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

 

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!!

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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

 

4 “Golden Rules” of coaching

1. It’s not about you!

Coaching is the art of communicating important information for players. This can be as simple as a single key phrase, at the right moment. Coaching IS NOT a stage for me to perform on. Nor is it a place for me to demonstrate my breadth of cricket knowledge. 

Remember this, especially at all those moments you address the whole group. Sometimes that extra coaching point isn’t necessary. There will be another chance to add this or that detail. You don’t need to prove your knowledge with technical jargon every sentence.

Sometimes you just need to get people moving. Not every speech has to be like the dressing room scene from “Any Given Sunday”.

Think before you speak.

2. It’s not about you!!

Many coaches are desperate for a “prodigy” – somebody with huge talent, who they can steer to great things. Believe me, I would like this too. But coaches need to remember their job is to help everyone at a given session, not just nurturing the cream of the crop. 

I have seen too many group sessions where the coach is only interested in the 1 or 2 players “with potential”. These same coaches often neglect the needs of the wider group, who according to them “don’t want to be there”. People who do this ignore 2 crucial points:

  1. Anybody can have potential….if you give them a chance. And your job is to find it in everyone.
  2. Some players are reluctant to go through the ordeals needed to reach a higher level. Frustratingly for many coaches, the players with the most “natural” talent are often in this group.

The biggest challenge isn’t telling players how “important” a drill is. That’s easy.  The real skill lies in making them want to do them in the first place. This is where you need emotional intelligence, and a range of motivational techniques.

Simply telling players how important a certain drill is, doesn’t cut it. Saying “they don’t want to be there”, if they push back, is lazy and complacent. It’s your job to try and find a way.

Find a way to make motivation intrinsic….or you are wasting your time. 

3. It’s not about you!!!!

Academy match day! We enjoy these days in the calendar. It’s chance to get your teeth into some higher level coaching, and work with motivated, competitive players.

The series is poised delicately  at 1-1. A bit of friendly colleague “banter” has developed about who will win the decider. I brush this off with a smile, and a “it’s been really high quality so far”. I pretend it doesn’t bother me one bit who wins, “as long as everyone’s improving”,

Do you want to know a secret? I want my team to win EVERY BIT AS MUCH as them! The difference….I hide it slightly better.

We’re losing. Even worse, throwing away a dominant lead. Then disaster strikes. Nick – the last proven batter –  is run out by yards off a mis-field! Never run off a mis-field!! I can see the opposition manager grinning at the umpire’s end. “What other smug comments will I cop later”……I think (very childishly) to myself. But I don’t say it. And I’m quite sure my face doesn’t show it either.

Of course, it is stupid and wrong for me to even think this in the first place. I only admit this, because I am 100% sure I am not alone. The sheer number or spats and grudges we hear about over the season proves it. We’d be superhuman not to indulge in a little competitiveness. But processing it the right way is crucial.

If we lose, then so be it. We can use the defeat as a lesson to move forward with. Nobody has let me down. Mistakes are never terminal. There is always another game and innings to look forward to.

They say a brave man is still scared, but doesn’t succumb to fear. A good coach is frustrated, but stays even-keeled and consistent. I’m 90% (80…75 at least!) sure I do this most of the time.

4. It’s not about you!!!

We work long hours, get tired. Sometimes, all we crave is a glimmer of proof that it is all paying off. But as we all know, junior coaching doesn’t work like that! Later in the year, discipline can waver, children can lack focus, and the act of even making it to training can feel like a hard slog.

In these moments, setbacks can hit hard. It can feel that all your effort – especially for volunteers, who are working a “2nd job” – is amounting to nothing. It’s embarrassing when things go wrong, and feels like a poor reflection on you. But is isn’t. 

