Nailing The Intro: How to set the tone of a session

Here’s a challenge for you….

You are running a group session for 1 hour. You have 60 seconds to explain this session as fully as possible:

  • The main theme
  • The outline of each activity
  • Why we are doing it
  • What the outcome goals are

Did you manage? Good….

….Now you have 30 seconds….

IMG_1316OK, 30 seconds is pushing it! But this is a useful activity to try on your own. To this day, when I have a big session (or even just feel out of touch) I rehearse the opening address in my head. Unlike my blogs, I aim to be as concise as possible!

My estimation is that you have one minute of undiluted attention from the average group. Anything longer and you begin to lose them!


If it was good enough for Shakespeare….

Two households, both alike in dignity,

In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,

From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,

Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean….

The whole passage is 14 lines long. Just over 1 minute to narrate. In that short time, it paints a full picture of the following two hours – the protagonists, the plot and a hint at the conclusion.

You don’t need to tell the entire story in exhaustive detail. Just an idea into the structure. Hint at what’s to come.

CASE STUDY

Session Theme: Picking line and length

“We’ve noticed in the matches that lots of players are hitting the straighter balls but missing out on some wide and bad balls.

To me, we have the technique (and your technique has improved loads in the last few weeks), but not the judgement. This is a very common thing for players your age, so you’re not the only ones – even adults do this! Everybody moves too soon! But if you sort this out you’ll hit the ball in lots more places.

But we need to wait and see the ball more!

We’ll begin by batting in small groups. We’ll ask you to make simple decisions – is the ball short or full? Off-side, straight or leg-side? So I’m looking for you to get all the information you need before acting.

When we get that right, we’ll have a game where we reward you for selecting shots, not just getting runs”.

What will really impress me today are moments where you have used your brain over your strength. We need decisions. We always want to out-think the bowlers, not out-muscle them”.

If you can apply this to your sessions, you will (partially) insulate yourself from tiresome questions: “Are we playing a match?”; “Will there be hard ball?”; “Is this all we’re doing today?”


Wrapping up the session: the same applies!

When I started out as a qualified coach, I was lucky to work alongside some fantastic and experienced people. I learned hundreds of techniques and soft skills in this time.

I’d try and follow their guidance as closely as possible, even aping their styles until I found my own.

There was just one thing I’d have changed….their end of session wrap-up took AGES! 

Especially if there was more than one of them! Everyone would gather round to sit in front of the coaches. The talk would start on topic, then veer off on a tangent. When one was talking, another would have a spontaneous brainwave and interrupt.

After up to 25 minutes of monologues, I must admit even my eyes started to wander round the room. Then, the lead coach would turn to me and ask, “Maz, do you have anything to add?”

Well…no, actually! What more can I add of value?

We’d already “lost the room”. 


My “2-minute Wrap-Up”: Stay on topic!

It is so tempting to bang on, keep saying “and another thing….”, but you should resist it. Keep it simple.

Again, some days and groups will afford you more time to evaluate the session. But I look at 2 minutes ideal. Here is my general template. 

30 seconds: “How has it gone”? (invite player discussion)

30 seconds: “What went well/not so well”? (stick to the session theme)

30 seconds: “These moments really impressed me” (try and praise some individuals)

10-15 seconds: Here is what we still have to do (that we didn’t touch on today)

10-15 seconds: “Here is what’s in store next week”

2 minutes. For an after school club, perhaps you’d knock this down to 45-60 seconds. Depending on the quality of the answers, you may want to extend this for an elite group.


 

Talking in the field: how can we get players to find their voice?

framed image 1Some 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. 

  1. Players take the field. For the first overs there is almost total silence.
  2. Coach: “come on guys, could there be a bit more talking in the field”
  3. More utter silence.
  4. Coach: “Let’s have some more talking in the field please guys”
  5. Yup, silence.
  6. Coach: “Come on everyone, we really need some more chat in the field”
  7. One person offers a tame, “well done”! Silence resumes.
  8. 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.
  9. 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!
  10. 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.
  11. Coach (with a forlorn, hollow stare into the distance): “Let’s try to be more alert guys”!
  12. 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!
  13. 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….


The cause

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.

EXAMPLES

  • 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?

Complete The Learning: how to make improvement the “new normal”

ebCoaches can often underestimate the importance of re-capping….the same go for players and parents!

This isn’t just important for muscle memory, but trust in technique as well! Players don’t just need to be able to perform these vital skills….but draw on them with full and repeated conviction.

This is why you should never think that a good session is “job done”! Don’t pat yourself on the back after one good session. Wait to see if the improvements stick next week.

This will only happen if we complete the learning! 

Repetition needs meaning!

Plenty is made of the (true) fact that you need to hit, bowl and catch plenty of balls. The “10,000 hours” theory is powerful.  

Young players must be fully convinced of your methods and advice. Then they have a chance of fully committing to every repetition, with 100% conviction and 100% purpose!

Conclusion: Cricket coaching needs to be first and foremost an education. Here are a few of my tricks to really speed up coaching for understanding!

1. “Do you want to know the science behind it?

Some players always think they know best! It can be very annoying! But this shouldn’t be seen as defiance, but a challenge to your skills of persuasion. 

