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. 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Is it just that they “don’t listen”?

No.

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

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

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

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

1 step back, 2 steps forwards

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

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

So this is the big challenge:

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

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

The drawbacks: how does this come across to others?

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

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

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

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

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

GAME: The Bowling Pressure Challenge

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

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

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

bowling pressure game

How it works

2 TEAMS: of 3-5 players

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

AIM TO BOWL 12 STRAIGHT BALLS IN A ROW

IF ONE WIDE IS BOWLED: the turn ends!

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

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

Extras

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

HIT THE STUMPS BONUS: 3 points awarded instead of 1

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

The review: what are the symptoms of pressure?!

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

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

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

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

 

 

Coaching dilemmas: “fun” V “serious”. How hard do I push a group?

Coaching as a career is not simple! There are many dilemmas you will have to consider. Choices that have no right or wrong answer….even fellow coaches’ opinions may well be split right down the middle! 

Fun V Serious

It doesn’t have to be “either/or”! But we often get stuck in these debates.

Say you have are in charge of a player/group with all the talent in the world. But try as you may, you cannot get them to take things as seriously as you’d like. How can we get them to “push on” with their training, without alienating them from cricket altogether?

Throw in a parent or team manager, who is expecting results, and things get even trickier!

READ THE GROUP! What kind of players do they want to be?

ebAll players deserve some level of ownership over their game. At the end of the day, this is their hobby, and they need to have reasons for playing.

Why do they play the cricket in the first place?

How do they want to express themselves as cricketers? And crucially, how far do they ACTUALLY WANT TO PROGRESS with their cricket. Now, the easy answer to give the coach is – “I want to get better”; “I want to get to a high level”. But is this their primary motivation for playing?

Their answer to this question determines how hard you can push them. Or whether you will need to relax the reins a little. Reading your group is key to getting the most out of them, and keeping them in the game for longer.

What is the “end game”?

 

Build them up over time!

I GUARANTEE that a lot of coaches didn’t agree with this first point. They will argue that your job is to make players better. My question to them is: how do we ultimately achieve this?! 

Just to clarify, “reading your group” DOES NOT mean you give up on developing certain, “less serious” groups. It simply means seeing your role in terms of multiple years, not just week-to-week! In order to get cricketers to fulfill their potential, you’ll need their cooperation. This may you require to meet them half way….for a while!

The more you build a rapport with the player, the more influence you will have. And you may be able to convince them to take their cricket more seriously….or train more earnestly. You can scale up the intensity of certain drills. You can begin the process of MAXIMIZING their potential.

But this is a JOURNEY. And it’s a long one! There is no point in subjecting a player to grueling drills, enforcing a regime on them that will kill their desire to play in the first place. There is no point running serious sessions that make you look good, when the players have actually been going through the motions.

A session is only as good as it is performed. A well thought out drill isn’t an end in itself. Do get the maximum effect, you need a firm understanding of why we are doing it, and acceptance that it is for their own good.

REMEMBER: games can be used for learning too!

Just because a group gets older and better, doesn’t mean you have to leave fun at the door!

Some of the best Winter training sessions I have run are based on the same concepts of the games I use for small children. However, you can make the targets more demanding, adjust the points system, add penalties for lazy play or simply tailor your theme and feedback, to reflect the group’s ability.

I would refer to this as “games within a game”. Having imagination can make the most basic activities relevant for anyone. Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best!

____________________________________________________________________________________________

EXAMPLE: Crazy cricket

This is a simple game where the batting team have to hit the ball, and run around cones. The fielding team have to get the ball back to the bowler as fast as possible, and prevent extra runs being score.

Even in this game, you can change the playing conditions to challenge high ability players:

  • Off-side shots only
  • Using a swinging ball – feeder points the seam up and aims to “wobble” the ball either direction
  • Penalties for not being in the correct stance
  • Very fast or spinning deliveries
  • Ball must bounce within a zone – emphasis on controlling the ball into the floor

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Get to know the individuals

Getting the best out of a young player, may involve understanding them as individuals. The same outward behavior (for instance, joking in training) can have multiple different reasons.

What are their sporting and life circumstances?

Swiss U13 caps up 20170423_160615
They are all different!

When we coach groups, there will always be a range of personalities, motives and levels of confidence. If a child reacts adversely to one style, or refuses to fully engage in an activity, why might this be?

A VERY COMMON reason is low self belief. Without admitting it, many young players are self conscious. A small setback – and the embarrassment of their friends seeing it – may hit them very hard.

The player may have many different hobbies and pursuits, cricket being lower down the pecking order. Cricket may be their “pressure release”, from being pushed hard in hockey, or football.

These factors all influence what a player wants to “get out of” training – what makes them “tick”.

 

Be honest (in a harsh way)

If you think a group has real potential, let them know. Stating that you believe in a player can do wonders for their self esteem!

But at the same time, be crystal clear about what needs to happen on the way.

Remind them of their responsibilities….that the coach alone can’t get them to elite level. Most players don’t realize this gradually, but through sudden “epiphany moments”.

A classic example is the player who relies on superior size and strength at junior level….only to be a) caught up in size,  or b) out-thought by their peers (who had to rely on brains instead of brawn) later on in life.

