What do coaches do?
Once a player has the basics of a batting or bowling technique, the role of the coach tends to revert to the diagnosis and remediation of ‘faults’.
‘You don’t want to do it like that, you want to do it like this…’
Sometimes, perhaps it would be better if we could just leave it alone!
A cautionary tale
One summer, I coached a lad of 6 or 7. Strictly, he was too young to join the group, but his older brothers came to practice every week, and he was wonderfully keen. But he was a lot smaller than the other boys, and the only way he could compete was by throwing the ball, rather than bowling it.
Over time, we got him to keep his elbow straight, but he still used a round-arm, slinging action, almost like Lasith Malinga. He was distinctly quick for his age (quick for boys 2-3 years older), and was developing a fair degree of control.
At the end of the summer, we stopped practicing outdoors, and I didn’t see him again until we started ‘pre-season’ indoor practice, some 4 months later.
By which time, his two brothers had taught him to bowl with a facsimile of their own bowling actions — high arm, very upright at the crease with a relatively short delivery stride, perhaps a hint of in-swing.
Not quite textbook, but perfectly acceptable.
He is now a decent medium pacer, and will probably develop as a very competent batting all-rounder.
But the budding ‘Malinga’, with pace and the very deceptive delivery angle, was lost.
Maybe he would never have got any better; maybe overzealous coaches would have intervened to change his action as he moved into representative squads.
Or, just maybe, he might have become that rarest of commodities, a fast bowler with an action so idiosyncratic that batters sometimes don’t know where the ball is coming from.
We’ll never know.
Next time, just leave it alone, please!
A lesson learned
I am hoping to play some cricket this summer, after missing last season completely and playing only 10 games since I started coaching (almost) full-time in 2014.
I’m taking my ‘comeback’ quite seriously – I have been bowling in the nets 2 or 3 times a week, working around (or even, sometimes, in) coaching session I am leading.
And I have discovered that I have lost my off-break — I can throw an offie, or bowl one from ‘base’ (with a soft ball), but try as I might my best attempts to bowl an off-break see the ball curve from leg, maybe dip in flight a little, and continue on ‘with the arm’ towards the slips after pitching.
I have spoken to other coaches, who have variously diagnosed
- over rotation of the shoulders with an exaggerated follow through down and across the body (I used to bowl medium pace out-swingers, so this sounds like a pretty accurate description of my bowling action)
- suggested ‘clipping’ the follow through to reduce the almost round-arm swing.
- slow follow through of trailing leg and hip (no ‘snap’ from the hips – which makes sense, if the other coach saw over-rotation of the shoulders – the bowling arm has to get ‘through’ the action, somehow, and if the hips don’t turn then the shoulders must compensate)
- suggested bringing the hips through quicker, to ‘pull’ the shoulders round, rather than leading with the right shoulder.
My own observation
- overlong delivery stride, not pivoting on a fixed front foot
- shorten delivery stride, bowl up & around braced front leg, pivot on the forefoot.
So I have several things to work on before my season starts at the end of May.
But let’s go back to the ‘fault’ — my deliveries curve from leg, maybe dip a little before pitching, then continue on ‘with the arm’ towards the slips.
It’s a ball I would have loved to have in my armoury back in the days when I was running in too far and bemoaning the state of the ball – ‘can’t swing this’; ‘no-one looks after the ball’; ‘these balls only swing for 10 overs, tops, then you might as well give up’.
I think I shall be keeping my ‘arm ball’.
Maybe looking to develop a ‘straight on’ variation, but not trying too hard to resurrect the lost off-break.
So rather than going in for remediation, I shall be leaving well alone!
All too often, as coaches, we feel the need to be seen to be doing something. To recommend, to intervene, to “do” coaching.
I coach 1-to-1s with a very able adult batsman. In truth, he is probably more concerned with “technique” than I am. My role tends to be ‘quizmaster’, posing challenges, confirming hunches, perhaps prompting when he can’t account for a mis-hit. I could tell him to change his stance, or his grip, or pick-up, but we have gone over all that; he has to find out what works for him, not what the textbook, or my prejudices, say is ‘right’.
More often, I feed the bowling machine, applaud the good shots, and try to let him work it out for himself.
It would be so much better if, as coaches, we could just leave it alone!