Cricket has traditionally not been good at coaching independent decision making in players. Yet, as we have seen already, it’s a crucial part of the game for both mental skills and skill development. This section will offer a few ways to help coaches help players improve their decisions.

The traditional “command and control” style of coaching influences players to do what they are told rather than develop their own decision-making skills. The alternative is to embed decisions in as much of our training environment as possible, seeing the skill as another psychological underpinning.

With that rationale in mind, let’s look at the key level of decisions a cricketer has to make, and decide how to integrate such skills into cricket training.

Decision layers

Before we get into specifics, it’s worth taking a moment to regard the theory around decisions. This is a rich and well studied field and worth investigating yourself, especially the book The Chimp Paradox

To give a crude summary, cognitive research has found we make decisions in two ways: Fast and slow. Fast thinking is instinctive and takes less mental work, happening in the moment. It’s also prone to errors and bias as it takes so many shortcuts in the quest for instant delivery. Slow thinking is more rational and requires much more mental effort. As a result it makes fewer errors but takes much longer.

Both are essential. Fast thinking, for example, is needed for shot selection. Slow thinking can be used when deciding tactics like which ball to bowl to dismiss a certain batsman on a certain pitch.

Both are trainable, which is what we will look at in the following categories of decisions.

Cricket skill decisions

The most common decision making is skill based: What shot to play, what ball to bowl, which end to throw to, and so on. I would argue every ball in a cricket match contains multiple decisions. In addition, these decisions are taken by a mixture of fast and slow thinking. If that’s true, as coaches we need to ensure there are as many decisions being made by players in training, and those decisions are reflected upon regularly.

I often ask myself when designing a practice or session, “what decisions am I asking the players to make?” and if the answer is “nothing” then I rethink. For example, hitting a ball off a tee can be replaced by hitting a throw down.

This is where a constraints-led approach (CLA) approach to coaching is useful. One of the core ideas in CLA is the the game is a “dynamic system”. The game environment is constantly changing at multiple levels: Runs and wickets most obviously. We can drill down further to conditions, opposition (and our own) fatigue, confidence and motivation, the type of bowler, the style of batsman, and down further to perception of how the ball is moving (bowler to batsman, batsman to fielder, fielder to fielder or stumps).

If CLA - and the mantra of practice makes perfect - is right, the more players experience decision-making and “repetition without repetition” the more skilled they will become. This makes sense because we know fast decisions in a match require fast thinking, a function of our instinctive mind. We can’t use slow thinking to choose a shot as the ball goes past before we have decided. So instead, we force our fast thinking mind to learn what to do by making it do the work.

The implication for practice then, is to build our sessions around as many fast decisions as possible that are suitable for the level of players we coach, and critical outcomes. Batsmen will train up their decision-making far faster in middle practice, for example, than nets. Nets are faster than throw downs. Throw-downs are faster than static drills. Each rep is a way of checking how effective our decisions are, and training our decision making.

You’ll note the word “faster” was used rather than “better”. Speed of thinking is helpful when we get a decision that takes us closer to our critical outcome. However, a fast decision is not always better. It can go wrong if our instincts betray us.

A simple example is playing a short ball. If we follow instinct we have three possible reactions: We can fight and try and hit the ball, we can run away from it or we can freeze and do nothing. All are normal human instincts and whichever one emerges naturally when facing fast, short bowling is the fast brain doing its thing before the slow brain has time to argue. Naturally, fighting or dodging is a more effective response than freezing, but even fighting can lead to our demise at the hands of deep square leg.

In the short ball example, then, we can train player instincts by guiding them to learn how to respond with either attack or defence. Once this need is identified (say the batsman freezes and gets hit as their instinct response), we can work on decisions through the lens of technical drills with softer balls, then progress through faster feeds, more decisions (full or short ball) and harder balls as the player finds success. As we go through this process of removing constraints and adding decisions we are training the fast brain to understand the safest response is not, as it thought, to freeze. Instead it can either decide to smash it or duck it.

While this is one example, the wider point is simple; we can’t outthink fast thinking. As coaches we can coach player’s fast brains a more useful way, and use constraints to build up a new response. This works because of the way our brains work. A good read on this is The Talent Code, which explains how our brains are pliable to change - literally improving the strength and sped of connections in the physical brain - through deliberate training.

Timothy Gallwey, author of The Inner Game of Tennis, goes even further, saying trusting the power of instincts allows experienced players to quiet the mind. By relaxing into the feel of the motion, and observing the environment, we don’t overthink things. We no longer have frustrations about form. There is certainly merit in this approach of “letting the serve serve itself”. That’s the fast mind doing its thing without the slow mind in the way.

That said, there is still a role for slow thinking in skill decisions. While slow thinking can’t be applied live, it can be applied in natural breaks in play using a fast review. As we have already discussed, a fast review may only take 10 seconds but is plenty of time to allow players to switch from fast thinking to slow thinking. The benefit of slowing down is as we might imagine; it’s much harder to make assumptions when we are forcing ourselves to really think about a problem. If we stick with the shortcut-taking autopilot of fast thinking, we risk “going through the motions”. While this might be the right thing to do - sticking with a tried and tested Plan A because it will eventually come off - it can also blind us to opportunities to do something different and more helpful. Knowing when to stick and when to change tactical plans is a skill that requires slow thinking. So review often, even if the final decision is to stick. Then, get back to the fast thinking in the moment.

Behaviour decisions

As we already know, skills are built on behaviours. These behaviours are also subject to decisions at fast and slow levels. When we choose to act in a certain way we are using slow thinking. When we behave “without thinking” we are really using fast thinking. Both are possible.

I’m sure we can come up with dozens of examples of how both kinds of thinking are helpful and unhelpful. If we spend too much time slow thinking at training we get less practice done. But some slow thinking is useful to be mindful of our state and decide our success markers. If we purely use instincts to train and play we don’t learn from mistakes and are not self-aware until it’s too late. Yet, when we are running on helpful instincts, we play beautifully.

So, the trick is to find a balance in our decisions. Use the incredible speed of fast thinking and the more considered slow thinking. For example, a helpful behaviour is to go to the gym twice a week on top of cricket training. If players went to they gym out of fast thinking habit they don’t need much slow thinking beyond the occasional review of progress. However, fast thinking is failing if players want to go to the gym but rarely show up. Here, some slow thinking to adjust either the goal or the commitment is needed.

One could argue, from a positive psychology perspective, the ideal balance is flow: Being in the moment but also self-aware enough to adjust when needed. Flow is a delicate dance between fast and slow thinking. Flow is always available to players if they develop the ability to avoid thinking traps. While we know external factors can easily disrupt flow, the state is much more likely to happen if we have built an effective, safe and challenging environment. This environment is built particularly in both the Rule of Three and the fast review.

Additionally, behavioural decisions are not just on an individual level. We also act as a team, combining individual efforts to score runs and take wickets. Team culture is defined by our behaviour decisions in the moment, so we need to be clear on both our skill-based roles and tactics, and the cultural behaviours about “how we are” as a team.

This takes us back to the work we did about defining and enforcing purpose and principles. Players must be clear on both what they agreed to do while in the shirt, and why they agreed to do it. Then, they must enforce these behaviours relentlessly with themselves and each other. It’s in this enforcement that team spirit is built up, as players realise they will not allow each other to stray too far from the team path. Setting up this behaviour is a role of slow thinking. Being aware in the moment of how ourselves and others are acting is a function of fast thinking.

The most helpful outcome is to have a team who act instinctively in agreed ways, and also support each other when instincts fail. In other words, a strong embedded culture, or team spirit, can be “in flow” as well.

Summary

Decision-making is another plank in effective cricket in both skill execution and behaviours. Coaching can both hurt and help the decision-making process:

  • Decisions can come quickly or slowly, both can be prone to error and both can be coached to be more effective.
  • Coaching both fast and slow thinking is crucial, this is best achieved through athlete-centred coaching tools like Fast Review and the Rule of Three.
  • Effective decision making is a combination of fast and slow thinking. Sometimes this is called flow.
  • Removing decision making from the coaching environment (such as by telling players what to do) makes it difficult for players to know how to make helpful decisions in games.

 

R66t-tour2019.JPG

For young Scottish cricketers, I recommend the R66t Academy India Tour.

I have recently been chatting to Shaun Seigert, High Performance Program Director at R66t Academy. His passion and skill in putting on these tours is clear. If you are serious about your cricket, contact me for more details.

The R66T Academy tours India, with the view of giving Youth Cricketers aged between 15 and 20 the opportunity to develop their game and experience the following :

  • Subcontinental playing conditions - climate, playing surfaces, and different opposition at a High Performance, Club, and School level.

  • Pre-tour 5 week program working on both skills and S&C to prepare for the tour. Individuals will be left to Implement this themselves but weekly contact with your R66T Academy coach will help emphasise critical areas on which to focus.

  • Access to structures used in High Performance Programs.

  • Knowledge of game play and skills to play at an Elite level.

  • Experiencing and understanding a reflection process that leads to improvement and consistency, and analysing their performance in a way that can constructively assist them in finding ways to get better.

  • Touring Internationally, putting them in an unfamiliar environment that encourages them to learn to adapt in order to succeed.

The R66T Academy runs international tours to challenge players, which is critical to improvement. The game being the “great teacher”, R66T Academy tours play a high percentage of games while on tour, playing against quality players and teams.

The tour is a great opportunity for a player to get direction on what they need to do to improve not only while on tour, but also post tour.

To discuss this opportunity in more detail, contact me here.

Posted
AuthorDavid Hinchliffe

If we agree psychology underpins performance through behaviour, resilience is embedded in everything we do as coaches. As humans we need failure and adversity to grow. If we treat stress and resilience as something that everyone experiences, we can sharpen the tool.

Our players can use resilient actions to flourish, even from a young age.

As we know, resilience is built on awareness. It’s the ability to bounce back from failure, or behave helpfully in adverse or high stress situations. Clearly this is useful in a cricket context where failure happens all the time and success and failure are separated by small margins.

We all experience these moments, and we all have thoughts and feelings about them. This gives us all the chance to be resilient in our actions as a result. However, it also gives us a chance to slip back to red head thinking and unhelpful actions.

Two players might go into a big final, one feeling incredible pressure, one as cool as a cucumber. They are both self-aware. Each one can react with blue head thinking, avoid red head thinking and appearing incredibly resilient even as the team has a batting collapse around them. Equally, either can slip into thinking traps and end up behaving in harmful ways to the team, like playing a high risk shot.

Either way, as coaches, we can build an environment that helps our players be aware of their state and react in an resilient manner.

Challenge environment

A challenge environment is one where players are both challenged to improve, and supported in their efforts. If you are old school you might say “an iron fist in a silk glove”. It’s this combination that leads to resilience.

Lets say you are running a testing session where you racked up the difficulty and put more meaning on the outcome. The classic “pressure net” is saying “out means out”, but there are many ways to do this.

Another example is the “hunger games nets”. I played this recently with a squad who wanted to put their run scoring under pressure. The idea was bowlers who bowled two wides were eliminated and batsmen who faced three dots were eliminated. It lead to unfair results with one batsman surviving for a long time and one player not getting a bat.

A lot of coaches leave it there, letting the activity do the work. However, this is not enough in itself because players get caught in thinking traps.

Classically they will blame others, find excuses about “wasting” time or consider it unfair someone else got a longer bat. They are focused on ways of avoiding looking at their own red head mindset.

Coaching resilience

To combat this we use three methods.

First, we agree behaviours before the nets start. Resilience emerges from awareness of the feelings and physical reactions that come when anxious and when treated unfairly with no recourse. To manage this, players can agree success markers. For example, use their blue head reset every time and make sure to review effectively.

Second, the Rule of Three (R3) is used to relentlessly apply those markers. If a player is huffing about something they have agreed to manage, their team mates are the first reminder. The coach is the second reminder. This supportive part is often missed when applying extra pressure to practice. The goal is to agree outcomes then enforce them when players forget or get caught in a thinking trap.

