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There loads of cricket goodness in the newsletter this week. We look at the power of (safe) chaos, batting practice and wicketkeeping personality.

Pretty good for nothing!

Have a great weekend,

David Hinchliffe

Chaos Brings More Skill to Your Cricket

A little chaos is a good thing for your cricket.


Have you ever watched kids play cricket when there are no grown ups around?

It’s chaos.

Often there are multiple tennis ball hurled in fast succession while the little angels argue over who’s turn it is and how nothing is fair.

Let’s be honest, a typical senior net session can sometimes feel like that too.

Everyone is determined to have their 10 minute bat no matter what. And they go in and slog everything. Wicketkeepers bowl. Everyone is exhausted by the end and accuracy goes out the window.

You can’t, in your right mind, think this is helping anyone’s game. Can you?

Actually, it is.

And I’m here to tell you how to harness the sheer raw power of chaos to make your cricket better than it has ever been.

The inner child benefits

We often associate childish behaviour with negatives like ill-discipline or unreasonable behaviour. Yet, there are huge benefits to tapping into the inner child.

Think about how a baby learns to walk. They don’t wait for instruction from a walking coach. They don’t do walking drills with special equipment. They don’t have walking errors identified and corrected. They. Just. Walk.

When babies become kids they instinctively start to play. Play is essential to childhood development because we learn huge amounts about how to move, interact and work together through the silly games we make up.

Those benefits don’t end when we turn five, or 10, or 18, or 98.

We learn by playing. We learn much more than any drill can teach us because that is how we have been wired to learn: play, adapt, repeat.

Somewhere in our teenage years we forget about this and turn to structured practice instead. It stops being fun to bring order the chaos. It gives us a satisfying sense of control.

And it stops the inner child benefits of chaos.

Separating technique doesn’t work

The reason that chaos works is that it brings together all the elements good cricketers strive for: technique, tactical awareness, movement skills and mental toughness.

By separating these elements out - most notably technique - they lose the context of a game situation. They become theoretical. Movements are robotic and not adaptable. Your subconscious mind is not required because your ego is doing all the work.

But what is the best advice anyone can tell you?

I’m sure you have heard it.

“Just play”.

Coaches will tell you to stop thinking and start trusting your subconscious to do the right thing. Then the same coaches spend entire sessions drilling to engage your mind in exactly the opposite way.

It doesn’t work well. You can’t separate any of the elements of good cricket out and expect to get results. They have to work together.

And they do that with chaos.

The art of making chaos

Hopefully by now you can see some of the benefits of chaos.

How do you put it into action?

It’s simple, but it certainly isn’t easy.

There are still methods. There are still pitfalls. There are still mistakes you can make when building chaos into your cricket. But get it right and you will reap huge benefits to your game in increased skill and effective methods for runs and wickets.

The key is to get rid of drilling and play some games.

“Games” are not full games of cricket in this respect. They are match-like situations specifically designed to improve something in your game. Middle practice is one example.

Let’s say, for example, you want to improve your strike rotation. Rather than practice the techniques of different shots, play a game of battle zone cricket. It’s messy, imperfect, confusing, frustrating and you might get less time on the task.

That’s the point.

Over time you will learn a huge amount about how to drop the ball into a gap and make a single. Just like over time as a baby you taught yourself to walk.

Batting, bowling and fielding with chaos

The above game is a good example of a very open and chaotic game with a specific goal in mind. It’s good for batting, bowling and fielding skills in that area.

At the other end of the scale, we need to get a bit cleverer with the games.

The essential idea is to create chaos - what the coaching theory guys call “safe uncertainty” - with a specific aim in mind. So, much of it is up to you to create games that fit for your needs. That said, here are some ideas.

  • Batsmen who want to work on hitting straight sixes can range hit from a coach’s throwdown. (Fielders can work on boundary catching.)
  • Set up a scoring system in nets where bowlers get points for a batsman defending the ball, batsmen get points for surviving or playing straight.
  • Fielders wanting to work on hitting the stumps can compete with batsmen trying to run quick singles.

