Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Cricketing Practices and Life Lessons - A Workshop

Some of the young Under 15 wards who play cricket only over the weekends (some of them not-so-serious cricketers) asked me if they could come to the ML Jaisimha academy during the Dussehra vacation. I discussed with Vidyuth and we decided that we could offer an 8 day program during the vacation period. However we would not offer a pure cricketing course but a different product - 'Cricketing Practices with Life Lessons' for boys and girls in the Under 15. I put together a curriculum based on 10  cricketing practices  - Preparation, Basics, Effort, Target setting. Creativity, Resilience, Focus, Courage, Team spirit and Leadership.
In rapt attention
Vidyuth sent it to the press and the Deccan Chronicle, Hindu, Times of India, Eenadu etc announced the workshop in their papers. Eight youngsters joined up - Anish, Aarav, Taufeeq, Vivek, Jaivant, Abhishek, Smaran and one girl, Anjali. Surprisingly she, who loves to sleep in on vacation time and have late nights, of her own accord asked if she could join and held on despite my discouraging noises. I guess that goes for everyone - why would anyone wake up at 6 on vacation time and come to cricket nets?
Discussing strengths and areas to improve
Day 1.
We discussed Preparation and how cricketers prepare, be it for catches, facing the ball, matches or over the long term. We discussed how their performance reflects their preparation and nothing else. If a performance is not up to the mark one has to prepare better next time - be it a catch, while batting, bowling. a match or a career. They were asked to think of how to apply the same to their life, to exams. They agreed that more preparation would help them improve their performance in day-to-day life and also in the long run.
Basics with Baig saab
A journal was given to them and they were asked to journal what was discussed and put their thoughts down and bring to the next session.
On the cricketing front they learned how to warm up properly led by Santosh. After discussion they played a match with a tennis ball. They enjoyed themselves. A recap and off they went.
Batting drills
Taufeeq is a regular at the academy and knows his cricket. But he somehow refused to lead in the matches. When asked why he said he did not like being pestered by others about bowling and batting etc and preferred to focus on his game. We let him be but on the later days we made him the leader and also equipped him with how to deal with players who may cause conflict by having contrasting opinions.
Length of deliveries and how to play the same
Day 2
I was worried whether anyone would turn up at all thanks to the exertions of the first day. But they all showed up which was commendable. We discussed Effort and how effort and hard work cannot be replaced by anything else if we wanted to become good at anything. We discussed how to measure effort by number of hours and how to maximise results of the effort by being purposeful about the effort.
Stretching or trying to
We discussed the importance of a good coach, learning right practices and then putting in the effort. We quantified effort. A person who takes 20 catches for 300 days will take 6000 catches while a person who takes 40 catches on 100 days will still be at 4000 catches. There will be a difference. The importance of regular routines cannot be stressed more - daily effort with fixed routines helps build muscle and expertise. The same can be applied directly to their academics or any other field. Just 10 minutes every day of the year adds up to 3650 minutes! They learned basics of batting such as grip, stance and backlift.
Bowling drills
They were instructed to come every morning and follow their routine - show me notings in the journal, warm up, take catches and do the drills they were taught before coming for discussion. A match was played.
Catching practice
Anjali was the only girl but she was more than enthusiastic. She was regular (no option) but always made it without complaints, wrote her journal everyday and was full of concentration in each session. As one of the youngest she actually led her side one day and pulled off a creditable win chasing 40 runs. She put up her hand again to lead and this time she had a problem when the boys pushed her around when she wanted to bowl.
Anjali showing the backlift

She turned away and cried without complaining to me of course. I asked her what the problem was and she told me how the boys would not listen to her. I explained that it is how it will be - there will be all sorts and as captain one must learn how to handle them. She could not get disheartened and give up. She must find a way and lead. The last option was to use authority to discipline the member - before that, could she understand and then explain. Also on the day we discussed courage, and practiced against short rising balls with a tennis ball, she got hit, and tears came up in her eyes, but she got in line and played. She took her target setting seriously and in one game scored 12 with her partner - exactly what they had planned. And the day she put up her hand to lead - many others put up their hands too. I went with her and one of the boys asked why? I explained - she was the only one who went on asking - please, please, please - while the others asked once and gave up. Earnestness has its rewards.
A team without a common purpose
Day 3
We discussed the importance of Basics. Practice does not make perfect - perfect practice makes perfect. It was important to get the right equipment, learn from the right coach and then do the right drills. We had the good fortune of having Mr. Rehmat Baig who taught Vidyuth and me when we were Under 15 ourselves and who is a world renowned coach, and he taught them the basics in batting and bowling that day. We discussed how with basic knowledge of building simple sentences we could write an entire book, with basics in maths and science, we could solve 80% of the problems. If the basics were right we could address 80% of the issues we face with reasonable competence and confidence.
A short match was played and as with every day they were asked to volunteer to lead. Some did and some did not. Their behaviors in the match was discussed.
A team that is tough to break
Vivek was very tired by the end of the fitness session but he gamely hung on with a happy and radiant smile. He would fall and fail sometimes but he always listened with a smile. He was approachable to the younger kids and always gave everyone space.
Vivek demonstrating forward defence
He would always try gamely and in the right spirit and never gave up. Sometimes his coordination would be so bad that when the others were doing right, he would do left. But he hung on. Wonderful. No wonder Vivek was one of the most popular leaders in the camp.