When stopping a player in a moment like this, your first question is always to ask what the goal is and what’s happening (“why am I stopping you at this moment?”). The player will ideally remember the agreement and reset. However, if you start hearing excuses, justifications, blaming or any other overthinking, you can follow up with a question to reframe their thinking,

  • What’s the worst that can happen?

Sometimes you will need to dig deeper, asking “then what?” after a surface fear covers up the real trap. However with the biggest fear stated, often players will realise its not that bad after all. They find themselves back in blue head as they relax and return to the moment.

If they need more help to get back to blue, you can follow up with a reframing question:

  • Is there another way to view the situation?

This question encourages problem solving rather than excuses or justifications. It’s not positive for the sake of it, but it is supportive in trying to help a player react helpfully to disappointment after failure and focus on what to do next to reduce the risk next time.

As coach, we can also use R3 to break state in other ways. Questions with a serious tone work well, but so does humour. It’s hard to be angry or upset when someone is making light of a situation. If someone is laughing, or rolling their eyes, or bantering, they can’t be in a down state. There’s no harm in showing people they are not their feelings by changing how they feel in a second with a stupid joke. As long as you follow up with helpful reminders.

It’s worth noting that all these techniques can also be peer managed. The Rule of Two gives space for team mates to help each other. This is powerful because it engages with players direct need for connection. It feels good to be useful to another person, it feels good to be a valuable contributor to team spirit. By learning about state and helping others understand their state in the moment players can contribute directly to the team without scoring a run or taking a wicket.

Although players know this, it’s often the case they are caught up in their own game to notice the state of others. Becoming more connected is a process too. As coaches we can remind players they have the tools to build each other up. Ideally, this will start to happen without our intervention as players see and feel the benefits, but for a while you’ll need the third level of R3 as a reminder.

Resilience reviews

The final tool is effective reviews, which we have discussed here. The review allows players to dig deep into their thinking after a testing session or match. During an extended review players can be prompted by the coach to consider the “stop, start, continue” about their thinking as well as their actions.

For example, consider a player who gets angry about getting out. By throwing the bat and shouting in the dressing room they are displaying frustration not resilience. But where is this coming from? Are they blaming the umpire? Do they assume their place in the side is at stake? Are they frustrated the side is likely to lose? Getting to the root of the issue can be tricky but some probing around the review questions is helpful.

It starts with the player admitting they want to stop getting angry about getting out. This opens the door to follow up and ask why:

  • Why do you feel like that in the moment?

  • Is there an alternative reaction and what is it?

As coach, you can use the PACE method to help this player to stop looking at the issue as catastrophic proof of failure of their worth as a human being (a common thinking trap) and see it as what it really is; a game. A game where we can have goals and improve ourselves, but not one that defines our existence by the outcome, especially as we have very little control over so many factors; conditions, opposition strength, umpiring quality, luck and so on.

With this stoic awareness as the base, next make concrete actions to take. For the player caught up in anger, taking a moment in the dressing room to take those three blue head breaths and make a reframing statement like “I know what I need to do to prevent this happening, but for now the best thing is to support the batsmen still fighting for us”. Then, let the anger slip away and walk out to your team mates on the balcony committed to being the best supporter who ever lived. Isn’t that a more helpful choice than stewing alone on the other side of the outfield for an hour?

Although this is one example of choosing resilient behaviour, we can apply it across the board to any red head thinking. This includes the resilience review when you are successful. A player is not resilient because they took five wickets and the team won. Players might still be engaged in thinking traps after success. Reviews are just as valid and useful in these moments too. It’s important players feel able to discuss their thinking, regular reviewing in all circumstances allows for this to happen.

Summary

Resilience is not another box to tick, its part of the underpinning of cricket skills and tactics. We all have built in resilience but we can all learn to become aware of it and display more resilient behaviour. This is done by,

  1. Having a supportive yet challenging environment, built around the Rule of Three.

  2. Having regular reviews that allow players to discuss their thinking and understand what to do.

  3. Remembering that thoughts and feeling do not dictate actions, and we can decide to be exceptional in behaviours in any circumstance.

Speaking of decisions, this is an area we have discussed a great deal in passing so far. As we know, this has traditionally not had much attention in coaching. It’s clear that we need to make sense of coaching decision-making next.

Posted
AuthorDavid Hinchliffe

Self-awareness is crucial to better cricket because without it we are guessing and hoping at performance. Everything we have discussed so far is enhanced by being self-aware, and managing behaviours as a result.

This awareness has been given many names; mindful, in flow, game face, engaged, “in the zone”, role clarity and “knowing their game”. It’s all of these things because self-awareness is the ability to make the most helpful decisions in the moment based on our true values.

For example, one aspect of awareness the ability to “be in the moment”: A place where players are so engaged in the present that past failures are gone and fears for the future don’t exist. This state allows batsmen to play each ball on its merits and bowlers to focus purely on delivering the ball without feeling distracted or fearful. This is often called flow. We are in flow when the challenge of the game or activity matches our ability. This state is useful in training to learn skills because we can manage our environment to push players against their current ability level without making it too hard or too easy.

A simple rule of thumb for skill development is this: If a player is successful between 40-80% of the time in activity, they are in a learning flow. Less and it’s too hard, more and it’s too easy. This also ties into growth mindset coaching and learning through failure.

Red head, blue head

In games, flow is harder to come by. First, players need to be aware of their level of skill (technically, tactically, physically). Without this it’s hard to know if the challenge can be met. Second, there are external factors, most notably the skill of the opposition. I’m sure most players - when speaking with total honesty - would say they spend more time feeling anxious and worried, or controlled and relaxed, than in flow. This is because flow is just one state. So is being worried, or feeling in control.

The performance-boosting states are often referred to as “blue head”, the unhelpful states are “red head”. Awareness allows you to know where you are and how to deal with it. The shorthand term for this is mindfulness. This is also the Rule of One in the Rule of Three.

As we know from earlier, our state (both thoughts and feelings) influences action. From deciding which shot to play or ball to deliver, to going to the gym or listening when the coach is explaining, our state is a powerful influence. When we are aware of our state we can choose how to act. When we are not aware, we tend to drop into red head. This, at best, leads to inconsistent behaviour. At worst it can be harmful to our game. If you ever walked off the pitch thinking “why did I play that shot, what was I thinking?!” you have experienced red head controlling your actions.

We also know two other things:

  1. Events don’t control your state.

  2. You actions do not have to come from your state.

Some people argue a third point: we are still able to perform whatever our state. You can be stressed and score a hundred, you can be in the zone and get a duck. This argument suggests we ignore our mindset altogether as it is irrelevant. I’m not as convinced of this approach. I argue still need to act to perform. If we are aware of our state we can choose useful actions in the moment, even if that action is to ignore our state rather than try to change it. Awareness is important, specific state less so.

In other words, we can’t stop having thoughts and feelings but we can decide how we react.

At its simplest level, this mindfulness is being consciously aware of what is happening in the world and reacting to it appropriately. An analogy for this is imagining you are a pond. When a pebble gets thrown into the pond, the pond sends out exactly the right ripples. The pond doesn’t brace itself before impact, or worry how it will look to other ponds if it’s got a pebble in it.

Bruce Lee used a slightly different water analogy which is equally as powerful. Water, he said, has no form. If you put water in a cup it becomes the cup. It responds in perfection. We can be like water.

Of course, we are not Bruce Lee.

We all have had moments where we are not water. We blame events for our feelings and feelings for our actions. This is called a “thinking trap” and there are many others. These traps keep us locked into assuming they are reality. They stop players behaving in ways that are likely to boost performance.

Another example of a thinking trap is when a player gets out to a loose shot and excuses it by saying “it’s the way I play” as if they had no choice in the matter. This player is labelling themselves based on their thoughts and feelings.

In fact, had that player taken a moment to observe the thought and let it pass (like a ripple in a pond), we can tell ourselves we don’t have to react from first emotion or thought.

And this is the secret of dealing with all thinking traps: We have a choice, we are not dictated to by our thoughts or emotions. We can let it pass then make an appropriate decision. It only takes a second or two of conscious brain work.

Two books which examine this idea in greater detail are Thinking Fast and Slow and The Chimp Paradox. These are both excellent primers in the idea we have two minds (subconsciously instinctive and consciously rational) and how they effect our behaviour, and therefore performance.

Improving self-awareness

All this said, the technique to become aware is surprisingly simple.

In the moment, when we start running on emotional or thinking trap autopilot, we can surf the urge. Imagine the urge as a giant wave heading towards you. You can let it hit you and succumb to its obvious power. Or, you can imagine jumping on your surf board and riding the giant urge wave to the shore, before calmly stepping onto the beach.

This takes three deep, slow breaths. Then a physical “trigger” to turn off the red head and snap back to self aware blue. The trigger could be clapping, saying “surf the urge”, twiddling your bat or anything quick. The whole process takes seconds.

The benefits are incredible.

Being aware in training helps with skill development. Being mindful in games helps you perform with better decision making. If you know your game well, you can make decisions based on your strengths and commit to those decisions.

Here, again, the Rule of Three (R3) is our friend. Rule One works when we are aware of our state. If we are not, and our behaviours display it, Rules Two and Three are there to provide instant feedback. When done effectively, R3 is a consistent reminder to be self-aware.

Although this process is simple, it’s far from easy. It takes focus and practice. We will all fail at it often.

Persevere, use R3 as support and players will start better noticing their state.

We all make these mistakes. The answer is not to try and fix them, but to remember they are just one interpretation of events and our interpretation is our choice.

Reflective reviews

There are two other tools to develop self-aware cricketers. They are both review based. The first we have covered in the fast review section here. The second is a reflective practice between training and games.

Regular reflection allows players to look at performance again and decide how to move forward. It’s one of the key indicators of a growth mindset. Typically, it is not done well, with long lectures from coaches or players getting more and more anxious about their errors.

However, the science behind reviewing is clear. When done consistently and free of thinking traps, reviewing improves performance because it builds awareness and allows you to develop a plan based on the mistakes made and the successes had.

So, at the end of a an important time (a game, a phase of training), get together with all the people involved in the team for a review. Ideally, not just the coach and players but everyone who has an influence on the team’s performance. Parents, scorer, tea-maker, coaches, club chairman and so on. This “all hands” approach is important because everyone has a different insight. While practically difficult, gather together as many people as possible in the time available.

In my mind, the most effective review process is:

  1. Notice your state and change it if necessary.

  2. Ask the “stop, start continue” questions.

  3. Agree your actions.

  4. Do them.

If the review is immediately after a game, emotions will be high. There is a strong chance some will not be aware of their state and be stuck in a thinking trap. This means the first step is to give people the chance to get back to a more helpful frame of mind.

So, before we get practical, ask players to become aware in this moment. Take a few seconds to focus on those three breaths, quiet red head thinking and return to blue head. We can’t be reflective if we’re being driven by emotion.

If the state is low due to losing, often you can break it with a joke or a bit of banter. You don’t have to sit in monk-like silence.

This takes practice and not everyone will get it. Teenagers are especially driven by red head and thinking traps. You will see some, for example, continue to stew furiously. Do your best to break the state and remember, the more you practice the better you get. It shouldn’t take more than one minute.

Stop, start, continue

Once you have reset your awareness: Are focused and in the moment, it’s time to review. Get everyone’s attention and ask,

  1. Were we 100% committed today?

  2. What do we need to stop doing?

  3. What do we need to start doing?

  4. What do we need to continue doing?

This works because it’s a discussion between everyone on behaviours, not a lecture or an ego-bashing blame session. It does pick out negative points to deal with, but it also focuses on the positive areas. No team ever won with zero negatives, no team ever lost with zero positives. So discuss both. Win or lose.

We can do this review quickly if we answer the questions as written, or we can take longer - if there is time - to also think about why you gave the answers you gave. This can get very detailed and include pre-prepared analysis such as statistical elements and video analysis. Post-game is probably not the time for this, but it’s appropriate for a preseason or mid season squad meeting, or a one to one meeting with a player.

A useful technique to ensure everyone gets their say in a group is to ask pairs to discuss each question before answering. This shortcuts the tendency for louder players to dominate and quieter players to say nothing.