  • Resist speaking the first thought your mind, until you have stepped away from the scene. This will save you from a rant you can’t take back.
  • Remember that all players are young and learning. The most basic of errors are not always a sign of carelessness, but a sign of pressure and “over-thinking”.
  • Close that “League Table” window on your screen (I know it’s there, let’s not pretend) (don’t worry, it’s saved on your favorite pages anyway).
  • Humanize those silly mistakes. Remember the moments you yourself have run your partner out on 65, or dropped that sitter with 4 to win. Kneed yourself in the head, falling over while turning for a 2.
  • You probably messed around sometimes as a child as well! Have a little empathy!
  • Remember you have signed up for the whole thing – including good and bad days. To commit fully until the final week is over. The best coaches only pat themselves on the back when the job is done….then swiftly move onto the next challenge.

 

 

Coaching dilemmas: pleasing clients v doing it “your way”

One important job of a coach is to COMPLIMENT the work of others around them. And this doesn’t just mean colleagues!

Parents, children, managers, club officials….everyone of these is a factor in the smooth running of a cricket team. We are never working alone. 

This means, when coaching an age group through the year, it is unlikely you will have license to do exactly as you please. The odds are, you will be steered in different directions. Sometimes, these will interrupt your original plans.

As a “guest” coach at several different clubs, I and my colleagues face this situation almost daily. You are left with a dilemma: When do I accommodate external suggestions and ideas, and when do I stick to my guns?

The answer isn’t simple.

Communicate your methods: long term plans

Just as you may disagree with the opinions of others, they equally might not understand your methods yet. 

It’s your job to explain the process. try and paint a long term picture for the group and clients. Demonstrate the process, because it may not be obvious to the untrained. 

Amateur coaches are often impatient. If they see a glaring error on evidence, they want to jump in and fix it straight away. This way of doing things leads to short-termism – jumping from theme to theme, depending on whatever the manager has noticed that day.

  • “There were a lot of errors in the field. We need to practice….”

  • “They don’t seem to be hitting the ball as hard as the other team….can we work on….”

Many see cricket coaching as a simple “tick-box” exercise, or a puzzle. Every weakness is a missing piece that needs to be filled.

The reality is very different: more like constructing a multi-storey building. Unless you set firm foundations, any decoration on the “upper floors” is futile.

To outside observers, however, getting the basics right comes across as simplistic – that you are ignoring important aspects of the game. This is where your expertise as a coach comes in. Even though it’s difficult, and leads to awkward conversations, it is better to resist this impulse to lurch from theme to theme.

However, you need to explain this. Reassure that you will get to everything eventually. That it’s in the long term plan. 90% of the time, parents don’t understand that you have considered training weeks in advance.

Coach/Colleague/Manager frictions

Your client is the paying customer. But is the customer always right?

No. But that doesn’t change the fact you have to work in harmony! Plus, some insights can be gained from their viewpoint.

At times, some compromise may be required, in order to not clutter the minds of the players. Sometimes it is worth holding your tongue, so that a message can be consistent.

Many times in the past, I have wanted children to focus on one thing, while another coach or manager is fixated on another thing entirely. In this situation, what is best? To plough on regardless? Or to ease off?

Coaches often talk over each other. There are times when coaches almost feel compelled to have the “last word” (just watch any end-of-session monologues around the country), This leads to frictions, or contradicting messages, when different ideas clash. But compromise doesn’t have to be seen as sacrificing your principles.

The time IN BETWEEN sessions is better to settle any friction between styles. This is where you can state your point of view, and suggest changes/clarity. There is no point confusing the players with 2 opposite messages during the session.

Nets and Hard Ball

Some players just want to “net”. Some parents and managers just want their children in the nets. Nets = hard ball = “proper” practice. WRONG. 

Some believe their child has simply moved on from soft ball at a certain age. This is completely untrue. Using soft ball allows coaches to:

  • Maximize no. of balls faced – More people involved at once, more times rehearsing a skill, less waiting around! This can only be a good thing! Hard ball training can be slow, as safety must be checked constantly.
  • Target one particular area – in a sustained way. With a higher frequency of balls faced, you have more scope to master a skill, and convert it into muscle memory.
  • Highlighting mistakes – there is less margin for an error with a softer ball. Timing and movement has to be spot on, for a satisfying, pure, strike. Because hard balls ping of the bat, a player’s mistakes can be masked.
    The same applies to bowling. Using a lighter cricket ball means that any flaw in a bowling action will be amplified – the ball will swing wildly off course, or lose much more pace on release.
    One of the most common complaints from young cricketers are that they “can’t play with a tennis ball”, or they are “better with a hard ball”. True, but that’s the whole point!! Drawing attention to imperfections helps us fix them. Masking them (which nets and hard ball can) delays this process.

