Keeping It Simple: Developing World Class Basics

It’s been a typically busy few weeks here at Millfield School, even more so with students entering their favourite time of the year – the dreaded exam season! Whether it’s to escape the books or to take advantage of the rising temperatures, there’s been some excellent individual and team sessions had by all; one in particular I felt I had to share with you:

Before going into the session itself, let me provide a little context – the young man with whom I had the pleasure of working with is an under 17 international cricketer, with an extremely bright future in the game. Having worked with him at various points since September through to now, the challenge for me (very much learning my trade in the coaching environment), has been being able to consistently add value to his highly proficient game. Last week however was without doubt our most productive session to date, and left me wondering what had made it so?

So, the session. Amazingly it wasn’t anything extraordinary or fancy; on the contrary it was perhaps the simplest of the year so far, that’s how it felt at least! Tom pretty much directed the session from the start, firstly discussing a recent problem he was encountering regarding the execution of his T20 game plans, to subsequently asking me to observe various aspects of his stroke play. With ‘Merlyn’ the spin machine primed and ready to go, Tom got down to work, displaying an impressive array of shots with varying success. Safe in the knowledge that I didn’t have to try and spot anything wrong, purely observe what was going on in front of me, the problem that was apparent in Tom’s game was simple: a cricketing lesson that’s ingrained in you from a young age – get yourself in and ‘set’ before expanding your game. It goes without saying that due to the intensity and pace that Twenty20 cricket is played at, the time you have to do this is limited. As an opening batter in the format though, 120 balls is still a lot longer than one might think. So why not give yourself the best possible chance of success, by assessing the conditions and adapting your game to various points of the innings? This proved to be a fruitful discussion between the two of us, during which Tom offered one fantastically insightful comment:

“I was told that the best players, rather than over thinking what shot they’re going to play, just concentrate on getting themselves in the right position either down the wicket or in the crease. From there they simply trust themselves to play the appropriate shot.”

Sounds pretty simple doesn’t it? Almost too simple! Thinking about it though, not only is it a simple mindset to adopt, but getting into the ‘right position’ relies hugely on fundamental technical principles (weight transferral, balance, head position etc) – essentially the very basics that we base our game around. Clive Woodward and Sir Ian McGeechan were two coaches that were known at the highest level for their constant emphasis on basics. One quote from McGeechan (referring to The All Blacks) perfectly encapsulates the importance of them in saying:

“They all have world-class basics. Under pressure they do not do anything spectacular but their execution of pass, tackle, run and kick is better than anyone.”

Looking back down the years, perhaps the coaches that used to harp on and on about keeping things simple (sometimes perceived as the boring ones!) actually did know what they were talking about after all! Why are they so important? As McGeechan says, they enable a greater chance of consistent, and successful execution under conditions of pressure. Furthermore, they are the things you go back to when you are getting out a certain way, or hitting the same forehand into the net, or keep dragging the ball off the tee. Though I’ve given him a few weeks off from blog mentions, I have to mention our Director of Cricket Mark Garaway again at this point; the man proposes some thought provoking ideas! He proposed that the notion form does not exist; form – good or bad – is purely a fictitious psychological myth. Instead he suggested that the proficiency of one’s basics determine the likelihood of success that the performer is likely to experience. An interesting point, and one after a little reflection you might end up agreeing with as I have!

So, next time one of your players is going through a supposed ‘bad run of form’, ask them (and yourself as coach) – how good are their basics? If they are not world class, then there’s a good chance that is why they aren’t succeeding as much as they would like.

Before I sign off, one reflection regarding basics from a coaching perspective: earlier I alluded to finding the session with Tom easier due to not looking for anything wrong in particular. Looking back, doesn’t that seem a complicated way of approaching a session – trying to look for something which may not be there? Instead, purely by observing what was going on in front of me some useful observations were noted and subsequently discussed. Perhaps I should thank Tom for unintentionally developing my mindset as a coach!

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