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

 

BE BETTER: You are only as good as your last session

When I started out in coaching, I was a completely different person. If I was still that person, I would have been fired long ago!! Expectations change with age and experience. 

Too many coaches stand still. We are always telling young players to work on their weaknesses, while our own are ignored. Why would children be motivated to take these on if their coaches avoid them too?! 

I  still rarely feel as if I have delivered a perfect session. I feel as is I’ve “failed” several times a week. Perhaps this is a good sign. I know I am a reflective coach and want to improve. Doing this requires honesty with yourself….not the easiest thing to do!

I wanted to share some reflections, 10 years on from my first ever session as a professional coach (King Athelstan Primary, Kingston – a real baptism of fire!).

  • How have I improved?
  • What uncomfortable truths did I need to confront?
  • How has this changed be as a person as well as a coach?
  • What do I still need to do

SHYNESS/TIMIDNESS

When I worked alongside other coaches, I’d get out-gunned. Even assertive parents and volunteers would sometimes drown out my voice. 

Working alone helped. In a “sink-or-swim” environment, I began to find my voice. Putting my hand up for the most difficult sessions too. Looking back, some of my proudest achievements as are coach come from these. Not because they went sensationally, but because they went “OK”.  Sometimes, “OK” is a triumph!

I would pre-plan my end-of-session monologues. This is a practice I will use today, to make sure there is a beginning, middle and end (finding a way to wrap it up is vital!). Before long, this made them more natural, and I would dread public speaking less and less. Now, I am completely unfazed in front of 50-100 people.

One of the hardest things….moving away – temporarily – from my lifelong club. Being alongside individuals who had known me since 11, I found it difficult, almost trapped in a personality. The shy boy everyone had known me as for life.

It took an escape from that environment, to come out and express myself. Fortunately, I have now returned, a better, more confident person.

POOR TIME MANAGEMENT

Many of my sessions would overrun….sometimes by tens of minutes! I just couldn’t process activities in time.

In a way this was a good sign – I was always keen to finish on a positive note, or make sure every child had equal batting time. In other ways, it was catastrophic – frustrated, parents queuing up to whisk their girl/boy off to the next club.

Finally, it hit me that my good intentions weren’t enough. I needed to be practical and efficient as well. I began to watch the clock more. Plan out detailed sessions in writing again. Be more realistic with the amount of goes each player could have.

Having a Plan B is important. Many coaches come into sessions with a plan that is simply too rigid. I usually go to each session with a:

  • BEST CASE SCENARIO – if everything goes to plan, i want to achieve a, b, c….
  • AVERAGE CASE SCENARIO – modifying the session plan, if one aspect needs reinforcing
  • WORST CASE SCENARIO – nothing is sticking. This means this skill needs more time and care. I also have a potential different activity (around the same team), with a different learning style.

I have also learnt and developed activities (my own and others’), that engage more players at the same time. I also have the awareness to monitor multiple things at once. Young coaches often fixate on small things. Try and keep an eye on the bigger picture always!

POOR ADMIN

In the early days, I could barely look at my email inbox (some might say little has changed)!

Anxiety (is there going to be a complaint/has something gone wrong??) my problem. I would worry constantly that a complaint was coming my way. This meant a) I missed the good news, and b) of course, any bad news festered and compounded.

I realized that this couldn’t continue. I worked hard on organizing my time better – a block of 1-2 hours, every day, reserved for emails and planning. Using different comunnications – such as mobile phone (although 64 work WhatsApps is a little OTT) – for different subject also helped.

I often agonize over what I write (even trivial messages), so sometimes opt for a combination. A text with an initial outline, followed my more detail written later on.

DEALING WITH PARENTS

For a long time, I was a “yes man”. If a mum or dad inquired about future sessions, I would bend over backwards to appease them. 

As we know, this is not always possible to do. Sometimes I would shy away from uncomfortable truths – “____ has been misbehaving and distracting others”). Or make promises about future sessions.

Now I am far better at not only handling complaints, but pre-empting them. Every session I run, I try to paint a picture of the future to the children and parents.

  • WHAT WILL HAPPEN TODAY – an outline of the session plan. So they aren’t going into each stage wondering what comes next
  • WHAT WE WANT TO ACHIEVE – so immediately, they are clear about targets, and what actions will earn praise
  • WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT WEEK(S) – how does this session fit into the bigger picture. Prove that there IS a bigger picture!!

