The 7 steps of Performance Practice

Note: the vast majority of the material below was taken from Wayne Goldsmith and his excellent web site…

The fundamental element of cricket is skill. Bowling, batting, throwing and catching. Learning, practicing and mastering these basic skills is the foundation of coaching, performance, and training whether you’re a 5 year old just learning the game, or an international player preparing for a tournament. However, just learning the skill is only the first step in the process. Only fools believe that “Practice Makes Perfect” if the goal is to win in competition.
Cricketers do not often fail because their skill level is poor: they fail because their ability to perform the skill in competition conditions is poor and that’s a coaching issue.

Performance Practice:

Want to learn and master the basic cricket skills?
Find a coach, learn how to do it then practice, practice, practice.

Want to learn and master basic cricket skills so that you can enhance your performance in matches?
….then practice, practice, practice will not cut it: you need Performance Practice.

Performance Practice is a logical, systematic 7 Step process that takes athletes from the execution of the basic skill to being able to perform it under competition conditions.

The 7 Skills Steps of Performance Practice:

Skills Step 1: Perform the Skill
This is the first, and unfortunately for most cricketers, the last step in their skills learning program. Coaches’ come up with a drill, athletes copy it, try it, learn it. Obviously it is imperative at this first step that the skills are taught well. Cricketers must learn good habits early. “Experts” have suggested that it takes up to 10,000 repititions to correct a skills ‘bad habit’. The point being that it is a lot harder to change a bad habit than learn it correctly in the first place.

Skills Step 2: Perform the Skill very well
Skills mastery comes from regular practice combined with quality feedback from coaches and may incorporate the use of video and other performance analysis technologies – including the best one of all…the coach’s eye! Cricket is a game of repetitive skills. Once a skill is learned, it must be practiced over and over again to correct any flaws in technique. Cricket coaches refer to such work as grooving, and it’s a fine way to smooth batting swings and bowling styles. Grooving teaches muscle memory, allowing the cricket player to act without thinking during competition. It is about here that most coaches stop coaching the skill, believing that if the athlete can perform the skill really well, and it looks like it does in the coaching textbooks then they have done their job.
Wrong. The job is not even 30% complete.

Skills Step 3: Perform the Skill very well and at speed
Name one sport where the ability to perform sports skills really slow is a winning strategy!? Technical perfection at slow speed may look great for the text books, but unless the skill can withstand match level speed (and included in that is competition accelerations, competition agility requirements and competition explosiveness) then it is not competition ready.
Looking technically perfect at slow speed is great for the cameras but it is even better for your opposition who will have alady knocked your stumps down, or run between the wickets 4 times while you are receiving accolades for winning the “best-skills execution” competition.
Coaches must incorporate ‘speed’ drills into their training sessions. For example cranking up the bowling machine, or serving tennis balls at a batsman in the nets with a tennis racquet so that they can practice their shot execution against pace. For bowlers they must practise bowling their overs at match speed, rather than simply lining up with three or four other bowlers and getting to bowl one delivery every 30-45 seconds. fielders and wicketkeepers must also recieve catches and fielding practice at match speed I.e. hit the ball at them hard!

Skills Step 4: Perform the Skill very well, at speed and under fatigue
Think of the “danger zones” in all competition sport. The last 20 metres of a 100 metres freestyle. The last 5 minutes before half time in football. The last play in the game. Cricket is no exception. Being able to perform well in the last 10 minutes of a long session, or at the end of a long day in the field, or after having run back-to-back three’s whilst batting. Many, many cricket matches come down to the quality of skills execution during the last 5% of time and being able to perform fundamental skills when tired, dehydrated, glycogen depleted and suffering from neuro-muscular fatigue.
To incorporate this into your training sessions make sure you have bowlers bowl ‘spells’ rather than 4 or 5 bowling at once. You could also make batsmen run between the wickets regularly during net or open wicket sessions. Also insist that some of your better batsman and bowlers bat and bowl towards the end of the training session so as to replicate the fatigue of a match situation. As a coach and player you should never accept lagging effort towards the end of a session! Fast bowlers bowling spin and tail-enders having a slog is no way to end a quality training session!
It is at this point that I must stress the absolute importance of FITNESS in cricket! Unfit players are simply more likely to make mistakes in matches, as they get more fatigued more quickly than other athletes. This depletes the amount of oxygen to the brain and therefore hampers decision making ability.

Skills Step 5: Perform the Skill very well, at speed, under fatigue and under pressure
How many times do you see cricketers miss simple catches, get involved in stupid runouts, or make errors at critical moments – “danger-zones” in competitions? There is no doubt that emotional stress and mental pressure impact on the ability of athletes to perform skills with quality and accuracy. But… this is also a coaching issue. Incorporate the element of pressure in skills practices in training and ensure that training is more challenging and more demanding than the competition environment you are preparing for. Add pressure situations to your net practise, and where possible incorporate match scenarios into open-wicket sessions. For example if a batsman gets out it could be minus 10 runs, or if a bowler bowls a wide or no-ball it could be four extra runs to the batting team. Runs scored off mis-fields could also count as double. Simulating match pressure in a cricket training session can be difficult, but with planning, and the right attitude and buy-in from the players you can re-invent your sessions!

Skills Step 6: Perform the Skill very well, at speed, under fatigue and under pressure consistently
Being able to perform the skill under match conditions once could be luck, but being able to do it consistently under competition conditions is the sign of a real champion. Consistency in skills execution in competition comes from consistency of training standards. Adopting a “nocompromise” approach to the quality of skills execution at training is a sure way to develop a consistent quality of skills execution in competition conditions. Unfortunately many athletes have two brains:

1. Training brain – the “brain” they use in training and preparation. This “brain” accepts laziness, inaccuracy, sloppiness and poor skills execution believing that “it will be OK on the day” and everything will somehow magically be right on match day.

2. Competition brain – the “brain” they use in matches. The secret to competition success is to use “competition brain” in every training session.

This should be the responsibility of every individual cricketer, but should also be explained and enforced by the coach. “train how you intend to play” is a trueism!

Skills Step 7: Perform the Skill very well, at speed, underfatigue and under pressure consistently in competition conditions
This is what it is all about. The real factor in what makes a champion cricketer is their capacity to perform consistently in competition conditions. Performing a basic skill well is not difficult. But add the fatigue of 75 minutes of competition, the pressure of knowing the whole season is on the line with one kick, the expectations of the Board, the coach, the management, team-mates and tens of thousands of fans and all of sudden that basic skill is not so basic: it becomes the equivalent of juggling six sticks of dynamite!

Why do AB Devilliers, Virat Kohli, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, and Vernon Philander all seem to perform when it really matters? They understand the value of Performance Practice and hard work.

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