As the footy reached the business end of the season many of us started gearing up for our summer sports focus. In my case this is cricket, a sport I have been playing for a very long time. While experience is a wonderful thing in sport it does not make anyone immune to issues in their game and pre-season is a good time to work on your flaws and as I have discovered over the last two seasons, you're never too old to learn.
My time playing the game of cricket began as an eleven year old in the under 12's for my local cricket club. I lived centrally to about four clubs and chose this one because my older brother was already enjoying the game in the club's senior ranks. I've been told my interest in the game goes back further than this point, but unfortunately my memory doesn't.
I am now 37 years old and, when you combine seniors and juniors I am sure that I have played well over 200 games of cricket. In that time I have had many club coaches and mentors, but for the most part my team-mates and I self coach. It's a pretty simple arrangement; you know what works for you so try to maximize your strengths and minimize your weaknesses.
The problem with this is that bad habits become ingrained and difficult to break. While the club coach can help, he must prepare himself and often has more than fifty guys to organize and inspire. This is where professional coaching can come in very handy, and below is a look at the three professional coaches I have used. Their advice and impact on the technical side of the game and the mental side of the game has been a huge plus.
Ian Wrigglesworth watched from the top of the bowlers run ups as I batted in the nets. I felt pretty good, and had played a few good shots and hadn't been out but after a few minutes I notice he is coming down to talk to me. He tells me that I have a "trigger" movement that is going to restrict my ability to score in a certain way. I listened intently as he explained the issue, and then he tells me that he if I were to go on to play a higher level of cricket, such as Premier Cricket (then called District Cricket), bowlers would spot this flaw in my technique and try to exploit it.
To demonstrate this he tells me that he is going to bowl to me and hit me on the thigh pad 4 balls in a row. Now being a pretty confident teenager I felt that I had an advantage knowing where he was going to bowl so I was hoping to prove him wrong and show that my technique wasn't as flawed as he was making out. The first ball from him thundered straight into my thigh pad and actually struck with a bit of force. Ok I thought, he's a bit quicker than I expected but I am on to him now. Nope. The next three balls all thunder into my thigh pad and prove that he knew what he was talking about and that he was an extremely accurate bowler.
I knew that I had to listen to him as much as I could and over the next few months we worked on minimizing the flaw in my game. His advice and training methods were enormously valuable to me and I did my best to implement them. No other player at my club had noticed this flaw, or if they had they hadn't mentioned it to me. Also the opposition I was playing against didn't have the accuracy of a First Class player (Ian played 6 first class matches scoring 353 runs and took 9 wickets). Without his coaching and advice, that flaw would have severely restricted my batting.
Nearly 20 years later and it looks like my time in the game is coming to an end as I have just had one of the worst seasons of my career, barely averaging 20 with the bat. On a trip in to Topline Cricket to get a new grip on my bat I get talking to Richard Clifton who asks how my season went. After I tell him the disappointing nature of my season he offers to coach me in the off season and, with memories of the benefit of my time with Wrigglesworth at the fore of my thinking I agree to accept his help.
Richard has a wealth of knowledge of the game (He captained the 4th XI and coached the Dowling Shield at Premier Club Richmond as well as years of experience at the local level as a player and a coach) but crucially he has a great sense of humour and a manner that makes it easy to listen to him. His advice is uncomplicated and straight to the point, and he's not scared to praise you when you do something well. We discuss what it is I feel is the area that requires the most attention and he devises a series of training sessions to address this weakness.
I can't possibly count how many times Richard has told me to "keep my shape" and "transfer my weight" which I have told him is exactly the opposite advice to that of my doctor, who is keen for me to lose weight and change my shape. I wonder if his most famous pupil Glenn Maxwell has heard these words as much as I have, or his other favourite about paying rent on both sides of the oval (Indicating that we should try and score from both sides of the ground).
Richard is a calm and patient man who is adept at building up the confidence of the players he is coaching while he addresses their weaknesses. The season following taking on Richard as a coach my confidence in batting had returned and the results were positive until my appendix perforated and I failed to play again after Christmas. When I blamed him for this he smiled and said he had me primed for the County season and made no promises for the Australian summer. He continues to coach me through the off season and for those who know me well the benefit can be seen without too much effort.
The third professional coach I have had was a one off session with Brendan Joyce a month or two ago. Brendan played Premier Cricket with Fitzroy Doncaster and also is currently working as coach of the Essendon Cricket club. The first thing that comes to mind re this session is his energy and enthusiasm. Brendan put me through my paces for 40 or so minutes and his knowledge and delivery of it were excellent. He's keen on a central and balanced view to batting, and while the steps he wants me to take are small the transfer of weight and the benefit are immediately evident.
He has me standing taller at the crease, trying to help me stay balanced with a view to increasing the potency of my onside drives. It's hard work, but within the 40 minutes things begin to click and make sense. To work on my balance I bat on a plank of wood, and as I play each shot I am not allowed to step from it. It's difficult for me, and it takes considerable effort to achieve. Later I swap with him and I throw some cricket balls at him as he plays from the wood. Suddenly it looks pretty easy. I guess that comes with focus and practice. He tells me that it is up to me which aspects of the session I would like to incorporate into my game and that if we were to listen to everyone's advice we would go crazy.
At my next club training session I was able to put a few of these tips into practice and it was satisfying to see the work begin to pay off. Working with Brendan was an extremely worthwhile experience and one that I would recommend, just as I would recommend sending any cricketer who wants to improve to Richard.
So for those that are young or those that are no longer in their prime like me, if you are passionate about the sport you play, whether that is Golf, Footy, Tennis, Basketball, Netball or Cricket, having fun and getting the best out of yourself should always be the focus. Sometimes it's necessary to ask for help, and in my experience the use of a professional coach has been significantly worthwhile.
You can follow Martin on Twitter via @murdriggs
Topline Cricket has many experienced coaches available for hire and cater to any age or skill level. You can call them on (03)97615881