Coaching Dilemmas: How do YOU deal with….

I still don’t have all the answers!

I have coached for 11 years. But the job continues to throw up as many questions as answers.

Recently, I wrote, “Elephants In The Room”: How to bring up harsh truths. This post is on the same theme, but looks at the practical dilemmas. Bringing up a harsh truth is only half the job! The reality of acting on it can be much more difficult….and there may not be a perfect solution!

What would you do?

I have created 5 scenarios. All of them are based directly or indirectly from experience.

You can have a perspective on each of these issues. You can even have a firm opinion on the “right” way forward.

But if your response begins with, “it’s quite simple….”, then you a) have spent your life coaching easy groups, or b) you haven’t thought about these subjects as hard as you should have.

  • Have you been in this situation in the past?
  • How did you go about handling it?
  • What advice would you have for people in the same position?

I would love to hear from you. EMAIL ME: at rob@twenty20communitycricket.com

Scenario 1: Good player, small club

Your responsibility is to every player on the team.
But how do you keep the “star” challenged?

SCENARIO 1A: Another 50 for the lead player. he “chips in” with the ball as well….with 3 wickets from a full compliment of overs. The team wins again!!

3 players don’t bat, only bowling 1 over between them….Success?

The “big fish in a small pond” problem is double-edged. The star feels unchallenged and can develop delusions that they are a lot better than they actually are. On the other hand, players that are pushed into the background feel neglected. Their development stalls and resentment build fast.

There are many options. Promote the player to a higher age-group? But does this prevent an older child from getting a game? Share the team roles more? Your star player may decide to up and leave. But is this the best for all parties on the long run?

SCENARIO 1B: You push inclusion over winning. Your superstar grows disillusioned. They become a negative influence, not understanding why less experienced players can’t perform. Of course, you need to tell them to grow up a bit – “it’s not all about you”!

But deep down you know….they are stagnating, starved of the opportunity to kick on. How do you proceed?

Even harder: How do you nurture a young superstar to be a team player, without supressing their desire to be the best? You are asking for maturity well beyond their years. It’s not their fault they are so far ahead of their peers. And to be honest you can totally see how they feel under-challenged.

The club won’t want to lose their brightest talent. But this might be inevitable. It would be nice to hang onto them through to adult cricket – where this player will definitely get the challenge they lack among their peers. All parties need to be on board – players, managers, adult captains and the club committee.

I’m yet to see this happen!!

Scenario 2: Small club, big ambitions

It’s difficult to please everybody, all of the time! But you can stay true to your club’s values.

You are coaching at a small, volunteer-based club – with 50-60 players across all ages. Your priority is to give everybody a good experience in training, have fun and play a few games.

The manager of one age-group is on the “warpath”. This team has gelled well, and are winning more often than losing.

So far, so good! But issues brewing under the surface.

They become a bit over-competitive – constant references to the league table; prioritising the “big match” next week over the bigger picture; getting too wrapped up in individual moments (or decisions) during the games. Their child has a suspicious trend of being the player-of-the-match.

The overall picture is good. Results improve and this does boost team morale. But there are serious issues to address. The odd “incident” with a rival manager. Certain parents are threatening to switch clubs….something small clubs can ill afford.

But here’s the killer. If not him, who else?

No other parent feels equipped enough to take on the job. And even if they did, how owuld you intervene without it feeling like a “coup”?

What if the manager in question feels insulted, and takes him, his child and several other players with him. He has fans!

Here, the Junior Coordinator (usually the most selfless person in the club) is stuck in the middle. Having done so much hard work behind the scenes, it is a huge letdown when he/she has to wade into these petty disputes.

Why can’t everyone just get along? And since they patantly can’t, what’s the closest you can get?

Scenario 3: “Fixed orders” (and you win), or share it around (and you lose)….

….because you will at first. Probably heavily. Players need to be thrown into the heat of battle….and will, more often than not, be found wanting in their first trip to the “deep end”.

You can’t have them on the sidelines forever. Players want a chance, but will they take it?

And that’s fine!

The coaching “purist” in me is convinced on this one. You absolutely should take the short term hit….as it is the only way to learn. Players need to experience disconfort, fail, re-group and come back stronger. it’s just a part of learning.

It’s easy for me to preach this. A bit more difficult to practice. My role as a full time coach also gives me the luxury to work to laubable longterm goals. For parents who volunteer however, this is an incredibly difficult tightrope.

Your best intentions might fall flat, when some players take their first failure hard and refuse to put themselves out there again. You have tried to do the “right thing”, but it feels as if it’s back-fired.

You can stick with the proven openers and a middle order that can be relied on. Cricket is a game for specialists after all. At what point to you concede that certain players are only a batter or only a bowler?

On the other end of the spectrum, there are players who simply want to dodge their own weaknesses….but you feel a responsibility to get them to confront them. They will voluntarily put themselves at 11 in the batting order (12 or lower if it was allowed!!). But you may feel they are better than that.

It all comes down to how you see individual development. Work on getting the best out of the strengths? Or develop them as all-round players?

Scenario 4: You want to “get back to basics”, parent wants “advanced drills”

Can you do the same thing over and over?

“I thought we’d be using the bowling machine”.

“It’s a bit basic”.

“I want my child to be challenged more”.

So annoying!Challenging” comes in two forms:

  1. Performing complicated actions
  2. Performing basics actions over and over

People are all too aware of the former, but tend to ignore the latter. Can your player hit 20 under-arm feeds straight past the bowler in a row? We all know they can do one!!

A player’s application to the basics will tell a lot about them. Does their focus wane after a handful of balls? Do they have an attention to detail? Will they complete the drill in the manner it was designed? If they aren’t, they fully deserve to be told: “you need to up your game!”

