Fielding isn’t just a skill. It’s a state of mind.
Despite being no more than a middling standard club cricketer, there is one part of the game in which I have always been able to stand out….fielding!
Through countless of hours of solo practice, and actually enjoying the art, I managed to develop high competence levels in any position – from the covers to short-leg.
Deep consideration of the discipline….how it is taught, how it can be generalised, and where teams go wrong with their approach to fielding….has also given me some insight into coaching fielding.
Is a reason why many teams who pocket every catch in training, can’t replicate it on the field? Despite hours of practicing “soft hands”, why does everybody’s grip seems to tighten under pressure? Players who are very competent at catching, frequently panic, when a crucial wicket depends on it.
Finally, is there anything we can do about it? Below are a few insights, from a lifetime is devotion to fielding, and being driven mad at club training sessions by the same fatal errors.
Why practice does not always make perfect?!
The common reasons for this is as follows:
a) Mis-diagnosing the causes of drops – typically, when a catch is grassed, everybody looks to the player’s hand position. Did they cushion the ball?; were they in the right place; were they together?
However if you look elsewhere, or trace the movements back to the beginning, you will often find the CAUSE of the drop, not just the SYMPTOM.
Start looking at the following instead:
- Positioning – you can’t cushion the ball if you are too far away from it! Not only getting in the right position, but getting there as early as possible (so you can make small adjustments if the ball swerves).
- Stability – you are best off looking at the feet first. Did the player steady themselves and have both feet planted? Rate your player’s “composure levels” as they catch.
- Readiness – again, you’ll have no chance of taking a reflex catch if your hands arent in front of you, and palms facing the batsman. Sounds obvious, but this is commonly forgotten.
b) Judging success in training by the RESULT, forgetting the TECHNIQUE – in short, when a catch comes your way in training, you are more relaxed. The opposite is true when you are under a high ball in a match.
With the higher stakes, and added pressure, your catching technique is under more scrutiny. Here is where you rely on the instincts and muscle memories from your body.
So where you may not be able to perfectly replicate this pressure….you definitely can take a perfectionist approach to training. Have your players perfectly centred themselves underneath the ball? Are their hands ready WELL IN ADVANCE of the catch? Did they keep the rest of their body perfectly still, or over-react as the ball hit them?
You must focus on the process, not the result! Getting the catches just right, is 100 times more important than doing your drills harder and faster.
In training,you may often find me being more harshly critical of some catches than dropped catches. While this sounds stupid, catching in a casual way in training is worse than no practice at all.
IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE – players often appear to be “scared of the ball”, when in fact they simply need confidence in their technique. For these players, you need to gently crank up the intensity and difficulty level, allowing them time to be more assured movements. Macho high catches will simply ruin their prospect of ever reaching this point. It’s more than about just “being brave”.
c) Panic – Nothing prepares you for that jolt of surprise and adrenaline, when the ball comes your way all of a sudden!
In training, our focus is largely on “massed practice”. There is a certain formula to the drills….even if the feeding is random, you “know” the ball will find its way to you soon.
This is a difficult aspect of cricket to coach. The fact is that it takes time; building a mindset here is more important than flawless technique.
- Good habits – always down and always pointing hands to ball
- Team ethic – through positive atmosphere, everybody is automatically slightly more confident, alert and ready.
- Togetherness – the feeling that we all field “as one”, sharing in each other’s good moments, is vital.
- Sense of control – a player’s “body language” has a significant effect or the performance of every individual….this is hugely under-valued in its importance.
Don’t be that person who ends up diving or sprawling when they don’t need to. Don’t let that ball burst through your hands, because they are snatching at the last moment. Be calm at the right times.
Activities for “match pressure” catching
A favorite drill of mine is the “bowl a team out” slip catching game
Ideal group: 5-8
How it works:
Arrange the field around a batsman. Ideally a keeper, slip(s), gully, point, cover and short-leg. One person in the group is a “feeder”, throwing balls at the batsman who “edges” the ball.
The aim of the game is to take 10 wickets, all by catches….for the least number of runs possible.
This switches the focus from simply catching the ball, to retrieving it as well (I like to call it “finishing the job”). There is now an incentive to stop everything as well as catch. If the ball runs between fielders, or is fumbled, their job is to recover the ball to the feeder as quickly as possible.
Once the group has “bowled out” the imaginary team. They have another go. Their new aim is to get all 10 wickets for less runs.
If you have time for a third attempt, add extra hurdles to make the feat more challenging.
- Up the pace of the feeds
- Less “genuine” catching chances – make them wait for the crucial moment
- More balls into gaps
MAKE THE GROUP WORK FOR THEIR WICKETS.
MAKE SURE THEY ARE ENCOURAGING EACH OTHER, AND LOOKING FORWARDS NOT BACK.
CELEBRATE EACH WICKET! CEMENT THE GOOD MOMENTS IN EVERYONE’S MIND, AND USE IT AS MOTIVATION TO CREATE MORE.