Kids go searching.

I’m no fan of Kevin Pietersen and never have been; I’ve never believed in him. I know plenty of folks think he’s a genius, a rare and special talent who’s simply been mismanaged but in accepting the bulk of that statement I reject him, utterly. If the Steve Harmison story is true about KP flatly refusing to take throw-downs from senior England coaches then let that be my reason. If it’s not, let it be that I think his arrogance and his consistent failure to think of his mates and that team-thing marks him down as an arse.

But hey guess what? Recently I’ve been ploughing through ECB Coaching Workshops and the thought struck me that KP – yes him with the ego – might have done something which may yet turn out to be profoundly positive. Maybe.

Between the Level 2 ECB Coaching Certificate and the new Performance strata there lies a bunch of workshops. These are important in that they set out a good deal of the new ideology around coaching cricket in England and Wales. (Ideology? Oh YEAH, you better believe it.)

In the last eighteen months or so, following an epic lump of research, sports-scientific wotnots and cross-bi-lateral oojamiflips, the ECB has re-emerged from the swamp. Or should that be… the nets? There’s been a fascinating and genuinely radical shift in the thrust of coaching. Personally – and maybe I should be careful with what I say – I reckon you can feel the hand of the Sports Development Militias in it and you can certainly taste the political correctness of the era; neither of which is necessarily bad. But with generic views may come the occlusion of that which is unique to cricket.

The titles alone, of some of these workshops (and the fact that they are known as workshops, eh?) may tell you much of what you need to know. “Creating the Learning Climate for Children”. “Game-based Learning.” “Skill Development for Children”. Cutting through the inevitable (and inevitably transient) verbiage, there’s a powerful move towards ‘player-centred’ coaching, going way beyond tokenism towards the individual. This is big, ideologically-driven stuff aimed at making coaches work more about the player and less about the recall or display of their own cricket knowledge. I think some of this may have been prompted by KP, whose profile has been such that he could, conceivably, be a catalyst here.

Those last two paragraphs may have had too much cynicism lurking so let me immediately contradict. Or at least re-calibrate the tone. The changes are huge, or will feel that way to coaches brought through previous regimes – regimes which have themselves been rotated or cheese-grated through development over the years. But (genuinely) my experience of Cricket Wales/ECB Coach Education (and therefore my sense of the philosophical intent) has been both encouraging and challenging in a good way. Surprisingly perhaps, things feel quite dynamic back there. People seem to be alive to the need to transform; rapidly.

But back to KP. I’m guessing that opinions in the ECB hierarchy are about as divided when it comes to Pietersen as they are in the general population. In a private space 60% would describe him with a brisk four letter word beginning with ‘c’. 38% would say it doesn’t matter what we think of him or his methods – ‘e dun it on the pitch’. The remainder would splutter into their Pimms. What is interesting to me is that having seen/sat through these workshops, the voice of KP –in fact the noise that KP makes- about ‘not coaching talent out of kids’ booms out. Credit the ECB that he is the first face turned to the camera in a key video on skill development.

Predictably, Pietersen goes straight into his ‘Bell plays classically, I don’t: don’t go coaching kids there’s just the one way’ argument. Understandably. Justifiably. But it’s almost as if in their scramble to appease the twin-headed monster at shortish mid-off (Pietersen/the multi-sports-conversant, child-centred modernist and funder?) the ECB have changed everything. Perhaps, being broadsheet-reading, report-assimilating types they fear being called out for old fartdom? Perhaps they are high on that elixir of the coaching industry age, branding – branding in the sense of renaming, re-infusing with sexy new jargon rather than psychotic (aaaaargh!!) market-driven branding.

This is certainly how the swing away from the previously central notion of (accepting the validity of) certain ‘Technical Models’ feels to many coaches who qualified pre, say, 2012. Many are cynical. I am not, despite how this might sound. I view this stuff as a healthy challenge.

If Pietersen has bullied us into reviewing the very essence of coaching that is remarkable. That has happened. The talk is of ‘Core Principles’ now not ‘feet shoulder-width apart and blah-di-blah high elbow’. Skill is successful execution not necessarily a particular movement pattern. Players finding things and coaches asking questions are central. The essence of ECB coaching is bravely empowering… and that’s good.

Now because I don’t like the man I’m reluctant to give KP too much credit in this but the fact is too many coaches did have a very fixed idea of what skill looks like and they bored generations of twitching, net-bound youngsters with those ungenerous notions. They can’t get away with that now. The newer, younger coach on the block will either call them out or intervene, as I do, when somebody is saying too much/presenting 44 ideas not four to a group of nine year-olds.

So KP as crusader, then? Hardly. The man’s a tad more fixated on his image, his contracts and the most efficient route to the limelight for that. But he has stirred it, made his point and rendered this debate necessary. That’s a singular contribution.

It may be that the new, updated ECB risks alienating traditionalists and fails to address finer, technical points; I’ve heard it said that there are gaps in the essential knowledge, that ‘Core Principles’ are all very well but what, precisely do you as a coach fall back on when a particular skill proves beyond a child? Generic answers aren’t always viable.

I’m hoping the ECB have thought of this. But it may just be that they are choosing to let kids go searching.


@bowlingatvinny is proud to work for @cricketwales. These views are his only, right?

Cricket; Junior Coaching; some thoughts…

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.


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’.

Floppiness, floppiness, the greatest thing that I possess?

I sometimes wonder if the opportunities available to our children are better chalked up in the negatives column rather than the positive. Not I think because I’ve got that twisted Victorian spite-as-moral-policy thing going on but out of… what, exactly?

