If you go into any batting session, you are likely to hear verbal cues. “Watch the ball onto the bat,” “roll your wrists” “drive the ball” “stay strong” are just a few examples of common cues. Cues can be internal or external.
An Internal cue asks the batsman to focus on their own body and movement, external cues asks the athlete to focus on the effect of their movement.
There is lots of research into this subject in sports and it is an important part of coaching. It seems that great coaches know how to use cues. They know what to say and when to say it.
Can a coach who is eager to provide feedback do more harm than good? Can it cause more confusion than correction? We all need feedback to improve, but, on occasions, less can be more.
Cues to use?
Research seems to suggest that when athletes focus on the external rather than the internal, players see a greater efficiency in the mechanics of an action. Some studies show that athletes focusing on their body movement engaged additional output from muscles that did not need to be activated – suggesting players could be coached out of natural movements.
Some research has suggested that internally and externally generated movement uses different parts of the brain and has an effect on reaction times. When an athlete is thinking about their body, they are interfering with the part of the brain that deals with reaction and subconscious movement.
Considering this, how often should we give cues to young cricketers? Every missed ball doesn’t need feedback. Cricket, and batting in particular, has too much failure to do this. Try to avoid the common practice of diagnosing biomechanical change based on the result of an action.
When a batsman gets out because they were late in their action they can often ask questions such as is their front foot correct or what their head was doing. Blaming the body for a mishit is often a misdiagnosis. The majority of the time missed balls are due to timing, vision or reading the ball. It could be damaging for a cricketer to think he or she needs to make mechanical changes every time they don’t smash the ball.
Mechanical adjustments will always be needed by cricketers, coaches should know where and when to vocalise the change. It is critical during a game-setting for players not to internalise their actions and processes – how easy is it for a young player to think about their movement pattern at the same time as striking a ball?
When working with a young cricketer, try putting them in a training environment that requires that particular skill before you ask them to adjust it - see if the player makes the adjustment naturally. The body has an ability to organise itself and its movements shouldn’t be underestimated.
When developing a training routine, try to create the game environment. This seems like an obvious statement. I suggest the creation of drills that require speed, foot work, adjustability or whatever your goal is, and challenge the players.
Embrace Differences in Style
Cricketers have variability in style. Should coaches encourage all young cricketers to move the same way? When coaches put players in drills that require quickness and adjustability, and by allowing them to compete and be natural, they discover their optimal movement patterns. Many actions are unique to each player and their body probably knows how to move better than coaches think it should.
Helping cricketers to make corrections is the difficult part of coaching. Try to put young cricketers in a specific training environment to force adaptations, put them in a challenging environment and use competition to raise arousal level. Give objective feedback and allow players to move freely and discover their optimal movement patterns.