As coaches, we all know that consistent basics matter and form a solid platform for more complex skills. But parental pressure often forces compromises. We are pressure to run before our recruits can walk.

How do you get your point across? As they will often remind you, they are the client paying good money to be here! Is there room for compromise?

READ MORE: PLAYING THE LONG GAME

Scenario 5: Watching them fall into the same trap (over and over!)

It’s fustrating when players can’t notice obvious patterns in the play. But it’s just natural and a part of learning. Do you step in?

“How many times do we need to see the ball go into the gap before we plug it?!”

Watching young players tactical insights makes me frequently want to bash my head against a wall. The penny drops way after the horse has bolted. Field changes amount to little more than placing a fielder where the last 4 was struck.

And there is ALWAYS a slip! Why must there always be a slip?!!

The official ECB guideline is “no on-field coaching past the age of 11”. This is a laudable aim in principle. But the reality for many, many players is that they simply won’t play sufficient games to develop that intuition themselves.

When a team is outclassed, they will often look at what their opponents did so well. It is important to talk about lifting the bar higher, but keeping things in perspective. They may have accumulated far more hours of match experience.

This might sound like a cop-out. Yes, it is my responsibility to coach for independence. I have no aspirations to become a Premier League style manager, barking every minor instructions from the sidelines. But is there a place for a gentle “nudge” in the right direction.

And once you start….where do you draw the line?

ANY THOUGHTS?

I would love to hear from you. EMAIL ME: at rob@twenty20communitycricket.com

CRICKET CAMPS: “Golden Rules” I try to live by

RULE 1: Equal pay = equal service!

framed image 2This is the “Thou shalt not kill” of the 10 commandments of coaching. 

The younger groups can often get poor treatment at summer camps. treated more as an afterthought than a priority. The senior coach will always go with the “elite” group….and usually enjoy a pretty relaxed day of nets and matches, while the junior coaches scramble to entertain dozens of hyper-active youngsters.

When I began coaching at camps, it became clear quite fast who did them properly and who didn’t. I’d be assigned the “soft ball” (younger) group. Over time, this developed into me getting a reputation for being “good with the younger ones”. it was true, but an unfair comparison.

Do you know my secret? I just tried harder! I make it a priority that every child who attends, leaves with a bit more confidence in themselves.

New coaches

Use your imagination!

There are some standard games for young players. Use your imagination to add different rules, make the game progressive, or invent your own games altogether.

Take a look at the group, and try to identify what will really help them hit, bowl or throw better. Incorporate some educational points into your day.

READ MORE: GAMES FOR UNDERSTANDING – Cricket Penalties, Divisions Cricket, Crazy cricket….I have a few inventions up my sleaves to cater for large groups!

RULE 2: Prepare, prepare, prepare!

Look at the register the day before. This will give you several clues as to what activities might or might not work. 

I am lucky to have 10 years of camps under my belt, many of which are at the same traditional venue, year in, year out. Scouring the registers now, familiar names jump from the page….not always in a bad way!

Which characters rub each other the wrong way? Who has a temper on them? Who struggles in boisterous situations….

….and most of all, who is a habitual cryer?!

You will develop a 6th sense for trouble. This will help you to pre-empt some disputes before they get out of hand.

Make an educated guess what your group will want and need – from their experience levels and age. The register can be deceiving, but before the first day it is your only information to go on:

  • Ratios: How many “older” and how many “younger”? There may need to be some overlaps.
  • Anomalies: Is there anybody with no-one else in their year at school? Make sure they get plenty of attention early.
  • Boys/Girls: Again, this is about making sure nobody feels all alone.
  • Breaks: How many breaks will you need to factor in (and how long)?
  • Training Location: It’s usually better to have younger players based near the clubhouse/toilets. Or near the shade!

New coaches

Things will go wrong. Despite your best efforts, one day a spanner will be thrown into the works. So come to each day armed with back-up plans B through…..well, J. 

Even with all this taken into consideration, you might still end up looking silly. I know I have! Don’t panic, but thinking forwards. Talk to your colleagues and decide what is best to do.

This becomes easier with experience, but never easy.

READ MORE: HOW TO COACH – Some styles and techniques that have helped me over the years 

RULE 3: They don’t always know what’s good for them!

snasy-practiceFor example: everyone wants to play a “proper” match….until they get out first ball. Then suddenly it’s not so fun (and also your fault). Everybody wants to do nets….until they get bored all of a sudden.

Coaching cricket camps is especially hard. The nature of the game means that players will be waiting around. And your opportunity to be involved may come and go in a flash.

I prefer to have a few match conditions, such as “out in the first 3 balls = -3 runs”. Sometimes, I will give the dismissed batter an option to walk off or take a 5 run penalty. I have also invented several activities to make nets engaging throughout.

You can let the younger players have a second life. You can insist that each player bowls a certain number of overs. You MUST keep an eye on the clock!! make sure that you are running to time and ensuring everyone gets the turn they were promised.

New coaches

Camps are not a democracy. More a benign dictatorship! Try to steer the group towards more sensible and varied activities.

Children are fickle. The time between desperately wanting to do something and deciding it’s rubbish is minimal. And it is ALWAYS your fault! It is good to have a mixture of activities over a day, instead of 1 or 2, to keep things fresh.

If you can convince them that your way is the best way, or make it feel like it’s their decision, then all the better. I like to list the “pros and cons” of each choice (eg/ full match V pairs match). Sometimes it is between 2 imperfect activities, but you still have to make that choice. Select whatever gives the best experience for everyone.

NEVER JUST GO ALONG WITH THE ONES WHO SHOUT THE LOUDEST!