Using the phrase, “the science behind ____”, helps me to explain why we go about certain skills in one particular way. If you convince them, then

Lay down the challenge to them. Can their logic prove their own theories? Or are there holes? Does their argument crumble under interrogation?

Without being all Gordon Ramsey about it, sometimes players need reminding that they don’t know everything. But you have to be tactful about it. This process isn’t in order to prove how you are always right, but to effect positive change. You should expect to have to justify your methods.

Rest assured, as soon as you resort to lines such as, “everyone does it this way”, or, “that’s just how it’s done”, you have lost.

Example: Bowling line and length

verdant left hand pitchThere is no such thing as releasing the ball “too early” or “too late”. Players need, badly, to understand why this happens.

This subject is crying out for a coach to explain the real situation.

POSSIBLE REASONS FOR LETTING GO OF BALL “TOO EARLY” – Leaning to the side, bowling arm decellerating, arms losing shape in the “gather”.

POSSIBLE REASONS FOR LETTING GO OF BALL “TOO LATE” – Lack of follow through, not using legs in action, stooping, tension and stiffness.

When the science is understood, we can start to personalize our advice and get players to understand their own game! What is the main “bad ball” you bowl? And which is the reasons can we attribute to it?

2. “Let’s have an experiment….”

I use this trick as an interactive way to make points. The lesson is more powerful if the players themselves can live and feel them.

blog banner 3Example: Running between the wickets

In a previous blog, I talked about the challenges of coaching running and calling. There are so many elements that it is important to tackle one at a time. 

  • I ask one of the children to run as fast as they can from one wicket to the other. We count the seconds out loud – usually about 3.
  • I then ask another child to chase a ball and get it back to the keeper. I stage it in a way that will take longer than 3 seconds.
  • We can now use this to explain the logic of judging a single. For the rest of the session I will refer to running as the “3-second rule”.

Other things to consider

  • Opposition brilliance – Every now and again, the fielders produce a “champagne moment” – eg/ a direct hit throw. It’s important when this happens to let the batters know that they didn’t make a huge mistake.
    My favorite phrase: (To the batters) “bad run or good throw”? Players need to start distinguishing between a) mistakes and b) brilliance from the other team. if they don’t, they will freeze, assuming every setback is their own fault. 
  • Over-compensating – The players don’t find a perfect balance straight away. They will more likely lurch from extreme caution to kamikaze!
    Again, this is natural and it’s important to not be too scathing or critical when this happens.
    My favorite phrase: “Let’s find the middle ground”. Otherwise known as the “Goldilocks Rule”. Not too careful, not to risky….just right! 

Other themes to experiment

  1. Running with ball V Throwing the ball
    No human can out-run a throw. But it still (for some reason) needs proving!
  2. Backlift V No backlift
    Demonstrate how “gravity is your friend”, helping the bat to gain pace.
  3. Extra power (and poor contact) V Medium power (and perfect contact)
    Show in slow-motion how the bat twists and the swing becomes contorted, when you try too hard.

3. Percentages

I use percentage to explain risk (what practice gives you the highest probility of success) and effort levels (100% effort doesn’t always mean 100% efficiency). 

Example: Throwing the ball “to hand”

Why aim over of the stumps?

Ball in hand = Stumps broken 100% of the time.

Ball shied at stumps = Stumps broken 30-40% of the time at best!

What about that time I hit the stumps?

Children – and adults – often live off past glories. That direct hit to run out the star batter from 2015 is brought up time and time again….never mind about the 50-60 squandered chances since.

For education purposes, I feel that it is much better to encourage the “throwing to hand” method….and switch to direct hits when needed. This is why in training (especially the younger ages) I like to really push this method hard.

Sometimes I take this to an extreme, insisting that no run out counts unless it the stumps are broken by hand. The reason is that this skill needs to be ingrained as the default practice.

What about when they are almost in?

In a real match, it is true that sometimes we need to aim at the stumps. This is the importance of the coach’s trained eye. Spotting when a direct hit was genuinely necessary, or a rush of blood to the head.

Parents and spectators simply won’t notice the difference. You have to!

Other times to talk about percentages

Bowling speeds: What is your ideal pace?

Everybody’s optimum pace is different. This applies to a) run-up speed, and b) effort level of the bowling action. I find percentages a really useful way to get bowlers thinking about their rhythm.

My favorite phrase: “If you want to be faster, get in the gym”! Basically, you won’t be as fast as Joffra Archer by just trying harder! Efficiency needs to be up near 100% for it to matter. 

Run-ups: 60-85%

Bowling action: 70-90%

Hitting “through the ball”: Bat face pointing forwards.

Many batters misunderstand how a ball is glanced into space – believing the ball has to be physically hit round the corner. In truth, you have to just let this shot happen, without forcing it.

My favorite phrase: “Less is more”. Trust – that doing nothing is the best thing to do – is the hardest thing to coach.

So many batters get themselves into a good position, then move out of it. See if you can spot this happening!

What do you think?

Recapping is vital. But not everyone agrees!

This is where we hit a crossroads – one which has serious implications for professional coaches. If the perception from all sides is that you should be learning “advanced skills”, moving on with something new each week, how can you persuade them otherwise?