DISCIPLINE

I would give naughty children too much rope

Even though I would tell children off, I would wait too long to follow through on warnings.

This gets easier with age. When you start out in the job, you want to be liked. The more experience you get, the more you can see what is the “right thing”….even if it involves some arguments and harsh words.

Being stricter doesn’t always just mean shouting more. You can enforce discipline your own way. 

SAYING NO/DELEGATING

At the start of term, going the extra mile seems like a good idea. At the end of term, it feels like a stupid idea. 

Fatigue builds up over a long summer. And in these times I can get more introverted.

Sometimes, I have to remember not to rely on myself for everything. The stress of thinking, “I am responsible for this”, would prevent me from trusting colleagues, or assistants fully.

This is unfair, on myself (too much self-induced pressure), and my colleagues (who often weren’t given a chance to express themselves). Now, if I am in charge, I try to give any colleagues an idea of their role – along with any specific themes I’d like them to mention/observe over others.

 

 

 

 

 

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”

friday harry
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

friday manhat 1
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 Perseverance: we need it, but how do we achieve it!

As mentioned in a previous blog. The challenges of running a net session are well known. That is why as a coach, it is always useful to have many different activities within nets….for example “Clock Cricket”! 

Nets should ALWAYS have a purpose! At the very least, each bowler should go into a net session, with 1 or 2 specific points to work on. Without this focus, they can degenerate into chaos quickly!

Coaching discipline in the nets

How often have you seen a batter start poorly in the nets….then improve in the middle….only to throw all this out the window in the last 5mins? Why even practice if you are returning back to “square one” at the end?

Above all, players have to not only have one clear theme, but apply themselves to this theme consistently…..up to the very last ball! Nets don’t always have to be about technique! How about using the odd net session to work on STRATEGY and MENTALITY instead?

  • Battling through difficult periods – where the bowler is on top of you – and not throw your wicket away
  • Playing yourself into form, or “going through the gears” – each batter needs to find their own way of doing this
  • Resorting to “Plan B”, when “Plan A” isn’t effective
  • PERSEVERANCE! When something is working, keep doing it!!

All these are just as critical to success on the field as sound footwork and a smooth swing. Here are a couple of games i use to introduce the strategy and discipline.

 

GAME 1: Race to 5

The aim of this game is to make players THINK LONG TERM, and WORK FOR REWARDS. As young cricketers get older, I try to be much more sparing with praise – not just ball-by-ball compliments.

Encourage the idea that they have to “join them up” – ie/ produce a series of good balls or shots – before patting themselves on the back.

FOR THE BATTER TO SCORE A POINT….

Play 5 CONTROLLED SHOTS – a ball that hits the middle of the bat, stays low, and goes in the intended direction.

  • Leaves and defensive shots are permitted, but do no score points. The aim of this is not to punish them, but to see leaves and defence as necessary, even essential….as you work towards a bigger target.
  • If they play-and-miss, they have to start from zero again.
  • If they get out, they lose one of their points.
  • If they manage to keep an excellent ball down (for example, a pace ball that jumps up at them wildly, or a big-spinning ball), award them a point as well.

FOR THE BOWLER TO SCORE A POINT….

Bowl a straight over – with no wides!

  • If they bowl a wide, they have to start over again!
  • Set restrictions on wides according to each group/child’s ability.
  • WICKET = bonus point.
  • 2 WIDES IN A ROW = lose a point
race to 5 scoresheet
In this game, Dylan has scored 2 points, but played loose shots at regular intervals. Seb has started really consistently, but then lost his way (perhaps getting carried away?). You can use the info to get inside the player’s mindset.

 

GAME 2: The “Narna-Limit”

Incredible simple. How many balls can you bat for without losing patience? Balls faced, bowled, or fielded, without resorting to anything daft!

How long can you ignore the voice in your head, urging you to charge down the wicket/slog the spinner/bowl at 7000mph. When the rash shot or wild ball comes, reset the score to zero.

At the end of the session, everybody will have an official “Narna-Limit”: or in other words, the HIGHEST NUMBER OF BALLS they went without being silly!

narna limit game
Here, the “X” would indicate a very poor shot (batters), or a wide ball (bowlers)

**In this game is is IMPORTANT not to punish minor mistakes, only major errors in judgement or approach. For example, a play-and-miss could be down to a good ball, or slightly misjudging the line. This is entirely different to a random slog.

