What do elite batters do? Why not ask their coaches!

Fascinating article from Connor, Renshaw & Farrow on batting expertise from the perspective of elite coaches.

Rather than an analysis of the technical and physical actions, the paper looks at the mental process of batting, following the scheme I first encountered from Greg Chappell, of shifting focus from the broad before facing each delivery, to fierce as the bowler approaches, before relaxing again between deliveries.

In this paper, Connor, Renshaw & Farrow highlight the crucial contribution of what is described as “The Plus”, what goes on between deliveries, where the elite batter is able to reflect on what has just happened, recalibrate and revise expectations and intentions and then relax, before switching back to the intense focus needed to face the next ball.

So it’s not enough to be technically highly competent, tactically aware, physically fit, and to maintain that rolling focus for the duration of a long innings. Even in the “down time” between deliveries, the elite batter will be calculating the next challenge, the next advantage.

No wonder I sometimes struggle to hit the ball off the square…

Relevance to grassroots & development coaching?

I have commented previously on how I believe that insight into “performance” coaching, such as the requirements for a successful talent pathway and the culture of the professional game, can enhance and support the behaviour of grassroots coaches working with the under 9s — not because we should aspire to create, Frankenstein-like, elite players in our Club and school settings, but so we can begin to instil into our charges at least some of the behaviours that they might need as they progress in the game.

“The Plus” demonstrating the ball-by-ball cycle whereby expert batters engage in a reflective process, ‘switch off’ from task relevant thoughts, and ‘switch on’ again.
© 2020 Connor et al.
Creative Commons License: Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

How might we start to coach The Plus?

How about some positive “interference” during batting practice, or nets.

Not by focussing on technical changes, but perhaps by getting into the batters ear about thinking.

  • where was that last ball?
    • (you were looking, weren’t you?)
  • was it what you expected?
  • if you get another one like that, how can you score?

NOT for a batters entire hit. And NOT all after the same ball. But something to drip feed into practice, until it starts to become second nature for the batter to switch off between balls, reflect & revise, and switch on again.

Too much? Will it work for every player?

I do have a few caveats about the research, but I don’t think any of them invalidate the findings.

  • Is this really the best way, or just the way these elite coaches work with elite players?
    • There is no comparison of outcomes — the players and coaches are elite because they are elite.
    • Absence of “control” group — what of the “clear your mind” school of batting, or seeking sub-conscious “flow”, for example?
    • Consistency of application?
      • When outcomes are sub-optimal, do the players (and coaches) double-down or look for alternatives?
  • Pre-selected “elite”
    • Does a batter need to respond to this type of coaching to be selected to join the elite group?
  • Self-selecting elite coaches — all batters
    • “This is how we do it/how I did it” — is what you do really working? Have you tried an alternative approach?
    • Perspective of elite coaches who were bowlers, not batters?
      • on the basis that bowlers look for weaknesses (to exploit), rather than reinforcing strengths.
    • Perspective of expert coaches from other sports?
      • Might an athlete-centred, performance focus deliver even better outcomes?

Connor JD, Renshaw I, Farrow D (2020) Defining cricket batting expertise from the perspective of elite coaches. PLoS ONE 15(6): e0234802.


Published by Andrew Beaven

Cricket coach, fascinated by the possibilities offered by the game. More formally - ECB level 2 cricket coach; ECB National Programmes (All Stars & Dynamos Cricket) Activator Tutor; Chance to Shine & Team Up (cricket) deliverer; ECB ACO umpire.

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