  • Have you been in this situation too?
  • How did you negotiate it?
  • Should coaches compromise? Or stick to their guns and do what they think is best?
  • How much “feedback” should we take on?

 

 

 

Leg Side Shots ARE GOOD SHOTS!

shankar battingToo many cricketers tend to see off-side shots as “pure” and leg-side shots as “crude”. 

The cover drive is the pinnacle of batting. The flick through midwicket is treated with disdain….not even a “proper shot” (if you think about it, cricket hasn’t even given that shot a proper name). 

If a batter get a reputation for relying on the leg-side too much, they risk being labelled a “farmer” or a “slogger”.

How many coaches do you know who obsess about the off-side? What effect will this have on their players – who are keen to impress and do the “right thing”?

The leg-side is 50% of the field! Let’s start giving it the attention it deserves. 


Leg-side myths

In previous blogs, I have raised the subject of playing off-side balls and playing with a “straight” bat.

One does not necessarily means the other!

There are similar misunderstandings regarding leg-side shots. They are NOT all swings across the line. Always remember this.


Leg-side “play” V Leg-side “slogs”

Some players are strong on the leg-side….well, sort of. It all depends on….

a) Your Definition – Does their leg-side shot have a name in the textbook? Or is it just a “slap”. Do they just have a good eye….an ability to get bat on ball, but little more?

b) Your Standards – Do they have control over where exactly the ball is going. Or are they just making good contact?
Is their leg-side batting one-dimensional….does it go to the same place every time.

c) Your Memory – Is the big shot sticking in the mind more than the embarrassing miss?

My responsibility as a coach is to distinguish between a) reliable leg-side batting, and b) speculative hitting/thrashing/whacking. This is important, because the latter approach will only work up to a certain point!


Avoiding the leg-side

snasy-practice
Obsessive drills on straight drive may hinder the fluency of leg-side shots…

Lots of players struggle playing to leg. They get trapped in bad positions and try to flick the ball. Or, they over-react, scrambling around the crease when they don’t need to. 

Children are smart. They have a good idea what they can and – even if they won’t admit it – they can’t do. You may find that they have thought about this, and tried to come up with a solution.

But is it the right one?

COMMON MISTAKE 1: Standing to the leg-side – When players realise leg-side batting is their weakness, their instinct is to avoid it. They will end up taking a guard on leg-stump (or sometimes outside leg-stump!).

  • Their AIM is to free up more shots on the off-side….and therefore be exposed to less shots on the leg-side.
  • The RESULT is that the leg-side balls they face become even harder to face (the angle is more acute). they also have to lunge and stretch, to reach shots that should be easy. The worst of both worlds. 

To them, it seems like a good idea. But under scrutiny, this tactic will never work as they hope. They are dodging the problem (unsuccessfully), not fixing it.

COMMON MISTAKE 2: Backing away – This is sometimes because players are worried about being hit….but not always! They will back away in order to get a full swing of the bat as well.

COMMON MISTAKE 3: Playing “in-to-out” – Players who hear “play on the off-side” all the time, tend to over-do it. Instead of presenting the full face of the bat, they begin curving their swing….to poke the ball into the off-side.
Their whole body is now working towards the wrong goal – forcing an off-side shot as opposed to playing the appropriate shot. When a leg-side shot does come, the player simply won’t see their chance (let alone be in a position to play one).

In all these examples, a player has tried to do the right thing….but gone the wrong way about it.


The real solution: take the shot on!

The key to these shots is moving to the ball….and when you are in line with the ball, staying there!

  • STAND IN LINE: No shuffling across the stumps, and no backing away. I recommend taking guard on middle stump for these players. This helps the angles to work in their favour.
  • CORRECT STANCE: Slightly open with feet and shoulders. Make sure that the bat can make a straight path in front of your front leg.

Some useful phrases:

  1. “Less is more” – We are taught to step and lean to the ball and be quick on our feet. But sometimes, minimal movement is required.
    The less you put into the leg-glance, the more it will ping off the bat face.
    Remind your players that if you “have the pace” of the ball already, use it.
  2. “No obstacles” –Make sure players don’t have to steer the bat around their legs and pads.
    This comes down to the stance. Remind players that their set-up either makes this shot easy or difficult (and which one of these would be preferable!).
  3. “Watch the ball” – Phrases such as “hit on the off-side” limit players more than educate them. It encourages pre-meditation and dwelling on the previous ball.
    We always need them looking forwards not backwards. When you say “watch the ball instead” it implies that they need to use judgement.
  4. “That’s one!” – Sometimes batters don’t realise that this innocuous looking shot is going to score runs! it does! Lots of them!!
    Every time I see a firm clip into the leg-side, I’ll shout, “that’s one”!. I need my players to know the value of this tactic.
    **EXTRA TIP – When giving “runs” in net games, it’s way better to judge on the actual merit of the shot, rather than how hard they hit it!**

Some useful activities

Full toss feeds: Feed under-arm from wide of the crease. Try and hit the batter’s front knee/shin/thigh.
Get them used to the feeling of “clipping” the ball away into the leg-side. Help them realize it is a simple but effective stroke!

