Some players have no trouble talking. Others (including me at a young age) find it incredibly difficult to speak up. A third group find their voice but only at the wrong times!
It can be really, really hard to get young players to encourage each other! Of course we can remind them to do it, but is this a coachable skill?
My opinion….yes it is! But you’ll need a huge amount of patience and soft skill. Simply telling them to back up, be alert and encourage the bowler over and over won’t cut it.
What usually happens….
Picture this a typical scene from a “match awareness” session.
- Players take the field. For the first overs there is almost total silence.
- Coach: “come on guys, could there be a bit more talking in the field”
- More utter silence.
- Coach: “Let’s have some more talking in the field please guys”
- Yup, silence.
- Coach: “Come on everyone, we really need some more chat in the field”
- One person offers a tame, “well done”! Silence resumes.
- The next ball rolls out tamely to square leg, who reacts with the energy of a sloth in a coma. Once the ball has been gathered at the third attempt, they underarm the ball – ten-pin bowling style – towards the bowler. The bowler sticks their foot out to intercept the ball, now bobbling. It bounds over their boot and 10m past.
A stalemate ensues….seemingly no player taking responsibility to fetch it.
And still the torturous, endless silence.
The coach glances up at the clock. Big mistake. “Have we really only been here 5 minutes”? The 5 minutes genuinely feels like weeks.
- Coach (now with visibly less hair than from the outset): “Come on guys, let’s try to wake up a bit”. We need a bit more energy!
- The game continues at a geriatric pace. Players do start throwing a bit harder. The only problem – nobody else is backing up. You lose a ball in a bush, then one skips off the kerb and into the road.
- Coach (with a forlorn, hollow stare into the distance): “Let’s try to be more alert guys”!
- There is hope after all. The game slowly raises in intensity 25-30mins in. The game starts to vaguely resembles something like cricket. After some more cajoling, there is even a little player-led encouragement. When the more socially confident players find their voice, everyone begins to. Baby steps, but progress!
- After the session….Coaches (to each other): They got better at ____ in the end.
They need more practice at it.
Some of them don’t seem to get ___.
It’s like some of them don’t want to be there.
Believe me, I have been there several times! And it doesn’t get any less frustrating. If you haven’t experienced this, then you are a) lying, or b) have been blessed with perfect groups all your life.
Why this isn’t enough….
Fast forward to this team’s next match. Everybody is trying their best to perform. But the fielding is a little unpolished. Form comes in waves, but small errors – a ball shooting between the legs or a poorly aimed throw – trigger long ruts that nobody can snap out of. Heads drop.
And the dreaded silence returns….
CONCLUSION: Telling isn’t coaching. When you are coaching game sense, consider these points:
- DID THEY REALLY GET BETTER? – As in to say, is their improvement permanent?
- DID THEY ALL GET BETTER? – Or was it just the more boisterous players piping up more. Are some players still hiding in the background?
- IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE WE CAN DO? – Have they just started talking to get the coach to stop badgering them? They know they have to talk, but will they when unprompted?
Why this happens….
They can do it. You will have seen them do it in the past. So why is talking in the field often so difficult for players?
The answer is – peer pressure. 5% of children are leaders, the rest are followers.
This is not a criticism of the other 95%! It doesn’t mean that they are weak or lack leadership skills. Not at all. It just takes a lot of confidence – especially at a tender age – to go against the crowd. This is why the silence in the field is so hard to break….
Coaches need to know and understand this. Just telling people to show energy in the field isn’t enough. We should all remember that not raising your head above the parapet is the opposite of what they are normally asked to do.
Don’t be patronising, by saying, “they just don’t get it”. They do. Coaches waste so much time and effort telling players to do the right thing, but it is doomed to fail without one key ingredient….
In reality, talking in the field isn’t just a piece of a jigsaw, to be filled in. You can’t just teach it and move onto the next thing.
We are talking about something far more fundamental: genuine team spirit, empathy for others and understanding of the game. We essentially need to mature our players as human beings as well as cricketers.
