Ditch the Nets at Winter Training to Make a Better Preseason | Cricket coaching, fitness and tips

Ditch the Nets at Winter Training to Make a Better Preseason

Coach Darren Talbot laments a wasted chance in this article. To find out more about Darren Talbot Cricket Coaching click here.

Around preseaon clubs plan their senior and junior winter net training sessions.

Maybe you are doing it now.

One of the biggest issues is finding a venue as there are still nowhere enough indoor net facilities to cope with the demand from clubs, schools and individuals.

But why do we do nets? 

What are the real benefits, especially in the winter?

How much “netting” do the pros do in the winter and early spring?  The answer is not much, if any.  So if it’s not appropriate for them, why are we putting ourselves and our junior sections through net sessions?

 It makes no sense at all. 

The answer is because that’s the way it’s always been done.  But that doesn’t make it right.

Leaving the seniors aside for one minute, if you are a coach of a junior squad, ask yourself these questions:

  • How many of my squad can ball every ball consistently in the right channel at a decent pace for a batsman to play a normal cricket shot?  If you’ve answered 8 or more, you’ve either got a really good (or older) squad or you are kidding yourself.  Any less than that and anyone who can’t bowl straight enough or well enough is ruining that net session.
  • How much actual cricket are my players getting in a net situation?  How many balls will little Johnny bowl in 10 minutes; the answer is 2 if he’s lucky!  How many hittable balls will little Harry get in his 7 minute net session; the answer is maybe 5 to 10.  Is this really worth it?
  • What were the major problems my squad faced during the season with their performances and is a net session the right place to work on those shortcomings?  If you’re honest with yourself and you can look upon it dispassionately I suspect the answer you will come to is “no”.
  • Am I doing nets because it’s easier for me as a coach/organiser?  Only you can answer this truly but let’s be honest, net coaching is the easiest type of coaching to do.  Lazy coaches do a lot of nets!

So what should you be working on?

For me the answer lies in indoor cricket matches and skills coaching leading up to that.  Indoor cricket improves:-

  • Running between the wickets
  • Backing up
  • Calling
  • Judging a run
  • Manipulating the ball into gaps
  • Bowling accuracy
  • Bowling to a plan
  • Chasing a target
  • Setting a target
  • Wicketkeeping
  • Fielder reactions
  • Fielder decision making
  • Fielders backing up
  • Catching
  • Throwing

So why do nets over indoor hall coaching?  Especially when you have the opportunity to choose almost any venue that has a hall big enough.

You don’t need the nets! 

Even for seniors.  I guarantee your players will start the season sharper for playing indoor cricket ahead of net sessions.  There’s a stronger argument at adult level for maybe 5-6 weeks of focussed nets but only with and/or after 5-6 weeks of indoor cricket sessions.

And what about hardball practice? 

Yes I accept that it is useful to feel ball on bat and bowling with a hardball again.  If your group is good enough (and I take you back to that key question of bowling accuracy earlier) then I would consider doing maybe 3 weeks of nets at the end of the indoor training but only after a minimum of 5 or 6 indoor cricket type nets.

The pros don’t tend to do that much hardball batting until about 6 weeks before the season starts so as amateurs and coaches we shouldn’t either.

So don’t bow down to peer pressure, parental pressure or just plain “that’s what we’ve always done”, think wiser and think better. 

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Absolutely Darren! I always found that it was the 'fielding' that won the matches at this age. Not necessarily the throwing and catching skills but 'reaction skills'.

If you think about a normal 'nets' session, most of the players are just standing around having a chat or a lark until it is their turn to bowl; few actually pay attention to the batsman or the other bowlers... So this is what we are training in these situations!

Indoor cricket is much faster than the average summer matches; the players must be more alert and more able to second guess their team mates... more aware of their surroundings and the situation... So what would we rather train?

Indoor cricket also gets more players active at one time; keeping them engaged and keeping them fit! It also allows the coach to see how each player reacts to different situations; their strong points and their weak points, allowing these to be worked on just before the season begins.

Darren, I agree entirely with the thought process, with one proviso - in an average sized sports hall you can't have much of an indoor game with many more than a dozen kids without there being a fair bit of sitting around, which can then lead to other problems.