It’s here knowing our players is very helpful. For example, fixed mindset players will see defeat as failure and victory as success. In defeat, they will encourage more conservative cricket, “going back to basics” and hard work at nets. Growth mindset players see the result as an opportunity to learn and will focus on doing things differently if the plan failed. It’s not that one mindset is worse or better at this moment, but it does help us to know motivations, as this influences solutions.

The final two steps are to note down and take action. The important points here are:

  • Use verbs. “Learn ways to improve strike rotation” is more useful than “Teamwork”.

  • Focus on realistic behaviours, not outcomes. “Bowl 50 balls in training with a new ball this week” is more useful than “knock over three wickets in the first 10 overs”.

  • Have everyone agree to the actions.

This final point is another nod to R3. The Rule of Two is simple on the surface in that players hold each other accountable to their behaviours. It is working on a deeper level too, building a culture of helping each other reach their agreed goals rather than striving for (and often not reaching) goals alone.

For example, Corinthians might come away with very little learning to do - they like it that way - but they can use R3 to focus on helping Warriors learn by holding them accountable to their behaviours. It’s a crucial job that allows both mindsets to coexist in one team.

If you are doing a longer review - for example at the end of the season - you can also add a further question after deciding your actions: “What would it look like if everything went wrong?”. This technique is called a premortem and it allows us to look at things from a different angle before heading down a path with commitment.

Players, coaches and other stake-holders can go away from the review with two things:

  1. A list of actions to take.

  2. An idea of others actions, and what they can do to help.

We then go and do them, while also holding each other accountable to our agreements.

If someone doesn’t do what they say they will do, it’s just as much on the coach and teammates as it is on the player. That’s another R3 principle (and also a successful avoidance of the blaming thinking trap).

Summary

Awareness has many names and roles, but they all are important and all take effort, because knowing yourself is tough. We have looked at some of the simple ways of becoming more aware including,

  • Breathing and focusing.

  • Reflective practice, both in the moment and between matches.

Building on this base, we will next go on to look at how awareness ties to resilience and - ultimately - self-sufficient growth in players.

Posted
AuthorDavid Hinchliffe

In previous parts we have examined practical coaching tools that can be used at sessions by coaches. There is more to come in future parts, however, this part will look in more detail at the underpinning psychology of coaching and how understanding it will help us.

If you’re less interested in theory, skip this part. However it is helpful for all coaches so I do recommend reading it before getting to the more juicy practical stuff later on. 

That’s because coaching the psychology of cricket is not just a few mental training techniques. It’s the essential glue that makes coaching work on every level.

This fundamental principle is contrary to the “4 corner” approach to coaching: Splitting technical, tactical, physical and psychological apart and focus on tools to boost each corner seperately to develop players.

I have found that training with these boxes leads to overemphasis on the technical - because it can be seen and adjusted at training - while tactics are left for game day, physical is part of the warm up (if at all) and psychology languishes without attention.

Instead, think about how psychology is intertwined with everything we have worked on: Purpose  and principles provide motivation and focus. Behaviours are driven by thoughts and feelings. Skill development is built on self-awareness and decision-making. We can’t “do” psychology and tick it of like a to-do list item. It’s an ongoing process that is part of every aspect of the game. In short, it’s always been about psychology and it always will be.

As coaches, psychology allows us to have great conversations, get to know how players think and feel, and learn how to act to help them as cricketers and as humans.

Action from thought

Psychology is important because what we do - our actions and behaviours - is driven by how we think and what we feel.

When something happens, our brains and player’s brains always go through a process like this:

  1. We have a thought, that influences our feelings and actions.

  2. We have a feeling which influences our thoughts and actions.

  3. We react and do something which influences our thoughts and feelings.

This loop is called the cognitive triangle. A good example is a batsman who plays and misses at three balls in a row. She might think “great, I survived that tricky over” and feel relieved. She might also think “oh no, I’m in terrible form” and feel anxious. Both of these states influence what she does next. She might change her plan, bat with more fear and less intent, be more attacking or do nothing different at all. This may be a conscious decision, or an unconscious reaction.

Whatever happens, the key point for coaches is thoughts and feelings are crucial to action yet they all happen in the head. We cannot ever see them, only the actions that follow them.

However, we can help the player understand action is influenced by how they interpret events. Our thoughts and feelings about something are not the thing itself; as we saw from our batsman who could have had a positive or negative reaction.

This means our interpretation can be altered by changing what we think.

Positive psychology

Psychology has often been associated with treating negatives. From fear of failure to mental illness, the image is one of a doctor fixing the broken brain, not promoting the positive.

Just like fixing technical flaws in cricketers, this can work. Yet, coaching is about helping people flourish beyond flaws and achieve excellence. This philosophy matches up with the ideas behind “positive psychology”, the study of what makes life worth living.

Primarily, positive psychology is about finding meaning: Why we do what we do. Having a purpose is highly motivating and makes us far more likely to do well. As we already know, cracking on with drills and games without purpose leads to frustration, lack of focus and even players leaving the sport.

Meaning comes from our needs as a human. We all want certain things and if those needs are met, we are motivated to continue. According to the science of self-determination theory, these needs are:

  • Self-control. Feeling like you are making your own decision, and not directed by others.

  • Connection. Helping others and having others help you. Making a significant contribution to the world through relationships with people.

  • Mastery. Moving towards excellence through your own actions.

Knowing these motivations is crucial for us as coaches. That’s why we ask “why do you play cricket?”. The answers will reveal motivational cues about the best ways to coach people to stay focused. It also allows us to stop coaching in ways that don’t meet those needs. We have covered the process here.

Mindset

Meaning is linked to action by our mindset; how we interpret the world.

Although there are many world views, when it comes to learning, self-control and mastery, research has shown there are two: Growth and fixed.

Fixed mindset people (we have called them Corinthians previously) believe ability is predetermined. Success and failure is proof of where you are on the scale and, crucially, there’s very little you can do about it. Meanwhile, those with a growth mindset (Warriors) believe in the power of improvement through effort. Success and failure are evidence of areas to improve. Failure is part of the learning process. These mindsets are not related either to will to win (we all want to win) or current standard. World-class sportsmen can have a fixed mindset. Beginner children can have a growth mindset. And vice versa.

As coaches we prefer to work with those with growth mindset because they want to learn and continue through failure. Nevertheless, often we will also coach fixed mindset players. We need to understand each player’s mindset and adapt training to match (or change) this. We have covered the topic in some detail here.

Growth doesn’t cover our need for connection directly, but using the Rule of Three (R3), we can build connective behaviours into our sessions as well. As you recall, the Rule Two part of R3 is powerful because players can connect directly by either,

  • Trying to help other by highlighting their behaviours (both unacceptable and exceptional)

  • Asking for help when they can’t solve a problem alone.

As we have discussed before, this is not easy for players. Cricket can be highly individual and needing help can be seen as weakness. It’s here as coach you can have a powerful influence by using R3 to influence players to connect. After all, we all need help because we can only improve if we fail and learn from it. If they still don’t get the message, R3 can switch from carrot to stick when you intervene.

As a side note, if you coach players with a fixed mindset, you will find they are most resistant to asking for help, or being given advice. However, they still have a role in connection and team spirit. They can work with growth mindset players to advise them. The Warriors will be open to advice and being challenged. The Corinthians will be delighted to expose their knowledge. R3 gives scope for that to happen.

As you can see from these examples, as coaches we need to be aware of the player’s mindset and be determined to work with what they have. Meanwhile, players need to transfer these views into better performance.

This is the role of self-awareness. Which we will cover next.

Posted
AuthorDavid Hinchliffe

Would you be excited to see players make creative decisions in the moment by themselves?

A powerful way to develop this comes from having fast, effective reviews.

But this is not the review of old where we sit down for an hour while the coach tells you everything we did wrong at the end of a game. This is a review that can take 10 seconds. This is a review that be done on your own between balls in a match just as easily as it can be done with the whole squad during training.

It’s also a review that I have seen work for all ages from 9 up and all abilities from total beginners through talented age group cricketers and into experienced, (and often cynical) adults.

The role of this review is to take a moment to think clearly, see if you are achieving your aim, learn from your actions and make a decision about what to do next. This creates a fast feedback loop that you can put into action instantly.

Here’s the rules:

  • A review can be called by a coach or any player at any time. A helpful time to review is before the end of an activity.

  • Reviews can have all hands (everyone in the squad or team), a sub-group (such as a group in a net) a pair or even an individual.

  • Reviews are short; 10-30 seconds.

  • Reviews can be about techniques, tactics or behaviours. Both successful and unsuccessful.

  • Reviews are player-led. They can be coach supported but not dominated. Players can review with no coach intervention when needed.

What triggers a review like this?

Anything where you need to engage your slower, more rational mind for a moment:

  • You nail a practice.

  • You are struggling in a practice.

  • You want to check how committed everyone is in the practice.

  • There’s a natural break in practice or a game before the end.

  • You feel confused or unsure of how to solve a problem.

  • You feel confident everything is going to plan, but you want to confirm it.

For example, lets say we are doing a team fielding drill and the goal is to have no unforced breakdowns in two minutes. Not only do the players smash the time, they barely found it a challenge. The moment that two minute alarm is called, someone - ideally a player - should be calling a review.

Review feedback loop

What are the questions that make the magic?

  • Were we trying our best?

  • What happened?

  • Why did it happen?

  • What do we need to do differently next time?

There is science behind these questions called an “experiential learning cycle”. As coaches we have probably been told this process is called plan-do-review. If you are old school you might say learning from mistakes, or looking for clues in success. Whatever we call it, the key principle at work is this: Compare our behaviours and outcomes to our aims, then think about how to develop.

As a important side note, the first question about trying your best is crucial because it allows players to review their commitment. If they were not doing their best then don't bother with the review, just go again. If we think players might be saying they were doing their best and not giving full commitment, point out the behaviour that you noticed and say, "What are you telling me about yourself by doing it that way?". If you have any Corinthians in your team, this is where you will see most push back, and gives you a good chance to influence them to switch by putting value on effort.

Let’s return to our fielding drill as an example. The fielders get together and say “We nailed that, we were on it from ball one. Every catch was taken and throws are on target. I think it was because we stayed focused” Someone else chips in and says “but also it was a bit too easy”. A third player says “Yes it was. Let’s make it tougher next time by aiming at one stump”.

All the coach says is “Sounds good. Show me what you can do!” and away they go again, pulling a stump out as they reset.

Yes. It’s that fast and that easy.

The benefits are huge. Engagement and focus go through the roof as players realise they can be in the moment while they practice and play because the review is always available to them. Players are able to reflect on what went right as well as what went wrong and come up with a non-judgemental, growth mindset practice plan either way. As coaches, we can use the review to encourage players to think more, learn from mistakes and come up with creative solutions on their own.

However, we can still have our input.

Coach feedback

A review is also a time for us to hit our feedback points. No doubt we will have plenty.

Reviews in this structure are great because we are forced to have brevity. If players speak first and last because they are leading the review, we only have about 15 seconds to say what you want to say. We better be ready!

For me, feedback can be in four ways:

  • Probe: Ask for clarification if you think they are close to a solution.

  • Alert: Politely point something out they may not have noticed.

  • Challenge: More forcefully state your view as it’s in opposition to the players.

  • Emergency. Here you just need to step in and take command.

Generally, athlete-centred coaches prefer one and two. Command and control coaches prefer three and four. But they all have their uses whatever your philosophy.

For probing, you can start your statement or question with, “I wonder why...” or “how might you...”. Using these phrases encourages players to further explain what they mean if you think they are close to a useful answer.

To alert, you can start with “What if..” or “I noticed...”. Using this language you can state your opinion as a hint. It’s still up to the players to make the final call.

When challenging, players will be reviewing poorly. Perhaps they are reviewing something that is not the critical outcome. They might be too judgemental, assuming just because you can’t do something it means you will never be able to do it (a Corinthian mindset). They also can let their discussion drift past 30 seconds. You step in with something like “Can I challenge here because...”. After a challenge, it’s important to hand back decision-making to the players by saying “what do you think?” or “So, what are we doing next?”.

