Pace coach Steffan Jones recently said net bowling “is of no benefit to the pace bowler”.
While I broadly agree, I also think it’s a problem that is not easy to solve. Mainly because bowlers want to bowl in nets. Most bowlers love to bowl. They have relatively few chances, so when they get a session they tend to bowl as long as possible.
As a coach you can monitor this, but only in your sessions. What if the bowler you coach works with others? What if they go to nets with their mates and just bowl for hours because they are having fun? This happens all the time.
It’s the slightly older version of running a session with six year olds with clever designed warm up, session goals and cool down only to see them run back onto the outfield for two more hours after you finish.
Steff’s solution is great: heavy and light bowling days, combined with properly organised nets where bowlers bowl in spells that reflect game time. I encourage all coaches to build sessions like this. I’d love to see it. I also know that it is never going to happen outside my sessions. Certainly not at club or school level.
I think the best we can do as coaches is to build environments where players can work with these solutions, try them out and see how they work. We can structure sessions effectively to show players a useful path.
I think we can build a culture in the teams we coach of care for the fast bowler. We can help the team understand their own bowlers needs, and work to make sure they are met as well as possible.
But we must also remember that bowlers gonna bowl when the coaching shackles are off: Especially if they are kids, or adults with no intention of playing professionally. Bowling is fun, a way of letting off steam and a way to challenge themselves. They ask themselves, why would they bowl less or in such a restrictive way?
I’m not knocking Steff, he’s doing great work in a specific environment where he has more control and can do more like this. But I do wonder even in the most controlled situations, do all players stick totally to the plan?
Players certainly don’t stick to any plan I try for long. My conclusion after years of trying is to unclench. By all means, try it, but don’t panic if it turns out to be rejected by the players. It may work brilliantly, it may not. Only the players can decide what works for them because they are the only consistent presence in their game development.
I know some coaches will argue we know best so players should listen. I used to argue that too. Personally, I can’t hold that worldview any longer. Not with any integrity. For me it came for a place of ego and a need to control things I can’t control. For me it came from an impossible idea; that one coach can have total influence over a group of players. For me, I have realised that is impossible. For me it also came from a deep fear: If the coach can’t instruct any more, what is the job of the coach at all? Are we all just snake-oil salesmen?
Of course not.
Knowledge is still power, but I think it’s less useful for coaches than it was before because knowledge is so easy to obtain these days.
Real coaching helps players get the best from themselves not through pouring knowledge into cricket player jugs. It comes from building great relationships, mindsets, cultures and environments where players feel comfortable to build, fail and build again. That’s way more complex and difficult to grab than telling players what to do based on the latest research.
But from my viewpoint, it’s the only thing that gives you a chance to be a great coach.
And this was supposed to be an article about session design for bowlers. Sometimes you need to look deeper.