When everything is going right for you cricket seems the easiest game in the world. If you think back to your best game, did it feel easy or hard work?
I bet that it was the easiest thing you ever did. Sometimes you see the ball early, your feet seem to know where to go and you feel in total command.
For most of us who have had that feeling, it's pretty elusive and we don't know how to keep it when we get it.
Cricket coach and Alexander Technique teacher Roy Palmer feels that there is no mystery to this feeling of being in "the zone" and you can learn how to get yourself there almost at will.
As a sportsman and trainer of sports performers himself he has adapted the Alexander Technique to cricketers:
"I have run sessions for Northamptonshire and Warwickshire cricket clubs but often my techniques will conflict with existing training methods that I believe are not the best way to train as they restrict skill development and can cause injury. So basically it means I am not always welcome by the coaches who use traditional training methods."
It's revolutionary talk backed up by sound scientific principle. That's why when Roy asked me to review his book I jumped at the chance to find out more.
The Alexander Technique and Cricket
Roy explains further:
"The Alexander Technique is a method to enable you to first recognise habitual behaviour and then by using its practical techniques allow you to change them. This can help with conditions such as bad posture, neck and back pain where poor 'muscle habits' are to blame but it is also a very useful skill for sports people to learn, especially cricket where split-second decisions can make the difference."
"I have taught a number of bowlers whose coach believes are not generating the pace they are capable of. In all of these cases it was due to the bowler trying too hard resulting in tension in the neck and shoulders building as they run in thus restricting their movement and reducing the speed of their arms. If they have tried to relax they lose speed. Using The Alexander Technique I can show them how to increase their speed without the unnecessary tension that they have always thought was needed."
"For batsmen the technique is a great way to 'stay in the moment' and maintain control when you've played and missed the previous delivery. When we are in moment or The Zone we appear to have more time to think about our play and in a game like cricket that is worth quite a bit!"
It's this idea that Roy continues in his book "Zone Mind, Zone Body". He carefully explains the principles behind that feeling of relaxed control we get when we are in the flow of playing well.
After this Roy takes you through some simple exercises and philosophies that can help you teach yourself to get into the moment, relax from unnecessary tension and improve your cricket.
I was initially sceptical at the simplicity of some of the books suggestions. There are no hard training workouts or principles of power and speed to adhere to. The book is about relearning the basics of movement and as a result is more about simple tasks that help your central nervous system become more aware.
To use a language analogy, you might be getting by with a couple of hundred words in a foreign language, but to become fluent you have to learn so much more.
Relaxed confidence at the crease
Here is an example from Roy:
"Geoff Boycott is keen on saying that you should play every ball on its merits and current game plan. If you are 'in the moment' this is easier to do as you can prevent the rush of blood of going for the big one when you only need singles with not to many wickets in hand!"
"A quick and easy way to get into the moment is to firstly be aware of the ground under your feet and check you are not holding tension in your jaw, neck, shoulders, back or legs, This is easily done if you just let the ground take your weight but then be aware that the floor is pushing back up to give you a light sensation making it easier to move. This can work for both fielders and batsmen poised waiting for action. You can also focus on the movement of your ribs as you breathe but try not to control it. This helps to check you are not holding your breathe due to tension."
Sounds to simple to work right? Well, if my experience in the nets is anything to go by then the theory is backed up by practical application. I can safely say that I have been batting and keeping with more confidence and skill since I read Roy's book and employed the techniques.
Overall, I do recommend this book very strongly as a great way to link the body and mind in your cricket training. Yes, you will need an open mind to make it work but from my experience I can only say good things so far.
Don't wait for the loss of form or injury to come, get "Zone Mind, Zone Body" and do less more effectively.