Finally, it’s rare, but in an emergency you just need to take command of the situation. Traditional coaching has jumped straight in like this and tell players how to correct their errors. It rarely works; evidence suggests a command style is effective about 2% of the time. I believe this method is best reserved for unsafe or hurtful behaviour rather than technical instruction. It also is helpful in a situation where a player has not got used to Rule of Three and reviews yet and you can guide them towards a stated outcome.

You only have one shot in your 15 seconds, so pick the right one for the circumstances.

When players get good at reviewing, you find you have less and less to say anyway. A review needs no coach input at all. I have stood outside a huddle and not said anything other than “OK, show me” many times during one of these reviews. Why add something for the sake of it if players are working it out on their own?

That said, there will be times when players, using the Rule of Three, will ask specifically for your feedback. “What do I do here, coach?” is a valid call for help if the player and his team mates have tried and failed to solve the issue themselves. However, this is not your excuse to deliver a lecture. You still only have 10-20 seconds maximum so make your point relevant to the critical outcome then ask what the players think about the solution.

Post review and long reviews

As we now know, the ideal end to a review is the coach saying “show me” and the players swiftly putting their plan into action with full commitment. This is what will happen the vast majority of the time.

However, there are also occasions where the fast review will throw out something that needs more time, possibly with more coach input. For example, a team decides to completely change a drill as a result of the review. We might need to spend time deciding rules and changing set up. I would say at this point, the review is over anyway so focus on getting to activity as fast as possible.

Our aim as a coach during these reviews - and post-review practicalities - is to say as little as possible to get back to activity. One neat rule of thumb for this is to make sure you talk less than the players.

Finally, what about longer, more detailed reflections?

This fast review designed to be in session and in game and is athlete-centred: It’s about getting back to bat and ball quickly. So, don’t let it drift and waste ball hitting time. That said, there is a space for reviewing between sessions and games. I would argue it’s critical for anyone with a Warrior mindset. With less anxiety, less emotion and more time we can do some brilliant thinking and collaborating from coach to players and players to each other. It’s something we examine when we look more into the psychology of the game.

Which is a good place to leave this area and move on to psychology next.

Posted
AuthorDavid Hinchliffe

Contrary to the belief of many, effective coaching needs more than knowledge and experience in the game.

As coaches, we need a framework to build our expertise around. We began this framework by talking about performance as behaviours. This article continues to build that structure around skill development. We do this by building “performance environments”. More on what that means later.

First, good performance starts with something counter-intuitive: mindset.

Doing your best

We already know how difficult it is to coach players who don’t want to learn. The flip side is “coachable” players. They are a joy. They listen, they work hard, and they they are prepared to try new things. The result of these behaviours is faster skill development.

In short, coachable players try to do their best.

The good news for us as coaches is “doing your best” is an acheivable aim for everyone. It has no reliance on genetic talent, age, social class, gender or skin colour. It is a universal human ability.

This natural ability has been called the growth mindset.

(There’s a brilliant research-based book on the growth concept by Carol Dweck that is worth the further reading.)

Warriors and Corinthians

This mindset is not as common as it could be in cricket because of the way the game has grown up. “Trying” is often seen as negative. Cricket came up in a time when trying too hard was unsporting.

This has led in modern times to two attitudes to cricket. You will see both in your sessions. On one hand are the Warriors: performance-focused players where growth and effort is valued highly. On the other hand are the Corinthians: enjoyment and playing for fun has a much higher value. Effort has less worth, innate talent has more worth.

Neither are objectively wrong. It’s just a different view.

It’s also true that both mindsets are willing and able to win matches. Everyone is competitive and wants to win games. Both mindsets can achieve success in results. That’s because mindset and ability are unrelated. Talented players can be motivated more by leisure than development, just as total novices can be motivated by growth.

However, as we know, coaches have the greater impact on the coachable and they are growth-focused. They are Warriors. Our ideal is to coach growth mindset Warriors.

Where possible this means influencing Corinthians in your team to switch focus to Warriors. This is perfectly possible as it’s a mindset not an immutable characteristic. We can change it if we want. The fastest and most effective way to do this is by agreeing expectations of commitment and focus on constant improvement.

Your language as a coach is also important to influence people. Avoid praising outcomes or talking about talent. Instead, praise behaviours based in effort, trying new things, not giving up and players stretching themselves. Back this language up with clear expectations. Many players respond to this.

When we can’t influence a mindset change, we can ask the Corinthians to fill a different role: Support to the Warriors. Agree behaviours they can achieve that are helpful. This could be deep involvement as Rule of Two enforcers. It could as simple as assisting at training by throwing with the Sidearm to Warrior batsmen.

Agree it and apply it relentlessly as you would any other behaviour.

Then you can get to work with the Warriors.

Of course, it’s still not easy.

Not even the best Warrior does their best all the time. It’s hard work. It takes being in the moment and supreme self-awareness. It requires us to truly accept the counter-intuitive idea of failure as an essential part of learning. But as long as we all agree that a Warrior mindset as the aim, we can be vigilant and relentless in holding each other accountable.

Let’s take a look at how a training session looks based on this.

Effective environments

The buzz word around teams at the moment is “environment”. I quite like it as a term as it has a deeper meaning than practice drills, nets or training; although it is those things too. It encompasses everything about how you train and what you work on.

Environments shape skill development. As we have seen, an effective environment is built on a Warrior mindset but what do you actually do in a session to make the most of this mindset?

Here’s what I think.

Environments are most effective when we focus on one thing at a time. Each session or game must start with defining this outcome.

There are many names for it: OAT (one awesome thing), learning outcome, critical outcome, theme or goal. Call it anything you like, as long as everyone knows what you are striving to achieve.

It’s important to be one thing because if players try to focus on multiple areas at once they end up recalling nothing. As coaches we become frustrated. We get into this strange loop where we tell a player something, they achieve some success at first, then are unable to recreate it later. We say “I have told you this!” And they just can’t remember. Multiple goals are a distraction and a frustration.

Stick to eating your OAT, even when you are tempted to go off on a tangent. Nail one thing before moving on.

The outcome can be any skill, tactic or behaviour. However, the crucial part is players must agree the behaviours that will lead to a successful outcome. Guide the players agree this through questioning. The best question you can ask to start this process is,

  • What does success in this outcome look like?

(Or flip it round if it’s easier and ask “what is unacceptable when trying to achieve this outcome?”)

With this question as a guide, you can set minimum acceptable standards for the session.

For example, lets say the goal is to learn to rotate the strike as the players are nowhere near the required standard, facing too many dots in game situations. To the players, success might mean playing with intent to score from more balls, hitting the ball into undefended areas or between fielders, and playing the spinners off the back foot more often. They might also say unacceptable behaviours are defending balls, staying on the crease against spinners and hitting the ball into highly defended areas against movement of the ball.

As with the cultural non-negotiable standards, these standards work best when they are limited to between one and three, specific, measurable and achievable. We want to be able to tell quickly if the standards are being upheld, so we minimise the stuff that is open to interpretation.

A final bonus is to define what might happen if we were to be exceptional in our behaviours around the outcome.

These goals are our “stretch goals” and are tougher to achieve than the minimum standard. You have to have success in the minimums before moving up. Going back to to our strike rotation example, players might say exceptional behaviours are coming down the pitch to spinners, experimenting with new shots to hit target areas or hitting safely into the movement of the ball. The team you coach may have different answers.

From here, you can build a practice or game around these clear aims. Everyone knows what they have agreed to do and why they are doing it.

I usually put these acceptable and exceptional goals in writing on a whiteboard or in another clearly visible way. It helps players remember their aims as they train.

Rule of Three

As we work through the session with our standards as a touch point we can use the Rule of Three to hold everyone accountable to their agreement.

The first part of this is asking,

  • “How long can you maintain the minimum standard?”

The answer will dictate how much rope players give themselves to self-correct before you intervene. So, our strike rotators might agree you will wait five balls before intervening on an unacceptable behaviour like defending the ball.

Of course, this is the third part of the Rule of Three (R3), which we have covered. However, there is one key addition.

When working on technical and tactical problems, the power in R3 can be reversed:

  1. The player recognises an issue and solves it themselves.

  2. The player recognises an issue, but is unable to solve it so they turn to team-mates for assistance.

  3. The player and team-mates combined are unable to solve the issue and ask the coach for assistance.

This is the ideal, but again it takes some work from the players to get into the habit of self-awareness and humility to ask for help. Most cricketers have gone through the game with people telling them what to do all the time. This method requires the player to recognise an issue themselves, work to resolve it unaided then ask for help if they can’t. That’s much harder to do, so be patient here. It’s worth it when they start to get it.

While they are learning to do this consistently, we still have our time constraint in place: If the issue is not recognised by player or team-mates in the agreed time, we will step in with the usual “Why have we stopped?” question.

Practice types

So far we have been focusing on behaviours - even in a skill context - for quite a while without mentioning a drill or net practice. Drills, games, techniques and tactics are where we live as coaches. But by now I hope I have convinced you that behaviours are what matter first.

The “why” and “how” defines what we do. Nevertheless, we still need those drills, practices and activities. So let’s assume we are starting to put the framework in place and have purpose, principles, expectations and behaviours agreed.

What do we actually do?

It’s hard to be prescriptive here because there are so many options and these options will be based on the unique needs of the players you coach. However, when deciding what to do at your sessions, there are some general principles.

First, practice fits into one of three categories:

  • Learning. Developing a skill that has not been mastered.

  • Testing. Putting an existing skill under match conditions to see if it stands up. This also includes actual games.

  • Habituation. Trying to improve an existing skill outside of match conditions.

The category will determine the type of training to a large extent. If you are learning skills you spend more time on being able to do the basics. There tend to be more drills and nets. If you are testing them you find ways to add stress. The activities tend to be more game-based.

Habituation is the most common and the least useful. Think hitting half-volleys on the bowling machine as a classic example. It seems like it’s helping because it feels good but it lacks both skill development and testing under match conditions. As coaches we should be very careful about helping players habituate mindlessly. While it does have some useful applications such as “blowing away the cobwebs” after a long lay off or adapting to different conditions, it’s often used as the default and is done without focus or commitment to outcomes. Tred carefully and question a great deal.

Second, I strongly recommend building activity broadly around the constraints-led approach (CLA). Cricket suits this theoretical approach because all training is naturally constrained anyway. Think about a typical net session and you will see some of the principles at work:

  • Perception-action coupling (PAC) as the batsman responds to the bowler, and bowler to the batsman.

  • A constrained environment with netting or sports halls decreasing dimensions, shorter time scales and adapted rules.

  • A requirement to use movement variability be adaptable to different styles of bowling or batsman.

  • Encourages “hands off coaching” with individualised problem-solving.

Of course, nets are not perfect CLA tools. There is no PAC from batsman to fielders. It requires mental effort to bat in context rather than it just being the game situation. Yet we already have constraints built in to every net. Why not use CLA; a method that has a great deal of backing in research?

The point is, it doesn’t take a huge leap to turn your environment into CLA-style training: You focus on manipulating the environment to encourage skill to emerge naturally

The alternative is “command and control” style: Telling players what to do and drilling it repeatedly. While you can do this, it’s almost impossible in nets where the environment is too open ended. It’s also been criticised for being ineffective because players tend to rely on the coach for instruction and are less adaptable in game situations when the coach is unable to assist. That’s not to say CLA is the perfect solution either. How you coach is a personal choice based on your values. However, I do urge all coaches to consider mindfully how they deliver practice. In my mind, CLA has been most effective.

So how do you manipulate the environment based on CLA?

The best analogy I heard was thinking of yourself as a sheep herder. The sheep are players and can be allowed to roam free in the field (that’s free play). You also have a number of gates available to you that you can open or close to increase or decrease the size of the field. All gates closed is is fixed drill, and there is a range of activities between fully open and fully closed. Your role is to match the environment to needs.

For cricket, the gates are (STEP):

  • Space. Often physical constraints such as netting or sports hall walls. However, you can get creative with cones and intervention poles to alter perception of space.

