Over the last 4 years since retiring from professional cricket I’ve spend the majority of my time coaching young fast bowlers, both girls and boys. To be fair the majority have been county or even international standard but I’ve found it really interesting on how each individual learns a new skill irrespective of their level. As we all know my passion is teaching bowlers to bowl fast and refining their technique that allows them to fulfil their physical potential. I’ll be honest I was never a ‘technique’ loving player and thought it was less important than physical preparedness. My ex coaches would vouch for that! Gents I’m really sorry, you were right, you know who you are!! However the more I’ve researched, learned and experienced over the last 4 years has taught me that at the very least Technical coaching needs the same amount of focus and care and attention as strength and conditioning training.
‘There’s no point being physically strong and powerful if your action leaks energy everywhere and the effort isn’t directed at the target. We have too many bowlers, some playing international cricket who now look like TARZAN but bowl like JANE’
‘Likewise there’s no point having the most clinical and ‘clean’ action if you can’t generate enough force to bowl the ball above medium pace. The batter doesn’t care less your action looks like BRETT LEE, he just know your bowling the ball at a nice pace to smack for 6!!’
So that’s why my coaching methods are now more HOLLISTIC. I see myself as a very unique performance bowling coach. My methods synergistically combine technical work with physical work. I would like to think it’s unique but with time coaches will realise you need an understanding on both to truly make a difference to your bowlers.
Ok, what I’ve experienced over the last year regarding technical work, in particular teaching the no 1 technical drill in the world ‘THE 4-TENT PEGS’ is that some ‘get it’ whilst other struggle.
There are 4 stages of learning and skill acquisition and it’s been clear to me that it takes every individual different amount of repetitions to move from one to the other.
Even if a bowler has been playing for a long time I would still regard the first ever session they do with the TENT PEG DRILL [Kinetic sequence drill] the 1st one. This is obviously dependant on their current actions. If their current action ‘works’ both effectively and safely I wouldn’t introduce them to the full drill, just an abbreviated one. Javelin throwers would always do technical drills in their session so why would a bowler just bowl in the nets to improve? There’s always something that can be improved. There are always drills to be done without bowling a single ball. Open your minds and understand, a bowler doesn’t need to be bowling for 40mins at a batter to get better. Yep they will do at some stage, that’s learning the ART OF BOWLING and is crucial but don’t be lazy coaches and just get them bowling straight away. In a 90mins session with me, a bowler would bowl a cricket ball for 20mins max at the end. Before that they have various drills to do, working on rotational power, delivery stride, the drop step and block, hip-shoulder separation, heel contact, back foot contact drills, upper body power, arm speed work, weighted ball work and other key drills. ‘Do as you’ve always done, get as you’ve always gotten’. Bowlers have to change something from last season, whether it’s physical or technical to improve. That’s how the body works!
One important point to remember is that nobody is perfect. However the key message for me is that everybody should strive to improve. Let’s encourage our youngsters to always strive to be better. They don’t have to be happy with being average, there are ways to improve.
What I have seen with the drilling of the kinetic chain [4-tent pegs] is that;
A; The beginner bowler attempts to do the drill and simply just goes through the motion. They can’t get the sequence together but still believe they are doing it right. They are both unaware they are making a mistake and are unable to perform the drill properly.
B; After a few sessions and after a few additional practices away from the session, the bowler learns the whole sequence but cannot consistently repeat it. They know what they have to do but can’t do it for a number of repetitions. This I feel is an important stage. They understand it but can’t repeat it. This is where the bowler needs to realise that they have to do the drills in their own time away from the structured sessions. Otherwise the new skill will never be automatic and STAGE 4 is just a distant dream! Here I prescribe them my 200 WORKOUT.
Every day for the next 3 weeks they need to;
50 bodyweight squats
50 press ups
50 Tent peg drills
I’ve seen some amazing results with this program.