READ MORE: NET MATCHES – How to make net sessions more realistic

RULE 4: IT IS COACHING!!!

defensive matchThere are two ways to run a cricket camp:

  1. Low maintenance – Run lots of “fun” games that are easy to set up. Involves more crowd management than coaching.
  2. High maintenance – Aim to teach the players about cricket. It’s a bit more effort!

Try to be a bit more ambitious. Send the children home with more knowledge than they arrived with. And try not to resort to many “time filling” activities.

This pays off in the long term, as children with have a better long term experience if they have improved at the game. They will also come back the next year!

New coaches

The last hour of a session is JUST AS IMPORTANT as the first hour!

This is the freshest memory they leave your camp with. And it can define their experience.

Keep working hard up to the finish line!

READ MORE: FUN V SERIOUS? – How hard can you push a group?

RULE 5: Have eyes everywhere

When you are working as a coaching team, it’s important to make sure you are covering all the bases. 

Too often 3 coaches are working very hard….but all on the same task. These leaves crucial gaps in their awareness.

I like (when I can afford it) to have 1 or 2 coaches focused on an activity, and another coach “roaming” – looking out for children who are upset or who aren’t engaging. You will be able to spot things you never see when you are on the frontline.

New coaches

Sometimes groups can look completely engaged, excited and content, but only because of big, loud personalities making lots of noise. The quieter types may well be lost in the crowd.

Try and move around from one fixed spot. If somebody is looking down or detached, have a little chat. It doesn’t have to be a formal, “what’s the matter?” – a simple random question (I often ask, “what’s for lunch?) can demonstrate that they aren’t being ignored.

You will only spot some of thjese things from a distance. Try to get a wider perspective from time to time.

There will be a point you want to take the easy way out….play for time, run down the clock, run activities that are general and “low maintenance”.

Dont do it! It’s lazy coaching.

READ MORE: CRICKET GAMES AND DRILLS

RULE 6: Kids will be kids

It is impossible to be 100% on the ball, 9 hours a day, 5 days a week for 6 or 7 weeks. This makes it all the more important that you have the children on your side….as much as possible. 

There will be accidents, even if you take every precaution under the sun! Most commonly, it is playing hard ball without equipment, or without a superviser. You will painstakingly explain to a couple of boys that they “can’t use hard ball unattended”, they will nod agreeingly and go on to ignore the request 3 minutes later.

Others include:

  • Running on the square
  • Playing near the road/car park/private gardens
  • “Rough and tumble” – Not understanding that other people are intimidated by it

Children will break the rules. It isn’t always out of malice, but cheekiness. They don’t understand the consequences of certain actions.

Make sure they understand why we have these rules (just telling them not to do something rarely works). I have found a tone for these talks that suits me.

New coaches

Camps are a diplomatic exercise as well as a coaching exercise. Not everyone will get on. And once again it’s never their fault. 

You can anticipate some incidents, but others will slip through. Most of the complaints you receive will be along these lines:

  • “I didn’t get to bat/bowl as much as ____”.
  • “____ was so annoying/called me a ____ /picked on me for no reason”.
  • “The coach told me off for ____ but didn’t tell ____ off”.

The best way to deal with these is to get your story straight. Give the details, your perspective at the time and the actions you took. Show your working.

READ MORE: SURVIVING COMPLAINTS

RULE 7: Diversity is strength

touregs-photoThis applies to the coaches! We are all different. But we need to dovetail with each other, instead of clash. 

In my first years coaching, I was lucky to work alongside some incredible and talented coaches. I would strive to be like them and soak up all their experience. Copy all their drills and repeat their catchphrases and “buzzwords”.

The more I worked, the more I realised that all of these coaches were good….but in their own way. Some of the styles were polar opposites. I learned that instead of finding my own style, I was often trying to copy other coaches word-for-word.

Over time, I found a better path. Incorporate good ideas from my colleagues, but deliver them in a way that was natural to me. I’d also invent drills and games myself, ones that other coaches now inherit themselves!

New coaches

Just like any club friend group or family, a coaching team will not always get on like a house on fire.

Eespecially towards the end of the summer, certain colleagues will get on your nerves as the fatigue and stress builds. But this is completely natural.

Coaches are different. But the best coaching partnerships tick all of the boxes required. Their strengths compliment yours.

Try to dovetail instead of clash!

READ MORE: COACHING IN PARTNERSHIPS

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

Here’s a challenge for you….

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

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

Did you manage? Good….

….Now you have 30 seconds….

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

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


If it was good enough for Shakespeare….

Two households, both alike in dignity,

In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,

From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,

Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean….

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

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

CASE STUDY

Session Theme: Picking line and length

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

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

But we need to wait and see the ball more!

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

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

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

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


Wrapping up the session: the same applies!

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’d already “lost the room”. 


My “2-minute Wrap-Up”: Stay on topic!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

Coaching For The Unexpected: Prepare for the “spanner in the works”

Cricket training needs repetitions. Repetitions train muscle memory.

But repetition-based training is dry and formulaic.

Cricket matches can often be none of these things! We need players to be prepared for the unexpected.

This isn’t as easy as it sounds. Most cricket activities are either closed (repeating a set skill in a predictable way) or open (matchplay, with any possibilities). The challenge for a coach is to find something in between these extremes.

It is easier to move from “open” to “closed”. The conditioned match is an excellent way to add make gameplay more focussed with specific goals. But there are precious few ways to make “closed” drills more open.

“Spanner in the works”

Why do we need this? Because it’s the nature of cricket!

