We need to talk about nets….

Are we doing nets soon?

Will we be going in the nets soon? I’m a bit concerned there haven’t been any nets so far. This training seems a bit basic for my son/daughter.

If I was to sum up the parental feedback we typically get over the winter in 10 words, it would be something like this….

Nets, nets, nets, hardball, nets, nets, hardball, nets, nets, nets!

Why is it all about the nets?!!

Battling false impressions

Deep down, we know why. Hard ball, full batting gear, Everything about nets indicates “proper” cricket. 

We are often caught between what is the right thing to do and what will ruffle the least feathers. Between what the players need and what they (and their parents) want.

At some cricket clubs I have worked at, I wrestle internally between the two. Sometimes even the journey to the ground, I still haven’t chosen my path. Do I want another evening (probably a chain of emails the next day too) justifying my methods? Do i have the patience to stand my ground over and over?

To put it simply: is it worth the effort? Can I be bothered to do things my way?

Limitations of nets

  • Difficult to handle mixed standards – potentially dangerous situations
  • Limited balls faced and bowled – soft balls allow for greater intensity and frequency of repetitions

Net “Non-Negotiables”

Of course, net practice can be really useful – or you may have to factor more in than you previously planned. So how can we make them as beneficial as possible – not just at the time, but improvement that will stick long term?

The key is making them so, not assuming they are useful automatically. To be a productive use of your time, nets need….

A purpose

Try not to treat nets as an “end in itself”. Give batters or bowlers carte-blanche to do whatever they want, and your session will meander. There will be peaks and troughs. They will “try new things” – probably once every 2 or 3 balls. Engagement will fluctuate….even more wildly than normal!

Set a scenario – “You are the opening batter. It’s a 30 over match. Set the platform for the rest of the innings”, would be the simplest. But even this gesture will give some direction to the players.

Set a theme – eg/ “today, we are going to learn how to deflect and time the ball. You score a point every time you hit the ball into the ground, before it hits the net”.

Preparation

Don’t even bother turning up unless….

Measured a run-up – Sports halls are inadvertently useful for cricket training. They have lines to run down, and any number of “markers” for your run-up.

However you do it, mark your start point, and test whether you are “hitting the crease”.

Warmed up & stretched….or “engaged” different muscles! – Just trotting up and bowling some half-paced balls does not constitute a warm-up!

Muscles that need “engaging”:

  • Shoulders – arms move freely, but a bowling action is dependent on free-moving shoulders too! I find a “exaggerated swimming” action effective.
  • Hips – Bowling involves picking your knees up. This means the upper leg join needs to be loose. Lean against a wall, and swing each leg back and forward, across. Try to gently extend its range of movement.
  • Core muscles – abs, lats, side and back. There is a lot of twisting and contorting involved with bowling. A strong core is needed help you to fully aim, bowl and complete your action.

Empowered players

There is a little trick to looking like a “good coach” in the nets….just be opinionated! Every ball will present an opportunity to say something new. But effective nets need more consistency and variety – “command-response” coaching might achieve some quick fixes, but isn’t enough to have a lasting effect. 

The answer is blending in lots of “player-led” coaching. Start with assessing your opponents, and deciding on a plan! Some young players talk about their teammates’ strengths and weaknesses, as if they’ve never met before in their lives!

You do have to prompt them to analyze each other. And ween them off the classic cliches: “Bowl at the top of off”. “Keep it on the off-side”….all mean next-to-nothing, unless a player understands why they want to aim at these places.

A full grasp of a bowling plan will make them bowl with so much more intent, drive and purpose.

The last 10 minutes

This is the most critical phase of any net session. The closing stages will determine whether any improvements are crystallized, or whether your players jump straight back to “square 1”.

Quite naturally, people’s attention wanders towards the end. This applies to players and coaches. But a pep talk may be in order here, if you notice focus waning. Why spend 95% of your time building a player’s game up, only to undermine all that in the last 2 minutes.

I usually start with a compliment – “you have come so far in this hour” – along with some specific personal gains – “____, “your run-up is so much smoother”; ____’s movement to the ball has improved out of sight”!

Last over! You need 20 to win off 6!

Think. Are your targets realistic? Are you making the players earn their runs? Usually a coach will just award “2 runs” for any old slapped shot into the net.

Think of more imaginative ways to motivate your batters, other than a wildly unrealistic “last over” target.

Some games I use

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

SHYNESS/TIMIDNESS

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

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

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

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

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

POOR TIME MANAGEMENT

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

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

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

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

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

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

POOR ADMIN

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

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

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

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

DEALING WITH PARENTS

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

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

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

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

DISCIPLINE

I would give naughty children too much rope

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

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

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

SAYING NO/DELEGATING

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

PHASE 1: GETTING “IN”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PHASE 3: END OF INNINGS

friday manhat 1
How can we make the most out of the “death” overs? It’s more than just slogging!

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

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

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

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

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!