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

  • FIRST 6-8 BALLS – players put a cone down where each ball pitches/lands

bowling grouping challenge 1

PART 2

  • 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

WINNING TEAM

  • Whoever has the tightest cluster of cones
  • Whoever’s cluster of cones in in the best area (most accurate)

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.

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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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Missing pieces?: why some worse batters or bowlers are better “cricketers”…

All over in the first over

I watch, umpire and coach a lot of cricket. In that time, you can often begin to feel your a psychic!! Players walk in – sometimes outstanding talents – and you get a sense, it’s a matter of time before they’ll be walking back again. 

Glazed eyes. Shoulders slumped. Passive body language. Standing the right way, but somehow it still looks wrong. Days are often made or broken here, before a ball has even been bowled or faced. 

Coaches can coach technique all day and night, but nothing can prepares those girls and boys (or indeed, women and men) for the anxiety of starting their innings…..

….or can it??

Anxiety can be paralyzing

Walk onto that field to bat, with an attitude of defiance. “You are hitting those stumps over my dead body”! “You are NOT getting me out”. 

Can this be taught? Yes! Is it easy? No!

ALISTAIR BAT
When players are frozen, they thrash at the ball….making their woes even worse!

What do we see more often? A rushed thrash at the first wide ball. A panic run, the very first time bat finds ball. All the hard work in training is thrown out of the window!

Before you get too frustrated, consider this. Players sometimes look on the surface as if they “haven’t thought about” this or that. In reality they are not being brainless. Their brain is in overdrive. They are thinking too much…..

When players are caught in two minds, often they don’t move at all. Or their movement lacks conviction.

Understanding this is important. You need to know SYMPTOMS, to invent a CURE.

Coaches: are you reducing or AMPLIFYING nerves?

I know….so far I haven’t given any specific “coaching advice” yet. But that is for a good reason!

We know WHAT the problem is. But that matters not one bit, unless we know how to go about solving it.

Assistants, parents, managers….i hope you are listening to this! Forget all the viral “this drill will get your players playing perfectly” videos. Forget that extra technical detail. Forget the mindset that, if only you add that extra piece of data, everything will be fine. 

Positive change in attitude is made as much by what you DON’T SAY OR DO. 

Your face is saying, “WIN the game, WIN the game!”

(Tilly, Kingston Borough Cricket Team)

snasy-practice
What you say and how you say it, is more important than what you do!

I’ve never forgotten this comment, from early in my career. I was young, keen to do a good job. The journey had been 2 hours. We were losing….heavily. I thought I was hiding the annoyance well, and saying the right things. Hearing this shocked me. These candid moments hurt, but you have to listen to them.

Pressure isn’t always an explicit, conscious act we exert on others. It can be implied. An expression. Aggressive body language.

Even worse, if this damaging pattern sets in, pressure can even be assumed, even when it doesn’t exist.

After reflecting, the defensive “Was it? I didn’t say anything did I?” gave way to “maybe I’m not hiding my own emotions as well as I thought.

Setting the right environment is more important than any drill you will get off the internet. 

Useful phrases

OK….onto some specifics. Here are some useful phrases and sayings, that (I find at least) help set the correct tone.

**These are not gospel! They just work for me. Try and consider your language more. Find your own phrases too, and check that the intended message is coming across. AVOID COACHING CLICHES!!**

“You have more time than you think”

I have found this is a useful way of helping players think about slowing things down. Between balls and during shots and deliveries, being “too eager” leads to disaster.

Look at the gaps/move away

Guide your players what they can do in between balls, as well as during the balls themselves. Get away from the crease, look around, and assess. This improves body language – you are doing something constructive. A good way to make slumped shoulders and flat feet less likely!

Whatever you do, don’t just stand there waiting for the next ball!

The chance will come

Children are often fixated on what they “need” to do ball-to-ball. But this can result in a silly, or premeditated, act. Changing their focus to longer term can be really helpful.

When a few balls have passed without scoring, players think they must score off the next. This is rarely true. If a team needs 5 runs PER OVER, this doesn’t mean they need 5 runs EVERY OVER. If you hang around, a clutch of scoring chances will come. But it takes convincing

On the flip-side, bowlers can become obsessed with trying that little bit harder for a wicket. When they beat the bat, they are exasperated. This attitude turns a positive (“you are clearly doing something right!!) into a negative.