  • A ball is thrown in from te boundary. It clips off the stumps and wrong-foots the fielders. All hell breaks loose. Players look at each other instead of the ball.
  • A bowling team has their opponents reeling at 40-6. The No.8 batter throws caution to the wind. A few eccentric shots find the middle of the bat and there is a spike in the run rate. They come down the pitch for one ball, back away for the next.
  • The opening batters are facing a bowler who just hasn’t found their rhythm. They have to contend with a mixed bag of short balls, full tosses….and the odd beautiful delivery. Who knows what will be next!

It is these crucial moments that find many talented cricketers wanting. It is also where the “outside the box” thinkers thrive.

Fielding

In the main, fielding practice is done terribly in club cricket! The same tired drills get rolled out.

Players usually believe that more time doing a drill will automatically bring improvement. It won’t….and could even make them worse.

Take the Triangle Drill, for example. It’s useful; easy to set up; ticks all of the boxes for ground fielding….but everything is predictable. You know exactly what skill you’ll need to perform and where, several seconds in advance.

There is much more you can do, to give this drill freshness and variety.

reverse triangles

EXAMPLE: REVERSE TRIANGLES

When the coach shouts “switch”, the ball goes around the other way.

Players have to move into different space and be proficient fielding on the move in the opposite direction.

I also have a series of points games and team games, to inject a bit of tension and time pressure into the drill:

  • “NO GO ZONE” – A semi circle of cones around the keeper’s stumps (to discourage half-volley throws to the keeper).
  • POINTS SYSTEM- 3 points for a circuit; 5 points for hitting the stumps with an under-arm; 10 points for an over-arm hit.
    **If indoor, try -3 points for “over-throws” (ball hits a side wall).
  • TWO TEAMS – A race to 10 hits (players change stations when they hit the stumps)
  • TIME CHALLENGE – 3 minutes for each team, to get as many points/stump hits as possible.

Chaos Fielding

Adding a pressure element to a drill is one thing. But at the end of the day, drills like “Triangles” are limited. They still rumble along in the same repetitive way. Is it possible to add a touch of randomness to a drill?

I’ve had a go at this, with the “Chaos Fielding Drill”. It follows a pattern, but gives players a bit more to think about (with deliberate attempts to distract). 

chaos fielding setup

 

chaos fielding process

SET-UP

Group 1 = Fielders

Group 2 = Keeper’s end catchers

Group 3 = Bowler’s end catchers

 

STAGE 1

The ball is struck to the fielder. The coach shouts “keeper” or “bowler”. This is where the ball should be thrown.

The catcher taps the stumps, and swaps with the next person in the queue.

chaos fielding next

 

STAGE 2

The catcher has to return the ball to the pile, and get back to their end before their next turn (without getting in the way of the next throw).chaos fielding stage 2

 

STAGE 3

The thrower follows the ball and becomes a catcher. The catcher returns the ball and becomes a thrower.

This results in a lot of players criss-crossing across the hall. The coach starts changing his/her mind about which end at late notice. The fielder has to negotiate this confusion, and perform the stop and throw with composure.

The art of “looking up”

Too many fielders squander run out chances, or release the pressure on a batting team for no reason.

I utilise this drill to encourage my fielders to look up more!

  • Gauge the situation – Check the information in front of you.
  • Assess the risk – Is there an easy run out on? or a difficult run out? Or no chance of a run out at all? Do I need a 50% speed throw or 100%?
  • Pick the end – Perhaps one of the batters has slipped, or been sent back. Establish where you are throwing beyond doubt. The situation can change in an instant!
  • Aim – If you look closely, how many of your players genuinely aim properly before launching the ball?

What if there isn’t time for this?

There is! Way more often than you think!

Over time, fielders become more instinctive. Instead of having to physically look up and analyse everything, you will be able to glance up. Your brain will start computing the information faster and make clearer decisions. Familiarity also helps. Teammates can speed up this process with clear and accurate calls.

A ritual that starts as a clunky and slow, becomes slick and rapid. But it all begins with one principle – looking up!

Bowling

Consistency still has a MASSIVE role in the game. However, T20 has taught us that metronomic accuracy doesn’t always work to our advantage.

Certain situations call for a varied approach, or quick changes at short notice.

Colour targets

Lay out 3 or 4 targets with cones, in different colours. I usually go for:

  • Yorker length – batter’s toes
  • Wider yorker – under the bat
  • Good length – top of off stump
  • Back of a length – angled to the body
  • **You can add some more custom targets for spinners**

As the bowler is running up, shout the colour you want them to aim for. This forces them to make (subtle) adjustments to the target.

The better your players get, the later you can leave the call. This can simulate the actions of a batter to put you off (for example, coming down the pitch, or backing away to give themselves room for a big swing).

Variations

  • Working as 1 team – get a certain amount in the box together.
  • 2-Team Duel – 2 pitches. 1 bowler from each team runs in at the same time.
    Closest to target = 1pt; Hit target = 5pts
  • Points Scale – Quite near = 1pt; Very near = 3pts; Perfect = 10pts.

If you are moving into net practice, you can use the thinking of this drill to encourage your bowlers to think more about:

  • “Which are their “go to” variations”?
  • “Do these “go to” variations change against different batters/in different situations”?
  • “What angle do they need for each variation”? – Wide of the crease? Inwards, outwards or straight? It’s not just where you land it, but how.

Batting

How many batters miss out on the bad ball? How many go even further….and have a habit of getting out to them?

How many players only “see” the straight drive….and don’t spot the wide or short ball in time?

Batting coaching is probably the most complicated of the three disciplines in this respect. You need to hit each shot thousands of times to “groove” the swing. But how do you switch from that narrow focus to “match mode”.

Sometimes the way we coach can confuse batters, without coaches even realising. Feedback for mass practice, for example, may conflict from feedback during a game.