Bide your time!

The more you demonstrate your methods are successful, the more freedom you will have to do things your way.

For a successful club to run, all stakeholders need to be on-side. That includes parents, managers, colleagues and the club committee members. The most successful clubs will have all of these groups singing from the same hymn sheet.

Play the long game. Work with others, while pointing to evidence that your methods are working….this is a more powerful way of getting your own way in the future!

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Going beyond technique. How to bat through the “phases”

With so many elements involved with batting, it is easy to get lost in details. 

What about the psychology of walking out to bat in a match? Technique is important. But you have to be in a state to use it!! 

Watching hundreds of junior matches, it is clear that a majority of players are “capable” of scoring way more runs than they actually do. Some never convert ability in the nets, to runs on the field. Others struggle to capitalize on good starts. This has less to do with technique, and way more to do with coping in the middle, at different “phases” of an innings.

PHASE 1: GETTING “IN”

katie batting
Do you “freeze” or “panic” early in your innings?

Several players are “out” before they have even walked to the crease. They simply don’t know how to get themselves ready. They may get lucky, but a good ball in the first over will almost inevitably result in their downfall. 

Although the problem these batters face (inability to keep a clear mind) is the same, the symptoms are different. Coaches must be receptive to these differences, and adapt their advice.

Just saying “concentrate more”, doesn’t cut it. Get inside their thought process (which is different for every individual), and help them find a way to overcome their nerves.

  1. Freezing
    Nerves push us one of two directions: hyper-activity, or freezing. Freezers will walk into bat, take guard….and then stand motionless on the spot, regardless of how long before the bowler decides to steam in.
    Warning signs: Straight/stiff legs and arms. Body weight resting on heels (instead of toes). These are just a consequence of being motionless for that long. A player should never be in their batting stance for more than 10s.
    Solution: Pre-ball and pre-innings routines! Encourage these players to “wake up” their legs early on. This can be done with some simple footwork drills. Even hopping from foot to foot a little! Anything to avoid a flat-footed prod at the first delivery!
  2. Panicking (or “anti-freezers)
    For other players, surging adrenaline makes them want to move and swing too fast and too early.
    Warning signs: looking agitated at the crease, unable to stay still. Little flamboyant movements with the bat. Picking the bat up very high, or lots of practice shots between balls.
    Solution: Relax! Spend the time before an innings slowing things down.
    Regulate their breathing. Have a calm routine between each ball, and stick to it. Watch the ball. Keep things simple!
  3. Hit-and-run
    For some players, their early-innings nerves manifest in the desperation to get down the other end, for their first run!
    Sometimes a solid defensive shot, and a decisive “no!” achieves the same confidence boosting effect. Forget the scoreboard. Just get comfortable!
    Solution: Give positive feedback for good habits, not just for scoring runs. Players like this have to be weened onto “process” related feedback, and not “result” related feedback. Remind them to look up first. Reassure them that runs can always be caught up.
  4. Good contact = run
    A frequent symptom of spending too much time in the nets – yes parents, “playing a game” isn’t (always) just a way for us coaches to have an easy session!! Good shots don’t automatically deserve runs. And calling isn’t a reflex. It’s a process….of which decision making is a vital part!
    Just saying “yes”, before thinking, is NOT calling. Again, good shots DO NOT automatically deserve runs.
    Solution: Long term thinking. Ask players where they would like to be in 10-15 balls.
    Players often convince themselves that they can only settle after getting “off the mark”. Telling this player that they “should have called “no””. will not stop them from making this mistake again. The real issue is that they are calling based on the wrong information.
    Get past the obvious, and move to the root cause!