  • Time. Not just actual time repeating a drill, this also includes number of deliveries bowled or faced to complete the task. It also includes any modified rules such as “straight hits worth double”.

  • Equipment. Bat and ball size and weight. Number of stumps. Coaching aids like Sidearm, fielding bats and Katchet boards. All these modifications have an environmental effect we, as coaches, need to understand. The practice surface and climate are also part of this although often not under coach control.

  • People. Number of fielders. Number of bowlers in a net. Batting in pairs, individually or in rotation. It also can mean the physical constraints of an individual (height, movement skill, injury and so on).

The “time” gate is also often tied to the testing category. Some might say “playing under pressure”, but I prefer to say testing under match conditions. Whatever you call it, this should only be applied during a testing practice. This is one of the hardest areas to manage because recreating intensity is a challenge. Game rules help a lot, but making sure players have committed to full intensity is even more important.

It’s at this point in the process that players and coaches start to realise something; the idea of “having a net” has become the wrong way to think about practice.

Yes, nets are a method of practice, but we need to know more before we mindlessly get the nets out. Is it a learning or a skill net? What is the critical outcome? What STEP structure can we use to meet our outcome? Are we committed 100%?

We might end up with no nets, a small sided-game like Battle zone, a focused activity or even fixed drills instead. If we start with the drill or net we are reducing our chances of success. Start at the other end, with the goal.

Now the skill of the coach comes with being a good designer. We may build an environment that is unfocused, too challenging or not challenging enough. It is no longer matching our agreed outcome. In that moment we need to recognise the issue and manage a swift change. For me, this is one of the most exciting and interesting aspects of modern coaching.

We can see how running sessions effectively is not just doing a bunch of drills around a technical area. There is a process which, to summarise, starts with a growth mindset. Then:

  1. Define session outcome.

  2. Define success (acceptable and exceptional).

  3. Agree appropriate practice environment.

  4. Practice with Warrior commitment and the Rule of Three.

The final step in this process is to review progress. We will discuss effective ways to do this next.

When coaching a cricket team, one of the big secrets is performance comes from behaviours: Winning games, improving skills, enjoying sessions and putting in the best performance on the field are achieved by how players go about their business.

This is true for everyone: beginners, young club players, performance pathway players, senior club cricketers and high performance players. The behaviours are different, but principle is the same.

If we take this as a fundamental, what is the role of the coach?

First, we help the players define the important behaviours. Second, we hold them to their promises with support and discipline.

Here's what I think that looks like.

Define acceptable behaviours

We have already talked about purpose and expectations. If you have not clearly defined those with everyone, do it as soon as possible. At the end of the process you will have agreed your one to three minimum acceptable behaviours.

These behaviours are not up for negotiation, so they are the most important standards everyone must agree to do all the time.

This is crucial.

Don’t skip it.

Even if you skipped or rushed all that stuff about purpose because it’s too touchy-feely and not tangible. If you think like that - I certainly do - this is the bit you do to avoid that frustration and confusion we talked about before.

To break defining behaviour down more, the rules are that each behaviour must be:

  • Based on purpose. The behaviours must resonate with the team on the deepest level. They must believe in the power of sticking to them.

  • Agreed by everyone. If even one person doesn’t agree overtly to do it, it can’t be a behaviour standard. So a behaviour can’t be handed down from the coach without input from players.

  • Non-negotiable. Once agreed, no one can make an excuse about why the standards are not met. Failure to meet them can be accepted but not tolerated.

  • Low in number. Ideally, to begin, you will only have one behaviour to make sure everyone nails it. Over time you can add more as players feel ready to take it on. There will be no more than three.

  • Clearly defined. “Elite honesty” (for example) is not a behaviour because you can’t tell when someone is being honest to an elite level. A better example for honesty might be “no mankads”. You can tell right away if you met that standard.

  • Minimums not aspirations. These behaviours are not the team at their best, they are the team at their least worst. Everyone should find them an achievable challenge, but not something aspirational that only a handful can regularly achieve. It’s a standard not a goal.

Some examples of minimum standards of behaviour are:

  • Listen quietly when the coach is explaining.

  • Practice twice a week.

  • Wait patiently if team is batting.

  • Turn up to games in full training kit.

  • Warm up as a team, without coach prompting.

  • Being a supportive balcony: always at least three players watching the match.

  • Be able to clearly state your role in the team.

  • Overtly recognise every exceptional performance in training and matches (for example through fist bump or handshake).

  • Ask for advice regularly (at least once a session).

  • Do gym work at least twice a week.

  • Give 100% effort in practice: Go no more than three balls in nets without focus.

  • Always have a focus during practice and review progress without prompting at least once per session.

  • Help someone else at every session.

  • Learn a new skill you could not do before and test it under match conditions.

  • Do at least 15 minutes of fielding practice at every session.

Clearly we don’t use them all. You don’t have to use any of them. We can use these examples to prompt players, or we can come up with our own. Remember to keep it down to one (three at most). Players might want to create a longer list at first, but make sure they can meet the minimum standard consistently for a while before adding standards.

The final step is to agree how much chance you give players to self-correct before intervening. Then we get to work.

Accountability with the "Rule of Three"

So far this has been something of a paper exercise. Accountability is where we get going with some coaching.

It's not coaching the technical and tactical side directly (although don't worry you will get plenty of chance to do that). It's coaching behaviours. It's keeping the players on track to their agreed standards.

The best way I have found to do this is to use the "Rule of Three" first outlined by Mark Bennett. Here is how it works.

Rule of One is the ideal state.

The player is self-aware of their behaviours in the moment and understands if they are acceptable or not. If they are not acceptable they self-correct.

Rule of Two is the second line of defence. Here an individual player is not behaving acceptably but their team-mates have noticed and told the player in the moment what is happening to get them back to Rule of One.

This rule is critical to successful accountability but is the hardest to learn as it requires high levels of trust, self-awareness and confidence from a team. It takes time to get this one right, but stick with it.

Finally, Rule of Three comes in when One and Two have failed to bring behaviours back to acceptable. The coach steps in to get the players back to Two or One quickly.

This third level is what most coaches would consider a traditional intervention. Good news for coaches; we are still needed! It also takes skill. If we jump to it too quickly we don't give players the chance to self-correct and they become reliant on us as the police. If we wait too long players see us and the rules as inconsistent. Frustration reigns either way.

Nevertheless, get the timing of your intervention right, and behaviours will be outstanding.

For example, in session you can stop the entire session, or a sub-section; the offending group in the net or drill. You can ask something like,

  • "Why am I stopping you at this moment?"

  • "What did you notice about what you were doing when I stopped you?"

If they remember the agreed standard they will tell you.

If they don't remember you need to go back to the drawing board about agreeing standards.

However, assuming they remember, you can follow up by asking them to show you the drill, net or activity done at Rule One or Two.  Finish with a statement like

  • "Can you show me what you need to do to get back on track?"

Resist the urge to give a long lecture, talk about anything except the behaviour, or ask lots of questions. That's something I have to remember all the time. I'm a verbal coach. Keep it extremely short and let them get back to the task once the reminder is given. Stay focused on the behaviour.

If the unhelpful behaviour continues, you can repeat the cycle until it is self-correcting. If the players can’t self-correct, eventually you will need to review the agreement; it's probably too difficult.

During games or if your behaviours are agreed over longer periods, you can follow the same process. Let's use training attendance as an example. Imagine someone doesn't train two sessions in a row when they have agreed to train every session. Ideally, the player will - without prompting - apologise to you and the team after one failure and recommit to the agreement (Rule of One). If they don't, the rest of the team will pick up on it within two failures and remind the player who apologises and recommits. Only if this does not happen do you intervene as coach and try to get the player - and his team mates who missed it - back to One or Two.

Sanctions and punishments

One coaching tool that has not been mentioned yet is punishments.

The idea is simple and often very effective with younger cricketers. If behaviours are unacceptable, the coach will issue a punishment. They can be as severe as sending people home or dropping them from the team, or as simple as a time out or clearing up kit.

Punishment is tricky because it can be misused. Many coaches in the past have punished inconsistently and severely out of anger. This won't help even it if feels good in the short-term. If you feel angry or frustrated at behaviour, take a moment. Instead of meting out an immediate punishment, explain why you are stopping the activity. When coaching younger players we can explain how the player could have handled the situation differently.

However, this may not work with children who have a underdeveloped focus. The activity can take far to long to to restart with an issue every few moments. Sanctioning is an easy way to get past a problem and back into an activity that is otherwise totally disrupted.

Like any other standard, agree the rules first.

We might agree with players they get 10 seconds to realise what they are doing and self-correct, then they get one warning, on repeat they have to sit out for one minute. Even during a sanction we must be clear they understand why, and what they can do to get back to Rule One or Two.

Recognise exceptional behaviours

The other side of performance behaviour is to recognise when cricketers have gone beyond the acceptable and into the exceptional. Here we have gone from catching people out, to catching people in. And that's much more fun as a coach!

Exceptional behaviours are much closer to goals: achievable but at a stretch. Also like goals they are best when specific and measurable. However they are not as tightly constrained as minimum standards. In other words, if someone does something great out of the blue, take time to recognise it.

The Rule of Three applies here as well. Players are encouraged to recognise the exceptional in the moment, with the coach only stepping in if something brilliant goes unrewarded.

When players first start applying the Rule of Three, it’s often much harder to do it for exceptional behaviour than for the unacceptable. This is because it’s harder to clearly define the exceptional. We can come up with some examples but we will never cover the entire gamut of things people can do to be exceptional. This means we might need to spend more time intervening at first, depending how fast players pick up on exceptional behaviours.

What you can agree is how a player will behave when someone does something exceptional: A fist bump, clap, high five, nod to the coach, whatever. The response itself doesn’t matter, but understanding we have a symbol of recognition is important.

I like to restrict praise for the exceptional to times where it is both truly merited and unrecognised by peers. If our star batsman hits a half volley out of the middle, that’s helpful but not exceptional. We were probably expecting it. It’s far more useful - according to research from Carol Dweck - to praise exceptional effort and clear improvement. In my experience, player’s certainly value this feedback more.

Summary

If we accept performance comes from behaviours, we need to be as clear about them as we are about cricket techniques and tactics. This article has given you a framework to define behaviours and hold players accountable to them at any age or ability level.

The core of this is the Rule of Three. We will return to the Rule of Three again - especially Rule Two - but for now as long as you understand the basics of it, you have the structure to get players agreeing performance behaviours and working towards nailing them.

Next we will examine how the lessons from performance behaviour can be applied more directly in to designing and running sessions.

It’s easy to jump into coaching with warm ups and drills. The “what” of coaching. I do it all the time. It feels right and comfortable. We want to get on with it as fast as we can. So do the players we coach.

But hold on.

First, we need to know why we play and how we can work together to achieve our aims: Our purpose and principles.

You might think it’s obvious.

Yet we have already learned jumping in too fast is unhelpful. Coaching before purpose makes it difficult to develop players. We overthink or run on emotion. To manage this we need to know our motivations. Our deepest purpose.

Or to put it another way; how can you get somewhere unless you know where it is?

I feel this process is now a vital part of modern coaching. If we don’t have a purpose we don’t set expectations clearly: We end up unfocused, frustrated and confused. Business solved this issue decades ago: Every planned project starts with a purpose and core principles.

Clinical psychology has a similarly well-established method. In CBT, we learn behaviours are drawn from thoughts and feelings. The goal is to become aware of what we think and feel so we can alter our actions. If we are feeling angry and confused we know we have not identified our mutual purpose and principles yet. We can prevent this confusion with clarity of behaviour.

These ideas are easily transferred to coaching.

Practical purpose

So how do we achieve this step zero, this crucial meta-coaching?

Find out.

Ask “how” and “what”.

Of course, you want true, honest answers. Getting that from a group of beginner six year olds is different from a professional cricket team. Nevertheless, we are looking for the same thing. We are looking for a mutually agreed purpose. Here are the key questions:

  • Why do you play cricket?