There are several activities you can use to improve batting decision making. Just try to remember that decision making and technique are impossible to think about at the same time. 

Have clarity when you coach – so that the player knows exactly what the goals are for each session.

Yes….I know it’s hot!! Avoiding self-pity in cricket.

Twenty20 Academy had an U15s match this week. With 2 innings a side over 2 days (in 35 degree heat!) this was set to be one of the biggest physical tests each of our players had ever faced.

The following 3 words were banned from our vocabulary.

  1. It’s
  2. So
  3. Hot!

The Reason: Why state the obvious? Does it change the fact, that we are going to be out there all day? Would you rather be at home? No? Then get on with it!

In reality, I was a little more sympathetic than this. It was brutal out there! But with the conditions relentlessly tough, I was keen to avoid negative thinking as much as possible.

My response: every little helps

10:30am came. We lost the toss and – to the surprise of precisely zero people – were sent in the field. Groans were audible from the expected “glass half empty” players.

I did my best to get them to put this setback behind them. I also knew that the best way to inspire them was to lead by example.

“Marginal gains will win us this match. Every detail will contribute to this performance”.

“I will run the drinks on for you every 6 overs (sanitizing break). I will be your personal buttler….but what I expect in return is for a) your language with each other to stay constructive, and b) self pity to be kept at a minumum”.

I wouldn’t coach them on the field….just quietly run the water bottles on and off. A small gesture. But it was really important that I wasn’t seen to be slacking. To demonstrate that we are all in this together.

Before the start, I also had a small discussion with our most positive players….

“There are players in the team whose heads will drop. Do your best to get them through it”.

“There will be some hard periods, but they are suffering in the heat as well! If we have a good attitude, they will break first”

The first hour of play would dictate whether our boys had heeded the lesson. We braced ourselves for a long day….

“That ball stayed so low”!

Despite the equatorial heat, the other conditions were really quite friendly for the bowling team. The surface was spongy, making run-scoring difficult….but not impossible.

Our bowlers hit a good length early on, and skittled the top order for very little. From the opposition, I began to hear murmurings of “a dodgy pitch”….

Negative language breeds negative thinking. Negative thinking loses cricket matches every time. Every subsequent batter retreated into their shell – staying rooted to the crease and prodding the ball. Their fates were all similar. 

Today it was the opposition, but I have seen us fall into this trap as well. Like a virus, a sense of inevitability spreads through the entire dressing room. “Here we go again….”.

Last week, I wrote about accepting harsh truths and instilling the right attitude – always looking at your own deeds before deflecting onto others. This is a prime example! Your sulk can send the morale of the whole team crashing down.

Response: There are things you can do! Even if you feel completely hard done by, try to confine this injustice to yourself and not project it onto others.

“The batsman’s lucky”

A bowler’s reaction to beating the edge can tell you something about them. Their response will tell you much more.

Last Winter, I was taken aback by a stat , that made me reconsider the concept of “luck” in cricket. It claimed that on average, an opening batter plays and misses 10-11 times, before being dismissed.

This raises a philosophical question. If such a level of fortune is hard-wired into the game, can you really call a single missed ball lucky? Or have they only used 10% of their luck allocation? 

REMEMBER: REACTIONS are immediate and emotional, RESPONSES are longer term. Responses involve either harnessing or supressing your reaction.

  • Do they see that ball as a negative sign (“that was our big chance”) or a positive sign (“I’m on top in this battle”)?
  • Do they stay consistent with what’s been working (“I’ll find the edge again”) or radically change their approach (“I’m going to knock his/her head off!”; “I’ll try a slower ball”)?
  • Do they change the strategy – this can go both ways! How much do you need to stick or twist?

CASE STUDY: I coached an U11s game  a few weeks ago. The bowler was comfortably on top of the batter, but the batter kept making streaky edges for four. Our captain went, “it’s OK that was a lucky shot”. More edges kept flying through the (unattended) gaps.

Instead of being pro-active, to ensure the same “lucky edge” didn’t go for runs, the team sat back and assumed a wicket was just round the corner. In this instance keeping the same approach, but changing the field would probably have been the best option.

A sense of injustice can blind you to the positive changes you can make. 

Control the controllables

I was lucky to have this message was hammered home early to me. I recall vividly reading Michael Atherton’s autobiography at age 12. Throughout, this was a constantly recurring theme: control the controllables

When batting, I was inspired by his ability to respond well to hostility – knowing that “the bowler always has to turn away first”. As a bowler I resolved that I would never be one of those outraged types, who rage at their bad luck. Wasted energy….

Stoicism would become my mantra on the field. This may also have held me back at times. But I do feel I was good at putting grievances to one side. As a coach I try to insill these qualities into young players.

I talked about batting through the phases recently. With each stage of an innings comes unique challenges, with periods of re-grouping.Batters often let frustration spiral out of control when they are struggling. They need to stick to the things they can control.

The next ball. Their own process. Try to spot when players are digging a hole for themselves. And stop them!

Coaching through difficult times

This quality applies to coaching as well. I know I’ll always make mistakes. But over time, I have learnt to distinguish between genuine mistakes and circumstance.

I am my own harshest critic and will scrutinise my delivery and plans every time. But I’ve also found that it is healthy to accept that not everything is in my remit or control. Sometimes there was little else I couldv’e done – or more often, that there was a choice between 2 imperfect options.

Having this inner security has had two benefits:

  • Firstly, it has reduced stressing and fretting between sessions – increasing my longevity, and probably my lifespan!
  • Secondly, it gives me the strength of my convictions, to “stick or twist” from a plan.

Summary

Cricket is hard. But if you let conditions or luck get to you, it prevents you from accepting your own faults. 

