It's October so the winter is closing in around the UK. This causes a couple of challenges for the coaches and players at Millfield School.
Our main undercover facility at Millfield is the Cricket Bubble. It’s a very basic, yet functional space that is lit and heated by the big fireball in the sky; the sun!
In summer, the temperatures in the bubble can climb to 45®C which makes it unsafe to use so we tend not to be in there much during the summer term. In winter, we can get to freezing point which means that we add a few base layers and, in my words echoing in the players ears, we simply “get on with it!”
At this time of year the temperature is not a problem, but the light is. So we adapt our early morning sessions to take advantage of the lighting constraints that are placed around us.
Josh came in for a bowling session on Monday, it was 06:55 and the bubble was pitch black. You could hardly see one metre ahead of you. Josh is a top order batter who is looking to develop his second skill: Legspin.
Use your practice constraints in a positive way
I asked Josh how we could use the lack of light as an advantage to us at the start of the session and he came up with the correct answer straight away (he is a very switched on boy).
“Garas, we could focus on how my action is feeling rather than where the ball goes until the sun comes up”
Spot on kiddo!
So we moved to the far end of the net so that Josh could bowl the ball from an imaginary crease next to some stumps up into a net which was 3 metres away from him.
We do a lot of this kind of practice in daylight also as it helps the bowler to focus more on what they are doing (the process). It’s far too easy to get wrapped up into the outcome when bowling over 22 yards into a target or to a batter and a mixture of process based drill work that is then tested in a more open environment is a sequence that I prefer to use then working with spin bowlers.
The benefit of dark conditions was that Josh could only get kinaesthetic feedback in the early stages of the session.
Through this process, Josh identified that his body was leaning towards the left as he went to release the ball.
He felt that his arm slot was being pulled over above the line of his head which would then have impact on the way that the ball would come out of his hand.
Then, as the sun started to come up, we were able to see how a slight realignment of his feet could be beneficial to his vertical alignment of his torso.
If the feet are blocked off (the action) then the body tends to compensate in order to propel the ball in the general direction of the stumps or batter (the reaction). In biomechanics this is an action/reaction principle.
Josh started to realign his feet in his static drills and felt that his torso was less likely to create a reverse “C” shape heading towards his left hand side as he moved through his action into point of release.
This is something that Josh is now wanting to work on for the next few weeks and knowing him, he will drill this until his body knows no other way but to remain more upright which in turn, will get his arm to release the ball the right side of perpendicular.
The light continued to get better which then gave the chance for Josh to look at some video.
I stood at the side of with the camera and Josh noted that his body weight was always falling forward in his action rather than transferring from back foot to front foot effectively.
So we then looked at starting with more of his weight on his back leg by shifting his body weight onto his back leg in his static drill. He would then transfer his weight across his base and over the top of his front leg as he heads into the release point.
After a few goes, Josh reported that he felt that he was timing his release better and that the increased transfer of weight from back foot to front foot was having a positive impact on the feeling he had as the ball came off the end of his spinning finger.
As with many players, Josh is keen to finish each session with a “barometer of progress”.
He wants to know if the drills that he has been working on and the feelings that he has had in the session are providing him with a more favourable outcome.
Josh’s development areas for the winter have been identified as increasing his ball speed whilst maintaining/developing his ability to put revolutions onto the ball.
We started by videoing Josh from the crease delivering the ball over 22 yards in his static drill.
The aim of this test was to see if the ball was going to spin. It isn’t easy for a 14 year old to propel the ball from a static drill perfectly into the right length and spin it at the same time. So this was a spin test rather than an accuracy test.
Josh was happy with that outcome. The ball consistently bit into a fairly slick surface and turned.
The Josh added in his approach. This game him the momentum to propel the ball over 22 yards and into the black target area on the pitch. This now became a barometer of spin and accuracy.
Josh didn’t hit the target every time and why should he at this age and with the intention to spin the ball hard? But, interestingly, when he missed, he missed by only a little bit.
This encouraged Josh and he went away from the session with enhanced confidence that the drills he is working on are helping him to gradually become a more accurate and impactful leg spin bowler.
So, don’t give up and go home if the lights (or the sun) goes out: Use whatever constraints you have around your practice environment to shape a positive learning experience. Just like Josh.
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