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Imagine Improvement

Imagine Improvement

Recently I've read the evidence from the 1990s that revealed the power of imagination in sport.

Researchers explored 3 subject groups; 1 performed finger exercises, group 2 performed no finger exercises, and group 3 simply imagined the finger exercises performed by group 1.

After 4 weeks and as expected, the subjects in the first group increased the strength of the exercised finger by 30% on average – no shock here! No surprise that the subjects in the second group did not increase the strength of the finger.

This is what shocked me - the subjects that only imagined exercises without actually doing them increased the force output of the exercised finger by 22%, without the finger increasing in size!

Should we conclude that imaginary exercises made the connection between the brain and the finger (muscles) more effective?

I believe that this demonstrates the importance of intent for developing young cricketers.

I have written about this before and I will write about it again - It is the level of intent which reveals the potential of a young cricketer to perform a task.

Increased intent may help explain how imaginary exercise can work. Imaginary exercise seems to teach the brain to perform a task with greater intent, facilitating the recruitment of more powerful muscle movement.

The level of intent, with which a young cricketer performs a task, is determined by the player’s level of focus and effort. Imaginary exercise can improve both.

Despite the effectiveness of imaginary exercise, young cricketers should not skip training and just visualise. As demonstrated by the finger experiment described above, a training regimen that exercises both the brain and the muscle is most effective.

Coaches have a role to play in helping young cricketers understand that exercise and training should be intertwined with mental exercise – provide regular opportunities for players to complete actions they are practicing with greater intent.

Training with greater intent will lead to adaptation. Over time (months and years, not days and weeks) players will learn to activate more efficient actions and sequences – leading to enhanced performance.

Coaches can encourage training with greater intent by using unfamiliar exercise techniques or situations. An unfamiliar task requires more focus and typically engages the player to a greater extent. For this reason, it is beneficial for coaches to experiment and to mix up their training programmes.

A training programme only composed of the same activities will not be nearly as effective as a programme composed of many different training methods and scenarios.

Keeping It Simple

Keeping It Simple

Going into too much detail can be very confusing and hard to understand for young cricketers (and many professionals!), and not necessary – after all, cricket only involves solid preparations, complex biomechanics, chess grandmaster-like tactics, power and fitness… to name just a few elements. What could be simpler than that?

So, how easy is it to understand everything we need to know about developing cricketers? We are probably all further away from understanding this than we think we are.

Cricket specific actions are complex to analyse and to teach. If we knew how to teach a bowler to take a wicket with every ball then bowlers would be doing it. likewise for batting! Instead, coaches tend to teach proper mechanics claiming that proper technique should come before anything else. Can fast bowling and hard-hiiting be coached without explaining the complex biomechanics to your players?

 

SIMPLE FOR THE COACH? OR SIMPLE FOR THE PLAYER?

Do coaches need to explain complex mechanical concepts to young cricketers? Coaches absolutely need to make the player feel and understand what is going on without verbally intimidating them. To take this approach is to deny that coaching enhanced performance in cricket is tough and many elements are not fully understood.

As coaches we’re getting better at asking the right questions. We believe a critical role pf the coach is to experiment, explore the unknown, and research… research… research! Once we understand what works best for young cricketers to enhance performance without overloading them with complex explanations and instructions, we can build simple and specific training methods into our programmes and begin to see accelerated performance.

 

FINALLY

Coaches should seek to understand the complexities of improving young cricketers before translating these complexities into simple drills, exercises and training techniques. The attribution between this principle and improvement should be recorded and used to build a bank of evidence to get closer to understanding what works for young cricketers.

Focus on Intent

Focus on Intent

As coaches, A-Star Cricket regularly looks to other sports for ideas as to how to enhance performance from our players. Something we have come across in baseball is the phrase “intent to throw hard”. This phrase in its simplest form means nothing more than maximum effort.

I know that I have worked with fast bowlers where I have purely worked on the biomechanics and sequencing without any focus on intent. I can also say that I have fallen into the trap of thinking that maximum effort demonstrates over compensation for problems with an action and that the action is not repeatable.

Is there a problem with young players demonstrating maximum effort? No, but the intent is useless without an underlying base of strength and fitness.

The idea of “intent” to many coaches means that it is something that creates fast bowlers or hard-hitting batters. But that’s not what it is – intent simply reveals this.

Of course, intent and underlying fitness are intertwined.

In an ideal training model, a coach should design a programme that maximises return on training time over many sessions. Within programmes coaches should seek to improve intent, mechanical efficiency, and underlying fitness all at the same time to some degree or another.

As coaches we should know and encourage maximum effort and intent. Our players should know what it feels like to hit or bowl with intent – and coaches should encourage this, give young cricketers the opportunity to just hit hard or bowl fast with maximum effort for no other reason than to reveal their full potential.

As coaches we can all tell someone anything and be correct. But we all experience the feel of our actions in our own way. What feels like hip to shoulder separation to you may feel like over rotation to me; what feels like the correct set up to you feels too open to me. Actionable drills and exercises must let the individual figure it out for themselves.

Many young cricketers cannot be told what to do; they must be shown how to discover the optimal hitting and bowling power through overload/underload training and regular opportunities to experience maximum effort.

So while young cricketers often need to improve both intent and fitness, coaches can’t just say “try to hit harder” and “throw these heavy balls” and hope it works. Players need individualised, but still general enough, since they are starting at a beginners level, programmes that adapts to their specific needs.

Players that we have worked with have seen quick improvements in ball exit velocity in bowling and hitting actions when we have had a focus on intent and maximum effort, some young cricketers have improved bowling speed by 4mph in just 8 weeks – and they only worked with us for 90 minutes a week!

We have seen the best results when players are very hard workers, and do not stop training when they leave the sessions. While I believe in the benefits of our programmes, it is nothing without the intent to work harder than anyone around you.