It is fine to acknowledge when things are tough. However, try to look at yourself first. 

Elephants In The Room: how can we get young players to confront harsh truths?

charlie cover driveThis week has been one of my favourite of the whole coaching year – the Twenty20 Academy Camp.

Players train and play matches every day within their same team unit. The coaches have a golden opportunity, to coach all the intangible skills – ones that can only be honed in competitive matchplay:

  • TEAMWORK – Working to be more than the sum of your parts.
  • STRATEGY – Learning how to set proper fields, plan an innings and get the best out of your game.
  • RESILIENCE – Instead of 1 or 2 star players, all 11 are very able. Our players learn how to cope, in an environment where there is no let up in pressure.
  • BIGGER PICTURE – Getting out of your own bubble, and applying yourself to the game situation.

Some players have to learn these lessons the hard way. They are good players, who at their club. This can blind them to their flaws. But sometimes this shock – of realising they aren’t perfect – is the best thing that can happen to them.

If a good player is falling short in these categories, it will affect their performance when the competition gets tougher. They need bringing up, but how you bring them up is difficult.

Below are some of the most common “elephants in the room”, that we try to address in talented young players.


It’s not all about you

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It’s a team game! Don’t let one individual take over. 

Picture this scene. The best player in your team has been made captain. 

Senior player has a good day “on paper”. Scores a 50 and takes 3 wickets in an 8 over spell. The scorecard suggests he wasn’t supported by his teammates. A string of single-figure scores, and only 1 or two bowlers adding to the wickets column. 

What conclusions can be drawn?

There are two ways to look at this:

  1. “The rest of the team needs to step up. One player can’t carry the team in every match”.
  2. “Why aren’t the rest of the team performing? Are they being managed properly”?

Both statements are valid.. But what needs to change, to get better results?

Scrutinise this scorecard once more – this time a bit more forensically. When have the other players come into the attack? Some have been hit for a few runs, but were they on a hiding to nothing? Have they been treated as an afterthought?

Sometimes the best players develop a mindset that they have to take all the responsibility. Sometimes they are just self-absorbed. But you need to find a way of breaking this cycle.

A team will only thrive if all 11 players are engaged and valued. And this is a tough lesson to hammer home to competitive children (and indeed, adults).

But it needs to be done!


Playing to the finish line

IMG_1316
Did we run “past the finish line”? Or coast to it?

If a game if 20 overs a side, you need to commit for the full 20 overs! It’s amazing how often teams don’t….

The final 5 overs can feel like an eternity, when the fielding team has “switched off”. Once you take your foot off the pedal, you can’t put it back on!

At performance level, complacency like this is always punished. There are still lower order players who can smash a bad ball (or even a good ball). The number 10 may well normally open the batting for their club. On the other side, change bowlers still expect to take wickets. There is no bowler you can relax against.

Players get tired and it would be silly to ask for perfection. But there needs to be a certain intensity throughout. Often a small setback (a simple misfield) is a “trigger” that sucks the energy out of the whole team. This is where they need team spirit and resilience. It’s difficult to attain. 

But you have to try!


Big fish in a small pond….

IMPACT POINT DIAGRAM
Do you prepare, organize and conduct yourself professionally every time?

“The difference between you – a very good player – and a great player (county standard), is”….

When I say you a player is “good”, I make sure it doesn’t go to their head with this clause.

Being “good” is….

  1. RELATIVE – To age group.
  2. CONDITIONAL – On keeping up with the best of your peers.
  3. NOT ENOUGH – Next year will be harder. Adult cricket harder still. If you want the prestige, you have to go further.

Being “great” is….

  1. INFLUENTIAL – They bring out the best in their teammates, instead of pursuing their own stats (potentially at the expense of others).
  2. PROFESSIONAL – They don’t rely on skill alone, but prepare in the right way every time. Nothing is left to chance!
  3. HUNGRY – I’m going to perform to the best of my ability every time, no matter how important the game. Be relentless. Churn out results.

It is vital to make this distinction. Firstly, it will explain the reactions of some players when you give mild constructive criticism. Some players simply aren’t used to any negative feedback (“me???”).

Too many players become good then settle. They perform one time and it goes to their head. Their progress flatlines. Don’t let them sell themselves short.

It’s not fun, but it needs to be done.


No excuses

deando ruxley
What do you do with your reflection time? And how do you respond next time?

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard, “but the pitch was…”, in the last few weeks.

When good players go down this road consistently, it’s a bad sign….

I make sure to ask the batter, “is there anything else you could have done”, when they think they’ve been unlucky? My aim isn’t to be damning (we all make mistakes!), but to emphasise that you shouldn’t reach for the excuse by default. “Only say it’s unlucky if you have done everything in your capacity to prevent it”.

Of course, it is possible to be unlucky. But I hate when players develop a self-pitying mindset.

I have written extensively about how important it is to coach the process and not the result. We coach technique for moments when the ball does something unexpected. When the conditions don’t allow us to rely on hand-eye coordination alone. When you get a tough break. For when you need it!!

Look at yourself first. Then the conditions second. 


You might fail….

….and fail again! But this doesn’t mean you are a failure! How are you going to respond.

When a good player isn’t used to getting low scores, or being smashed, they take it badly. This is down purely to not being used to the challenge. All the evidence has pointed one way up to that date.

The benefit of our Academy camp is there’s always another game around the corner. A chance to lick your wounds and prove your ability again. Are you going to stand up and be counted again? Or “go missing” for the rest of the week?

We experienced both. Instead of intervening after every error, our coaches allowed the player to sulk, then reflect. Their response would dictate whether they had learned from the experience.