  5. Pre-meditating
    Playing down the line of the stumps, regardless of where the ball is. Try asking your players what they think about when they come in to bat, and you will often identify the ones who will pre-meditate. Answer like, “defend it”, “play straight”, are sensible, but indicate that they may look for a default shot.
    Warning signs: Finishing shots in strange positions. If your player ends their shot on one knee, feet very wide apart (almost doing the splits), or staggering after their shot (back foot wheeling round), this is a sign that they have moved the wrong way, and been forced to adjust their position last minute!
    Some step down the pitch, only later realizing that the ball is wider than expected. Others rock backwards, and have to jam the bat down at the end. They will frequently complain that the ball “kept low” or jumped up”. The truth is that they didn’t look at the ball in the first place.
    Solution: “Where is the ball”. “Where is the ball”. “Where is the ball”. “Where is the ball”!

PHASE 2: “STAYING IN” AFTER “GETTING IN”

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Sometimes players are too keen to “get on with it”….and forget there is a whole field to hit into!

So, you’ve negotiated the tricky early phase. You’d expect things to get better and better from here! The second phase should be easy…..

Not always! Many batters start confidently, but for some reason they lose their way as time goes on. The mounting frustration usually produces a mistake. A huge number of good players never learn to convert their starts into decent scores. What specific pressures contribute to players struggling to “kick on”?

Again, simply saying “you lost concentration” will not get them to change this. What happened? What pressure are they under? And how can we fix it next time?

  1. Accelarating too quickly
    There is a voice in every batter’s head, whispering/saying/yelling, “get on with it”. Sometimes, this pressure comes from the sidelines too!
    Many young players believe they need to keep accelerating from start to finish. However, the odd dot ball, or maiden over, is not the end of the world!
    Warning signs: Players who talk to themselves. Visible frustration after missing the ball, or hitting to a fielder. Look out for their batting grip too. Are they “choking” the bat handle more and more over time?
    Solution: “Keep going”. “Look for singles”. There’s no need to change something that is working!
  2. Losing momentum
    For every mid-innings slogger, there is a mid-innings ditherer. Somebody who seems to get stuck in the mud. All their shots in this period seem to lack strength, as the run rate drops.
    They are usually thinking “we need the runs” just as much. The only difference is that in their case, the pressure to score has a different, paralyzing effect on their game effect.
    Early warning signs: stifled movements. Less confident body language. Flicking the ball instead of swinging. Missing out on wider balls (especially leg-side).
    Solution: “Wait for the ball”. “Move late, and all at once”. “Stand taller”.
    90% of the time, these players are trying to attack, but move too soon. What appears on the surface as a “soft” shot, is actually a disjointed one. In order to strike the ball hard, a cricket shot needs “rhythm” and “fluency”. The annoyance causes them to lose their body shape….stooping more, and leaning on their bat.
  3. Sudden rush of blood
    When a player looks completely in control, then inexplicably throws his/her wicket away. Usually, this happens after a boundary.
    Early warning signs: repeating the same successful shot next ball. When some young players score a boundary, their brain often tells them to repeat that shot. However, the next one might be completely different.
    Solution: “Watch the ball”. 
  4. Lunging/Pre-meditating
    We all get a little bit lazy during an innings. But can we snap out of it? Over time, batters can lose the precision of their movements. Instead of picking up the line and length, they lurch forwards or backwards automatically.
    Warning signs: Head falling forwards. 
    Solution: “Pick your shots”. “Front foot or back foot”? If a player can read the signs – realizing that they are getting lazy in their movements – they can fix it during their innings.
    However, the risk is that they never work it out, and get out shortly afterwards.
  5. “Snatching” at the ball
    Instead of a smooth swing.
    Warning signs: “Choking the bat”. This is usually a result of tension in the arms and hands. Without realizing it, a player can begin to squeeze the bat too hard. This is often fatal. They will now stab or thrash the ball, instead of playing a controlled shot.
    Solution: “Relax your hands”. “Walk away”. Encourage your players to get away from the crease between each balls. Letting go of the bat with each hand helps keep the tension away. Small details like this can make a huge difference, and improve a player’s ability to bat for long periods.

