This article discusses the well known concept of contextual interference and how it can be used in golf practice. In this article, I will talk about how cricket coaches can use the same ideas in their own practise.
Golf and cricket have always gone together and is often the favourite destination for cricketers on rained off days or after an unexpected early finish. Given that both sports are highly technical and require hitting a ball there is often an over focus on technique at the expense of just getting the job done. In terms of practice, there are often common features between the methods adopted in the two sports. Coaches talk about a ‘repeatable’ technique which can only be acquired through high levels of repetitive practice, or what cricket coaches term “volume”. While I would agree with the need to undertake lots of practice to get better; and that cricketers generally don’t hit enough balls, I would not support the way that this is currently undertaken. As the average 15 minute net session will involve facing approximately 30-40 balls of varying usefulness, there are few chances to practice specific shots due to the competitive nature of the net session and consequently, ‘technical’ practice tends to take place in one-on-one sessions with the coach and makes use of bowling machines, throw-downs or sidearms.
In these sessions, coaches tend to focus on improving their players’ ‘weaknesses’ and will drill the specific shot until ‘practice makes perfect’. In the golf article, this is the equivalent of hitting a bucket of ‘3-irons’ in an attempt to make it better. This approach leads to good improvements in practice, however, poor ‘retention’ of the improved skill when it comes to using it in competition.
How then should we encourage players to practice? Essentially, coaches should use variable practice or as I have said in previous articles, ‘repetition without repetition’ which means never repeating the exact same movement twice. Ideally this would also be against real bowlers who are asked to bowl specific deliveries (this is just as good as practice for the bowler). In practice, So, if a batter is looking to improve an off-drive, for example, the coach should ask the bowler to mix up his line while maintaining the same length, or keep the same line and change the length. The key point here, is that the batter needs to develop perception (the ability to pick the right ball to off-drive) at the same time as developing the hitting action (the off-drive). If a bowler is not available, the coach should either provide slow throw downs (from the full length of the pitch) or bowl downs from a little closer. While you might think these deliveries would be ‘too slow’, they are still more likely to result in the development of good co-ordination of the upper and lower body than would be achieved via underarms or drop feeds. If the coach wishes to use a bowling machine, it should be set at a slower speed and the batter can be asked to change his or her stance after every ball to ensure that the same shot is not played twice.
In summary, if you are looking for short term improvements in confidence use blocked practice. If you are looking for longer term improvements use variable (repetition without repetition) practice, but remind the player that they won’t feel that they have improved as much during the practice session but will get better in the long run.