A tough ask in 90 minutes!
For this task, you will need the skills of a coach, counsellor, psychologist, lawyer, comedian and motivational speaker.
Step 1: The compliment
I found talking in the field difficult when I was young, because too often it was associated with a) shouting, b) constant chatter. When I finally realised that it didn’t have to be, It really helped me find my voice.
Chat also doesn’t have to be adversarial! There are different ways of contributing to the conversation – for instance a friendly comment at the right time. Simply say something nice about the bowler.
When I coach groups who are shy, I start with asking for them to say one nice thing about the bowler every over. I argue that “one simple compliment every 6 balls isn’t too difficult”. It isn’t. Eventually we need (and should expect) more. But the fact is we aren’t getting it! So baby steps are necessary.
Upgrade this to once every 3 balls, every 2 balls and final every ball! When the team gathers momentum, it becomes that much easier for the reticent characters to find their inner voice. You can create a genuine buzz and electricity in the field.
Players begin to lose their insecurities, and attack the crease when they bowl, charge after the ball in the field. They begin to ponder what they can make happen, as opposed to what might happen.
But this new state is fragile. How can we make sure we sustain it.
Step 2: Forward thinking (or “next ball” thinking)
No matter what has just happened – good, bad, unlucky – what always matters most is the next ball. I do my best to encourage my players to look forwards not back.
Adapt your language with this forward thinking in mind. There are basically 3 categories these comments fall into:
If the bowler has made an error: “You’ll get the next one right!”
If the bowler has been unlucky: “You’ll get the edge next time!”
If the bowler has done well: “Keep doing that!”
To keep the chat going, we need our players to respond in the right way to events on the field. Part of this lies in understanding that mistakes will happen.
One small fumble can send everyone scurrying back into their shell. Try to pre-empt this! Try to explain when a player most needs to be encouraged….when they are struggling and under pressure.
My favourite phrases: “It can be lonely when you are bowling. You all know how it feels. How can we help the bowler to feel less alone?”
“Why always me”
I stress again – coaching is not just telling people what to do! We have to effect positive change.
Consider the handful of children you would like to “speak up a bit”. It’s likely not the first time they’ve been told this….
Coaches have to consider the impact of their comments on different individuals.
Remember, the sense that the spotlight is always on them will not help. It’s more likely to make them feel even shier (“they are all watching me”), or more stubborn (“why should I talk more, I’m playing just fine”).
When I was young, I fell firmly into this category. I remember the burning resentment when I was asked to talk more. I felt I was both performing better and more tuned in than my louder peers.
Even worse, even when I was talking in the field, some players continued to assume I wasn’t. I had become an easy target for when play had become flat.
Understanding each other
In a previous blog, I reflected on how star players often grow frustrated at developing players. They wrongly perceive basic mistakes as a lack of effort.
This is just part of the growing up process. Again, coaches need to be sensitive to this.
I spend a lot of time convincing better players in my teams – “you need to help the younger/less experienced ones through this”. It’s a difficult task for anyone (indeed, several adults never reach this stage of maturity!). You are asking them to effectively be coaches as well as players. But if you can get this message to sink in, you’ll get the best out of everyone.
My favourite phrase: “You’ve all been in that position”. And they have. Most good players have “played up” a year or two. They will have experienced moments of doubt – “can I keep up with the pace”? How would they like to have been treated by their elders?
Team spirit sessions: forget everything else!
Coaches always run game awareness sessions, which lump tens of specific skills in together. Try to separate them!
There are ways to incentivise the right kind of talking in the field. Use your imagination to think of run bonuses and penalties.
- FULL OVER OF ENCOURAGEMENT = +5 runs
- MOST ENCOURAGING FIELDER BATS TWICE (a useful trick if there are odd numbers in the group!)
What do you think?
If you have any insights in the subject of talking more in the field, I’d love to hear from you!
- What are your experiences of this subject?
- Can we coach this skills better?
- Do you have any successful tips or tricks?