Players shouldn’t be discouraged for trying to do the right thing, only when they have done something wild.**

 

GAME 3: “What’s the plan?”

This isn’t original, but it is important to mention that players need to come up with their own strategies.

Asking them “what’s the plan?” helps you to get inside their thought process. This is where it gets interesting!

  • Some players will stare blankly for you, for what feels like an eternity, waiting for the answer.
  • Some players will shout either cliche at you – “hit top of off”, or, “full and straight” – or just a word such as “yorkers”, or “bouncers”.
  • Some will say, “bowl round the wicket”….for no other reason than it is something different…..
  • ….and some will look at the batter and look for weaknesses!
adreas batting
Even good batters have weak spots, and you need to work them out!

The whole point of this activity is getting the players to this stage – analyzing the batter! From here, you can help them to refine an effective plan.

Even for the youngest players, you can encourage them to think about plans. Even something as simple as “bowl outside off-stump to this batter instead”, count as a basic plan. They can bowl the same ball, but at a different angle.

For older players, you can introduce ideas such as “setting up” the batter. Most often, young cricketer’s plans are short term – “this ball will get them out”. By having plans as a theme, you can start thinking about the bigger picture….

  • Sometimes being hit for 4 isn’t cause for big changes – stick with your plan if it has logic behind it
  • Variations are most useful if they come by surprise – pick the right moments for them
  • The best players need to be “worn down” – they won’t just throw it away!

 

IN THE NEXT POST, I WILL TALK ABOUT “NET MATCHES” – AND THEIR USE IN ENGAGING AND EDUCATING YOUNG CRICKETERS. THIS WILL INCLUDE GRAPHICS AND GADGETS YOU CAN USE TO REALLY HIT HOME YOUR COACHING POINTS!

CLICK HERE FOR OTHER ACTIVITES AND IDEAS FOR GROUP COACHING

Cricket themes that should have their own session…..but usually don’t!

snasy-practiceThe coaching manual has evolved hugely in recent years. There are now more resources to draw on, and skills to teach that would be considered preposterous even 10 years ago.

However, it isn’t complete yet! There are still gaps in the standard textbook, parts of the game that are under-valued. And there is still room for interpretation. How do you not only create skillful players, but create intelligent cricketers who can bring these to the field?

Here is my list of activities i feel – in general (you might be an exception!!) – need a little more attention. 

ASPECTS of Game Play

The first point comes with an asterisk….as you no doubt are already teaching elements of gameplay. But is it good to do all of them at the same time?

Certain valuable topics tend to get clumped together….bracketed into the same, “gameplay”, session. But when you consider the sheer number of coaching points involved, this seems foolish:

  • FIELDING POSITIONING;FIELDING TECHNIQUE; FIELDING DECISION MAKING; BATTING DECISION MAKING; BATTING TECHNIQUE; BATTING COMMUNICATION; RUNNING TECHNIQUE & BACKING UP; BOWLING STRATEGY; BOWLING TECHNIQUE; CAPTAINCY; TEAM SPIRIT.

The solution: play games, but SEPARATE your coaching points.

Accept that a young cricketer (or any cricket for that matter) will not be able to devote to so much at once. These skills require different thought processes. They demand eye for small detail (narrow focus) or broader awareness (peripheral vision). When a player is fixated on correct calling, they may well temporarily lose some precision. Shots might lack the correctness you would usually expect. There will be setbacks and relapses, while a player is trying to “re-wire” themselves.

And this is OK!! Decide on a couple of these points to hammer home, and proceed in sets of two or 3 themes….until the work is complete!

You’d NEVER lump all elements of batting into a single drill. Why does it happen so often in game-play sessions?

TRY: BREAKING IT UP

Shot selection

We have found that players aren’t always sure where the ball really is!

Before you move to criticism footwork, swing or timing, consider whether the shot was the right one to play in the first place!

Technical advice is pointless if the player has attempted the wrong shot anyway!

MOST COMMON EXAMPLES:

  • “Get foot across to ball” – when a cut shot or back foot shot would have been more appropriate
  • “Don’t swing across the line” – when a player should have played an on-drive, but steps straight down the wicket (thus blocking off this shot)

We tend to practice individual shots, but provide less insight on how to distinguish between each one.