  • Why do you come to training?

Most people say to have fun and to get better at playing cricket. But dig deeper if you can. We don’t all agree what is fun and we don’t all agree what to get better at. Here are some deeper questions:

  • What’s the most enjoyable part of cricket?

  • What style of cricket do you want to play?

  • What type of team do we want to be?

  • What do you expect from your coach?

  • What support do you expect from your team mates?

  • What support do you think your team mates expect from you?

  • What does someone in our team do when they are at their best?

  • What do you think your coach expects from you?

  • What can stop us being successful?

You don’t need to know the answer to all of them in detail. Ask as much as you need to have a clear purpose for the team: The big unique idea, the motivation that gets us up on cold winter mornings and travelling miles to matches on wet summer afternoons. The reason why we choose this life and not one of a million others.

It’s not just rabble rousing inspiration: Together with the players you can agree well-defined standards based on your ideal. And we know what happens once we nail those expectations down.

Is there a problem?

It’s not always as smooth as this. Any change to the status quo is hard and meets resistance. Purpose is a vague idea. It smacks of Instagram posts telling us the “Chase our rainbow”. We know differently but players can be cynical.

For example, players start to clam up and agree to anything because they are running on emotion; bored, insecure, impatient, angry, frustrated, afraid or confused.

In this moment they want to to get past the painful talking and “just hit balls”. That’s secure. That works. That feels right. They don’t see the big picture and they want to get on with something tangible like having a net. This is a perfectly understandable reaction, especially from a group who are not yet self-aware of their emotional state (sounds like most children and most cricketers to me).

However, we also can’t let it go. That’s an abdication of our responsibility as a coach to get the best from players.

Dig in.

If you face this kind of resistance - passive or clearly stated - ask an even deeper question:

  • What do we want to change?

This question is great because everybody wants to change something. Nobody wants to have problems. Everybody knows the only way to solve them is to change behaviour. Even the players who think they need to change nothing personally can get behind the idea the team can make improvements as a whole. It’s something tangible to hold on to. It gets people back into a clear and present state of mind.

The answer you get back will be unique to the players and team you coach. Things to change usually hover around words like commitment, focus, effort, mindset or teamwork. Often it’s about something technical (because again it’s the easiest thing to see). Whatever your specifics, the next two questions are:

  • Are we prepared to change this?

  • Can we accept help to make the change?

If the answer is yes to both, we can start to make progress. If more examination is needed you can go deeper still with these questions:

  • What pain is caused by making a change?

  • What is the cost of not changing?

  • What benefits are there to changing?

  • What ways can we have more fun if we change?

  • How is this problem stopping our success as a team?

  • Is this problem causing a loss of respect between team mates?

  • What part of the problem do others notice the most?

  • Why has the problem not been solved yet?

  • Are we willing to do whatever it takes to solve the problem?

  • Do we accept making change requires us to think and act differently?

  • What single goal can we all work towards to make this change?

  • What could go wrong if we change our perspective to try and solve the problem?

  • Are we open to a new plan?

If players recognise the need for change, you won’t ever get this deep into the discussion. You can outline your purpose, set out your key principles and move along quickly towards the batting and bowling. However, these questions are tools if you need them.

The goal is to help players see how important it is to focus on both training the way you play, and playing the way that rings true to your ideals. We are unlikely to solve our cricket problems any other way.

Whether you have worked with a team for years, or are doing your first session, it’s crucial everyone knows this. Take as long as it takes to get to your purpose and define your principles. We face a lot of frustration and wheel-spinning if we take another route.

Don’t get me wrong, action is still paramount.

Once purpose is in place we can get on with doing stuff, safe in the knowledge we are moving towards mutual purpose.

But that’s not the end either. It’s not a one off. We all need commitment to reviewing and applying our purpose and principles. We can’t spend time on purpose and defining our core principles then never apply those expectations. We need to live this every day in the way we act.

The nuts and bolts of how we do this, and help players do this, is next.

Posted
AuthorDavid Hinchliffe

Before we can coach, or be coached, we need to agree expectations.

At most sessions there’s an assumed agreement, but it’s rarely overt. We understand vaguely what is supposed to happen without saying it. This works when the implied expectations match between coach and players.

But when expectations don’t match, someone will get frustrated.

For example, have you ever coached young players who don’t meet your expectations for behaviour? I know I have. Does it frustrate or even anger you? I’m sure it does.

It’s also confusing for those you coach. They see you as erratic: One minute you allow something by not picking up on it, the next minute it’s unacceptable and you’re making an example of someone. Everyone is fed up with that way.

All that’s is needed is an agreement of what is expected and a strong application of the agreement.

In our behaviour example, the coach could tell the kids they expect full attention when instructions are being given, and full commitment when the drill is being performed. The kids might say back they expect the coach to keep instruction and waiting to a minimum, and make sure everyone gets to compete and get plenty of goes.

At a higher performance level the expectation will be different, but there is the same need to be clear and overt about them.

This agreement alone is enough to make huge improvements in sessions.

Young players behave better because they know what better means. They also know why coaches are doing what they do. There is less confusion and less frustration all round.

Does clarifying expectations solve every problem?

Of course not.

Yet, clear expectations allow you to reduce the amount of frustration as behaviours improve. Even better, you have a way of managing things when expectations are not met.

Instead of getting upset about bad kids, you can ask them about the agreement you made.

If they have forgotten, you can remind them, and either change the agreement or stick to it. If they remember, you can ask them to remember next time to correct their own behaviour in line with the agreement.

This simple method can be applied to any skill or behaviour, any coach or player. You expect batsmen to put away half-volleys. You expect talent-pathway players to work on their fitness between sessions. You expect five year old beginners to try their best. You are expected to enforces breaches of expectation. Anything can be agreed. You just have to decide — before you begin - exactly what they are.

By agreeing expectations and holding each other accountable, we will be focused and get better results. It also sets up the ability to encourage self-sufficiency in players. More on that later.

Posted
AuthorDavid Hinchliffe
Switch cricket game in a large hall with U12 cricketers.

Switch cricket game in a large hall with U12 cricketers.

Here’s a kids cricket game for eight or more players I came up with recently, inspired by a football game. Here’s how it works:

Set up two games (game one and game two). Outdoors or in a decent size hall works.

Any format of soft ball cricket works fine, although I would encourage “rotational” batting to ensure no one is waiting for a hit for too long. As you will see the other details of the game are not crucial.

The aim of the drill is to be the team without opponents.

Fielding teams have the following ways of achieving the aim,

  • Game one: If you take a catch, execute a direct hit run out or bowl someone out in game one you join the fielding team in game two.

  • Game two: If you take a catch, execute a direct hit run out or bowl someone in game two you send the batsman to the game one batting team.

Batting teams have the following ways of achieving the aim,

  • Game one: Hit a straight hit (on ground or bouncing) in game one and join the batting team in game two.

  • Game two: Hit a straight hit (on ground or bouncing) in game two and send a fielder to game one fielding team.

As soon as you run out of opponents, you win.

  1. If are fielding and you get all your team into game two, you win. If you send all the batsmen to game one, you win.

  2. If you are batting and you get all your batsmen to game two, you win. If you send all the fielders to game two, you win.

Players can swap fielding and batting roles once you have a winner, or after a set time.

Why this format?

I enjoy this format because it allows kids to play freely but still work towards a goal, like you would normally drill. For me this is a sweet spot of fun and development.

This game rewards core cricket skills performed in a match environment. When the game is being played it looks a heck of a lot like a proper game of cricket, yet it is also affords the chance to play straight, bowl straight and field well as you would attempt to do in a traditional drill.

Of course, it’s not perfect. The clever kids start to work out it’s pointless to run. There is a lot of noise within the signal (no technique work, plenty of wides bowled, arguments about run outs). It does take some getting used to, so there is plenty of initial confusion. It’s certainly not as controlled and neat as a drill. It is chaos by design!

Once they get the hang of it, they self organise and the game runs itself. It’s very useful if you have a large group and only one coach.

I have run this drill with ages between 9-12 and it has run well with kids enjoying it. Time will tell if it develops skills, but I like to think it has a good shot!

It does require kids understand the basics of how to play a game of cricket, so I would not use it with total newbies, but if kids have played a game or two previously they will get this format quickly.

Could you apply it to hard ball and older players too? I have not tried it but it is perhaps worth the experiment. If nothing else, it spices up a session that too often defaults to “drills and nets”, which I find less helpful in most cases.

Give it a try!

Posted
AuthorDavid Hinchliffe
Christmas COACHING.jpg

Your opponents are busy eating mince pies and watching bad TV. You are different. You want to make the most of the festive period to become a better cricketer.

So, how about a one to one session to improve your game?

I am available to work on any aspect of your game at the indoor nets over Christmas. You can book me by the hour and come away with a head start on your club nets when they begin in the new year.

That’s a great gift to give yourself.

Get in touch.

Posted
AuthorDavid Hinchliffe

A great coach is closer to a seller than a teacher.

 

Teachers - at least in the traditional sense - have knowledge which them impart through instruction. Salesmen, on the other hand, make a compelling case that influences someone’s behaviour.

 

In the past, the coach has been a teacher. Learners listen, watch and try the correct method as instructed.

 

Recently though, the power of the coach to instruct has been diminished. Players have got knowledge already because they have had lots of coaching, they have read articles and watched videos, and they have been empowered by knowing there are many ways to do things.

 

Instead of arriving at a coach with the mindset of “teach me”, players have the mindset of “convince me you’re right”.

 

Coaches have to start by convincing players. Coaches have to become sellers.


In my opinion this is universally better. Players have to be convinced or they won’t stay the course. If they don’t know why something is important, they won’t stick with it. There’s so many other options. Every time a coach works with a player or team, they must “start with why”.


For example, a team I work with has a lot of players with raw talent but very little team spirit. They don’t fight, but they are not a cohesive unit. They are also very technically focused, using training as a way to correct technique and master the basics.


I went into sales mode.


I spoke to players individually and as a team, asking them to bring in the “Rule of Three” (a method I have pinched from Mark Bennett) as a way to manage training sessions. My selling point was that the Rule of Three would make us better than the sum of our parts as a team. The players would have more space for making their own decisions, organising themselves and building resilience. It would also give them freedom to work on the basics and hone technique. There were no compromises, only benefits.


Stepping into the present; after two sessions, all but one player is nailing it. They are more engaged, working together better and there is less intervention from me as a coach.


All because I spent the time to convince them first, rather than barrelling in t tell them to behave.


There’s still work to do of course. The one player who is not convinced yet will come round if my sales skills are on point. Others will need to build the habit as it’s a big change of mindset.


But, they believe.


And when they understand why, they will follow you.

Posted
AuthorDavid Hinchliffe

It was quite a summer for Scottish cricket. A historic victory over England showed that cricket is not just a game for those below Hadrian's Wall.

CricViz wrote a fabulous article explaining how it was done. One line stood out:

“Scotland won because of the way they adapted to the extremely tough bowling conditions... Coetzer’s men could easily have folded. Yet impressively, they kept their heads, and changed what was going wrong. In the first 10 overs, they’d bowled 37% short balls, trying to dig the ball hard into the surface in order to find some life – but that didn’t work... However, in the next 10 overs, Scotland switched things up. They bowled just 17% short balls, half of what they’d sent down previously, and England’s run-rate dropped”

It’s clear Scotland adapted their plan on the fly. When bouncers failed they switched.  Seems simple enough, but it’s astounding to think someone had the presence of mind and confidence to make this change during the biggest game in years.

I wonder who that was.

Because whoever it was, they broke with their programming!

As coaches we tend to want to help players by telling them how to do things. We make the plans and tell them to stick to their roles and strengths. It’s the fastest way to success, but it also breeds coach dependant players who are not confident to adapt. I’m certain every player in that Scotland team had loads of coaches who coached them in that way growing up. Programmed to obey the guru.

Had this method been deployed against England, a thrashing was on the cards. The “best” plan would have been fearfully played out and everyone would have marvelled at Bairstow’s match-winning innings. Business as usual for the home nations.