One-leg shots: Use the same full-todd feeds, but ask the batter to lift their back left off the ground. To play the shot with any consistency, they must lean towards the ball, and swing directly.
Any curved swing or off-balance movement will make the shot impossible.

Top-hand shots: We should probably call it the “top arm”, as the movement is more than a wrist flick. The drill helps strengthen the batter’s wrist and tricep. can they fully “extend” through the shot? When wil the bat begin to buckle and turn inwards?


Net practice: “I want to SEE EVIDENCE of…..”

The ultimate test of learning and improvement is – can the player pull this new shot off in competition?

This is the really tricky part. We would love the player to use their newly acquired skill. But how do we empower them to trust it under pressure?

Here is my (very simple!) personal approach

STEP 1: I begin with a very simple goal

“In the next 10 minutes, I’d really like to see at least 5 leg-glances into that square of the net”.

AIM – Encourage the player to look for more opportunites to use their new shot. While at the same time, reassuring them that they don’t need to be amazing at it right away!
At this early stage, all I want is for the batter to realize that this shot is “on” more often than they realize.
“Watch for the ball that drifts into your pads”.

REASON – They need to use this skill at the appropriate moment. Pre-empting shots is nearly always doomed to fail.
The last thing I want is for my batters to be fetching every single ball into the leg-side.

STEP 2: I make this goal more demanding

“Well done. Now try again! But this time it only counts if you are in full control of the shot. 

Also, from now on, if you back away or dodge the shot, it counts as minus 1….”

AIM – To set gradually higher standards. I want them to start committing more to the leg-glance. I also want a gentle – but not damning – reminder that we aren’t going back to the old ways (backing away and thrashing to the off-side).

REASON – If you have reached this stage, yes, they have improved….but don’t congratulate yourself yet. This is still a very delicate period. Your next step will decide whether this learning has a chance to become permanent.
Old habits die hard! One session does not undo several months (years, or possibly a lifetime) of poor practice.
Your player will still need reassurance that mistakes will be made. And they will still need encouragement to fully trust this new shot.

STEP 3: I put the players under more realistic pressure

I have used several blogs in the past to encourage tactics sessions, in nets and practice. I really feel it could be done more in training at all levels. Doing so….

  • Encourages independent thought – players are often waiting for the answers.
  • Encourage collaboration – thinking as a bowling “unit” and not individuals.
  • Encourages problem solving – players are more exposed to situations they have to battle through!

To the batter: “We are going to come up with a plan to get you out! I still want to see you looking for that easy leg-side option, when it comes. Good luck”!

To the bowlers: “I want you to work together and decide how to put ____ under pressure. I’ll give you a small hint though….”

In a match, there are two main ways I would try and expose a player’s leg-side weakness.

  1. Bowl there more often – probe away with balls that angle gently into the batter. Deliver from wider of the crease. Aim to find the gap between bat and pad.
  2. Bowl there as a surprise ball – set the batter up, by drawing them into their more comfortable side….before sending in a shock ball at the pads.

AIM – To encourage use of the new shot when under more pressure. 

REASON – I need to know if they will trust this shot when it matters! Again, I have not assumed my work is done when batters play a few leg-side shots. We have to see if the new approach will stay.

Playing Straight: how to make sure young players can do it….then do do it!

wagon 2We know it’s important. They know it’s important….but that’s not enough! We need to make sure that it happens, and keeps happening.

Playing “straight” is a core batting skill. The concept is simple, but the practice is a lot more difficult.  This is down to several reasons:

  • TECHNIQUE – there are several moving parts, that need to work in tandem
  • VARIATION – a straight bat shot might need to be played to several kinds of delivery (this means that you can’t robotically make the same swing)
  • JUDGEMENT – batters often switch to a “cross-bat” too soon (i.e. ball not wide enough)
  • PRESSURE – the need to score runs can convince players to play across the line. This can be especially true with young players, who don’t see the benefit of straight play (not strong enough to smash it)

Coaches need a keen eye to get beyond “playing straight” as a catchphrase. Find out the root cause and intervene in the right way, to get young players playing straight consistently.

The Set-up: Sometimes they are trying….it just keeps going wrong!

You might be thinking, “that’s just an excuse. I mean, it’s just a case of aiming, right”?

Not exactly. 

This is a much more common problem than it may appear. It is very possible that a batter’s stance or grip make it impossible for them to “complete” their shot in the first place.

What’s more, children can find it quite distressing – trying really hard to do the right thing, yet it continues to flick across to the leg-side. And they have no idea why.

You have to be observant

Keeping a close eye to figure out who is “slogging” and who is set-up poorly.

Check their backlift. Does this allow the bat to come down in a straight line? If not, all the effort in the world will not result in a “straight bat” shot.
Test: Can the bowler see the bat?

Look at their grip, ESPECIALLY their bottom hand. They have to be holding the bat in a way that allows a full swing.

GOOD GRIP

BAD GRIP

You also need to check how close a player’s hands are. This video demonstrates the peril of having a large gap between your hands on the handle.

Check these things CONSTANTLY. Check them every week. Check them until you are dead bored of checking them. And then then them some more!

You have to be persistent! Whatever you do, don’t mention grip and backlift once, consider the matter solved and move on!