RELEASE POINT – it is amazing when talking to batters about what they are watching, how few actually have their eyes trained on the ball. They are watching it, but are they really watching it?! It sounds obvious! But, trust me, they aren’t all doing it!!

The swifter the decision making process, the more time remaining to actually execute the shot. But this has to start somewhere!

During match scenarios and batting drills, mix your feeds, emphasizing the vital principle: “watch and move”. See if you can trick them with a sequence of similar feeds, followed by a different one. This will help you discover if they are settling into a pattern. Reward indications that your player is thinking. For example, if they have chosen correctly backwards or forwards….and have “used the crease” (ie/ getting right out to the ball or back to the stumps.

REMEMBER: if you have decided shot selection is your theme, be consistent with this. Don’t lurch back to technique coaching again. Feedback must have clarity! 

TRY: “ADDING LAYERS

“Catch and Tap”

Players often struggle with the wait before their turn….

Throwing, catching and stopping – in all their various forms – are covered in the coaching manual. One element that is under-recognized is the “catch and tap”. This summarizes the act of collecting a throw, and deftly breaking the stumps.

Run outs are missed frequently because of:

a) A reflex” to throw down the stumps

b) Poor aiming, towards the ankles of the catcher

c) Over-eagerness to break down the stumps – causing fumble

This is a technique that requires its own set of coaching points. it helps to provide a little input on body positioning (especially feet) to the ball collector, in fielding drills. And also the mentality, of staying calm and relaxed (especially upper body).

TRY: FIELDING: GOING BEYOND TECHNIQUE

Plans

Batting or bowling! We talk about how to execute stock balls, hitting different lengths and variations. How often do we teach players how to structure an over or a spell.

How often do you see a young cricketer try a big variation on the 6th ball of the over. This is usually a spontaneous decision….simply changing for the sake of change.

hugh rider
Where are you going to target, each ball of the over. Do you have a long term plan?

The result is usually a release of pressure…..players who were on the hook suddenly get a different kind of ball, that they are able to help away. This bring about an over-compensation from the bowler.

How often do you see a batter, previously in total control of the match, bring out an expansive shot from nowhere. And how often does this prove their undoing.

Good cricketers require an idea of when to utilize their different skills.

Some perceive this as old fashioned. This is NOT a negative coaching point! Learning when to be ruthless. Learning when to stick, not twist. Learning to “not change a winning formula”.

Learning to probe for a weakness in the opposition’s game, and nagging away at that weakness again and again and again…..and again some more!

Learning to not give the opposition exactly what they want. Play smart. Don’t change just to prove that you can.

Range hitting (different places)

Young players aren’t stupid. They realize (and will constantly point out) that sometimes we “need the runs”. 10+ per over might be the target….and surely they need to “hit out”.

Of course they are right, but wrong. There is a difference between “slogging” (random hard strike) and “power hitting” (still involves a degree of placement). Talk your players through it.

At ANY STAGE of the innings, you need to decide where you are hitting the ball. Even having something as simple as 1 “off-side option” and 1 “leg-side option” can raise a batter’s chances of a clean strike.

Advise players to keep stable base on contact, and above all, WATCH THE BALL. The most common reason for players being unable to accelerate: pre-meditation. They commit to a single option….turning many bad balls into good balls!

In the death overs, not every ball has to disappear over the bowler’s head. You don’t need to charge every ball. Play smart!

Throwing on the turn

Players aren’t stupid. For all the emphasis on technique, they know that sometimes you haven’t got time to set yourself for a throw.

Instead of fighting them on this, you can meet them half way. Teach them the principles of a quick stop and throw, that will still allow a good chance of accuracy:

  • BODY WEIGHT TOWARDS STUMPS – propelling yourself in the right direction (not continuing in the initial direction)
  • ANCHORING BACK FOOT – so that you can shift your body towards the stumps

Recycling the ball

Passing the ball around the field. Making sure the ball never bobbles its way back to the bowler, getting scuffed, damp and bruised. This little things contribute to a team’s “image”.

And they can be coached with a little imagination! Here is my “recycling the ball” drill, for example. 

Other things you can do are time how long a team can get the ball through EVERY player’s hands, from keeper to bowler. Fnd their “PB” personal best time”. Incentives in matches also work. Reward a complete over of “tidy” fielding with 5 bonus runs, for example.

