Game awareness – how small is small enough in cricket SSGs?

I had a couple of interesting conversations with parents over the weekend.

One, with the mother of a young player who really wasn’t seeing the connection between the skills we practice and the wider game of cricket.

Another, with a dad from another group, who commented on how the players were starting to show good game sense. We play a lot of games with the latter group — they have been the “guinea pigs” for the “play-review-play-review…” sessions, in fact.

Could it be that what we are assuming too much of  young players who don’t actually know that much about the game, or their role in it?  Very few play in the park; I doubt any of them ever play any street cricket, or backyard.

The only time they play cricket is during our coaching sessions.

Do we need to include (even) more gameplay in the “curriculum”?

And if we do, what is the smallest small-sided game that we could play to introduce more “game awareness”?

The conversation with the mum was mostly around “focus” and engagement, and why some of the players seem to switch off their brains.

She told me that her son was the same in football practice — fine in a drill that was simple and well defined, but lost (and with a tendency to drift off for a chat) whenever they played a game. Quite possibly because he didn’t see the link between dribbling around cones & careful side-foot passes and a game where other players ran off with the ball.

Aside — I understand that the FA are advocating a radical move away from dribbling around cones and “matches” for junior football, in favour of small-sided games (SSGs) — as small as 1v1 or 2v2 — although I don’t know how widely this change has been implemented.

With our u9 “softball” squad, we play pairs games with teams of 4-6; if numbers are low, we play batter vs. 5-7 fielders, with each batter getting to face 20-25 balls (shared out in 4 ball “overs” amongst the fielders).  This seems to work well — we get a competitive environment, with all players engaged, and (as observed by the father, mentioned previously) we do seem to be seeing enhanced game awareness.

We can always work on technique, if the appropriate skills don’t develop through playing the games.  But the TGfU approach — starting by developing tactical awareness (knowing how to play) via making appropriate decisions (knowing how to win) to skill execution (being able to deploy the appropriate skill) — seems to be working.

But for the younger players, even being one fielder amongst 4 or 5 seems to try their patience too far.

So what SSG format could we try?

With a couple of younger groups at the weekend, we actually set them in pairs, simply throwing the ball for the other to hit.  But this was more of a collaborative practice than SSG.  They had lots of hits, but probably learnt little about how to actually play cricket.

Is 1v1 or 2v2 is just too small for cricket?  Too abstract?

How about 1v3 – batter v bowler+2 fielders?

Or 3v3, perhaps with “auto ‘keeper”?

Or even looking at some “backyard” formats?

Published by

Andrew Beaven

Cricket coach, fascinated by the possibilities offered by the game. More formally - ECB level 2 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; Chance to Shine; ECB ACO umpire.

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