Switch responsibility to the player

IMG_1316
There is more to coaching than classic “command – response”

The biggest challenge is not to SPOT a bad grip, or to DEMONSTRATE a good grip. It’s not even to MAKE THE CHANGE. The final hurdle is making this new grip the NEW NORMAL.

This requires the player to take some ownership. And believe me, that is no walk in the park!

I know from harsh experience that what has been learnt one week can be thrown out of the window the next! A common mistake coaches (including me, still!) make, is to not factor in any “recap” sessions into our programs.

My favorite trick: “drop the bat”

While your player is getting used to a new grip, make them conciously re-apply it, over and over!

Every 4-6 balls in a drill, I might ask the batter to drop the bat and walk away, then pick it up again.

Some things are only solved through repetition….even though it is a bit tedious! I try and make it a light-hearted practice, by joking about it: “you know what I’m about to say, don’t you…”.

Game for understanding: the “ready” game”

crazy cricket 1Don’t think that the concept of “player independence” only applies once players reach a certain age. The earlier, the better!

The “Ready Game” is a version of “Crazy Cricket” – a team-based game, where players aim to hit as straight and as far as possible. Players get regular chances to walk to the crease and set up.

If they are not ready (good stance and grip) they are out before even facing their first ball.

This also works with the “5-Strikes” game. 

CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFO ON THE “READY” GAME, AND OTHER IDEAS FOR “NAILING THE BASICS”


Forcing correct technique (in a subtle way….)

Something as simple as feeding the ball from different places can make a real difference.

Wide of the crease

Get down on one knee and skid the ball at an angle towards the batter. Aim to find the gap between bat and pad.

Feeding from this angle leaves no margin for error – the batter has to get their technique correct and hit through the ball. The slightest turning of the bat face, or swing across the line, will mean they miss the ball.

Round the wicket

  1. Does your batter line up to the release point in their stance?
  2. Is their bat able to travel down freely (or is its path blocked by their body).

Lots of batters struggle with “round the wicket bowling”, because they are leaning the wrong way, or their bat needs to loop around their body. When momentum is heading one direction, it’s very hard to change it mid-shot.


Deterence or Incentive?

How about rewarding the right thing, instead of criticising the wrong thing? Even at the youngest age-groups, you can encourage the use of other shots.

I like to create bonuses in practice matches.

  • Double runs for an off-side shot
  • Bonus zones – 5 runs extra

There are lots of things you can do. Use your imagination. But coaching small details can quickly come across as nagging to some players (others can handle it), unless you have these tricks to boost morale.

Finally, remember….

The off-side isn’t everything! We have moved on from the 19th century and leg-side play isn’t regarded as an abomination!

I talked last week about how “playing straight” doesn’t always mean “hitting straight”.It is important to bear this in mind when you watch young cricketers….do they really understand this?

When I coach groups, it is easy to tell who has been told to “play on the off-side” more than anything else. They shuffle away from the ball, to “open up” this side for shots. This doesn’t assist them, nor helps them to play straight.

The “One Leg” Leg-glance Drill

Ok, the name needs some work! But I have found this activity helps players to use a straight bat more on the leg-side. Instead of flicking across the ball, simply clipping it round the corner works wonders!

Balancing on their front leg, the batter has to work the ball to leg, using as little power as possible. To get it right they have to:

  1. Lean their head towards the ball (bending front leg for extra lean)
  2. Free their bat from their body (so it can meet the ball in a nice straight line)

Playing straight is often as much of a judgement issue as a technique issue. When the batter hits these shot perfectly – and in this drill there is no “lazy” option – they begin to realise how effective it is.

I use the phrase “less is more” to try and convey this principle – using the pace of the ball.

Try to encourage off-side play where appropriate….and not just as a default setting.

The Impact Point Diagram: my tool to find a player’s strengths and weaknesses!

where is it gameWhen we coach in the nets or a practice match, it is easy for some details to pass us by.

As a result, instead of being consistent, feedback can often turn into a series of isolated comments.

However, there are ways to help your next session to be more targeted to each player’s needs! I like to use data to find patterns (good and bad) in a player’s game. 

here is a simple tool I invented – the “Impact Point Diagram” – to get some useful information from sessions. 

How it works

The Impact Point Diagram shows me:

  1. CONTACT POINT – where exactly a batter is meeting the ball
  2. QUALITY AND TYPE OF CONTACT I split shots into a) attack, b) deflect, c) defend/leave/d) miss/chance/out

worksheet example filledI enter this manually, using a worksheet I created. Using this sheet, I can also record:

  • Pitch maps – where each ball pitched (circled balls = wickets or chances)
  • Wagon wheels – where each ball was hit and by which batter (over by over)

I mark the different shot types with symbols. Attacking shots with a solid dot, defensive shots with a circle, deflections with a plus sign, and misses/edges with an exclamation mark.

Here’s one I did earlier!!

filled sheet.PNG

Making it presentable

Once I have the raw material, I have to display it in a more attractive way! 

Using my modest art skills, I created a graphic that represents a batter standing at the wickets. I then begin to convert my data onto the image, using a colour-coding system!

