Picture the scene, you are coaching a group of keen 9-11 year old players.
You tell a 10 year old to drive, and you ask him to demonstrate the shot. He shadows it perfectly. Excellent.
You do some drills with a tennis ball and, with a little effort, he hits it back straight. Now we are talking!
You finish the session with a soft ball game: He swipes at the first half volley and tries to put it over square leg.
Back to the drawing board: If only they listened! If only you had more time! If only there more more coaches for one to one attention!
It's frustrating but you are not alone. It happens to every coach. It's your job to use your skills teach him or her to translate the shadow to the drill and finally to the open game situation. Remember; that's not easy and it's a test to your skill as a coach as well as the cricketer's ability to learn.
What's rewarding is when a kids does get it right. That makes all the pain worthwhile.
You are watching the match, your girl is batting and gets a half volley. Instead of hacking at it and getting out she executes a checked drive between the bowler and mid on. You smile to yourself and clap in satisfaction. It feels better than if you had hit that ball yourself.
Here is how you can get much more of that warm feeling and much less of that frustrated one.
Groove drives in the warm up
Grooving is boring to kids because there is no competition. Yet it's also a very fast way to build up muscle memory.
So, find a balance and count grooving as part of the warm up.
Use tennis balls and partners and focus on one or two technical points. Hit a few balls and move on quickly. If you want to do a little more grooving work, you can transition into a challenge such as hitting a target area 10 times in a row.
How long you spend here will depend on the time you have and the tolerance of your beginners. However, 15 minutes for a warm up and grooving in an hour session has worked well for me.
Of course, repetition is good but you also never want to hear those dreaded words "oh, not this one again".
So, there are plenty of batting drills with a technical focus that you can use to prevent boredom: one hand drills, the flamingo drill, quick-fire batting and plenty more. (See Gary Palmer's work for more details of these drills.)
Make feeds realistic
As we know, technical muscle memory is only a third of batting skill. You also need to spot line and length and decide to play the drive. That means you need to help your players develop these elements right from the start as well.
The ideal way of doing this is for a bowler of the same age to deliver drivable balls. Which is impossible.
You can simulate bowling instead:
- Bowling machine (with shorter legs for younger players)
- Throwdowns/bowldowns from the coach or other reliable feeder
That way you can more balls in the right place to drive, but also factor in picking line and length. To also add shot selection you can throw in the odd ball that is not there for the drive.
Neither is perfect, but at least it gets the player thinking about the other two thirds of batting.
Focus here less on the process of the shot (high elbow, etc.) and more on the outcome such as where the ball went. It's in this part of the process that you can give players a little more room to work things out rather than copy "perfect" methods that might not work for them.
Reward straight shots in games
In a group setting, it's not easy to do realistic feeds to large numbers of players, so you can integrate the feeds into a small sided game where everyone else fields while waiting for a bat.
Then you can bias the games towards rewarding the drives. Here is an idea from coach Andrew Beaven:
"Play a game where the only scoring strokes allowed are in the V, and the players will start to adapt. Even if the bowling is a little wayward, batters will be encouraged to adjust their position at the crease (side-to-side) if they are to hit wider deliveries straight back past the bowler.
"Then move sway from the negative restriction ('you can only score if you hit straight') to positive reinforcement ('double runs for all straight hits' or 'boundaries only if you hit it past the bowler')."
Of course mistakes will be made, and a good idea is to track players scores over a few sessions to see improvements.
Most of all: Have fun!
This has been a dive into deep waters, but let's not forget beginners are motivated by having fun above all else. So keep it light, short and make sure everyone is moving as much as posisble.
For me a key way to do this is to not make driving a "technique" but an "outcome". In other words, let players see how straight shots work better in the long run, then help them learn when to play them so they can work out the rest themselves. If it's fun, it sticks.
It's a challenge to which most will rise if you have the patience and the fun elements.