The next stage is critical. How quickly will they realize that the old ways aren’t enough to succeed alone? Will they turn to excuses, or new methods to overcome this setback?

Your responsibility is to point out the facts, and try and guide them to the right process, before it’s too late! This is doubly hard for the children who are succeeding at an early age.

You may have to wait for them to “be ready” to step up the intensity. And the cruel fact is….they may never be ready. All you can do is point out the facts to them….and hope they realize it one day!

 

DON’T ASSUME THEY “DON’T WANT TO BE THERE

If a young player is messing about in training it can be down to a number of factors.

  • FATIGUE – from a long day at school/of work (we rarely get to see them at their best!)
  • LOW SELF ESTEEM – This is a far more common reason for poor behavior than many think. Put simply, it’s easier to play up, and not try to achieve a goal, than take a risk by trying….and possibly coming up short
  • ARROGANCE – they may be good, but they know it!
  • TIME OF DAY/WEEK – some players are morning people, some are not. Some have burnt out by Friday evening, and have reached “saturation point” for knowledge. Take their stresses outside cricket into account.
  • PEER PRESSURE – take one angelic child, and put them in a livelier atmosphere…..the differences in their attitude can be poles apart! When a group mood is traveling in one direction, the majority of children cannot resist it
  • CLASHES IN STYLES – the other authority figures in their lives (teachers/parents/mentors) may have a different approach to you. And this (through no fault of your own) can cause friction.
  • CLASHES IN EXPECTATIONS – between coach, club, parent, and the child themselves! It’s difficult for the coach to juggle these (often wildly varying) demands

……..and maybe they genuinely don’t want to be there! – but your job is to exhaust all other possibilities, until you accept that! An on-the-surface, “I don’t care” attitude, might not be the real truth.

 

The “Where is it” game: teaching players to “really” watch the ball.

ebYou may be surprised, but some players aren’t really watching the ball at all!

There is no point teaching technique, if players aren’t moving near the ball in the first place. Judgement of line and length is FUNDAMENTAL to shot selection, and execution.

But too often, this crucial element of batting is missed out completely. 

I invented the, “Where Is It”, game to force young batters to really consider whether they are reading the ball properly. 

How it works:

This game works best in pairs or small groups. You can use the nets, or any indoor space.

  • The feeder (teammates or the coach) throw a series of balls to the batter. Distance of 15-18 yards is best (depending on age and ability).
  • Whether the batter plays, leaves or misses, they must CALL OUT THE LINE of the ball (ie/ which stump the ball was travelling towards).
  • The feeder then decides HOW ACCURATE this prediction was: exactly right, almost right, or way off. They tell the batter where the ball was actually travelling.

where is it game

**DON’T ACCEPT answers such as, “hitting the stumps”, or “off-side”. Ask for an exact guess – “hitting middle-and-leg”, or, “4th stump” (term for one stump wide of the off-side)**

 

Why this is important

The more you examine this aspect of the game, the more patterns and trends will emerge:

  • Do the batters consistently misjudge the line?
  • If they do misjudge the ball, is it in a predictable way?
  • Are they too general in their predictions….a sign of not fully watching the ball?

Some examples include batters who….

THINK THE BALL IS WIDER THAN IT IS – very common with young players. They underestimate how many balls can be reached with a straight bat….instead opting for the cut and pull shot too hastily. You can demonstrate how balls on 4th (or even 5th) stump can be reached, if you move correctly.
**A common technical reason for this is the head position. If a batter’s head is always inside the line of the ball, naturally all deliveries will look wider**

ONLY READ “OFF-SIDE” OR “LEG-SIDE” – but not precisely enough! Basically, as soon as they see width, they go into attack mode. The shot is too general, lacking control….and often turning bad balls into missed opportunities or even wickets!
These players should be encouraged to judge exactly how wide the ball is (ie/ by how many stumps?).

**Shot selection is the key. You can then demonstrate to them how sometimes, they can use the pace of the ball. A deflection can often be a boundary option! A “wide ball = smash” attitude is too basic, and will lead to more missed boundaries and gained** 

CONSISTENTLY THINK THE BALL IS MORE OFF-SIDE OR LEG-SIDE THAN IT IS – for example, they may think that all balls on leg-stump are hitting middle, or off-stump balls are outside the stumps.

**This is often down to how the player is leaning towards the ball. Are they falling to the off or leg-side? Watch their INITIAL movement – from the moment the ball is released**

JUDGE THE BALL RANDOMLY – Look at the stances! Some batters, even at ages they should no better, simply don’t set up for each ball in the same way. Taking a guard in a different position each ball, or an inconsistent stance, will affect your reading of the game.

What hope will they have of picking the right shot consistently, from this start? How can they defend their stumps, if they aren’t covering them in the first place?

**Make sure every batter is standing in the same spot, and in the same way! Don’t feed the ball until they are!! Stance is the foundation everything else is built on, all other advice will be redundant unless this is in place.

Be stubborn and persistent with this. They are NEVER too advanced for the fundamentals!!

A good trick – if you aren’t satisfied with how the batter is setting up, hold onto the ball and wait. Hopefully they will take the hint, and adjust**