Winter nets. Arriving (as coach) in the dark and damp. Lugging those several bags of clobber from the boot to that ubiquitous over-varnished, unforgiving floor. Casting a glance for stray implements. Breathing and considering. Resolving once more to unmake that whole concept of Winter Nets.
Be honest, most nets are garbage – or if not garbage, then significant under-achievements. Folks just bowl, folks just bat. Of course that can be fine for some finding of grooves but more often – because there’s negligible focus – folks are arseing around. Even good bats swing reckless and wild; because they can; because there’s nothing on it; because ‘it’s nets’.
Your leanest, meanest fastest bowler – him with the peroxide flash – bounces and beams the club sec, for a laugh. Then he takes the innocent description ‘ag-ri-cultural’ to obscene depths when he bullies his way into bat. Things develop more as a response to the crass machismo of the universe than to the subtler promptings of the coach… who may simply not be there.
Let the coach be there. Make the coach be there.
A sports hall is a shiny-blank canvas. Could be the first thing you want think about is leaving it that way. That is, de-furl those unfurled corridors – the nets. Often, they are narrowing what you do, blinding the options. If you do use them, decide What The Point Is.
Questions you might think about include;
- how many batsmen per net? In other words, are they running?
- what stage of the game we at?
- where are the fielders?
- do we mark where the fielders are? How?
- which bowlers are bowling at which batters. And why?
- what are the consequences of a poor shot? Of getting out? Of insultingly obvious lapses in concentration because the batman think it’s just nets.
- would a bowling machine be better or worse for your current exercise than a real-live bowler?
- are a queue of bowlers waiting whilst one bowls a full over? If so, what are they doing?
- do you have video… of anything?
- do you have a flipchart for recording… anything? Observations/challenges/personal checklists for batters/bowlers?
- is anyone saying anything? Meaning are there discussions on any of the above? Are players engaged with that? If not why not?
- who’s watching, from the sidelines? Are there parents or coaches (or both) to whom you, as coach have to grandstand? Are you (as coach) telling the universe everything you know about This Particular Technical-Cricket Thing because Dave Oosit is over there and he’s Level 3?
Friendly aside; I nearly always coach with other coaches in attendance – often watching their kids in action. Some of these people almost certainly think I’m medium clueless or hopeless. I do one or two things to make this an utter non-issue.
1. Concentrate on energising and enthusing and asking good questions of my players.
2. Prepare… enough.
Few of us outside of the professional game have time to prepare properly. But I do prepare enough. I rehearse things, mumble things and make notes. If I know I am going to have to speak to a new group of parents (for example, at the outset of County Development Sessions) then I may well write a few important points or phrases down; because a) first impressions b) I want them to trust me and rate me, less out of ego than the practicalities of simply getting on c) this means I have to think about what I’m doing.
I have notebooks for this stuff. Alongside the tees and the multifarious balls and beanbags and cones and clobber.
When I arrive at Winter Nets (or anywhere else where I’m gonna be leading) I have notebooks to ask myself questions and to prompt the way. Sometimes things change – because Jonny or Sarah needs that, but often the skeleton for the session is there.
In the moments of calm before other folks arrive – because we coaches always arrive first, right? – I unpack my notebook and my thoughts. I look around the space, feel its fitness, readiness, scope. I leave the nets, to start with, and resolve not to capitulate to their charms without setting some real, meaningful points of focus. And then I am ready.