In the summer when space is (more) unlimited I would totally agree, but within the confines of a hall there are times when a 'good' net (ie bowlers bowling overs, pairs batting for a reasonable length of time - both with the same scenario and setting their own plans) and the rest of the group doing something equally productive (fielding training or more specific skills work) can be a better use of the limited time and, in particular, space. That said I ran an indoor session on Monday for under 13s/14s which ended up with a game of indoor cricket rather than nets (much to the kids disgust!) because it fitted in better with the overall session aims.

Ah, well... there you go reminding me of another issue Tony. Laughing out loud

When my boys were this age, they had extremely well structured net sessions which included all the other activities you mention [along with indoor matches on another day] and it worked well. Fortunately, they had good coaches with a good coach/player ratio.

However, I have seen net sessions where only one coach was in attendance and way out of his depth and other sessions where a few adults were present but none with any idea of their aim. I wonder how your sessions would go if YOU were taken out of the equation!

PS : 'disgust'! Don't tell me they are under the illusion that these sessions are for THEIR benefit!!! Eye-wink

Aw man, I hate teaching cricket with tennis balls. They're impossible to bowl, impossible to catch, and impossible to play proper cricket shots to. No matter how good the coaching, you will spend the next 5 years undoing all the bad habits that using tennis balls got them into.

When I was a kid I was taught with cricket balls from the very beginning - age 8 upwards. I never once recall anyone getting injured. Young baseball players would laugh at the idea that they should use a tennis ball rather than a hard ball. Now nets may not be perfect by a long stretch - but messing around with tennis balls is not the answer.

This seems obvious but somehow the majority outside the coaching fraternity will not understand it. I think the traditional net sessions are run for the a variety of reasons, none of them valid:

1. Tradition. It's what we did when we were young.
2. It's easy crowd control
3. It's what the children (think they) want
4. It's what the parents expect and think cricket practice is all about

During a 10-12 week coaching programme in the winter I will mix batting skills, bowling skills, fielding skills and indoor games with probably three net sessions to assess progress. I use hard balls depending on what and who I am coaching but never for a batting skills session - what's the point?

I think the parents are the biggest problem though. I have had parents moan at me for running an indoor game rather than nets or skills sessions. The boys loved it though and it developed all kinds of running, fielding and tactical skills that they could never get from ten minutes batting in a net, or bowling every sixth ball. And it was competitive, which is all part of cricket.

There is a big BUT to all of this. It all needs to be properly planned and there needs to be help from other coaches who know what they're doing, rather than a parent who has played a lot and thinks he knows best, shouting at the kids that they don't do it like that, do it like this. Unfortunately many clubs do not have that luxury and so nets patrolled by parents remain the default position. Even clubs with experienced coaches often go straight there because it's what's expected or what has always been done.

Unless it's done properly, net coaching is lazy coaching.

If you are going to run nets (a) make sure everyone in the net can bowl properly (b) try to keep the number of bowlers down to a minimum (c) try to give the batsmen targets and/or scenarios so it doesn't end up being a slogging session.

Things also to try:-

When you're out you're out
Two batters running a single or three every few balls

Re Tennis balls. Don't use tennis balls. Use the harder ones. Gunn & Moore call them First Balls. They are brilliant. Also help the transition from softball to hardball.

You can run indoor cricket with 16 kids easily. If you have more than that you have the wrong group size. If you are running an indoor session and have more than 16 children in the hall you are forced to do nets pretty much. It's wrong. Put your foot down and say 16 maximum.

As far as the sitting down in concered, this is a great chance to run through tactics, scoring areas, shot selection, etc. Two coaches with 16 kids indoors is a brilliant session.

Do you think the other "easy option" of just continually playing indoor cricket with a tennis ball while the coach stands and umpires is just as bad if not worse than overreliance on nets?

Some drills are better than others - I am not entirely sure of the benefit of playing the Lord's game with a tennis ball above the age of 10 for example.

Things I have done at nets this winter:

separate batting and bowling sessions - players turn up knowing they will be focusing only on one skill, then joint sessions in the lead up to the season.

Batting sessions:
use of bowling machine and throw downs to work through all the major shots
separate sessions on playing off-spin, leg-spin, in-swing, away-swing, extreme pace (70-80mph at this level), and discussions of technical adaptations necessary for success.

