I have been a coach since 1994 and have taught kids at almost every age and skill level. Long ago I learned that to be a success you need to do certain things. You could be standing in front of 40 8 year olds or trying to get the most out of an elite group of under 16 Academy players. These are the immutable laws of coaching kids' cricket:
The coach has to protect his or her charges. The boring but important stuff is critical. Know some basic first aid. Have access to a phone for emergencies. Insist players wear helmets when batting and keeping. Always check your coaching area and drills for potential hazard.
Safety also extends to knowing how much work your players can do. Young fast bowlers are usually very keen to bowl and can go past the point of safety. When fatigue rises, technique drops. This increases the chance of injury.
The overwhelmingly biggest reason kids play cricket is to have fun. This is especially true at younger age groups. However, even at the most serious level if a child is not enjoying their game they are more likely to drop out and do something else. They may be lost to cricket or even to sport.
For this reason every good coach ensures that fun is the second priority after safety. That means doing more than endless skill improvement drills and mindless nets. You could do something as simple as add a competitive element to drill or go as far as letting free play reign for the last part of your sessions. (when was the last time you saw a coach set up a game of tape ball for example?)
That's not to say you should never drill or net. It's just important to make sure everyone is involved and never standing around for too long during these practices. One of my personal pet hates is seeing a coach giving a long coaching lecture to a batter in the net while half a dozen bowlers stand around waiting for them to finish. My preference would be to either wait until they are taking off their pads to make some suggestions or take the bowlers down with me and involve them in the coaching process by asking them to analyse the player.
If fun is the short term focus, the long term focus is to develop players to their maximum potential (although you can't have one without the other).
While this potential will vary greatly from player to player, it's the coaches' responsibility to get the most from his or her players. A lot of this side of the game depends on the coaches' philosophy. Some may feel that winning games is the highest priority but I would disagree. It might be nice but winning is not the ultimate aim for young players. If you focus on development the wins will come eventually.
Coaches who think long term look to make the most of every player by:
- Creating athletes who can run, turn, jump, throw, catch with skill.
- Letting everyone compete in practice and real games
- Spending time developing the ability to cope under pressure through practice matches as well as real games
- Developing techniques that will see a player through a full career, even at the expense of short term gain.
- Working on a wide range of tactics not just techniques.
The famous Australian coach Neil D'Costa once told me he was perfectly happy to sacrifice a player scoring lots of runs at a young age to make sure their technique was sound. As they got older and stronger the technique would allow them to play at a better standard. This is excellent advice.
Respect is an important part of the game. In recent years some respect and fair play has gone out of the game. More umpires decisions are questioned and there is greater animosity between teams.
The coach has a responsibility to ensure his or her team are playing fair at all times. If you impress on your players that the umpires' decision is final and the opposition are not the enemy then they will be likely to follow your lead.
This is different from encouraging your players to play hard and try to win. It's when the competitive desire spills over into the unacceptable that we need to stop. It's not a sign of your competitiveness to insult an opposition batter. Young players will take bad attitudes into adulthood if it is not stopped early.
5. Balance praise and criticism
Tied closely to fair play is how you deal with success, effort and failure.
It's rare for a player to be trying to fail. In most cases it is the opposite: They are trying so hard to succeed that they end up getting too tense: Trying too hard. To criticise this player may end up in them becoming even tenser.
That's why you need to become a student of people. Understanding your players personalities will allow you to get the right balance between praising effort and criticising failure. Some may respond well to you telling them that not to worry about failing while others need to be read the riot act when they do something wrong so they steel themselves the next time.
The key is to know how your players respond to different approaches. Getting it wrong can set a player back, get it right and you will push them forward.
If you are a coach, or a young player I would be interested in getting your views. Leave a comment in the box below.