Coaches Corner – The “Game” is in the balance

Upon attending a conference recently, I was exposed to a concept called “Constraints-led” training. Although it seems like complicated language, this method would be familiar to all coaches in varying degrees. A “constraints led” approach is a coaching methodology based on the principles of non-linear learning. Through the manipulation of certain “constraints” (task, player or environment), information is presented to the player in a way that they are challenged and channeled to find their own solutions to the problems or the given objectives. This “hands-off” approach is born on the implicit spectrum of coaching rather than instructional explicit training. So what does this mean for cricket coaches?

In a coach’s vocabulary, the word “drill” rolls off the tongue with fluency. Drills are often searched for by coaches looking to show competence and confidence at their training sessions to add to the library of activities that can be done. There is an abundance of drills which can be found in various sources whether through past experience, in books or even online. Although these can conjure up inspiration and creativity, the most effective drills are often unique and personalised for the player at their particular level of development. “Drills” have their place in the sun especially when considering the repetition of a learned motor skill and their effectiveness in developing skills has stood the test of time but there is more than meets the eye to just “hitting balls”.

The decision making process is often the forgotten cousin when conjuring up a new exciting drill and this is where “constraints-led” coaching rises to the occasion. By presenting various scenarios, rules and conditions a coach can engage the players mind and body to the simplest task. The most informal version of constraints can be found no further than the backyard. Growing up in a cricketing household, a bat and ball were never far from reach. Age old rules such as “six –and-out”, “one hand one bounce” and “electric wickets” were a common language which informed decision making and caused many a heated debate whether the “pot plant could have caught that one”. Needless to say, if more drills were run in this way it would allow players to strategise, make decisions and perform the given objective for themselves, not to mention by gamifying training it can add to the enjoyment experienced.

Effective learning finds this balance. On the see-saw between novelty and boredom lies emotional relevance. Back to the backyard, it was a daunting sight to see big brother steaming in with the taped tennis ball from 12 yards wanting nothing more than to get the bat back in his hand (or inflict a bruise as a trophy), but on reflection, what did this teach me? Skills such as getting in line, playing swing bowling and facing pace not to mention the mental components of grit, game plans and concentration. I can even recall going to the nets to prepare my technique for the game… played at Number 14Cherry Lane every weekend.

The debate will continue between the “constraints-led” community and the “old school drill masters”, however with a balanced approach to the framework of improvement a unique mix can be created which if intentionally constructed can lead to players having all the tools in the box. Equipping players to adapt given the task and the environment with prepared skill is what performance is all about.