At every level of cricket there are the practisers and the non-practisers. Both jealously guard their methods as right for them, but which way will get you more runs and wickets?
At club level it seems the practisers can never get enough: Always at nets, always looking for someone to help with a minor technical point, getting to the gym and constantly thinking about their game. Meanwhile the non-practisers are getting on with other things. If they train at all it's just to go through the motions. They are happy to rock up 5 minutes before the start of play, confident they will perform well.
Then there is the third type who we will come to shortly. First, let's look at the cases of practice vs. non-practice and find out what is best for you.
The case for practice
There is little doubt that improvements can only be made through practice. Even the strictest non-practiser would agree.
A natural extension of that is to practice as much as possible. As we often say, it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master any skill. The average club player may never reach that level. Nevertheless, each hour logged is an hour closer to becoming the best you can be in the time available.
The problems for practice start when you try and turn this theory into reality.
Many club practices are undirected. It's hard to make any real improvements as a bowler if you are bowling in a net with three others to a slogger giving it the long handle. It's impossible to work on your on drive when you are facing 2 medium pacers bowling off short runs and a spinner putting the ball anywhere but the leg stump half volley you need.
Wicketkeepers can find it almost impossible to get decent practice. Getting someone to hit quality balls to them can be a massive challenge when everyone is trying to focus on their own skill.
An hour of undirected practice is an hour wasted and contributes little to your improvements.
This is not the picture at every club and school though. A good coach or organised captain can direct decent practice and help players work on specific areas and make improvements. It doesn't take much to set up.
If you feel the need to improve, perhaps with ambitions to play at a high level, this way of practice is for you.
The case for natural play
For the non-practiser even the most brilliantly organised training session is a waste of time. The only thing that matters is playing games of cricket.
Cricket is where you score runs and take wickets, not practice. If you are in a slump of form practice will not get you out of it, but playing cricket will. Practice is where you focus internally too much and end up with 'paralysis by analysis', unable to remember the joy of hitting a ball or the stumps.
In my experience this player is comfortable with their game. They have found a method that works for them at the level they play. They probably have no ambitions to improve further. All this adds up to the idea that there is not much point in practicing.
The big advantage of this attitude is that it allows you to play with confidence. You have worked out a method that has been successful. Even when things are going badly you know it is a blip and you will be back as long as you stick with what you know. For the practiser this kind of easy confidence can be a lot harder to achieve.
However, if you have ambitions beyond where you are now this method is severely limited. You might perform well without practice (especially if you have a certain amount of natural talent). One thing is certain; you will never achieve your potential unless you practice with purpose.
The problem child
As we mentioned at the beginning there is a third attitude too.
As a coach I don't mind if a player prefers to practice or stay away as long as they do the job on the pitch. The problem arises when you have someone who refuses to practice when they clearly need to.
For example, fielding is a team activity. One good bit of fielding can lift a side while a poor performance can make everyone's heads drop. It takes practice performed with real intent: what the professionals call 'game head'. The player who turns up to practice without game head on or worse does not turn up at all is letting the rest of their team mates down when they make an avoidable error.
This can be avoided with the right team attitude. The coach and/or captain can insist on a certain approach. If you want to do well this may be as severe as 'no practice, no play'. If your side plays more for fun then the attitude may be that you are prepared to drop catches regularly. Or perhaps you can sit somewhere in the middle, giving players freedom to choose but letting them know the consequences of a mistake.
How do you and your team practice?
Image credit: pj_in_oz