A response to “Coaching: a fabulous crisis” – part 2, what is a batting coach?

In part 1 of this response to Rick Walton’s post “Coaching: a fabulous crisis”, I tried to outline my own approach to coaching batters.

In this section, I want to investigate some of the knowledge and characteristics that a modern batting coach might need.

What is a batting coach?

The batting coach needs to be someone who knows more than just the core principles of batting, and more than just one “perfect” model. The coach will do well to observe adherence to and/or divergence from the principles, but will have to take into consideration outcomes and consequences, and individual preferences and peculiarities.

I have found the ECB’s core principles to be very useful as a short-hand way of communicating with players and other coaches – not much about hands and feet, but a lot about visible outcomes.  It is normally pretty evident (live, or in video analysis) if the head is not optimally positioned, or if the full face of the bat is not being presented.

I don’t know how helpful the core principles by themselves would be to a less experienced coach without the technical knowledge to fall back on, however. Can you identify why the batter is not presenting the full face of the bat to the ball?  And can you help the batter to develop a technique that does work?

And that is the second important requirement of the modern batting coach – to devise appropriate interventions to help the batter develop more appropriate responses (and to know when to leave well alone!).

In some cases, “do it like this” (even “do it like player Y”) just might be enough, but more often it will require challenging the technique with constraint-led practice e.g. use a half-bat (or a stump – it worked for Sir Don Bradman!) to compel the batter to present the full face of the bat to the ball, or adopting Sachin Tendulkar’s “bounce-ball” practice, or allowing scoring shots only into specified zones.

What is batting coaching?  What does a batting coach actually do?

I have seen and tried several approaches to how to coach batting, from the traditional technical modelling (right back to the IDEIR group instruction from the 1950s), all the way to an almost pure constraints-led approach (CLA) where the coach sets a challenge and leaves the players to find a solution.

Personally, I am coming around to CLA, for beginners and for players with considerable batting experience.

For beginners, I love the “jail-break cricket” games (also known as “Pavilion cricket” – get out, and you go back to the pavilion). Yes, you will probably need to model a successful solution a few times, but I try to allow the players to tell me why a particular technique might work, rather than keep on with the instructions.  And then let them get on with playing.  The “intervention” is almost entirely in the design of the game and any constraints that are introduced (e.g. “hit the ball back beyond the bowler from a full pitched delivery”).

For established players, the same approach seems to work, either as middle practice or in the nets with Sidearm or bowling machine.  I have seen some very successful outcomes with variations on Gary Palmer’s 4-angles approach (well worth seeking out, if you can – via PitchVision or, probably even better, if you can get to see Gary in coaching action) – essentially it works on the “challenge” principle, putting a stroke under immediate and repeated pressure.

The caveat to any intervention has to be that any technical changes must not compromise the ability to score runs (see part 1 – the batsman as run maker).  So if I do suggest a change of stance to allow a batter to play more freely towards mid-on, for example, I’ll test and test again to make sure that the change doesn’t cause a new weakness outside off stump, before I encourage the batsman to try out her new technique in a game.

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Andrew Beaven

Cricket coach, fascinated by the possibilities offered by the game. More formally - ECB CA cricket coach working at the MCC Academy, the Essex Indoor Cricket Centre, and with the junior sections at Oakfield Parkonians CC & Regent's Park CC; All Stars Cricket Activator; ECB ACO umpire.

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