Yet someone stood up out there.

Someone (Coetzer? Watt?) made a fast, clear decision in the moment when their mind was racing. Then everyone went with it. Someone changed the tempo of the match. Someone gave Scotland the glimmer they needed.

Subsequently, I have worked with a couple of the key people in that game. Most notably Calum MacCleod, Ritchie Berrington and Coach Grant Bradburn. I have no inside knowledge of what went on that day, but seeing those guys work from the edges I have seen glimpses. Bradburn created an environment when players were trusted to do the best they could in the moment, rather that lean on the sage advice of guru coaches.

I’d like to think that atmosphere of trust allowed someone to take that huge decision in the moment.

And it payed off.

The next time it may not of course. The next time sticking to Plan A will work better, but the point is this; even in high stakes moments, having players who trust their gut and commit to their decisions fully is far more helpful than the alternative.

Posted
AuthorDavid Hinchliffe

This is part eight of the review. For the previous parts click here.

As last year, West put a major focus on fielding. To help with this, we continued our analysis of fielding through the Fielding Impact (FI) stat.

FI is a number that tries to analyse how many runs a team saves (or loses) through the three main skills: catching, stopping and throwing down the stumps. It is certainly not perfect as it works on averages and qualitative judgement, but it does allow us to compare effectiveness of fielding at both team and player level. Here are runs saved per game:

The first game of the season is at the top, and the average FI is the pink line. Wins are in maroon (naturally) and losses are in blue.

The first game of the season is at the top, and the average FI is the pink line. Wins are in maroon (naturally) and losses are in blue.

A few things stand out.

There is no correlation between winning and runs saved or lost.

There was also a great variation in fielding over the season (from 39 saved to 37 lost). Despite a good middle of the season, the start and end were poor. This is a trend we also saw last season.

Overall fielding may appear to have declined from last year – where West finished in the positive – however, these team stats also include half chances and harsher judgements on fielding standards than last year, meaning players are going for more catches and stops than last season. This is a positive, although it would be even better if more of those chances were executed successfully.

At a team level, we can break this down to all specific areas of improvement.

Catches

The biggest impact is catching. Taking an “expected” catch saves, on average, 6.73 runs, but dropping one costs 15.71. The old maxim of “catches win matches” is better described as “drops reduce your chance of winning”, but that doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as well.

 At club level you expect about 30% of catches to be dropped. If you catch 75% you are at a very high level. This figure doesn’t include catches where you only have half a chance or need a stroke of brilliance to pull off.

West had 73 expected chances – remember we are excluding half chances - in Premier cricket, holding 75%. This likely puts West near the top of catching for the league (although without figures it’s hard to judge). Broken down further this looks like:

catch1.JPG
Catch2.JPG

We can see top-class performance in both high and flat catches. Also, as expected, the keeper held most chances. Caught and bowled was successful but only had five chances all season. Ring and boundary catching was excellent.

Low catches had the most chances – 28 – and 11 drops making it the worst type of catch. Most of this was in close catching. 12 chances went here and six were dropped (five drops were from 11 low chances).

Drilling down, we can see the fast bowlers only had 44% of chances held by the slips. This dropped to 20% (one catch from five chances) in overs 11-20.

From this evidence, it’s recommended West look to maintain standards on most catching types but put in as much time as possible on low catch, especially at slip with the fast bowlers in the first half of the innings.

Ground fielding

Saving runs is also difficult to measure. We know – on average – a single piece of excellent fielding will save 2.06 runs. A misfield costs the same. Here is the breakdown of runs saved and given away:

runssaved2018.JPG

From this graphic you can see positional performance. The ring fielders dominated, saving a balance of over 40 runs over the season (59.68 lost, 100.85 saved). The pack of bubbles in the top left shows you little difference between positions other than number of chances. Every position was comfortable in the black. West’s ground work is on point.

The next step in development is going for more balls by developing a mindset to push harder to get to more balls.

Throwing

The final skill is throwing for run outs. This is another hard skill to measure because a throw at the stumps that misses might not have resulted in a run out anyway. If it was a clearly out miss with all three stumps to aim at, the cost was 5.61 runs. A direct hit that resulted in a run out with one stump to aim at saved 16.83 runs.

West had 45 throws at the stumps all season. 12 hit at a 27% success rate. This is below what you expect at club level, but “expected hit” throws were at 50%, which is about average.

Three (25%) of these direct hits resulted in a run out, showing how hard it is to complete due to the influence of the batsman’s judgement and speed, and the umpire’s decision making. It also shows how important it is to get as many throws off as reasonable.

Additionally, there are throws that result in a run out from a “take and break”, where the keeper or bowler executes the run out. This was counted as saving 5.61 runs. There were 10 of these.

So, in trying to account for all these factors, we can say West lost 129 runs from missed run outs but made back 62 runs from completed run outs (direct hits, or take and breaks).

The balance was -32.

This may appear slightly harsh because in club cricket we tend to see a run out as a bonus. Missing a throw is not as “bad” as dropping a catch. However, the fact remains a missed throw is still a lost opportunity for a wicket and will cost extra runs: The batsman could have been out, but he remained in and continued to score. Remember, we are trying to establish how much effect fielding has on the opposition’s final score.

Team fielding performance overall

Returning to overall team performance then, we can combine these numbers.

West finished on -31 in Premier Division cricket, which is an average of -2.21 per game.

Two runs is certainly not enough to influence the outcome of an average match. In fact, some of the worst fielding performances did not lead to a loss. For example, West had a -37 score against Dumfries and -35 against Ayr and won both. You can certainly “get away” with poor fielding as a team.

On the other hand, the best fielding performance of the year was a loss against Clydesdale, demonstrating that West’s fielding kept them in the game when they could have lost more easily. Also. the last over loss against Poloc was a +3 for fielding. There were opportunities to make FI higher which were not taken. Had FI been higher, West would likely have won as it was such a close match.

The bottom line is team fielding alone rarely influences the outcome of the game, but it can keep you in a match longer, which gives you a better chance of success. It is also much more important in close games, where it is more likely to make the difference between winning and losing.

Posted
AuthorDavid Hinchliffe

Today is the first guest article on the site. Rich Hudson is a human being who spends some time on the planet as a cricket coach and writer. Here is his view on how we play the game.

We want to allow ourselves and others to play with freedom, to express themselves, to be comfortable in their own skin, to be great teammates, to have fun and love playing the game.

To do this in cricket we must first build the foundations.

The foundations begin with our understanding. What do we understand, and misunderstand, about how the mind works? And how does that understanding impact everything we do within the great game of cricket?

The cornerstone of how we change the game of mental health and performance psychology in cricket is the realisation that our experience is always taking place from the inside-out. However, it appears to be coming from the outside-in.

Look at the situations below and ask yourself these two questions:

  • Do I feel the same way about them every time?

  • Does everyone feel the same way about them?

Nicking off for a duck. Scoring 30. Taking a slip catch. Getting hit for 6.

These aspects of the game happen to everyone. However, we do not experience them the same way because of one simple, fundamental reason – we have different thinking taking place within our minds every time that they take place. It appears that scoring a duck or a hundred, taking 5-for or getting whacked causes us to feel how we do (outside-in), but if we look closely it is always and only thought-in-the-moment creating that experience from the inside-out.

Everyone’s experience is made of a continually fluctuating thought-feeling connection, whilst we all continually fall for the circumstance-feeling illusion. How things appear are not how they are. Hearing this for the first time is different. Ultimately, it becomes transformational.

Gaining insight into the thought-feeling connection gradually changes how we perceive the challenges of the game. We see that:

  • The feeling of pressure does not come from how difficult a game is or the expectations of others. It comes from the thought in the moment that we’re experiencing

  • Nerves do not come from big games or intimidating opponents. They come from the thought in the moment that we’re experiencing

  • Confidence does not come from recent performances. It comes from… you get the picture.

These feelings and perceptions taking place from the inside-out are made of thought. The nature of thought is:

  • Transient (it passes on its own -can you remember what you were thinking this time yesterday?)

  • Illusory (a thought is a thought – it doesn’t have to be believed)

  • It fluctuates (our moods rise and fall all day, and with it, our perceptions shift)

  • You do not control it (otherwise we’d know what we’ll thinking about this time tomorrow)

Apply this to have you feel about the game of cricket. Some days you love it, some days you hate it, some days you find it the easiest thing in the world, most days it feels like the hardest! This is the transient, fluctuating and uncontrollable nature of thought, about a game which remains exactly the same as it always was.

If we strongly believe that our experience is outside-in – that our well-being and sense of self is reliant on our performances – we will inevitably overthink whatever we believe is the creator of our experience. It becomes freeing to see that everything is a temporary perception. 

Many of the misunderstandings we’ve collected over time begin to drop without effort and our experience of the game subtly, but fundamentally, shifts. When we stop taking our thinking seriously, we stop taking ourselves so seriously! We can start having fun playing the game again.

We begin to realise whether we have been playing cricket as an expression of ourselves or in a search for it?

Anybody looking for fulfilment in scoring hundreds, knocking stumps out of the ground or in amazing diving catches will not find it. They are great, great fun – and a testament to skill, game awareness, physical conditioning and more.

However, happiness, fulfilment, freedom cannot be found in what is transient. As soon as it’s taken form, it’s gone. What we are really looking for can only be found in what is permanent – your essential nature. Not your personality or your performances, but in your essential nature - the awareness of your experience, the energy of life that you have always experienced.

You are this infinite space within which all experience, thoughts, feelings and perceptions appear. The essential, unchanging ‘you’ that was there when you first picked up a bat and a ball. Before you collected and believed limiting labels about who you are, what success is and what you have to do to prove yourself.

Getting a bit deep? Isn’t that what it’s all about? We’ve realised that mental health is not found in what is temporary – e.g. results, money, relationships, status – but that those things can be enjoyed without a feeling of need or craving, when we have built the foundations on solid ground of understanding.

Foundations are deep. They provide the effortless strength to ride the waves of life, and the ups and downs of the game, with more clarity, compassion, freedom, love and enjoyment. See them evolve back into your cricket because you’ve let go of the outside-in beliefs that have got in your way for so long and come back to what’s true in this fluctuating, magnificent, inside-out existence of ours.

Rich Hudson is the Author of Pressure Myths, available on Amazon. He is an ECB Level 4 Coach and a Performance Psychologist working with a variety of teams and organisations. Get in touch with him on Twitter @rdhudson00.

Posted
AuthorDavid Hinchliffe

This is part seven of the review. For the previous parts click here. This section looks more at batting performance in Premier club cricket.

So far, the batting has focused on the different challenges of chasing and setting targets, splitting them up. However, there are areas that rely less on context to find strong areas and development areas for the team and individuals.

First, how did West play the spinners and seamers?

West batsmen faced roughly even numbers of balls between spin (46%) and pace (54%). There was not much difference in overall performance: Averages are 18 and 21, SR 60 and 57, 16 and 17 Balls per Boundary and 3.6 and 3.4 RpO.

Interestingly, West batsmen were far more in control of the spinners, playing false shots 22% of the time. The pace bowlers had 31% false shots, but only managed one more wicket over the whole season.

We can also see who played the different types of bowling better or worse.

Against spin, Abacus and Seashot outperformed both the team average and their own overall average. All other batsmen under-performed compared to their overall average. Certainly, room for improvement.

More batsmen were ahead of overall average against fast bowling. Cobra, Northflood, Bluecall and Seashot all outperformed both team against pace average and their own overall average. Abacus, Mayor and Kodak under-performed against the seamers.

From here we can look to personalise preparation for next season by working on specific types of bowling.

We can also hunt for weaker area by looking at how batsmen got out.

 The overall balance of wickets was even: 52 wickets fell to fast bowlers and 54 to spinners. There were 17 dropped catches for the opposition pacemen and 15 from the twirlers (plus two missed stumpings).

There were slightly more bowled and caught against fast bowlers, but the spinners got twice as many LBW decisions (12 compared to six). Of the catches, there was a roughly even distribution between close catches, boundary catches and keeper catches. Fast bowlers had more catches in the ring (16 to nine) and spinners took three caught and bowled while seamers had none.