I suppose again I’m thinking mainly in sporting terms here but before I’m through no doubt I’ll have meandered like a benign motorway-curious moose into all manner of absurd pseudo-prescient linkages. Kids and health/kids and emotional breadth/kids and valuation; ideas very much to do with some feared drift into floppiness.

What I mean by this is that state of slightly disengaged involvement with things; the result of there being arguably too many things – making it either unnecessary or unattractive or uncool to commit. We have to be careful with arguments like these – careful for one thing who it really is we’re talking about – but I’d be surprised if many of us haven’t had conversations over the ‘issue’ of kids and loyalty or discipline or application. Do we imagine (and fear?) that because kids seem to have everything on a plate that they may not dedicate themselves to any one thing? Do we – especially those of us who coach(?) – have that sneaking feeling children may be less likely to stay with us, in our sport, simply due to the near-unbelievable growth in opportunity and support elsewhere? Is that actually a worry?

It’s a feeling that exists, I’m sure. In my case it’s pretty entirely separated from notions of modern children or youths as some deteriorating, sedentary, Nintendo-clasping sub-species. I hate gadgets broadly and with a passion but despite the obvious worries about and even revulsion for this idea of whey-faced kids electro-masturbating their allegedly sad/geeky lives away in bedrooms up and down the land I deny this view. Without question too many kids are spending far too long playing on screens or gadgets and not long enough running around/climbing trees/scrumping apples from Charlie Webster in an adrenalin-fuelled, co-ordinated night attack. (All of them. Every succulent or wasp-drilled one, in one of the Olympian highlights of my childhood!) But I am happy to report that though this Facebook or Angry Bird-obsessed junior does of course exist – in some volume – he or she has failed to dampen and smother the glorious up and atters, the free-flowing batters, the whipped free-kickers, the spiralling punters. Sport will out.

As kids, we had nowt – relatively. Bike; football; cricket bat; worryingly dense block of wood which we rolled gingerly into place for a wicket. We weren’t taken to football/rugby/swimming/cricket/surfing coaching sessions like, for example my son. We just played/swam; learning along the way, ‘informally’. It was wonderful.

Wonderful but not better than now. In fact clearly less good in the very real and very important sense that sporting skills are now being coached and supported generally better than ever before. (Generally.) This may or may not equate to a rise in ‘standards’ – or even rises in participation – although clearly both are to be encouraged and aspired towards. Clubs – more than schools? – have really gotten their acts together. Yes there is more administrative cobblers, more posing going on from newly qualified and track-suited coaches, but there is also, in my experience substantially more focus and intelligence about the bringing of sport into children’s lives. Critically too, the relevant governing bodies seem to be genuinely aware of their solemn responsibilities to MAKE IT FUN.

Certainly in cricket, the ECB coaching system (which I understand – HA! – is again going to change imminently) is a more than decent model for offering children both entertainment and education in the game. One of the great pleasures of my life and work is to be involved in this lighting up of a child’s enthusiasm for charging about after a shinyredthing; because if you try you might even catch it; or stop it from… reaching… the boundary. Yes!! Come on!! That daft but wonderful love of the challenge; a challenge predicated (actually) on a kind of love for your mates – maybe those new mates you don’t even know because you just joined the flippin’ team… but look how they ran for me/you! That’s great that is!

In the last month or so I have been responsible for leading cricket sessions that were always going to result in the selection of a Regional age-group side. (Perhaps you’ll forgive me if I don’t get too specific?) So I can offer some evidence that is both ludicrously anecdotal but conversely ‘real’ and resulting from careful observations. I’ve coached boys – in this case – who have a very broad range of abilities because in our region, quite rightly, if you take part in even a very basic level of the Dragons Cricket programme, this will probably entitle you to attend Regional Squad sessions. What was outstanding and indeed delightful – again – was the magnificent and inspiring brio, life and
runaroundability of the group. Kids launching smilingly and ballistically at the warm-up; when they’re supposed to be er… gently warming UP. Sprinting gleefully when they’re supposed to be jogging; having waaay too much fun to be really focused. Loving it too much to listen.

And parents quietly chuckling at the state of Dafyd’s or Geraint’s hysterical Sport’s Hall Happiness; happiness not floppiness mind.   And me hopefully reigning it in, prudently, enough; enough to coach something (too.) This, thank god, this daft celebration of liberation and movement and communal fizz and juvenile but philosophically rich expression is defiantly a reality; still; I promise. So whilst YES we may be concerned at this aforementioned tendency towards some inner-ness, some retreat into new-fangled gadget-worship amongst children of this hugely pressured modern generation, all really is not lost. Certainly I can think of a game or two that is not lost.

Let the competition gather – whether or not it be pulsing with the flash and wallop of some war game or merely providing distraction through levels of rewarded but less offensive geekhood. Something tells me that humans need to gather and to celebrate their physicality. Maybe to run before they flop; maybe to run until they drop.

The level of sporting engagement will surely vary – as will its tempo, its type, its attraction. (Interesting in passing to note how certain sports have changed in nature, partly due to changes in society/perception and partly through necessary survival instinct; cricket being a good example. Apart from changes in format to increase appeal – to a new, young audience? – I am clear that the development of athletic prowess at the top of the game has been major. Suddenly and quite rightly it’s a non-negotiable. Good. Kids love nothing more than throwing themselves around; diving! To see Jonty Rhodes and then the likes of our own Paul Collingwood flinging themselves about like maniacs is part of what makes this a good time for cricket.)

But back to the general point. Which is I think that though this floppiness, this dull introversion exists, surely what we need to do… is simply make our games better? Cater well for the undeniable longing amongst so many and create that spark where there is none. The inclination, the faith, The Market is out there in the form of boys and girls and mums and dads who quite possibly instinctively feel there’s something great – tattifelariously, indefinably great even – about sport. So let’s not let them down, eh?