These are just examples. To help you come up with more ideas like this, some essential elements of chaotic practice are:

  • For batsmen, reflect the DNA of cricket as close as you can with a batsman facing a bowler. Throws and sidearms also work but tees, underarm feeds and even bowling machine feeds are far less realistic.
  • This is also true for fielders. Ideally the ball comes off a bat at an and pace angle that close to a game position.
  • Bowlers also need a batsman to bowl at, but can also bowl at a target without a batsman as long as you throw some other chaos into the mix (for example distraction, fatigue, different weight balls, different surfaces, smaller targets or even (safe) obstacles).
  • Keep some kind of score and have consequences on the result. Punishment for losing is perhaps less effective than rewards for success. I’ve even had success motivating players by saying the coach will do push ups if the team complete the task!
  • Complexity and confusion is your friend. Build games that are challenging to play. Change the rules when you work out tactics and methods to beat the system. Bring in secret rules that everyone else has to work out. Make it unfair on purpose!
  • Remember, it’s safe uncertainty. Chaos is amazing, but it must be safe. Not only for injury prevention, but also that everyone must feel they are in a “safe place” that is for learning and development. With chaos, we fail often so we need a growth mindset.

We develop cricket skills best in the safe-uncertain zone. Set up your training like this!


Let go, embrace chaos

Most important, as a coach or player, embracing chaos means learning to let go.

Good training means getting your mind out of the way and letting your body “just play”. By all means make up rules and games that allow you to develop things your conscious mind likes (playing straight, bowling swing, hitting the stumps). Yet, also let the subconscious mind do it’s thing once you have started to play.

It’s not linear, its not as satisfying and it’s not as controllable. But it works. So unclench and bring some safe uncertainty to your cricket.

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Off Side Back Foot Batting Practice

It’s really cold outside so we are confined to the cricket bubble for the winter. We have reached the stage of the batting programme where we are developing our back foot options vs pace.

 I’m a big fan of developing finer elements of technique by using a variety of implicit coaching methods like "constraints based" practice

I'm getting better (through practice) at using these approaches to coaching rather than relying on bleating technical intervention points down the net from behind a bowling machine or after letting go of a throw down.

Over the next couple of weeks I will be showing you how to adopt these methods into your coaching or playing programme. They work for all batting disciplines and not just around back foot play.

The ultimate aim in this back foot phase of the batting programme is to facilitate the development of more robust and more adaptable back foot players against pace.

Constraints based practice

Max and I have only worked together for a couple of months. He is a top lad and has a strong front foot game which is capable of dominating at County age group level. His back foot game was limited to hitting long hops through mid wicket so we started to explore his off side back foot game on the bowling machine linked to the PV/ONE system.

After a few successful back foot drives to lower bouncing balls, Max attempted to play the same shot to higher bouncing back foot balls delivered just outside off stump.

3 balls, 3 nicks to slip or the keeper!

I then said “Max, let’s play a constraints game. The constraints are that you can only cut the ball, defend the ball or leave the ball. That’s the game, are you happy with that?”

Max agreed and all of a sudden started to make clinical decisions based on line around the constraints.

Then, after 15 balls, Max began to cut balls from relatively close to his body in exactly the same way as we see England Test Captain, Joe Root do on the world stage.

His balance was impeccable, his contacts on the cut shot were crisp and consistent. When the ball needed to be defended he took the right option and he only left balls if they swung late from middle and off to 4th stump.

After each cut shot Max would look at the PV/ONE monitor and watch the replay. His face would light up as he he developed this new skill (the cut shot). It was lovely to see him having so much fun whilst learning. Max ended up playing the cut shot competently from a variety of different widths.

To end the session we had 6 open deliveries. No constraints at all.

I could mix my lengths and lines. Max could play any shot he desired.

The next result of the 6 open deliveries:

  • 1 x Successful defensive shots
  • 2 x Well executed leaves
  • 1 x Back foot drive to a lower bouncing ball
  • 2 x Cut. One from close to the body (Joe Root) and the other to a genuinely wide ball.

We are going to continue the process of applying constraints to build different batting skills and then finish with “open” practice within Max’s next few batting sessions.

Can you use constraints based games in your practice to fast track your batting skills?

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Cricket Show S8 Episode 44: A Late Arrival

Sam Lavery chats to David Hinchliffe with a last minute drop in from Mark Garaway. There are chats about dealing with adversity as a coach, choosing bats and batsman-wicketkeepers.


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Wicketkeepers: Are You the Drummer or the Conductor?

The conductor. The sergeant-major. The cheerleader. The Drummer. What is a 'keeper?

England and Kent coach Paul Farbrace tells us wicketkeeper is the drummer in the band: Keeping the beat of the fielding side with tidy glove work and unobtrusive, focused encouragement. Insightful, canny and reliable.

The Cricket Coaching Oracle

Film reference coming up!


About PitchVision Academy

Welcome to this week's guide to playing and coaching better cricket.

I'm David Hinchliffe and I'm Director of the PitchVision Academy team. With this newsletter you are benefitting directly from over 25 Academy coaches. Our skills include international runs and wickets, first-class coaching, cutting-edge research and real-life playing experience.


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Issue: 487
Date: 2017-11-17