Today's guest article from Darren Talbot; Professional coach, Managing Director of Darren Talbot Cricket Coaching and founder committee member of the Surrey ECB Coaches Association.
I keep hearing from clubs they are doing off season "nets" for their juniors (and seniors, more of which later).
Occasionally - very occasionally - when challenged, they are actually talking about winter training but most often they are indeed talking about actual nets.
I hate nets.
Not personally necessarily but from a coaching point of view. They are next to useless for coaching unless they are incredibly well planned and organised and the coach is pro-active.
You see the problem is in your average junior net you will have 6-8 players. You should never have more than 8.
Invariably one will be batting, one may be padding up - somewhere safe of course - and 6 others will be bowling. Now most teams only have 6 or 7 bowlers in their squad of 14 or 15 players so you can deduce from that there is likely to be at least 2 or 3 in each net whose bowling won't be great.
If we assume 6 bowlers, each bowler is bowling a ball about every 3 or 4 minutes on average.
That means if they bowl for 45 minutes they will bowl about two overs.
In three quarters of an hour.
Against probably 6 different batters.
Doesn't sound like much practice.
Now in the age of inclusivity in which we live, the coach will be forced to give everyone a bat each week. That's just the way it tends to work, although one half batting one week and the rest the other is highly preferable. That means each player getting about 7 or 8 minutes batting.
That will mean about 3 overs of batting if they're lucky.
18 balls. Of which half will probably be from bowlers who don't usually bowl and so may not be hittable.
So maybe 9 or 10 hittable balls.
Doesn't sound like much of a bat to me.
All this assumes that the coach isn't stopping the net too often to offer technical help. Which is of course actually what they are there for. So in a 7 or 8 minute batting session, the coach only has to walk down and give one coaching point and you've lost maybe 2 minutes of that time.
So what's the solution?
Just book the hall, not the nets.
That might give you more choice too as indoor nets remain hard to book in most areas whereas there are plenty of sports halls available. Anything a basketball court size or above is fine.
Now you have the whole space and maybe your squad of 15 or 16. With a good size hall you can go up to 20. Work on the skills of cricket, the things they are actually going to need when the season starts. Calling, backing up (fielding as well as batting), running between the wickets, judging runs, shot selection, shot placement, bowling to a plan, bowling lengths, close catching, close fielding, run outs.
There are any number of skills you can cover in a hall that you can't cover in a net and actually which are more difficult in some cases to work on outdoors in the summer.
For older groups by all means do 2-3 weeks of nets just before the season starts so they can get used to hard ball again but if you've done the hall training well they should already be significantly better technically and more proficient against the hard ball.
Really this is a no-brainer: Please don't book nets for your next winter or spring indoor session.
Book a hall and do it properly.
For seniors the same applies, albeit I would do maybe 4-5 weeks of nets at the end as the quality of bowling and slickness of nets will (should) be better (probably fewer numbers per net too).
Senior players do precious little proper training of skills. They really should. And the winter/spring is the perfect time to do this. 5 or 6 weeks of hall training, with elements on fitness built in, before going onto a month of nets is the ideal preparation for a new season. For senior players of all levels from top level club/grade right the way down to more recreational clubs.
We're running a club session from the end of the month just this way. 6 weeks of hall work, 4 weeks of nets. They are going to be worked really hard. But it will be fun too.
And when it comes to senior nets, challenge yourselves.
Don't just bundle in the nets, bowl a few balls off full pace and then lob in a few leg spinners for the last 20 minutes. Bowl properly all the way through.
Don't just go down to bat and try to slog every ball out of the net. Bat properly. Set a scenario for the week, e.g. first 5 overs of the innings, last 5 overs of the innings.
Make it a proper organised session, otherwise all you're really doing is getting together with your team mates for an hour to have a bit of exercise and a chat.
So my message for the day is; practice hard, practice wisely.
For more advice on making nets better download my eBook from PitchVision Academy