This article is part of the “How to use fitness training to make better young cricketers” series. Click here to go to part 1.
Coaching kids under 9 is no different to herding unruly sheep. But a conscientious coach is laying important ground work that is about more than babysitting in a tracksuit.
And it’s not only technical cricket skills. Coaches who focus on more general physical skills; running, jumping, throwing and catching get better players because they are able to pick up the game-specific skills more quickly.
That’s the kind of strength and fitness these players need to develop into better cricketers.
It’s what the academics call physical literacy and what coaches mean when they say a player is a ‘natural’ athlete.
So how do you teach this kind of fitness to up to 9 and girls up to 8?
Just like teaching cricket skills, the first and last rule of fitness for 6-9 year olds is that it has to be fun.
The way kids this age learn is mainly through play. Drills are boring and pointless to them. But games are fun, exciting and, if designed right, teach them how to move efficiently.
This happens because in the context of a game, children don’t have time to think about what the best technique is or pleasing the coach. They just focus on doing the best they can and experiment with different ways of doing things until they get the right feel for it.
Physical abilities develop naturally through play.
The games don’t have to be cricket based, or even ball based. As long as there are physical skills involved and there is fun to be had then they could be playing cowboys and Indians as far as you are concerned.
Of course, as a coach with an hour to fill with coaching, you might get some funny looks if you give them a couple of tennis balls and tell them to entertain themselves.
So here are some ideas to create an informal play environment that can be used in a formal coaching session.
Your job as coach is to make sure the games you play cover the basics of physical literacy over the time you have them.
So for example, a coaching of an under 9 side playing Kwik/Kanga/softball cricket might have 20 hour sessions plus a handful of tournaments over the summer.
An effective way to do this is to have a focus on a specific skill per session. Usually this will last 20-30 minutes of the hour. Be creative with it. Here are some ideas:
- Speed: Use simple running races, making sure you keep it close by putting kids of equal speed together where you can. Between races ask how they can run faster. You don’t need to know much about sprinting technique to guide them in the right direction.
- Agility: You can use races with a change of direction in them. This can include starting from different positions (sitting, backwards, lying, walking) and different types of change (cut left or right, 180 degree turn, sudden stop and go). To make it less formal you can play team games with a tennis ball and a scoring system. Starting, stopping and changing direction will all happen naturally.
- Jumping: Simple competitions can be used here to see how far players can jump on 2 or 1 leg. Hopping races can work although cheating is rife. A nice challenge is to lay out flat markers gradually increasing in distance apart and see how far down the line players can get. Jumping is really all about knowing how to land so cue by encouraging a soft landing.
- Throwing: I love the game called cross fire – place a big, light, soft ball between 2 teams and get them to throw tennis balls at it to knock it over the opposition’s line. Keep the cues to focus on safety (elbow above the shoulder) and ask them to try and work out the best way to throw accurately.
- Coordination: Games that have a catching and/or a hitting element will naturally improve hand-eye coordination. Even something as simple as seeing how many times you can tap the ball on the bat without dropping it makes a difference. Teaching the skills of batting and bowling both left and right handed is fun and helps physical coordination. I know of a coach who insists his under 9 side alternates in practice between left and right handed!
With all these skills, a game of ‘follow the leader’ can be used. As you are in total command you simply call out what you want them to do and the kids are so focused they will follow without question.
What about cricket?
Of course, even the youngest kids come to cricket training for some kind of cricket. You are not a physical education instructor.
So sneak in the fitness stuff as a warm up and move on.
Some coaches advocate no formal coaching drills for kids under the age of 9. The theory here is that you let them play and they work out the best way themselves. Coaches who think in this way will do the warm up and fitness work them move straight to some kind of game. Pairs cricket and continuous cricket are popular options.
In reality, most coaches will at least try and get some basics in like:
- Batting grip, stance and backlift
- Bowling action
- Long barrier
Anything more complex is very tough to teach in a group setting and drilling can get too much.
My advice would be to do what you can, introduce ideas and have a quick practice before moving onto a game (perhaps this week everyone bating left handed).
It will certainly be fun, and if you can install the love of the game then it will be a job well done no matter how good the players.
Click the links below to see the other parts of this series: