I wrote the following to bundle the coaches at my club into a discussion on what we do. Clearly I ran the risk of patronising good people and good coaches but it wasn’t meant to be anything other than a contribution… or maybe a prompt. Because somebody had opened up their cavernous gob – me – we at least had to think about this stuff. Which is good, right?
Coaching Under 9’s.
For starters, make a mental note that this age group may include particularly wide ranges of ability and degrees of experience – later groups should be at relatively similar levels, given their time spent at clubs/schools sessions. So we have to be mindful of this range in the youngsters and of the possibility that some may be intimidated by unfamiliar or overly challenging things. Coaches need to be sensitive and fair about this human stuff as well as smart.
The first priority, however, is to effectively to draw the new players in – to make it fun enough for fears and insecurities to melt away – by getting on with it and letting the game convert those nerves/those uncertainties into smiles/adrenalin/energy. Remember they’re kids; they just want to play; point them to a game or warm-up game, pronto!
ECB Coaching tells us to get them active and surely this is right. Minimise the verbals; when the time is right to add in technical stuff give them one or two things to think about not forty-two. Our role is most definitely NOT to show or tell them (or their watching parents, or watching coaches) how much we know about a given shot, skill, or practice. It’s to get them at it, then maybe demonstrate a couple of things well, then turn that into a game. Ideally a game that instructs – but certainly one that entertains.
We may or may not like the notion that the world’s attention span (never mind our children’s) has been frazzled by immediate thrills and addictive activity but we probably need to acknowledge it. In our coaching I think this does mean we have to keep the energy UP and the work FOCUSED; particularly for the youngest. I also feel that sessions should both sound and feel lively. Most of this will come from the coach, who (whatever his or her nature) has to find a way to drive and encourage the thing forward. So be friendly and maybe even noisy… and circulate that energy around the place.
One of the great joys of coaching is the fact that small children will respond so quickly and so fully to some real encouragement; so do that and the games themselves will light them up. And that’s magic.
Central to half-decent coaching may be that it is about asking good questions of the players. What did I do? How did that work? What were my feet doing? Why was that do you think? Describe it to me. At every age group I try to get the players to coach me – to own and understand the information. It’s better, I think, than me repeatedly spouting stuff from the various ECB manuals.
Every session should start with a welcome; possibly a verbal one and a welcome into a gathering game – particularly if that signing kids in thing is going on elsewhere. This might be simply an all-in catching game on the Krazy Katch (trampoline thing!) or something else that makes the players feel part of something straight away – before the warm-up proper has begun. Have a think about what your group might do that would get you off to a good start rather than one that (already) smacks of drift.
I think CROSS-OVER GRIDS are a good way to warm up. They involve some running as well as requiring players to switch on their concentration and their catching skills. If players make 3 throws/catches and run diagonally then things change. If you BUILD the challenges – maybe from simple two-handed catches working in pairs, through to a flat out race to catch the pair in front – then the concentration as well as the physical readiness should increase. CROSS-OVER GRIDS also really lend themselves to variation – catches /throws/bowls of various sorts. Think about which challenges are appropriate, then increase the pace and intensity. Always ALWAYS make it fizz – make it a giggle but a challenge. Just differentiate – i.e. change that challenge – where necessary (and with sensitivity) for children who may not achieve those grander goals.
Other warm-up games particularly suitable for this age-group (although not necessarily just this age-group!) include DODGEBALL, GRAND PRIX CARS (where players are given the number of a gear to run in and further directions added), CROSSFIRE, KWIK RUNS/SAFE CATCHES plus there are a billion things you can do involving SHUTTLE RUNS either in pairs or as individuals. I try to feed off what’s happening within these games and change or add in things that seem like fun. Remember if the children are enjoying things and following your directions this means they must be listening!
By the way; if you don’t know what a particular game looks like, ask me, or another coach, or look at HOWZAT, or the ECB Website, or go elsewhere on line. There are hundreds of ideas up there.
We are all familiar with the idea that an evening’s session will generally follow the WARM-UP/GAME/COOL (WARM?)-DOWN format. (In practice, few of us do the cool-down .) Nobody is suggesting that things should be rigid; I have no problem with ‘warm-up games’ developing so well that they become the bulk of the session – or are inseparable from the main practice. If this happens ‘more by accident than design’ so be it – it may be that a particularly dynamic session feels like it happened by instinct and clearly this is possible. However it may be more accurate to say that some preparation and the right amount of structure facilitates, or makes possible that brilliant idea mid-flow, I think. Either way, I reckon, look, listen, go with your instincts.
We are encouraged to move into more or less structured, often ‘small-sided’ games for the bulk of our training sessions and there are reasons for this. Cricket has particular disciplines and they do demand some attention and some patience as well as certain skills. But we can’t expect that every young player will have bundles of patience so we may need to run a number of games in parallel (if coaches are available) so that players stay active and involved. Again, rightly or wrongly, young children may drift away if they don’t get a bat in their hand pretty early… so that opportunity may need to present itself reasonably soon or often.
Think about what is appropriate and then – for this age group – set the game up and let it run without too much interruption. GAMES might be …
Continuous (or Non-stop) Cricket/variations of The Lord’s Game/Cricket Rounders/Pairs Cricket/Bowling Action (Target Bowling)/Hitting from a tee (Front Foot Hitting?)/Diamond Cricket/Catching games (relays? Vary service?) Or take a particularly good ‘warm-up game’ like Cross-fire and use it for a throwing session; coach the technique; then crack on again. All of these games can be found in the ECB SESSION PLANS, so either find a copy, print one out, or ask me.
Let’s be honest, most young children should not suffer (e.g.) muscle injury due to their exertion during these sessions, so the temptation is there not to bother with COOL-DOWNS. There is, however, both an argument that this is good practice (and therefore it helps cement a culture of doing the right thing) AND the more convincing argument that a cool-down provides a calming opportunity to reflect on the session. Maybe simply walk through some shuttles, making simple catches… and ask a further question or two, or suggest something helpful in terms of practice away from the club. Then close the session with a few well-chosen words.
STRATEGY FOR THE SEASON.
Broadly the aim is going to be to enthuse these children – to get them ‘into’ cricket. Hence the emphasis on ENERGY and ENTERTAINMENT. But think about what proportion of your time you might spend on particular skills over the season. Would a 50% batting / 25% bowling / 25% fielding split seem about right? If so, plan for that. Or is the development of a general understanding of the shape and the requirements of the game more essential than specific skill-sets. You find that balance – or aim for it – remembering that this age group is going to be playing soft-ball, festival cricket, or just playing ‘for fun’.