There will be days where you don’t feel you match up. But you can be resourceful. Find new methods to cope. Strengthen your resolve. Setbacks don’t just make you more aware of your flaws….they teach you lessons you were never aware existed before.

There is always another level higher than you. So keep trying to move forward. 


Finally….look at yourself!

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Make sure you are “walking the walk”!

Coaches are often in denial that they have flaws as well. They get brushed off, self-justified (“that’s my style”) or ignored altogether!

I wrote before about how we need to make ourselves better in every department.  

I know that when I’m under pressure, I tend to….

  • TALK TOO FAST – sometimes about 1000 words per minute!
  • INTERVENE TOO MUCH – I struggle to let small things go.
  • LOOK TOO SERIOUS – I don’t hide my irritation well enough.
  • OVER-DO NEGATIVE FEEDBACK – Sometimes I labour a point too much.
  • STOP DELEGATING AND TRUSTING COLLEAGUES – I put way too much pressure on myself.

This is where it is useful to work with a collague who is different to you. Together you can tick off all the qualities required. And when one of you is struggling, the other can step up.

Some coaches struggle to understand that their “style” isn’t compatable with every single child. We don’t always realise that we need to change to the situation. Don’t come up with excuses. Critique yourself.

We aren’t perfect.


RELATED ARTICLES

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

MISSING PIECES: Why good batters and bowlers doesn’t mean good “cricketers”

 

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

framed image 1Some players have no trouble talking. Others (including me at a young age) find it incredibly difficult to speak up. A third group find their voice but only at the wrong times! 

It can be really, really hard to get young players to encourage each other! Of course we can remind them to do it, but is this a coachable skill?

My opinion….yes it is! But you’ll need a huge amount of patience and soft skill. Simply telling them to back up, be alert and encourage the  bowler over and over won’t cut it.


What usually happens….

Picture this a typical scene from a “match awareness” session. 

  1. Players take the field. For the first overs there is almost total silence.
  2. Coach: “come on guys, could there be a bit more talking in the field”
  3. More utter silence.
  4. Coach: “Let’s have some more talking in the field please guys”
  5. Yup, silence.
  6. Coach: “Come on everyone, we really need some more chat in the field”
  7. One person offers a tame, “well done”! Silence resumes.
  8. The next ball rolls out tamely to square leg, who reacts with the energy of a sloth in a coma. Once the ball has been gathered at the third attempt, they underarm the ball – ten-pin bowling style – towards the bowler. The bowler sticks their foot out to intercept the ball, now bobbling. It bounds over their boot and 10m past.
    A stalemate ensues….seemingly no player taking responsibility to fetch it.
    And still the torturous, endless silence.
    The coach glances up at the clock. Big mistake. “Have we really only been here 5 minutes”? The 5 minutes genuinely feels like weeks.
  9. Coach (now with visibly less hair than from the outset): “Come on guys, let’s try to wake up a bit”. We need a bit more energy!
  10. The game continues at a geriatric pace. Players do start throwing a bit harder. The only problem – nobody else is backing up. You lose a ball in a bush, then one skips off the kerb and into the road.
  11. Coach (with a forlorn, hollow stare into the distance): “Let’s try to be more alert guys”!
  12. There is hope after all. The game slowly raises in intensity 25-30mins in. The game starts to vaguely resembles something like cricket. After some more cajoling, there is even a little player-led encouragement. When the more socially confident players find their voice, everyone begins to. Baby steps, but progress!
  13. After the session….Coaches (to each other): They got better at ____ in the end.
    They need more practice at it.
    Some of them don’t seem to get ___.
    It’s like some of them don’t want to be there.

Believe me, I have been there several times! And it doesn’t get any less frustrating. If you haven’t experienced this, then you are a) lying, or b) have been blessed with perfect groups all your life. 


Why this isn’t enough….

Fast forward to this team’s next match. Everybody is trying their best to perform. But the fielding is a little unpolished. Form comes in waves, but small errors – a ball shooting between the legs or a poorly aimed throw – trigger long ruts that nobody can snap out of. Heads drop.

And the dreaded silence returns….

CONCLUSION: Telling isn’t coaching. When you are coaching game sense, consider these points:

  • DID THEY REALLY GET BETTER? – As in to say, is their improvement permanent?
  • DID THEY ALL GET BETTER? – Or was it just the more boisterous players piping up more. Are some players still hiding in the background?
  • IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE WE CAN DO? – Have they just started talking to get the coach to stop badgering them? They know they have to talk, but will they when unprompted?

Why this happens….

They can do it. You will have seen them do it in the past. So why is talking in the field often so difficult for players?

The answer is – peer pressure. 5% of children are leaders, the rest are followers.

This is not a criticism of the other 95%! It doesn’t mean that they are weak or lack leadership skills. Not at all. It just takes a lot of confidence – especially at a tender age – to go against the crowd. This is why the silence in the field is so hard to break….

Coaches need to know and understand this. Just telling people to show energy in the field isn’t enough. We should all remember that not raising your head above the parapet is the opposite of what they are normally asked to do.

Don’t be patronising, by saying, “they just don’t get it”. They do. Coaches waste so much time and effort telling players to do the right thing, but it is doomed to fail without one key ingredient….


The cause

In reality, talking in the field isn’t just a piece of a jigsaw, to be filled in. You can’t just teach it and move onto the next thing.

We are talking about something far more fundamental: genuine team spirit, empathy for others and understanding of the game. We essentially need to mature our players as human beings as well as cricketers.

A tough ask in 90 minutes!

For this task, you will need the skills of a coach, counsellor, psychologist, lawyer, comedian and motivational speaker.