Sometimes it is the little things that make the bigger things (champagne moments and spectacular feats) possible in the first place.

 

CLICK HERE FOR THE “ACTIVITIES AND IDEAS” PAGE

 

 

Drills…..it’s not how good they are,it’s how you use them!

One of my most “successful” – most viewed, liked and shared – activities was published on the Twenty20 Facebook page recently. The batting bleep test.

HOW IT WORKS:
Players work in pairs – 1 batter and 1 feeder (drop feeds)
Each player hits 6 balls (aiming at small straight drive target) before switching over
BALL 1 – Player 1 hits ball. Player 2 has 10 seconds to collect ball, and be ready for the next shot
BALL 2 – Player 1 hits the ball AND runs to the end of the hall and back. Player 2 collects the ball as usual. Again, they have 10 seconds to be ready for the next ball
BALL 3 – HIT
BALL 4 – HIT AND RUN
BALL 5 – HIT
BALL 6 – HIT AND RUN
END OF OVER – players have 5 extra seconds to swap roles. The game repeats.

Why this one?!

Now….it’s great to do something that’s so popular! But why this one?! Many other posts I have written, that i feel more proud of, get eclipsed by others like this.

What does the success of this kind of post tell us about coaches? Perhaps we are keen for the “quick fix”? An activity that will instantly produce results? Unfortunately it rarely works like that.

The dilemma of the coaching blogger: If this sort of post goes viral why not create more like them?!

Because the drill is only 10% of the job! 

How to make it work? 

Each drill has its advantages and flaws. Each drill can be used in different ways.

Everyone will get better at a drill if they repeat it enough. But that means nothing in itself. Have they developed toold to APPLY THEM?? This is where the coach comes in….

Amid all the likes, shares and positive comments….one person stood out: in criticism! 

“Now then, i don’t like that drill, but I guess you lot do…..

….the quality especially gets lost in the rush to complete it”.

After recovering from the initial dent to the ego (easy to get carried away by praise!!)…..I was grateful for this dose of honesty. On analysis, there are big holes to be found.

Criticisms

deando ruxley
Does what we do in training always apply to the real world?
  • Shots are poorly executed – in a rush and off-balance
  • Running is not done with the appropriate technique (as much as it should)
  • Not enough technical input during the drill

Conclusion: in itself, this drill would be disastrous!

So was there any point in it at all? Is it broken from the beginning?

No. And this is why….

Turning the negatives into a positive…

….or more accurately, a learning experience! 

The correct way to use this drill: as a gateway to discussing a finer aspect of the game.

  1. OBSERVE – allow the players to find a methodsnasy-practice
  2. USE QUESTIONS – to identify what made the drill either easier or more difficult
  3. EXPLAIN – the key to success in this drill: efficiency. In the LONG RUN, sound technique and attention to detail prevailed.

It became apparent that pairs who were giving themselves more time for each shot, were far more successful than those who were scrambling to be ready. However, this is only achieved by:

  • ATTENTION TO DETAIL – correct shots minimizing effort to retrieve the ball
  • GOOD RUNNING TECHNIQUE – thus saving time and distance covered….every calorie counts!!

We now had undeniable evidence to the players. It was in their interest to.

  1. Take care over the shot – thus no need to chase the ball across the hall
  2. Run earnestly – and with a good technique (running and on the turn)

Going beyond technique

Even the best technique in the universe needs to be EXECUTED. In order for this to happen, technique is just one part of the puzzle.

Other qualities that are VITAL include:

  1. TEMPO CONTROL – when the going gets tough, will you choose the right moments to speed up, and the right moments to slow down
  2. PREPARATION – use the time available to get into the position, and temperament, that will help the shot
  3. ENDURANCE – managing precision under fatigue. This requires a mental endurance as well as physical. For the shot to be right, the mind needs to convince the body to keep doing it properly!

The reason I enjoyed this drill, was that I was able to examine how young players responded to pressure….in this case, time restrictions.

How did they cope with a setback or bad luck (eg/ other pairs in the way, or a deflection off he wall). All part of the game….but did it affect them?

When was their “tipping point” into laziness. Were they sharp enough to save every possible split second? And even if they were, did they then use that time wisely?

Were they consistent, efficient and calm from start to finish?

Use your drills properly….and adapt them!