Its clear West batsmen don’t have a great weakness in any area of dismissal. Although, it is worth keeping in mind any technical issues around getting LBW to spin or caught in the ring from pace bowlers. One individual point to note is a top order player with a reputation for playing fast bowling badly. Not only did he get out to spin twice as often, he also had an above par average against fast bowlers. This is one occasion were perception does not match reality.

There is very little dismissal information per batsman, however most batsmen get caught. That means Winter will want to consider why he was bowled more than any other dismissal.

On the other side of the coin; Northflood and Cobra did not get out LBW all season. This is remarkable for two top order batsmen. Even more so when you note that there were only seven LBW appeals between Cobra and Northflood all season.

Luck in batting

Of course, what we don’t know was how many of dismissals came through good bowling or bad batting. This is somewhat measurable by looking at a few key factors that show how much “luck” West had.

First is fielding. It’s lucky for the batting team when a catch is dropped, or a piece of fielding leads to extra runs. West tracked this information in 2018 to see the difference. Of course, even when you know how many unforced errors there were, it’s hard to calculate exactly how many extra runs poor fielding gives you, but based on average scores we can see:

luckfielding.JPG

From this table, it’s clear West both had more chances and sneaked a few extra runs compared to the opposition. West batsmen were dropped more, and opposition fielders made more errors than West fielders. The run cost averages out at a clear 10 runs different per game.

After fielding errors, we can look at runs scored in ways the batsman was not in control; edges or mis-hits. The more runs scored this way, the luckier the batsmen.

West played a false shot 26% of the time, resulting in 13% of all runs scored. The combined opposition played false shots 27% of the time, resulting in 16% of runs scored. West certainly had a little less luck when it comes to runs scored.

Breaking this down to individuals, Northflood score more runs from false shots than anyone (46), but also played more. He scored runs when he wasn’t in control and got away with it for about the average amount of time (6.02 is dead average for West). Cobra played the highest percentage of false shots but scored from far fewer of them. You could say both gave more to the bowler than average, but Northflood scored while Cobra played and missed.

Abacus easily played the fewest false shots and scored just 8% of his runs this way (average is 13%). He also had almost 8 false shots per wicket. Through his style of play, he has attempted to reduce the influence of risky batting dramatically: He stopped scoring lucky runs and reduced his chances of getting out through a false shot.

Seashot had a False Shots per Wicket rate (FpW) of 9, getting away with it almost three times more often than Bluecall. The pair were roughly the same in runs scored from false shots. You could certainly say Bluecall was unlucky compared to the average, but you can also say that Seashot’s false shots were less likely to get out because he played in a less aggressive manner. There’s a hint again here that Seashot could increase his intent relatively safely as he has three false shots to play with before he returns to average levels.

Overall, tradition dictates that the more aggressive you play, the more likely you are to get out but the faster you score. This analysis shows the picture as a lot more nuanced, and batsmen need to learn their own game to be able to make small adjustments along the cautious-aggressive continuum. The key question – especially in limited overs – is “how hard can you push it before risk overtakes reward”?

Shot Performance

One way to look at this further is to break down performance by shot (all formats).

shotperformance.JPG

You can easily see in the graphic that glances are the safest and most effective run scoring shot (even more effective than the defensive block). The shot averages 128.00 - as show by bubble size – and takes 137 deliveries before a wicket falls (BpW). It is also the best strike rotation shot, with an SR of 93 and a high control percentage of 85% showing a very low number of false shots.

In fact, it’s also interesting to note that shots designed to rotate the strike are also much less likely to get a wicket than either pure attack or pure defence. The flick, push and glance combined have a better average and higher number of balls per wicket than other shots. It can be argued rotating the strike is the best way of not losing a wicket.

As expected, attacking shots have a greater SR but a lower BpW. The pull shot is an outlier, played mostly to an especially bad ball, the risk of getting out is lower than most attacking shots, including the drive. As a result, the pull shot has the second-best average of all shots.

Driving is less reliable than you might imagine, suggesting room for improvement in a range of batting situations.

Sweeping is played rarely because it is relatively high risk. Although the reward of an SR of 161 is possibly worth it more often than it is played.

The cut is the least valuable attacking shot, not yielding many runs per wicket, and forcing a lot of false shots. The runs that did come were at a lower rate. As the cut is usually played to a bad ball, there appears to be an opportunity for better execution. Although, it was also the attacking shot played least often, suggesting batsmen are aware of the risks. As 11 different batsmen got out cutting, it’s certainly not down to one person.

Strike Rotation

From the above, it is becoming obvious that “strike rotation” is a safe and effective strategy. You are less likely to get out and you score at a decent rate (about four an over). However, it is hard to achieve, with every batsman missing out on chances to rotate.

This leads to the question; how good are West at rotating compared to the opposition?

For the purposes of this comparison, we will assume some things: A ball rotated is when runs are scored from any shot that is under control. It does not include boundaries or shots edged or otherwise miss hit. Ideally, we would examine the line and length of the deliveries, but we don’t have that so instead we will take strike rotation literally and say it’s any shot where the batsman has deliberately scored 1-3 runs (even if his intent may have been to hit a boundary).

By this measure, West rotated 27% of their controlled shots and faced a dot 43% (the rest were boundaries, leaves or false shots). The opposition combined scored 24% and 46%.

That works out as 75 runs per game rotated for West and 69 for the opposition. The difference is very small.

The conclusion is simple: Teams are all about equal at rotation and all miss a lot of opportunities to rotate. Over 90 balls every game are played under control but result in a dot. Of course, not every delivery is a chance to score, but it does show there are opportunities. A team who can take 10% of these chances to score will gain, on average, 13 extra runs.

This shows in the performance of Stirling against West, Stirling set both the highest total to chase and made the highest chase of the year. They had controlled rotation at 32%, resulting in 107 runs scored per game, a boost of almost 30 runs on the average.

With the example we can see there is certainly an opportunity to look to rotate more often with focused practice on specific shots such as drop and run, glances and pushes. For example, a controlled push (a straight bat shot mostly played into the off side) results in a dot 49% of the time. A drive – the more full-blooded version – is 24% (but fewer shots are controlled). A batsman with more control over straight bat shots can angle the ball into gaps more often and increase these numbers without a noticeable increase in risk.

All that is more foo for thought than any clear conclusions, but in many ways, this is what useful analysis is about: posing questions that require players to come up with effective solutions.

Speaking of which, the next part moves on to fielding.

Posted
AuthorDavid Hinchliffe
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Posted
AuthorDavid Hinchliffe

This is part six of the review of the Premier Division season for West of Scotland. This article looks into the chasing skills of the side.

West were great at setting up the game with the ball, but that’s only half the job. How did West do with the bat?

Tactically, the main difference is knowing what you are chasing. You can alter your approach based on the score. For example, you can feel safe batting more slowly chasing a score with a high Win%. Whereas, necessity insists you bat faster when chasing an above par score. Three an over is plenty chasing 100 but will quickly put you behind the rate chasing 300.

We can judge how difficult a chase is by Win%, and by this measure, West won a single game against the odds but lost two games from a winning position. The other matches went to form.

We can get a sense of how these games went by looking at the margin of victory.

chasewinmargin.JPG

This graphic shows how West did in won chases. The closer to the top right of the chart, the easier the win, the closer to the bottom left, the closer the game.

The size of the bubble represents the chance of victory at half time. You can see here West had comfortable wins against Clydesdale and Ayr, and closer ones against Greenock (where time was not an issue, but wickets fallen was) and Dumfries.

How was this done? Each chase is different, so let’s pick one specific example. The match against Ayr looks like the most confident performance: Winning by six wickets with balls to spare despite the halftime Win% at 48%. Here is the change in Win% over West’s innings:

winvsAyr2018.JPG

As you can see, after a solid start three wickets (the dots on the chart) fell between over 10-18.

This caused a slowing of the run rate and a dip to 27%. This was a key moment. The West batsmen took about 30 balls to stabilise, then accelerated significantly up to the 32 over mark, peaking at 77% after 32 overs when a wicket fell.

The new partnership, after a dip, gradually pushed the % back up. In the last 20 balls of the match, the RpO jumped quickly and West won with balls to spare: A well-managed chase, featuring a chunk of the game where there was a significant risk of failure.

You can see clearly here how dynamically managing the chase depending on the situation is far more relevant than average scores. 

To compare, let’s see a game that was lost.

lossvsUddy2018.JPG

Chasing a slightly below par score, West took the Win% get to its highest point at 61% after 10 overs. There was a 100+ partnership, but the pair left the Win% the same as when they got together. Remember, against Ayr a much smaller run partnership had added over 30% and made the final run-in much easier.

From here, there was a collapse with three wickets falling in a short time and the Win% dropping, as expected. At 34% with only 100 balls left, there was precious little time to consolidate, and wickets tumbled to defeat.

While the collapse of nine wickets for 67 runs is an obvious failing of the middle order, it could be argued the big stand made the collapse more likely because there was less margin for error. In this way the stand of 80 in the Ayr match put West in a stronger position than the stand of 112 in the Uddingston match.

This comparison does bring up an important question: How late can you leave a push for victory? Against Ayr, there were more wickets early on, and the Win% dropped much further. However, an attacking recovery made the difference. Against Uddingston, a push did not come despite a bigger stand. Of course, the batsmen were not to know a collapse was going to happen in the latter case. Yet, with hindsight, would a higher Win% at 30 overs have given the team the same increased sense of security even during a flurry of wickets? We can only guess based on limited evidence, but it certainly seems logical to assume an earlier push is more effective.

The leads into the psychology of a chase. Of course, we can’t measure how either anxiety or over-confidence influences a chance of victory, However, we can get close by using Win% as a measure. In the Uddingston example, it’s possible to imagine a scenario where the batsmen building a big stand were so comfortable with “ticking over” around 50% they did not account for the potential of a collapse. You can also imagine a sudden drop in Win% can steel a pair to counter-attack as they are aware they need to improve the rate.

One interesting game from this lens is the loss to Ayr.

West were at 98% chance of victory at 145-2 chasing 181. Then four top order wickets fell for one run, and another six runs later. Five wickets in 17 balls is an extraordinary loss of wickets. Even from this point, the Win% was high with just 2.38 an over needed, but with seven wickets down, the tail did not wag.

Could the mindset of losing quick wickets been to worry about another collapse and therefore cause it?

The only clue is in how the wickets fell.

Three catches behind the wicket from three chances suggests good bowling and fielding was at the root of it.  There was also 44% of balls beating the bat (including the catches) during these four overs, highlighting that Ayr certainly had more luck regardless of whether this was via bowling skill or batting nerves. Certainly, only one attacking shot (a pull) was played in this phase, suggesting there were not many terrible balls to attack. However, we can’t be sure as no batsman had much time to define a tactical approach.

If it was great bowling, there is little one can do. However, if it was batting nerves, one suggestion is to counter-attack more quickly after a couple of wickets. This carries more risk, but also gives a psychological boost when it works(as it has for West is 2018).

All we can do in analysis is highlight these points and ask batsmen to be mindful in the moment of making decisions that they feel will give the best chance of success.

The truth about false shots in the chase

Picking up on playing and missing, this element adds to the feeling of winning or losing a game.

A game where the ball is beating the bat regularly feels like you are losing. However, looking at the stats we can see this is not true:

chasingfalseshots.JPG

You can see the games lost in blue are also the games with the fewest edges or ball beating the bat. The games won – in green - saw more balls beating the bat. There is no correlation in run chases between result and how much you play and miss (or edge) the ball.

This shows players they should have nothing to fear from the ball beating the bat, as long as wickets do not fall.

Overall, we can see chasing was a strength of West in 2018, with some notable exceptions. West have shown chases can be managed as a team, even under pressure. That said, the lessons from the collapses are to develop a more assertive, flexible tactical approach that gives a robust ability to manage any situation, no matter how dire.

The next part will take a more general look at the batting, including how West played spin, dismissal types and shot averages.

Posted
AuthorDavid Hinchliffe