Mention 'fielding drills' to most club and school cricketers and they are wracked with indecision and guilt. Like flossing we all know we should do it but we don't because we know how boring it is.
Thing is, it undoubtedly has an influence on your fielding skills and drilling certainly shouldn't be boring.
It's just many coaches (or team captains in the absence of a coach) don't know how to avoid the pitfalls that make a fielding drills into drudgery. Some simple planning ahead is all it takes to make a huge difference.
Here are the most common mistakes that make practice boring. Avoid these and players might even want to do drills!
1. Too many players
The classic mistake is to line up your team before play and hit balls to one player at a time while the others stand around getting fed up. The players get to field far too few balls and have far too long to wait.
4-6 people are a much more sensible sized group. Everyone gets a go and has something to do all the time. That means larger groups need to be split down.
It's simple to do in a pre-game warm up with 11 or 12 players. You just spilt them up and perform 2 different drills. You can either swap over drills after 5 minutes or create a 'specialist' group for slip, short leg and wicketkeeper practice.
With very large groups (such as coaching children) you may need to create a circuit style system with several drills being rotated through.
Drill selection is all important. If you trust senior players or junior coaches you can have them act as coach in one group while you coach the other group. With children you may need to choose drills that are both engaging and require less supervision.
2. Bad attitude
If you have ever watched the opposition warming up in a half-hearted, unfocused way you know how motivating it is to your own team. Drills set the tone for your team's attitude so they need to be performed in the way you would do them out in the middle.
This applies to both drills done right and wrong. Good performance needs to be backed by everyone and poor performance needs to be put out of the mind as quickly as possible. This teaches players to do exactly that during the game.
A positive approach also makes it more fun. Even those not directly involved are watching, clapping and encouraging when things are done right. Make sure players are focused at game intensity rather than 'going through the motions'.
3. Waiting until after nets
If you wait until after a net session to do fielding practice you are saying fielding is less important than batting and bowling. Players are tired, some may decide it's time to go home and the whole session is less effective and focused.
We all know fielding should be an equal, but we all prefer to be batting or bowling. The answer is to do the drills before a net session as part of your warm up.
The players will be fresher and more willing to focus on getting the drills done so they can get to the good bit. The drills also prepare the body and mind for net practice.
4. Mixed abilities
At club and school level the average session will have a great deal of difference in ability. I know at my club all the teams practice together. The star 1st XI batsman who has played some county cricket in the past is shoulder to shoulder with the uncoordinated 3rd XI player doesn't bat or bowl.
If the coach tries to cater to all levels they end up catering to none.
One solution is to run sessions based on ability. Where this is not possible you can do the same skill work but at different levels of difficulty. For example you can add a competitive element for the talented players while the less natural ones work on skill development in pairs.
5. Not having fun
Whatever level you play, cricket is a game to be enjoyed. Many coaches are so focused on improving skill with serious drilling they forget this fact. It may even drive children out of the game through bad experiences.
On the other hand, if you just play around during your sessions then skill will not show improvement. Nobody wants that either so it's up to you to strike a balance.
Ideally a session will start with some serious practice that increases in intensity. It ends with some kind of game where skill is sacrificed for finishing on a high. This is especially true for younger players but even adults need to have some enjoyment. It is a game after all!
6. Wasting time
For me it's a cardinal sin not to have enough balls to keep a practice running. The fewer balls you have the more likely you are going to waste time. It's no fun standing around while a single ball is collected from a poor throw every other minute.
If you run a session make it your obsession to get as many old balls as possible. It will save you a great deal of time.
You can also save time by encouraging a fast pace of drills and accurate throwing, having someone collect balls (rotate this job often) and putting in an extra effort to get to poor returns yourself.
Finally, if you have to perform a demo of any drill or skill, keep it short and do it rather than describe it. Once you have shown it once or twice get the players active quickly.
Even when safety has been assured by the coach, injuries still happen and will ruin a session for a player who may even try and drill through the pain.
You can do a lot to prevent injuries including:
Each of these errors are easy to prevent with a little forward thinking.Try planning your next session with these elements in mind.