PHASE 3: END OF INNINGS

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How can we make the most out of the “death” overs? It’s more than just slogging!

OK, fair enough. We probably do “need the runs” now. But that doesn’t mean we have to resort to baseball. Always keep in mind: “attacking” is different from “slogging”. 

An attacking batter still watches the ball, has a number of scoring option, and values placement as well as contact. A “slogger” forgets everything other than the contact.

This principle is even more important when coaching young players….who don’t have the muscle mess to pump the ball into row Z. If they want to hit harder, they need an approach that stands a chance of working.

  1. Over-swinging
    Trying “too hard” to hit the ball, can often have the opposite result. When the bat goes up too high, a player’s wrists will start to take over – possibly twisting and turning. From this point, there is no guarantee the bat will come down the same way as it came up!
    Solution: “Use your shoulders”. I often try and remind players to “save their energy for the swing”, instead of winding up in their backswing too hard. 
  2. Charging
    Instead of coming down the wicket in a controlled way, players often almost sprint at the ball. This runs the risk of off-balance shots, or running past the ball altogether. The bowler may also see you coming!
    Warning signs: Bobbing (head) or twisting (shoulders or hips) as they come down the pitch.
    Solution: Talk about “balance” and “allignment”. Hold your body angle as you skip forwards. This way, your arms can have a full swing at the ball.
  3. Backing away
    Doing this reduces your scoring areas to a “slice”. Any attempt to swing with power is diminished….distance from the ball prevents a full swing.
    Solution: A slightly more open stance may be useful. This increases your swinging potential, but makes sure you can still hit the ball all around the field.
  4. Pre-meditating
    Pre-meditated shots may be a useful calculated risk at the end of an innings. But picking one shot, come-what-may, could mean you miss out on a boundary somewhere else.
    Solution: It sometimes helps to have a “Plan B” – if the ball is outside your “hitting arc”, or cramps you for room. Smash the ball if it is in your “slot”, or work the ball into a different gap if it isn’t.
  5. Forgetting “behind square”
    Late cuts, ramps, and even glances, can produce boundaries! Using the pace of the ball is an option at any stage of an innings. For smaller-framed batters, it might just be their best option too!
    Solution: “Look around the field”. “Where are the gaps”?

Coaching dilemmas: how do deal with pressure? Part 1 – bowling!

framed image 2Most coaches must find this infuriating. The players in their team who look glorious in training….but for some reason, can’t perform in the matches. 

It happens all the time around club cricket of all levels! On the sidelines: managers of junior teams pulling their hair out, exasperated….wondering why their meticulous plans are thrown out the window, as soon as the boys and girls step onto the field.

However, what a good coach will remember is, it ISN’T THEIR FAULT! It is perfectly natural for young players to feel the pressure of a match situation.

As a coach, it is OUR RESPONSIBILITY to prepare players better. How can we make the transition from a training environment to a match environment less stark?

Is it just that they “don’t listen”?

No.

Let’s dismiss one myth straight away. Most often, players don’t fail under pressure because they “aren’t listening” to your coaching. Way more often, it’s the opposite!

If anything, players are more likely to freeze in the big moments because they are listening TOO MUCH! When batting, they may be too obsessed with “moving their feet”, or “playing with a straight bat”. And on top of that, there’s a match situation to dwell on as well!

All of this can mean the most important aspect – ACTUALLY LOOKING AT THE BALL – gets lost in the mental fog. And it can paralyze them.

In short, they are thinking. They are just the wrong thoughts!

1 step back, 2 steps forwards

keiran pitchCricket can be humiliating! The game has a special way of making your failures feel intensely public….it feels the whole world is looking at you.

As we know from our own experiences – and it’s good to be up front with your own – some embarrassing moments never quite leave you!!

So this is the big challenge:

  • As coaches, how do we expose young players to these dangers – and the bad feelings associated with them – in training, without demoralizing them?
  • How can we push them, but make them more resilient at the end of the process?

The answer has to be to gently introduce these emotions into training, when the consequences are a bit lower.

