER ………”

Cricket is chaotic. No two situations are identical. The amount of time you have varies greatly, and the situation could change at any second.

Therefore, it is very difficult to give absolute rules. Fielders need to be EMPOWERED to make decisions. Hard throw/soft throw/under-arm/over-arm. And to do this effectively, they need to look up, and evaluate what is going on. 

My belief is that fielding coaching, much like batting, is about giving players all the options – types of movements and actions. It is up to them decide when and where to use each.

So many run outs are missed as a result of throwing too hard, to the stumps instead of to hand, to the wrong end. Fielders need information – in the form of looking up, or effective communication – to decide what to do. 

3. Ready = “walking in”

Players who walk every ball can still be “not ready”. This is because the walking in has to end in a “set”, or ready, position. If you don’t get set, even standing still would be better!

Look out for:

  • “STAR-FISH” POSE – that moment when the ball is hit hard at a player….who isn’t completely ready. Both arms and legs stretch out, as they scramble to put them in the right place
  • DROPPING TO KNEES – players who are still walking in as the ball is hit, will have their feet too close together. A low, hard shot will be impossible to stop, unless they fall to the floor. It SHOULDN’T be necessary
  • RUNNING FORWARDS….THEN WHERE THE BALL IS – when forced to react fast, some players start running forwards before they move left or right. In this split second, it becomes impossible to stop some balls. Reason: they are still walking in.
    A close fielder needs to be primed to move in ANY DIRECTION. That requires stillness as the bowler releases the ball.

Being “properly” ready means a SET POSITION:

– on toes,
-poised to spring in any direction (not just forwards!)
-weight loaded slightly forwards (balanced, but if you nudged the back of their head, they would start to topple)

Look closely at your teams when fielding. Are they “ready”? Or are they just “watching”?

4. Aiming = pointing arms at target

Lining your feet up, is more important than aiming.  Feet help get your whole body in the right angle. it is the difference between aiming at a target, versus just waving in its direction!

There is no point in telling players to “aim” over and over. Make sure they are aiming properly and fully. Look out for….

THROWING WHILE ON THE MOVE – if your players is still jogging after their throw, that throw will have no real force behind it….and is also likely to be wayward.

Work on “anchoring” the back foot. This helps a thrower stop their momentum, and throw their body weight towards the target. With practice it becomes possible to swivel on this foot, then push towards the target, all in one movement.

THROW FLYING OVER KEEPER’S HEAD – happens when players never point their body to the target. This poor angle results in a sling instead of a proper throw.

Work on a fast “swivel”, using their core muscles to fully rotate. 

CLICK HERE FOR SOME OF THE FIELDING DRILLS I USE

“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)!