A match in progress
Day 4
We discussed Creativity. We defined creativity as creating opportunities - like good fielders do. We discussed how the below average fielders dropped simple and straight forward catches and threw away opportunities that landed in their lap. They were the ones who would score about 20-40%. Then there were those who were good with the basics and could take simple and straight forward catches. They were good for 40-80%. But the ones who got 80-100% were the ones who practiced for the catches that were not straightforward. They practice those catches by anticipating and converting half chances at all possible angles and speeds etc. These are match winners and they convert half chances into opportunities and turn their fortunes.
Bhupinder officiating
Similarly in life, one must first be good enough for the straight and simple and then prepare for all possibilities and to grab half chances to succeed. Like in maths, a person will not get 100% unless the person practices on all kinds of applications of the problem and not just the simple ones.
They were introduced to the basics of fielding - watch the ball with great focus from the bat, through the flight, be early in position and them not take the eyes off the ball until the very end.
Smaran demonstrating a perfect off drive
Smaran knows his cricket and is extremely good with his basics. He has the gait and ability of a natural cricketer. For an eleven year old he is extremely good. But he had a tendency to feel bad when his team lost or when things were not going their way. When we poke of resilience one could feel the burden lift and he found a way out of this self-imposed burden. In a later game, he actually trusted Anjali to bowl the last over when the opponents needed only 11 runs in the last over. And surprise of surprises, she only gave 4 runs. When I asked him why, he had a Dhoni like answer - she was confident and asked me i she could bowl the last over and secondly she gave only 4 runs in her first over as against 23 runs that I gave in my first over. Smaran is easily the best  bowler in the lot and for him to give a beginner like Anjali was amazing. He has superb man management skills and is a wonderful person to have in your team. Also great leader material.
Bowling drills
Day 5
We discussed target setting. How in cricket we set targets for practice and for the match and then prepare ourselves for those targets. A target while at nets could be to learn or master a particular skill that day, to play so many balls without getting out, to bowl so many balls, take so many catches etc. In matches we set ourselves targets for individuals, partnerships and for the team.
We discussed how not to set unreasonable targets nor set too low targets. The targets should be achievable. Once achieved, the idea is to increase the target slightly next day. If you run five rounds today, run six tomorrow. The same goes for academics. Set targets in advance and work towards the same.

Jaivant is a talented cricketer and a natural athlete. But he has a short attention span and knows he is good or better than the others. In one game he was trying to win the game and wanted to play someone else's batting quota when the rules were clear that each one had to contribute.
Jaivant demonstrating a lovely front foot drive
It was an incident where we could point out that the team has people of different abilities and all should play their part. If he has done his job, he should now encourage others to do well and not go and play for them. Important lesson which he practiced when he was the captain next day. A quick learner. Intelligent and competitive, adaptable and articulate. 

Day 6
We discussed Resilience. We discussed how champion players bounce back after a mistake. We all make mistakes and we should not let one mistake affect the rest of our performance and the team. We must be conscious not to drag ourselves into a downward spiral and pull ourselves out of it as quickly as we can - what was done was done. The team was also asked to help anyone who made a mistake by being supportive. The idea of the champion is that he or she bounces back from the worst setback. It was a mental thing.
Similarly, we fail in life too. Everyone fails. With better preparation we can come back and put up a better show again. The children found it quite liberating to know that mistakes were allowed and that they could get a second chance.
A match was played and we discussed attitudes, behaviors and possibilities.
Anish and an on drive

Anish is a quiet, committed and intelligent boy. He works at his game diligently and quietly. From being a raw beginner he has now developed into a good leg spinner and is improving every day. Again, a complete team man and people love to have him in their side because he is always encouraging, open to listening and gives his best. While playing a game I heard him speak to one of the boys - come on, play for the team and not for yourself. Wow. 

Day 7
We discussed Focus. How we get distracted and lose focus. It is difficult to score a hundred because we lose focus at 20, 30, 40 or 60. To improve focus we must discipline our mind and focus on every ball with complete concentration. We did an exercise of walking and counting the number of steps without a single distracting thought - they were to stop when one distracting thought ends their mind. They all said they got distracted before 10 steps. They were asked to find ways to increase their focus - by doing this exercise or similar exercises and maintain focus on one thing for increasing amounts of time.
The way that a loss of focus forces us to make mistakes in exams and competitions was discussed. We played a full game with the entire net because Dussehra was a holiday for the academy.
Aarav demonstrating backfoot defence

Aarav is a revelation. One of the most introverted of the lot he has now become an expressive and difficult to control (in a nice way) kid. He is full of energy and arguments. But what is important is that he has learned his basics well. He is a really good fielder, very good with his batting and can hit correct and aggressive shots. He is also full of energy which makes him an automatic choice. While playing as the 'jother' (his version of a joker) he was instrumental in scoring the important runs to help Anjali's team pull off an improbable win. 

