What do you see when watching a batter in a net or out in the middle?
What do you notice?
These are the key questions that I ask of myself when working with any player for the first time.
Rather than making initial judgements, I look to take in all the visual information that I can over the first 30-45 minutes. Sometimes this process takes much longer than that. Duncan Fletcher would often deliberate for weeks until he even spoke to a new player about their game. I'm not patient enough for that!
But I did learn from the great man and now take a more time to formulate my views so that any interventions I make can be targeted rather than hasty.
I worked with a player for the first time the other day in a two hour session. The things that I noticed were:
- Wider than usual stance
- Flexion at the knees
- Narrow base at point of contact
- Legs straightening at point of contact
- Late contact
- Lack of balance post shot
The lad was struggling to move from a balanced position at point of release into a balanced position at point of contact: A fundamental element within batting technique.
This lack of balance at contact was really prevalent when moving across to balls outside of stump on the front foot.
When I looked at the player from the umpires position I could see that his centre of gravity was just outside the line of his base of support as he played the ball. I noted from the side view that his base at point of contact was a little narrow: His legs were straightening into contact. These two things were limiting his effectiveness.
What is causing this to happen?
The root cause was the movement phase of the shot.
The player was trying to lead with his head when in fact he is someone who needs to push down on his back foot to initiate he movement forward. Well known players - Alistair Cook, Jos Buttler, Mike Hussey, Kevin Pietersen, Chris Gayle and James Vince - also move in this fashion.
So my first coaching cue was to "push forward" rather than "lead with the head".
The player informed me that he had only ever been taught to lead his movement forward with his head. It’s a great bit of coaching language for some players and not particularly easy for others to do.
Players who present with significant flexion in their legs tend to move quicker and more effectively if they push rather than lean. If we adjust our language to their bodies needs then we can elicit a more positive and coherent movement pattern.
The second thing that I wanted to do was to gain greater balance at ball strike by softening the knees going into and through contact. This helped the player to increase the length of their base and lower their centre of gravity. Effectively, this increased the players stability going into contact.
My coaching cue was “move from a low position at point of release to a low position at point of contact”.
So what happened in the last 20 minutes of the session?
The legs softened, the movement to the ball was far more explosive, the base widened, the contact point was made closer to the body and the balance at ball strike increased significantly.
The player smiled a lot and spoke freely about how the ball felt like it was coming off the bat better. He linked that sensation to his growing feeling of speed and balance. His words, not mine.
What does the future look like?
The player isn't cured, far from it.
It's going to take a lot of repetition and practice to make this movement pattern and landing process an automatic function. But now the player has a set of bespoke tools to think about, practice and master.
I have an arm that will keep throwing balls to groove, challenge and develop the movement and execution of his front foot shots. But more importantly for me, crucial thing is to watch, observe, notice stuff, be patient and then coach the player rather than simply coach a single technique.
This way each player can have their own tools to work with in sessions with you but more importantly, can take the learnings into independent sessions with other cricketers and other coaches.