C; Having reiterated the point to the bowlers that they must keep doing the drills away from the sessions they begin to consistently repeat the technical sequence. However at this stage they have to remind themselves and cannot subconsciously perform the drill. They have to tell themselves…..Tent peg 1, TP 2, TP 3, TP 4!! This is the most important stage of the bowler learning the tent peg drill. A lot of players get stuck in this phase because they have to ‘think’. They have to mentally control the movement. This stage requires patience from both the coach and the bowler. The easy thing to do here is dismiss the drill as being pointless and ineffective and move back to just bowling in the nets. The key point to remember here is that, ‘you’re/they’re not far away’. Keep believing in the process and the results will come. It does work, trust me.
D, The final stage of skill acquisition is stage 4. Here, as coaches we will be able to observe a bowler whose mastered the skill! When they go through the kinetic chain sequence they can do it without thinking. This is when as coaches you know you’ve made a technical change and a difference to their game. You have had an impact on that young bowler’s career. At the end of the day that’s why we coach. It’s to have an impact and make an impression on their career. They trust us to help them.
Like I said earlier it’s really important that the bowler understands the need for constant drilling. They need to re-visit the 4-TENT PEG DRILLS on a weekly basis. The volume will obviously be less but it’s a constant reminder to the brain of a perfect practice. From experience, as a coach and as a player, coaches need to be aware that between stage 3 and 4 the bowler will get very frustrated. Here is the stage where the bowler begins to doubt and blame external factors outside of their control. They start thinking too much. Evidence suggests once a player reaches the SKILLED-UNCONSCIOUS stage, thinking actually interferes with skill execution. External factors interfere with their thinking. When they are bowling well, thinking positively and in ‘rhythm’ they bowl without any conscious control. ‘They just run up and bowl’. However, things can change very quickly in cricket. Due to various circumstances like ‘chocking’ under pressure, bowling a poor ‘death’ over, having a poor game in general, a loss of form and rhythm or due to injury the bowlers mind-set changes very quickly. They start doubting themselves and begin over-thinking their bowling action. On very rare occasions and I’ve witnessed it live, the bowler totally loses it. They have what is commonly known as the ‘yips’. External factors, like pressure or bowling at a certain batter starts to get them thinking too much and the results are so sad to see. After this happens the bowler would then unfortunately return to stage 1 or 2 and the long process begins again.
There is considerable evidence showing that actually ‘thinking too much’ when you bowl is avoidable by initially coaching the bowlers in a specific way so they understand what they are doing in a ‘non-technical’ way. So instead of coaching the young bowler to ‘use his front arm more because it will give you direction and power’ start using techniques that use analogies and descriptive examples. For example I tell my bowler to ‘imagine knocking the batters off bail off with his/her elbow and catching it with your hand in the air!’ So it’s a ‘bend and send’ motion of the arm. They can then picture what they need to do without having to over think the technical reasoning for it. This type of analogy allows ‘many bits of information about a skill to be presented to the learner in one manageable chunk’ [Farrow, et.al]
I fully appreciate technically drilling a bowling action is both tedious and a long winded process. Both for the player and the coach. Often the coach feels he’s taking the easy option by just standing back and letting the player do his ‘walk through’s’ and hopefully the 4-TP. This however is not the case, it’s actually benefitting them more than we appreciate and just letting them LEARN BY DOING is the best thing we could do. Technical reinforcement work has to be done. As coaches we need to sit back, observe and only guide them when the sequence isn’t correct. However there is a need to understand how the individual processes the information and learns. By making the whole sequence more manageable to understand and more ‘real world’ the bowler will learn quicker.
The key points I’m trying to make is firstly the 4-tent peg or as I call it ‘the kinetic chain sequence’ drill is a must for any fast bowler. Secondly it takes repetition and time to see the benefit, thirdly there are key characteristics you will observe during the learning of the drill that represent the key stages of learning. As coaches we need to be aware of these. Finally I truly believe that every bowler should be coached in a holistic manner. Both technical work and Physical work are equally as important. If one is sacrificed for the other the bowler will truly never fulfil their genetic potential.
Once again, thanks for reading and I hope all my articles are making a difference to your way of thinking regarding coaching young fast bowlers.