Whatever sport you are involved in coaches will tell you the importance of purposeful practice; to make use of every session with your players; to challenge them in different ways; to make it specific to them. How many times though, have you seen a session that is bereft of all these things? These sessions don’t have a specific focus, become unstructured and promote the adoption of undesirable habits – essentially a coach’s nightmare! Certainly in my case the answer would be “plenty”.
This was very much in the back of my mind when sat with a coffee, fifteen minutes before a batting session with a promising schoolboy I’d seen a lot of in recent weeks (for the purposes of this post our schoolboy can be referred to as Bill). Bill is 17, and undoubtedly possesses considerable ability as a middle/top order batsman. My dilemma – finding a way to get through to Bill to bat responsibly and with purpose; to value his wicket and to make much better decisions regarding his shot selection.
When asking myself what Bill was interested in outside of cricket it hit me – Fox TV and Kiefer Sutherland’s 24 series! Being a 24 enthusiast myself, Bill and I frequently raved about the arrival of Season 9 (aired in early 2014). For those of you that aren’t regular 24 viewers, Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) works for the LA branch of the Counter Terrorist Unit – saving the United States, and indeed half the world on many occasions from behind enemy lines. This is what struck me: behind enemy lines. Perhaps if Bill related his batting to being like Bauer in enemy territory – a term you may recognise as ‘Moscow Rules’ – he might guard his wicket more responsibly.
Developed during the Cold War, due to Russia’s uncompromising reputation as a place for operatives of espionage, some of the ‘Moscow Rules’ are stated below:
– Assume nothing
– Everyone is potentially under opposition control
– Keep your options open
– Build in opportunity, but use it sparingly
– Vary your pattern and stay within your cover
– Any operation can be aborted. If it feels wrong, it is wrong
Can you relate any of these to batting? Hopefully you can see a few links:
– Assume Nothing: every time you step to the crease it is different. Arguably form is a myth – instead it is a word to describe how well you execute your basics. Just because you have scored an abundance of runs in recent times, you can’t assume you’re in ‘good form’.
– Build in opportunity but use it sparingly: you can relate this to playing yourself in, and developing scoring options for yourself. If there’s an opportunity to hit over mid-off against the spinner for example, take it if appropriate. Consideration must be given with regards to when this happens in the context of the game however.
– Any operation can be aborted. If it feels wrong, it is wrong: this could apply to pre-meditated shots (the sweep or coming down the track for example). If you don’t get the ball, or if the ball isn’t appropriate to carry on with the desired shot, you can re-adjust.
Hopefully you see where I’m going with this. These were the kind of things that were explained to Bill prior to his batting session, with the simple objective – stay alive for duration of the hour long session. Bill was assigned a big health bar courtesy of the whiteboard, and the session would finish as soon as his health bar reached bottom – in essence until he ‘died’ – leaving him with the realisation that the session could be over within a matter of minutes if he wasn’t switched on. Measures of health were prescribed as follows:
– Up to ¼ of health LOST per play & miss (depending on appropriate selection of shot)
– ½ health LOST if dismissed
– ¼ health GAINED per 3 balls consecutively scored off
– ¼ health GAINED per boundary
What followed was a stark contrast to Bill’s current approach to batting. On an outdoor grass wicket that had more than a tinge of green about it, Bill dug in and fought hard against the nemesis of many a batsman – Mr Sidearm! Though dismissed courtesy of 2nd slip at one stage, Bill left outside off stump well, chose his scoring balls carefully and took calculated risks to pick up the odd rare boundary.
In a lot of ways, the session just served to emphasise how focused a practice session can be, if it engages the player and offers a sufficient amount of challenge. Yes – it might require you to know a little about the player’s interests and activities outside of the environment you see them in, but surely part of good coaching encompasses that anyway, wouldn’t you agree?
Next time you have a one-to-one session (in any sport), just think for a second about how you can be a little ‘outside the box’ with your content. Jack Bauer’s ‘Moscow Rules’ in will certainly be being deposited in the coaching bank for the future!