The drawbacks: how does this come across to others?

There is no doubt that this approach involves a degree of risk. You can never be 100% sure how a player will respond – behaviorally and psychologically – to the struggle. 

I follow an excellent coaching blog by Andrew Beaven, who is refreshingly honest about how he tries to employ the “growth mindset”….and how easy it can be for coaches to miss the mark slightly with their goals and objectives.

We all have gone in “too hard” at one point or another, and been forced to reign it in a little. The only difference is that, with constant reflection and response, you can minimize the times you do.

I must admit that, when coaching this theme at some clubs/individuals, i wonder, “is this worth the hassle”? Maybe it’s just a case of being brave. Just like anyone, coaches don’t want to be the “bad guy”. But it is our duty to prepare players for pressure….times when the odds are against them.

A small dose of failure should be useful in the long run! Even though you might get it in the ear from a dad or two!!

GAME: The Bowling Pressure Challenge

There are a few games I have employed, to introduce a degree of pressure to everyday actions. 

Sometimes you can have a bit of fun with it too – using games can be helpful in making players laugh off their mistakes and move on! I have had success at times with this team game. As well as simulating the pressure of being watched, we can find out how each player copes with this pressure.

When we know what happens, we can begin to advice ways to control nerves better!

bowling pressure game

How it works

2 TEAMS: of 3-5 players

TEAMS TAKE TURNS: team 1 bowls, team 2 waits at side of pitch

AIM TO BOWL 12 STRAIGHT BALLS IN A ROW

IF ONE WIDE IS BOWLED: the turn ends!

THE TEAMS SWAP: team 2 bowls, and have a chance to beat team 1’s score

THE WINNING TEAM: is the first team to successfully bowl 12 straight balls in a row

Extras

THE DISTRACTION RULE: After 6 straight balls, the waiting team is allowed to distract the bowling team (within reason…set some limits on what they can do!)

HIT THE STUMPS BONUS: 3 points awarded instead of 1

HIT THE BOX: For higher standard players, try marking 3 different boxes on the pitch. Make each one a different color, and shout out one of the colors as the bowler runs in. You can also shout “left-hand” or “right-hand”.

The review: what are the symptoms of pressure?!

By placing your players under the spotlight, you will begin to find out how they react to it!

You will find that the responses to the same pressure come in several forms. In this context – bowling – some of the “symptoms” of pressure are….

  • RUNNING UP SLOWER – very timid approach, with short strides….meaning the bowler loses all momentum
  • RUNNING UP FASTER – due to an adrenaline rush that they aren’t aware of….result can be a rushed and frantic bowling action
  • PAUSING BEFORE BOWLING – under pressure, this kind of bowler lingers on their aim….but loses the “flow” of their action
  • 1 MISTAKE LEADING TO SEVERAL – it can just be a minor error, but can start a “domino effect”
  • OVER-COMPENSATING – 1 short ball leading to a full toss

Finding out the symptoms, gives the player vital knowledge about how to fix their own actions. You can help them gain a better understanding of their games!

 

 

5 principles beginner coaches often forget

The classic cliche of passing a driving license, and ignoring everything you learnt up to that point, holds a grain of truth!

As coaches, we should always remember some fundamental points. Here is a list of 5 principles of coaching, that can often get forgotten over time on the job.

DO LOOK DOWN!!

snasy-practiceWhat applies to heights, doesn’t apply to cricket. Check the feet, then work your way upwards.

If you go the other way round, you are in danger of missing a vital piece of the puzzle.

This principle is equivalent to laying the foundations of a large house. If this first, crucial, building block isn’t in place, every other piece of the structure is vulnerable to move. It would be redundant talking about interior design in the loft, when’s its floor could cave in any second.

EXAMPLE – STUMBLING INTO SHOTS. A common flaw that players have is swinging before they have a stable base. The resulting swing causes a player to topple over.

On the surface, bat-swing or footwork might seem to be the problem. But the underlying cause is SYNCHRONIZING these movements.

Turn back the clock!