BALLS MARKED IN GREEN = Attacking shots

BALLS MARKED IN ORANGE = Deflected shots

BALLS MARKED IN YELLOW = Defended

BALLS MARKED IN RED = Missed, edged or out

Here is an example!

connow batting
Excuse the poor drawing!

Reading the data: What we can learn?

organized game
We’d all love an “organized game” like this….but the reality is different!

When we have finished entering the data, we have a full picture of every ball a batter has faced! The next job….look for patterns! 

  • Are there any “clusters” of red dots (weaknesses)?
  • Does this batter have a clear strength?
  • Are there clearly defined groups of colours? Or is it more random?

Trends in the data can be a good thing. For example, if you can see clear “groupings”, where the batter attacks, defends or uses the pace of the ball, it’s a positive sign. They have “organized” their game, meaning they make consistent decisions based on line and length.

A pattern can also be a sign of intent. A batter may well feel more comfortable with certain deliveries than others. Which balls they choose to block and attack may vary, depending on their style of play.


CASE STUDY 1: Positive and Negative Intent

The diagrams below are of 2 opening batters from the same match. They had a very different approach!

Who do you think scored the most runs?

Batter 1

impact point example 1

Batter 2

impact point example 2

Where Batter 1 plays a very conservative game, Batter 2 is looking for more scoring options. This comes at a cost (10 chances compared to 6), but there is a clear content to “do more” with more kinds of delivery.

This positive approach paid off on the day – Batter 2 scored 50 runs retired, compared to Batter 1’s 29 (and out).


CASE STUDY 2: “Blind Spots”

Kieran Meah

 

This batter shows signs of reading the ball well. There is clear distinction between which balls are defended and attacked. However, the picture does highlight a clear “weak zone” – full balls outside the off-stump!

 

 

Why is this?

Of course, you need to watch your players for a full picture. But looking at this picture alone, here would be my top 2 guesses:

  1. Bottom hand taking over in the swing – causing him/her to play “over” the ball
  2. Not leaning enough after stepping – meaning a “blind spot” is created

Balls that bounce at around knee height are punished, but balls slightly higher or lower aren’t always. Also notice how this batter has no trouble meeting and playing the ball on leg-stump or outside. But perhaps, some balls are being defended unecessarily….and could be worked into the leg-side for runs.

To me, these patterns would suggest that this batter sometimes gets stuck on the crease.

Solution?

This is a very common junior batting flaw, and one to look out for. Young players are often unsure why they miss the ball, despite having “moved their feet”.

By practicing COMPLETING the movement, the batter may be able to expand their “strong zone”, and reduce their “blind spots”.

  • Bending front knee
  • Leaning fully towards ball

CASE STUDY 3: Randomness

george batting

There is a term called, “playing by numbers”. This roughly translates to, “I’m deciding which shot to play beforehand”.

In this diagram, the batter doesn’t seem to have a clear thought process. Greens, yellows, oranges and reds are completely mixed together!

Why is this?

Young batters are often not sure whether to play, defend or leave. The key to this lies with the very basics – of WATCHING THE BALL.

Solution

Practice judgement! Plenty of batters aren’t sure exactly where the stumps are at all. This fault can creep in at a surprisingly high level of the game.

I use this useful game, to instill the basics of reading the ball: the “Where Is It” Game.


CASE STUDY 4: “six or bust” approach.

KABIR BAT

 

This batter clearly tries to attackor defend….with nothing in between! The result is a lot of hits, but a lot of misses as well! Is there a way for a player like this to keep these gtreen dots, but remove some of the troublesome reds?

Yes! Add some more deflections to their game!

They could convert a lot more balls into run-scoring shots, by using the pace. This is a crucial step between looking good in the nets, and scoring big runs in matches.

raees bat**COACH TIP – wagon wheels are often a great way to spot this kind of player. Look to see if a batter is relying too heavily on hitting the ball through the covers/extra-cover (see image)**

In this image (apart from in one area), there is a complete absence of deflected balls.

Solution: encourage “using the pace”

In nets, it is worth pointing this out to your batters….balls that fly hard into the net may not be effective on the field, and flaws may be masked until its too late to change! Encourage them to play into different spots on the off-side. 

I use the net game “Clock Cricket” to encourage this versatility. 


CASE STUDY 5: Playing “Down the line of the stumps”

My final example is this image. This time, the pattern is clear for all to see!

BALL ON STUMPS = HIT

BALL OFF STUMPS = MISS!

Why is this?

Some players step forwards or back, but never quite get into line with the ball. The result is that they connect with straight balls but not the wider ones.

This often comes from pre-meditating as well. If a player is too eager to “use their feet”, they may well be on the move before the bowler actually releases!

Solution: watch the ball!

It’s as simple as that! Make sure your players a) watch, b) lean, c) move, d) swing.

 

 

BATTING: how can we hit more balls outside off-stump?

katie battingLots of players miss more balls outside the off-stump than they would like!

The reason is down to many factors – it could be technique, indecision or poor judgement. Whatever the issue is, how can we get our players more comfortable, playing these difficult balls with more control? 

What goes wrong….and how to fix it?

They call the area just outside off-stump the “corridor of uncertainty”. There’s a good reason for this! 

Experience has taught me that this is a problem shared by players of many abilities and age groups. This was made clearer to me, the more i started collecting data on impact points. 