Bowling sessions - just bowler and wicket-keeper
1 step then progressing to 4 step run-up, focus on bowlers' awareness of his own action
target hitting - we mark line targets and/or length targets and keep score
session focussed on purely generating maximum spin or swing (as appropriate)
session focussed on bowling variations and strategy
finish every session with a team bowl out competition!

Joint sessions:
Firstly: only competent bowlers are invited to bowl in these sessions.

batting: I make every batsman write down 2+2 shots against pace and 2+2 shots against spin - with full justifications and reference to the previous season's performance.
First half of each net they are only allowed to play first 2 shots. Second half, they are allowed all 4 shots.
We count up the batsman's approximate score and re-set it every time he is dismissed. Target is to score a 50 every session.

bowling: I make bowlers right down their planned stock delivery and two variations, with justifications as to how this will dismiss the batsmen and whether this worked last season. They are then challenged to deliver this result.
Bowlers are also given targets independent of actions of batsman - eg hitting a specific length or simply making him play 6 balls in a row.
Bowlers are also given targets to only allow shots to one area of the field. This can be made into a "keep the streak going" challenge.

We don't tell the batsmen of the bowler's challenges and vice versa, we prefer for them to focus on their specific task.

AB you've just proved how nets should be run, assuming your bowlers are good enough to make the batters play regularly, that's fantastic but not many coaches have the time to put together what you have done.

Also most clubs are running sessions with 16-20 children and maybe 1 qualified coach at best so they simply can't do what you are doing. They would have to have 2 or 3 nets (if they have a facility with 3 nets and can afford the cost of 3 nets) and technically shouldn't even be running 2 nets with one level 2 coach anyway.

I disagree about indoor cricket. Don't get me wrong, I am not advocating just playing a match. I would spend an hour doing skills and drills (I would never use the Lord's game as it's terrible) and then playing a match. Most children will enjoy that more than nets. If they enjoy it, they learn more quickly. Competition leads to greater enjoyment. Plus indoor cricket you can work many more skills than you can in a net. Both have a place but it's horses for courses. You are clearly a champion jockey and my hat goes off to you for what you are doing! Keep it up!!

I think there's kind of a difficult age gap between 11-14 where young players would benefit quicker from using a cricket ball in fielding drills, and facing decent accurate bowling with a cricket ball, but they're still not quite good or serious enough to be able to use the above net drills.

One of the ironic things is that as coaches we are (correctly) told to encourage bowlers to focus on generating big spin and pace at this point of development and worry about improving their accuracy later, but from a net quality point of view that is the last thing you need!

Nets have a place but as many of the above have stated it is all about how you use them.

I'm lucky in that I rarely have to get involved in club nets, normally working with regional or county squads. Thus, most of the problems regarding hittable balls/bowlers not getting enough bowling rarely come up. Even so, I think it is lazy to simply fall back to netting - if nothing else it gives players a false sense of pace/bounce (even with matting down) that is at odds with a damp wicket in early May.

Sessions tend to be structured around specific age appropriate themes - such as front foot shots, using crease depth, new ball/death bowling. Nets (if possible using two lanes or more) are used to help reinforce these skills - a chance for players to try out things worked on elsewhere in sessions and provide feedback. Games are also used in a similar manner, an opportunity to put learned skills into practice under pressure.

When we do have 'nets' players are encouraged to run 'runs' as called by the coach (or players if old enough) based on pre agreed fields. They may bat in pairs or on their own depending on what is being worked on. At a minimum a scenario is agreed upon so they at the least have to follow a plan.

However, there is the need to keep things fresh and sometimes simply having nets fits the bill. The damage is done when nets are all you ever do.

A quick point regarding using tennis balls to coach, personally for batting I've no real problem with them. Great for drop/bobble feeds and helping to get the movement correct. As DT points out the heavier tennis balls are better (slazballs or whatever) but either version works. Machine & cricket balls, incrediballs etc don't always give the desired bounce when being used in controlled settings although for throw downs etc they are the best option. Would never used a tennis ball for fielding/bowling - really no point when they are any number of 'soft' cricket balls available.

For me, your sessions are ideal Scott... and you really hit the nail on the head about it being 'how you use them'!

Of course, they are an excellent tool but that is all they are and if your tool kit is massive and still bulging at the seams with others, all the better. Laughing out loud

I am not a great believer in outcome goals and will always work on processes. If you are going to use nets, they will not be used to their full without VA. I know this is something Paul uses well and wondered if it is something you have had much success with.