One of the worst things I can hear at cricket training is the dreaded phrase "I just want to hit balls".
Why is this so bad?
Because hitting balls without an intention is like trying to ice-skate uphill: You get nowhere fast. Of course, it feels good to get the ball from the middle of the bat a few times, but without that basic reason behind it, you won't improve.
This stems back to the basic reason to have a net. You want to improve your batting in some way. Improving skill is about being mindful and creating a "feedback loop" where you work on something, adjust, and work on it again.
So, in order to fight the dreaded phrase, here is the comprehensive list of things you can do at nets to improve your game instead of just hitting balls.
(Don't panic, you will still get to hit plenty of balls).
- Get throwdowns or use the bowling machine to groove one shot.
- Keep your net average.
- Set a match scenario and play it out as you would in a game.
- Try to hit every ball into the ground to improve your timing.
- Rotate the strike every ball.
- Run between balls to improve your fitness and skill while feeling tired.
- Take the net away and bat in the middle with real fielders.
- Put yourself under pressure by saying "out is out".
- Give yourself 10 points and lose points for getting out or making mistakes. When you are at zero, you are out.
- Use the intention 12.
- Only face one type of bowling and look to learn a new way to score against it.
- Bat like you are in at the death and have to hit certain gaps.
- Face fast bowlers bowling with a new ball and look to play like an opener.
- Face an over of bowling, decide what needs work, then face throwdowns while another batsman take an over.
- Look to hit everything into just one or two areas, or use just a couple of shots.
- Come down the wicket to every ball against the spinner.
- Push yourself beyond your comfort zone, be happy with failure (it's a sign of improvement).
- Listen to your coaches' and team-mates advice, but be prepared to politely reject it if it doesn't work for you.
- Take a moment between each ball to review the last one. Make the bowler wait a few seconds. It's your net so don't be rushed.
- Try and bat like someone else the whole session. You might learn something new you can do.
- Work on your body language.
- When you make a mistake, work on your reaction to failure.
- Try to pick line and length as early as possible. Decide how well you are doing after every 1-3 balls.
- Overload the challenge far beyond anything you would face in a game.
- Play a game with the bowlers and put something real on the outcome to add pressure.
- When facing below standard bowling, set yourself the aim of playing every decent ball properly within your game plan. Even if you face one decent ball in six, it's a good test of patience.
- Try some different "mind`` clearing" techniques to stay in the moment and focused on the next ball.
- Review your video after the session and ask yourself what happened, why did it happen and what you can do to move forward.
- After each shot, use this three step mini-review.
- Work on your decision making.
- Bat with a keeper in the net, use your feet and try to work the ball squarer than usual. It gives the keeper good practice and they can feedback to you instantly between balls.
- Have someone else (coach, team-mate) watch your net closely and give feedback both as you go and after you have batted. They will see things you miss technically and tactically.
- Write down your intention before you go into bat. When you walk out, tick or cross if you did it.
- Set an example to younger or less experienced players by having a positive attitude, energy and a heart filled with passion to improve.
- Ask bowlers to bowl in overs to give you more time to pick line and length from their action.
- Bat for much longer than anyone else. Start with simple grooving with underarms, face the machine or throwdowns, face bowling then go back to simple stuff again like hitting a golf ball with a stump.
- Measure your performance against different types of bowling, line and length.
- Try a different trigger move, grip, stance or backlift. If it fails, go back to the old one. If it works, keep it.
- Try leading with your shoulder into drives. Then try stepping to the ball. One works better than the other but you won't know which until you try both.
- Try range hitting.
Now you have no excuse to "just hit balls"!