Game for understanding: “5 Strikes”

This is a practice game I have invented, to try and deal with scoreboard pressure. It has helped me to address subjects such as body language, and symptoms of pressure.

“5 Strikes” describes the number of balls the “striker” (batter facing the ball) has to make their run.

How it works:

  • Set up a normal game of cricket – 2 batters, keeper, fielders
  • Coach feeds the ball – it is possible to play with bowlers
  • No Go Zone – players can’t just smash the ball straight, they need to push and run instead

5 strikes game

Rules:

  • Batter has 5 balls to get a single (or get “off-strike).
  • If the batter makes their run….they join their teammates in the pavilion. The next batter comes in
  • If the batter is out….they go to the pavilion. The next batter comes in, and the team loses 1 wicket.
  • Each team has 5 wickets. After 5 wickets are lost, the batting and fielding teams change over.
  • DOUBLE RUNS if the batter gets off strike on the first ball.

Reasoning:

Why 5 balls? I chose this number to create an atmosphere of building pressure….but time to pick the right moment to score.

This is the art of “taking the game deep”, practiced most famously by MS Dhoni. The knowledge that you always have more time than you think! The awareness that nerves are universal.

The opposition are no doubt feeling exactly the same – anxious! Or at least, they will if you give them time to.

This won’t happen overnight….don’t expect it to!!

cropped-kingston-cricket-girls-1.jpg

Even a performance environment can be enjoyable. 

Get ready for a years long battle. Don’t expect performance anxiety to be resolved in one session. 

Every young player who’s ever walked onto the field experiences anxiety. This includes the other team. And it includes the best of the best. But it’s so easy to think its “just me”. Think about the combination of skills you need, to help your players walk into bat with their heads held high.

Drills – make sure stance and body language is strong, so that each repetition is completed with real intent

Games – try and simulate the pressures of a match….so that the real thing won’t feel as big

Conversations – and non-conversations. Try to speak with empathy. Avoid “don’ts”.

Environments – eliminate the eyes bearing down on already nervous players. They have enough to be thinking about!

REINFORCE IT – Repeat. Continue to build them up. Setbacks will occur, as well as blips in confidence.

Some activities won’t end completely to plan. You won’t immunize players from mistakes!!

If they can understand over time how to cope a little better – the symptoms and the cures – you have moved forwards.

OTHER RELEVANT ARTICLES

 

EVERY person matters: your role as a coach

Cricket coaching PR focuses on inspiring the “next generation of Joe Roots and Jos Buttlers”. What they consistently forget, is this is only 1% of the picture!!

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The “cricket enthusiasm pyramid”

At the top of the pyramid – the “cricket badgers”. They live, breathe, eat and sleep all things cricket. They the minority, who have “seen the light”.

Next down – the “summer cricket lovers”. Down the club dawn to dusk. Looking up their stats, and the league table of the various XI’s, constantly. But they have other interests. Come winter, that passion is transferred to something else. And that’s fine!

In the middle – the “enjoy it on a good day” group. They can appreciate the good moments of the sport. But often quick to get deflated, when things go wrong. Struggle with the turn-based element of cricket, and the patience required. Usually footballers!!

At the lower end – “social members”. For them, cricket club is a way of meeting up with their mates. The end-of-session BBQ, or playing frisbee in the evening hours afterwards, might be their favorite club. They might mess around in training. But don’t underestimate their value to the club.

At the bottom – the “don’t want to be here group”. Cricket – sport, even – will never be their “thing”. They might resent being brought along to “try a sport” by their parents. They may be terrified of the ball….not just the pain it can inflict, but the embarassment of trying and failing publicly.

At the very least, you can create a warm, welcoming environment, teach them a few skills, give them a bit more confidence in their hand-eye coordination. If you can get them leaving, thinking “cricket’s alright”, you have achieved something!!

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The role of a cricket coach is NOT just to nurture the already interested. That’s easy.

The role of a cricket coach is to further every individual to their next level – of engagement and ability – in the sport. 

What is JUST AS important, is not as said above, the “next generation of stars”. It’s the next generation of casual cricketers; the next generation of semi-interested adults, who will share a field with you….possibly in exchange for a drink later; the next generation of parents, who will look at the list of after school clubs….and hopefully pick cricket over the competition.

Perhaps that positive association with the sport, back from a class you run when they were children, will make a difference.