Step 1: The compliment

I found talking in the field difficult when I was young, because too often it was associated with a) shouting, b) constant chatter. When I finally realised that it didn’t have to be, It really helped me find my voice.

Chat also doesn’t have to be adversarial! There are different ways of contributing to the conversation – for instance a friendly comment at the right time. Simply say something nice about the bowler.

When I coach groups who are shy, I start with asking for them to say one nice thing about the bowler every over. I argue that “one simple compliment every 6 balls isn’t too difficult”. It isn’t. Eventually we need (and should expect) more. But the fact is we aren’t getting it! So baby steps are necessary.

Upgrade this to once every 3 balls, every 2 balls and final every ball! When the team gathers momentum, it becomes that much easier for the reticent characters to find their inner voice. You can create a genuine buzz and electricity in the field.

Players begin to lose their insecurities, and attack the crease when they bowl, charge after the ball in the field. They begin to ponder what they can make happen, as opposed to what might happen.

But this new state is fragile. How can we make sure we sustain it.

Step 2: Forward thinking (or “next ball” thinking)

No matter what has just happened – good, bad, unlucky – what always matters most is the next ball. I do my best to encourage my players to look forwards not back.

Adapt your language with this forward thinking in mind. There are basically 3 categories these comments fall into:

If the bowler has made an error: “You’ll get the next one right!”

If the bowler has been unlucky: “You’ll get the edge next time!”

If the bowler has done well: “Keep doing that!”

To keep the chat going, we need our players to respond in the right way to events on the field. Part of this lies in understanding that mistakes will happen.

One small fumble can send everyone scurrying back into their shell. Try to pre-empt this! Try to explain when a player most needs to be encouraged….when they are struggling and under pressure.

My favourite phrases: “It can be lonely when you are bowling. You all know how it feels. How can we help the bowler to feel less alone?”

“Why always me”

I stress again – coaching is not just telling people what to do! We have to effect positive change.

Consider the handful of children you would like to “speak up a bit”. It’s likely not the first time they’ve been told this….

Coaches have to consider the impact of their comments on different individuals.

Remember, the sense that the spotlight is always on them will not help. It’s more likely to make them feel even shier (“they are all watching me”), or more stubborn (“why should I talk more, I’m playing just fine”).

When I was young, I fell firmly into this category. I remember the burning resentment when I was asked to talk more. I felt I was both performing better and more tuned in than my louder peers.

Even worse, even when I was talking in the field, some players continued to assume I wasn’t. I had become an easy target for when play had become flat.


Understanding each other

In a previous blog, I reflected on how star players often grow frustrated at developing players. They wrongly perceive basic mistakes as a lack of effort.

This is just part of the growing up process. Again, coaches need to be sensitive to this.

I spend a lot of time convincing better players in my teams – “you need to help the younger/less experienced ones through this”. It’s a difficult task for anyone (indeed, several adults never reach this stage of maturity!). You are asking them to effectively be coaches as well as players. But if you can get this message to sink in, you’ll get the best out of everyone.

My favourite phrase: “You’ve all been in that position”. And they have. Most good players have “played up” a year or two. They will have experienced moments of doubt – “can I keep up with the pace”? How would they like to have been treated by their elders?


Team spirit sessions: forget everything else!

Coaches always run game awareness sessions, which lump tens of specific skills in together. Try to separate them!

There are ways to incentivise the right kind of talking in the field. Use your imagination to think of run bonuses and penalties.

EXAMPLES

  • FULL OVER OF ENCOURAGEMENT = +5 runs
  • MOST ENCOURAGING FIELDER BATS TWICE (a useful trick if there are odd numbers in the group!)

What do you think?

If you have any insights in the subject of talking more in the field, I’d love to hear from you!

  • What are your experiences of this subject?
  • Can we coach this skills better?
  • Do you have any successful tips or tricks?

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

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

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

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

This will only happen if we complete the learning! 

Repetition needs meaning!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Example: Bowling line and length

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

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

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

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

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

2. “Let’s have an experiment….”

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

blog banner 3Example: Running between the wickets

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

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

Other things to consider

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

Other themes to experiment

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

3. Percentages

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

Example: Throwing the ball “to hand”

Why aim over of the stumps?

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

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

What about that time I hit the stumps?

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

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

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

What about when they are almost in?

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

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

Other times to talk about percentages

Bowling speeds: What is your ideal pace?

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

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

Run-ups: 60-85%

Bowling action: 70-90%

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

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

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

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

What do you think?

Recapping is vital. But not everyone agrees!

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

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

 

 

 

Leg Side Shots ARE GOOD SHOTS!

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

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

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

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

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


Leg-side myths

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

One does not necessarily means the other!

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


Leg-side “play” V Leg-side “slogs”

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

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

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

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

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


Avoiding the leg-side

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

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

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

But is it the right one?

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

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

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

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

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

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


The real solution: take the shot on!

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

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

Some useful phrases:

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

Some useful activities

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

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

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


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

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

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

Here is my (very simple!) personal approach

STEP 1: I begin with a very simple goal

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

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

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

STEP 2: I make this goal more demanding

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

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

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

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

STEP 3: I put the players under more realistic pressure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not exactly. 

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

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

You have to be observant

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

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

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

GOOD GRIP

BAD GRIP

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

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

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


Switch responsibility to the player

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

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

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

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

My favorite trick: “drop the bat”

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

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

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

Game for understanding: the “ready” game”

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

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

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

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

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


Forcing correct technique (in a subtle way….)

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

Wide of the crease

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

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

Round the wicket

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

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


Deterence or Incentive?

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

I like to create bonuses in practice matches.

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

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

Finally, remember….

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

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

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

The “One Leg” Leg-glance Drill

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

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

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

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

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

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