When a ball drifts wide of the batter’s eyes, it’s a little harder to judge exactly where it will bounce. As a result, batter can get into poor positions before they play their shot.

pitch perspective change in lineCommon mistakes

Lunging – instead of moving across, batters try to reach for the ball in front of them. Making a huge step forwards, which makes them lose height.
Slashing – Little foot of head movement. Just throwing the hands at the ball.
Hanging bat “out to dry” – initial movement forwards, but having to adjust quickly to the side. Ending up pushing hands tamely out at the ball.

The Key: Getting In Line!

The closer you can get your eyes behind the ball, the slower it appears to travel. 

Drill for understanding:”Anti-Dodgeball”

I use this activity to encourage batters to get their body PROPERLY behind the ball. It’s nothing special or original. But often the simplest drills are the best – this is an example! 

Coach

  • Feed the ball from 10 yards
  • Under-arm full-tosses (no bounce)
  • Aim for outside off-stump, between hip and chest height

Player

  • Move back and across (leading movement with the back foot)
  • Steady feet when directly behind the ball (if you miss, your body is the second line of defence)
  • Hands high and soft (dropping the ball gently into the off-side)

If you are on your own, here is another game you can play. All you need is a bat, a ball and a wall (or crazy catch).


What you may find….

The more I coach, the more I realise that the front foot drive is the only shot some players really know! Or at least, the only shot they have true confidence playing. 

Do we over-practice he drive? In my experience, this “anti-dodgeball” drill has helped certain batters. Not because it is an amazing solution, but simply because it introduces the idea of a different movement.

Especially around the age of 11 or 12 – when the bowling speed shoots up, as do many of the players! Players who are used to rocking onto the front foot out of habit, will find the same balls they used to smash are now bouncing with more height and venom.

In an instant, shot selection becomes far more complex than it used to be! Your job is to guide players through this transition. Help them to “read” the ball better, and expand their range of shots.

Net Theme: Shot Selection

Coaching doesn’t have to be all about technique. Don’t be afraid to put technique to one side, and focus on judgement for a session. 

Using throw-downs (or instructing the bowlers to keep an off-side line), I ask my batters to see how often they can make the right call, and move accordingly.

There are 3 main options to a ball delivered just outside off-stump:

  1. Front foot drive
    Type of ball – pitched up, 4th or 5th stump
  2. Front foot push/square drive/deflection
    Type of ball – good length or a little wider
  3. Back foot – straight bat
    Type of ball – short, any width

Obviously there are more shots that you can use in a match….but to help them learn, I like to narrow down decision making down to 2 or 3 possibilities.

Potential scoring system

  • 1 point for correct decision
  • 1 point for good execution (eg/ firm contact)
  • 3 points for good decidion AND execution

Why give points for “bad” shots?

You want to encourage your players to do the right thing – in this case, judge the right shot. You also want to give them confidence to pick and move into position for these new shots.

This is why it’s important to remind them when they make the right decision – even if the shot itself was a bit ropey! It is really important that they do not slide back into the “easy option” (ie/ the same shot every time).

Straight BATS V Straight SHOTS

Another misconception young batters have, is that a straight bat shot always has to go straight. It doesn’t.

And you need to let them know that….believe me, you’ll be surprised how many don’t!! A lot of young batter think that unless they are whacking the ball, they aren’t hitting it correctly. Sometimes they even refer to deflections as “edges”!

organized game
This is what a perfectly “organized” game would look like. ATTACKING = Green; DEFLECTIONS = Orange; DEFENSIVE = Yellow

 

This is how I try to get players visualising their off-side shots.

  • THE STRIKE ZONE/SLOT- Imagine the bowler delivered you the perfect ball to smash! If the ball comes into this zone, you’d expect to smash it 9 times out of 10.
    Ball should go: straight or in front of square
  • THE “PUSH” ZONE – Not….quite there to smash. Sometimes your brain can kid yourself into thinking you can attack, but a bit more caution is needed.
    You can still hit this ball firmly with exact timing and precise footwork.
    Ball should go: anywhere from a push to mid-off, to a guide behind square
  • THE “AWKWARD” ZONE – The ball that lifts off a length, or swings outside your hitting arc. These balls force a combination of later and/or softer swings.
    Ball should go: mainly square or behind square. Don’t try to doo to much with these balls, just help them away.

*DISCLAIMER – I haven’t invented any of these concepts! But this is the language I use to describe what many other coaches will**

OTHER USEFUL GAMES

THE “WHERE IS IT” GAME

Good off-side shots need perfect judgement of line and length. This game is all about the line!

Moving in the field: from the “sway” to the “superman”!

People misunderstand fielding. One of the biggest myths – reinforced in coaching and drills – is that energy is everything.

Don’t get me wrong, movement is a VERY large aspect of fielding. But there’s so much more to it than running around.

Movement is nothing without control to back it up. Without COMPOSURE, you simply won’t catch the ball consistently.

This video goes through all the types of moving in the field: from a simple sway in line with the ball, to a spectacular flying dive.

Only move as much as you need!

I have broken down catching into 7 different types. each type has it’s own particular skill, and you SHOULD WORK ON ALL OF THEM.