Day 8
We discussed Courage. How difficult situations like playing fast bowling and short pitched bowling makes us want to run away from the ball. But the cricketing practice was to get in line with the ball and watch it closely to help us deal better with it. In life too we may have unpleasant situation where we have to deal with bullies or people or situations that may scare us, but the idea is to get in line and watch till the end, without running away. If we run away they will always trouble us. Yes, it might be scary, it might even hurt a bit, but we will know how to deal with it.
As a practice they played short pitched balls with the tennis balls. It stung, especially Anjali, but she bit her lip, wiped away a tear and stood her ground.
Abhisehk and his backlift
Abhishek is a natural athlete and well built for a 14 year old. But for his size and strength he is surprisingly gentle especially with the younger lot, very approachable, disciplined and very regular. He was one of the two who wrote their journals every day (Anjali was the other) and he would make lovely connections between cricket practices and life in his neat printed hand writing. He was a fantastic team man to have, has a learning mindset and being very approachable was always in demand. He has an organised approach to anything and put in his best effort in a game that he was not very good at and improved rapidly.

The last day was also Anjali's birthday so we cut a cake 
Day 9
Team Spirit. We discussed how the team must have a common purpose, how the team was bigger than the individual, how our performance improves when we play for the team and how we enjoy most when the team wins. We did a few exercises to show how a good team supports each of its members, is tight as a fist, and is difficult to break.
In life also we discussed how as part of the team at the family, school, society, state, country - we must work for the team's benefit and not only for ourselves at the cost of the team. When the team wins, we win. We cannot win anything big, alone.
Abhishek and his mother with Baig saab

Day 10
We discussed Leadership. By now everyone had a chance to lead their side once, so they discussed what leadership was about. Some felt pressured, some could not control the team, some were unsure about what to do. We discussed how the leader's decision making becomes easier if he or she is clear about the purpose - which is that the team's purpose must be fulfilled. If the team purpose is to win, then the leader has to make all decisions keeping that in mind.
We did a role play on how to handle players or members who create trouble - first the captain must be cool and not get hassled, must not have favorites and then make the trouble maker feel secure in his space. Smaran gave a good demonstration of how to pacify a trouble maker, by putting his arm around Satwick, explaining why the team was playing, why that decision was critical and making the person feel like they are part of the decision making process.
We played another game today, a highly competitive one.

That ended the 8 day course.
Us and a couple more - Kapish, Taufeeq, Baig saab, Me, Hardik, Anjali, Anish, Satwick, Smaran, Abhishek, Mayank (Aarav, Jaivant and Vivek missing)

All participants did a great job of coming every day without missing a day (except a couple) and braving the difficulty. They did their homework regularly - especially Anjali and Abhishek who diligently wrote down the cricketing practice and the life lesson every day with good imagination. I gave them reading material, took feedback and sent the parents a feedback form.

I felt that we covered a lot more topics and issues through this format than what is normally possible in a regular coaching session mainly because this format gave me the latitude to speak of applications. In pure cricket coaching the focus is entirely on technique and the soft and finer aspects are always lost. I am quite happy with it and it is 8 days well spent in my opinion.
Feedback from the coachees

Some feedback
Practice makes us better in our chosen field. Learned about visualisation, resilience and much more. Learned cricketing practices and am a better cricketer now.  I will apply what I learned in these 8 days in my whole life. Thank you sir. - Abhishek

Learnt how to improve my skills in the game. We learn about the cricket practice first and then the life application. Courage, resilience, target setting, focus help us in cricket and life. We could understand the concepts better through cricket as we love the game. We learned how to handle the ups and downs in a match, how to manage the team and how to be a proper captain. - Smaran

The first thing I learnt was the importance of participation. I can use these lessons in my exams and in cricket. I learned about how important preparation is. - Anish

To lead well, one must put the team ahead of oneself. Team work is important if the team has to win. Focus on one thing at a time. We must practice to perform. - Anjali

I have learned to be a good team player and not to play for myself. Earlier I used to play for myself. I also used to get scared of the cricket ball. I have learned not be be scared of the ball. I used to have a short temper but now I am a good team player because I learned through playing. - Hardik

I am more confident as a captain. I am stronger in the basics now. I learned to encourage others and to play a fair game. I learnt to never give up and to concentrate more. - Taufeeq

I learned how to bowl and bat, grip and stance, forward and backfoot defence in the course. - Satwick


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