I am often surprised at many coaches’ lack of nuance. Activities are either “rated” as good or bad. Glorified or dismissed. There is less awareness that a good drill can produce bad results, or a mundane drill can be elevated or adapted. 

Very often, we are lulled into thinking that a drill “speaks for itself”. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The input – what you choose to say and when – is crucial to its success.

ALWAYS PICK A THEME – and be consistent with it. Don’t be in a rush to fix everything at once
ALWAYS HAVE VARIATIONS – Massed practice is crucial at times. But sometimes, leave in a bit of potential for chaos/randomness. Some drills can be overly controlled and formulaic….almost completely sanitized from the on-field experience.
DON’T BE AFRAID OF FAILURE – use these moments as a chance to explain wider truths about cricket. Mentality, clear thinking and consistency in applying these two (regardless of the situation). Seeing how they respond to mix-ups can tell you a lot.

We forget that it’s not WHAT you do, it’s HOW you do it!

 

Defensive Cricket: making batters do what’s good for them (or at least try)!!

shankar battingIn general, batters don’t want to block the cricket ball.

To put it mildly, this isn’t the most controversial statement ever made! But, nevertheless, every batter needs to sometimes! And we need to make them see the value of it!

……Not the easiest task! Here’s how I at least attempt it…..

The Problem: “But we need the runs” / “But the ball ______ so much!”

Children aren’t stupid. Deep down, they know their error. But they don’t always want to admit it. More often, they look for excuses (of varying quality).

EXCUSE 1: argue that they couldn’t afford to defend the ball, when they need _ runs per over. They can defend, there just wasn’t time.

EXCUSE 2: argue that the ball jumped up, span miles, stayed way too low. How could they possibly have hit it cleanly?!

As a coach, I can empathize with the first excuse. It at least comes from a point of logic, and can be countered by alternative logic (“you have more time than you think”).

I tend to have very short sympathy with the second excuse. Too often, it is used to mask failure to get forwards, play late enough, or a technical error. From my perspective, unless the batter has done everything right in their power to keep the ball out, and still it finds its way past you, look to YOURSELF, not the CONDITIONS.

The challenge here is:

  • Convince them of the long term picture: that they need to block some, in order to attack “the next one”
  • Convince them that defensive shots aren’t always a negative option!

defensive game

WHAT TO COACH

There are a number of principles you can focus on. The key is to retain clarity. Stick to one or 2 fundamental points. In general – assuming a competent primary school level cricketer – I would begin with these:

  • GET IN LINE – make sure that the ball will hit you if you miss it
    – Avoid pushing away from body
    – Do most work with a confident first stride (avoid shuffling around)
  • HANDS/HEAD OVER THE BALL – there are a number of reasons a batter may “get underneath” the ball
    – Playing too early
    – Swing starting too early
    – “Falling” into shot (head toppling after step)
    – Bottom hand in swing (causing a “shovel” action, instead of a smooth motion)
    – Trying to “hit” ball into ground, instead of using the angle of the bat

**TO STRESS AGAIN, CLARITY IS IMPORTANT. Even if a player may have used a different shot in a match, remind them what they are trying to achieve. Even if a player misses, choose your feedback VERY carefully….are they trying to do the right thing (just executing poorly)? Or was it a genuine lapse of concentration?**

**In this game, I often allow the batter a certain amount of “leaves”….thus minimizing the chance of them being penalized, despite doing nothing majorly wrong**

The defensive match:

Now, a chance to put this skill into a game! I have invented two versions of the defensive game. My aim is to encourage batters to add defensive play into their games….and see run-scoring opportunities in them as well.

defensive match

**It is always useful to have variations of the same game. You can keep things fresh, and cater for different abilities and group sizes**

Before, I wrote about this, in the context of fielding drills.

Summary

No game is perfect. It is easy to spot potential flaws in any drill. Most coaching resources focus on the activity, but the key is not WHAT is done, but HOW it is applied. This is why I have attempted to go beyond the description of these games, and add some of the different inputs.

Many coaches fall down because they believe the drill will simply produce the results. But then, they undermine it with un-targetted, constantly changing feedback.

PICK WHAT YOU WANT TO FOCUS ON

KEEP IT CLEAR

DON’T CONTRADICT YOURSELF!!

It’s difficult, but all you can do is try to instill important aspects of the game in your players.

I would be interested to hear how you encourage some of the more “boring” skills in your coaching.