This is a guest article from coach and PhD candidate Adam Kelly
Everyone says you should train hard but sometimes it's good to step back and ask a bigger question of ourselves.
What is the purpose of training?
We spend hours and hours in nets and on the field looking to enhance our performance. Drills are designed to improve our skills.
Logically we should train recognise which skill to execute and when to execute said skill.
For example: a catching practice drill where we throw a ball to our partner and visa versa. In a match the ball comes off a bat and at various speeds, therefore to replicate match stimuli, practice on the pitch using a batsman and hit catches towards players.
Players should be in positioned in fielding positions, this will enable them to recognise the correct stimuli quicker. This then creates time for the athlete to execute the skill of catching.
As the example above shows, cricket requires highly accurate skill execution. The difference between the ball going in the hand and missing it is spilt seconds or batsmen edging the ball, or middling it is 2 inches, these are the differences between success and failure.
So how can we improve our skill execution and make these differences work for us?
The first part of every skill is "Stimuli Identification".
In cricket most people think that is the ball, however the stimuli can be the body position of the bowler or a call to which end to throw. These little cues need to be identified early in order for the right motor programme to be selected (i.e. skill execution)
When we react to stimuli, here is what happens,
- Stimuli Identification is a constant feed of information (Short Term Sensory Memory)
- The stimuli identification feed then gets matched with previous stimuli identification in this feed via the Short Term Memory
- This information gets matched in the Long Term Memory with the correct motor programme (skill to be executed)
- Motor programme runs, with adaptations being made from the constant feed (Short Term Sensory Memory)
A great example of the importance of identifying the correct stimuli is walking. When we are walking towards a road crossing we would identify the road and the crossing, cars, direction of the cars, speed of the cars and a host of other things and we do this in a split second. Then we make a decision based on this information and matching that information with an appropriate action. If the road is clear then we walk across, if not we stop, which is running the correct motor programme for the decision.
In cricket we face a variety of stimuli some of which is relevant some irrelevant.
It is important to identify the irrelevant stimuli, which is why we should practice using the match like conditions.
This is why professional cricketers can play against 90mph bowlers and non-professional struggle. The professional will identify the correct stimuli and select the correct response quickly and effectively. The non-professional may miss relevant or select irrelevant stimuli.
Take the walking example again, but this you are in a country where they drive on the other side of the road. We might step out on to the road as a car is coming down the road, because we were looking in the wrong direction and did not identify stimuli (the car). Or we take longer to cross the road because we check both ways repeatedly not to make the mistake, therefore performing the skill of crossing the road slower.
This highlights the importance of recognising the correct stimuli, because without recognising the correct stimuli (the car) we perform slower or make mistakes.
Applying this to sport, training should focus on recognising the correct stimuli because the purpose of training is to improve skill execution.
Adam Kelly has played county cricket for Somerset, Worcestershire and Northamptonshire, Wiltshire. Adam is currently working on his PhD theis in sport psychology: 'Investigation into pre-delivery routines in cricket batsmen'. You can read his blog here.