  1. SWAY

    Sometimes, the easiest catches are taken for granted. And that applies to coaches as much as players!
    How many players do you see move their body away from the ball instead of towards it? How many thrust their arms outwards at these simple balls, or palm the ball to the floor?
    With the correct technique, these catches should have an almost 100% success rate. Make sure you have the right “set-up” so you leave nothing to chance!

    Coach tip – Watch your stance. Being perfectly stable will help you to shift your body weight over your leading leg. Get your toe and knee pointing forwards (this avoids your leg collapsing).
    Look out for – The “give” in your hands. Coaches talk about soft hands, but they can be too soft! 6-12 inches of cushion should be plenty for most flat catches. Players who overreact – snapping their hands back too much or too early – lose their ability to cushion the ball. This can even expose either the back of their hands or their fingertips to the ball, which will amplify the impact!
    Make sure you are using your arms for cushioning. Bringing an elbow back helps to prevent your hands turning.


  2. STEP

    Again, get the simple things perfectly right. These catches look easy, but still require focus (remember, nothing is “easy”….you just need to raise your standards for it. You should be getting it right 99 times out of 100).
    Step across to the ball with one foot (moving slightly back as well). Then let your head and body shift across. You should be intercepting the ball just in front of your eyes

    Coach tip – Pick your feet up. Just like batting, if you place your foot properly, the rest of your body (and arms/hands) can follow with balance. Check the position of your leading foot (point your toe forwards, so you don’t open your body).
    Catchers often don’t get this movement quite right. They either a) drag and slide their feet, or b) rush this step, stabbing their foot out too quickly. Make sure your foot always lands at the correct angle.
    Look out for – Your trailing leg. This leg is your “anchor” to help you move your leading leg with precision.
    When catchers step towards the ball, their foot might lazily tilt onto its side. When this happens, you might as well be standing on one leg! Keep the toes of your trailing foot sould be grounded.
    Make sure your trailing knee doesn’t buckle as well. This will prevent you from leaning fully towards the ball.


  3. SHUFFLE

    For when the ball is 2-3m outside your body. If you have enough time, the shuffle is a useful way to keep a good body angle….meaning your hands and head are always facing forwards!
    Coach tip – Get steady! Once you have positioned yourself, both your feet need to be planted firmly down. I refer to this as “move and stay”. Only move the exact amount you need to….no more!
    Look out for – Your body bobbing up and down. This is wasted energy, so try to move as efficiently as you can left or right. Your head should travel directly sideways (as if it’s on rails).
    This movement can be practiced. Either get a partner to judge how smoothly you shuffle, or watch yourself in a reflection (mirror or glass  window!).


  4. RUN

    Bursting out of the blocks makes a huge difference. You want as much time as possible at the “business end”.
    Coach tip – Use your arms for balance. As you run, your upper body needs to keep facing the ball as much as possible. Swing your arms back and forth in a sprinting action, in time with each step. Doing this helps you to line your shoulders up for the catch.
    Look out for – Your first step. Some players lose their chance to catch a ball before they have even started to move! The reason: they are slow out of the blocks!
    Many fielders start running forwards, before heading in the right direction. This is because they start to run before they have turned their feet or body. You first step helps to open your body up left or right….so all your next steps can move in the right direction.


  5. ROLL

    There are many kinds of dive!
    The principle of diving is the same as any other catch – only move the amount that you need to. Rolling is the least fussy of the dives – for those awkwards catches that are low and 1-2m to your side.
    When the ball is too close to your body, a full dive risks a) you diving over the top of the ball, or b) you thrusting your arms at the ball, pushing it away.
    Coach tip – Land on your upper arm. Once you have the ball in your hands, try and tuck your arms into your chest. If you land on your upper arm or shoulder, you have the best chance to soften the landing! Wheel your legs up and over, to get a smooth roll.
    Look out for – Your leading leg. Resting your body over it – bending it as much as you can – for as long as you can. A soon as it collapses, so do you.
    When the ball hits your hands, you can start to tumble.


  6. DIVE

    Coach tip – Time your dive. Some players dive too late. This affects your interception point (the place your hands first touch the ball). When I 
    Surface area. Getting the ball in your hand is less than half your job….you need to keep it there!!
    Look out for – Twisting in the air. When you are in flight, you need to remain stable. Your upper body has to stay at the same angle, so that your palms can face the ball as much as possible.
    Many player start to twist as they are diving (their trailing should moves forwards).


  7. FLYING DIVE

    When the ball is high and wide, fling yourself at it! These won’t stick in your hand every single time, but they are memorable when they do!!
    Increase your chance of a “champagne moment by working on a) an explosive jump, and b) a soft landing.

    Coach tip –
    Master your “beak fall”.
    It is rehearsed over and over in martial arts. But cricketers need it too!
    It’s difficult to land softly for these catches, but still practice it! I try to extend my non-catching arm out, and land on my side and shoulder blade. This gives me maximum surface area – and reduces the impact.
    DO WHATEVER YOU CAN to avoid your elbow hitting the ground!!
    Look out for – The “spring”. Set up your dive so you have about a 45 degree bend in the knee that you are jumping off. You will only be able to launch yourself if your knee is bent….it’s the extension that gives you jumping power.

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