As well as the bigger picture, a coach needs to be mindful of the long term picture.

It is very easy to spot immediate, obvious looking flaws. If a bowler’s arm has dropped, anyone can see. If a batter plays with a cross-bat, anybody can tell. However, is this the CAUSE, or just the SYMPTOM?

What seems like an obvious flaw at the point of delivery/contact/miss, may have its roots much earlier….even in the first step of the run-up, or batting stance!

If a player hasn’t followed through (running past the stumps after releasing the ball), you could simply say, “follow through next time ____” (ie/ WHAT to do). But in order to really effect change (ie/ get them following-through consistently in future), you may need to look further back in the action or run-up.

  • LEANING BACK – when a bowler’s head tilts back (bending back, or exaggerated arm movement), it is difficult for them to propel themselves to the target. If you see a player pause before they release the ball, this is the most common reason.
  • LOSING HEIGHT – if a bowler’s upper body falls down, it restricts their ability to drive their legs forward.
  • LEGS KICKING BACK IN RUN-UP – poor running style may make it impossible for a player to get their knees in front of them after bowling.
  • FATIGUE – when a player is tired, they may not physically be able to do what you are asking of them. Be sensitive to signs of tiredness.

Move around

At the level 2, one phrase was hammered home in the practical sessions, probably more than any other….

“When observing, get firm evidence from MULTIPLE ANGLES”

EXAMPLE: BATTING STANCE – Check every player’s stance from the side. This is the only place you can really confirm their weight and balance is correct.

stances

These two stances look remarkably similar from the umpire’s view. However, by viewing from the side, you can tell the distinction between “squatting” and “pressing”.

This small detail makes a big difference – in freedom of movement, and ability to get more weight and power into the ball.

Use catch-phrases, but AVOID cliches

Young players hear, “follow through”, “hit the top of off-stump”, “move your feet” so often, they begin to lose any meaning.

REMEMBER – a phrase only has meaning if:

  • a) IT HAS A CONTEXT – eg/ “move your feet, so you can lean towards the ball”, “hold the bat up, but still have a backswing”, “press forwards, but as the ball is coming, not before“, “get forwards, WHEN the ball is there again” (how many players have you seen who are told to get forward more, then lunge onto the front foot for a bouncer next ball?).
  • b) YOU REMEMBER PHRASES CAN BE MIS-INTERPRETED – for example, telling players to “pick the bat up”, might result in them picking it up way too high, saying “move to the ball” can result in players lunging at the ball.
  • c) YOU ADD THE “WHY” AS WELL AS THE “WHAT” – give them a specific reason that this is the most effective method (over time).

Catch-phrases are NOT COACHING. You have to flesh them out with context and added meaning.

You can even try coming up with your own phrases, “buzzwords” eg/ “move and stay” to symbolize the act of leaning to the ball, but still on contact.

Coach to educate: explain reasons

ANYBODY can make themselves look good in a 1-to-1 session:

  • You can guide a player through every step
  • You can easily instruct them to “do this/don’t do that”, every ball
  • Improvement is likely through repetition alone – they hit LOTS OF SHOTS AND BOWL LOTS OF BALLS

Not everyone can translate those improvements to the field!:

  • Can they solve their own problems and flaws
  • Can they deal with pauses between balls (over intensity of a 1-to-1)
  • Do you encourage them to think for themselves – or is there a dependency between coach and player?

Coaches are educators. Coaching for understanding – even if the process means sacrificing immediate gains – is much better than coaching as an instructor.

“Do you want to know the science behind it”?

(While performing an ultra-slow-motion demo….) “Where does this shot/ball start to go wrong?”

IMG_1221No child likes to hear they should do something just “because”. True, there are some stubborn little ones out there. Your job is to persuade them to do what is good for them, even though they might fight you along the way!

CONSISTENT FEEDBACK – try not to lurch from coaching-point to coaching-point, ball-by-ball! A player needs time to grasp, and make permanent, the themes you are giving them.

USE GADGETS – try videos, apps, science, score-book evidence….anything to convince your player! The pitch map app is a particular favourite of ours!