23rd May 2016

Most people want a recipe to follow, something that will work in all situations regardless of context and we all know that that’s just a silly thing to ask for isn’t it?

Anybody who has ever played a sport, especially a team sport knows that once a game starts there is no real way to predict the outcome.

We can say that it is most likely to end up this way, with the stronger team for example defeating the weaker, but if it was that obvious then there would never be any giant killing and the bookies would all be bankrupt.

But the bookies know that you cannot absolutely predict the outcome of a game and that’s why you don’t see many poor bookies.

The individual context of a game can have a great bearing on the outcome, how many times in football have we heard that the poor condition of the pitch of a lesser team was a “leveller”, or that the complacency of the stronger team got the better of them, tipping them over the edge into chaos and defeat.

So as we know this in sport, we naturally attempt to train in a way that seeks to mitigate the risk of a surprising defeat and this is what this blog post is about, well actually it’s looking at a small aspect, which is the way we look to develop kids when they first start learning a sport, in this case cricket.

OK I love coaching I admit it,  at work I look to coach people on how to do work stuff better,  outside work as a qualified kids FA  (football / soccer) and ECB (cricket) coach I look to get kids engaged with the game, learn the fundamental tools & techniques that will stand them in good stead for the rest of their lives and most importantly have lots of fun.

I recently took my ECB Level 2 coaching course and the coaching tool & methods that I was given seemed to naturally fall into the Cynefin framework.

When we train the kids we use many different types of practice to get the information over in hopefully fun ways.

These practices sit on a sliding scale from fixed practice, through variable to Game based practice.

Practice Types

The following is taken directly from the ECB coaching course information and whilst the specific details of the game may not make sence the general idea hopefully should, the method certainly from my experience sit well with how I teach football too and I imagine many other sports.

Practice Types

Practices are arranged on a continuum that has three broad categories Fixed, Variable and Cricket Game Based Learning arranged along it. Each practice type has its own strengths and weaknesses which should be considered when developing practice sessions.

Fixed Practice:

  • Activities that require players to repeatedly perform the same skill or movement
  • For example: batting – repeated front foot drive to constant feed; bowling – repeat stock ball – same line, length and trajectory
  • Able to maximise practice repetitions within any session
  • Suitable for the introduction of new or complex skills
  • Can improve players immediate performance and confidence in practice
  • Has potentially limited impact on learning and transfer of skills developed in practice into game situations

Variable Practice:

  • Activities that require players to perform the skill or movement differently from one attempt to the next (no repetition)
  • For example: batting, randomised front and back foot attacking shots;bowling-stock-ball, slower-ball and Yorker are all practised in a random order
  • Attempt to replicate the random demands associated with the actual game
  • Can enhance players learning and development of game-specific skills
  • Can be challenging and can lead to reduced practice performance and player
  • confidence

Cricket Game Based Learning  (CGBL)Practice:

  • Scenarios that attempt to replicate the random demands associated with the actual
  • game
  • Typically delivered via small-sided or conditioned games (e.g. last 4 overs, batting on a turning pitch etc.)
  • Encourages the ‘holistic’ development of skills (integration of technical, tactical,physical and mental elements of the game)

Cynefin Domain Links

Fixed to Obvious

So fixed learning is obvious learning, its simple, repetitive and highly constrained as we are clearly saying “this is the best way to do it”.

We learn how to do this by reductionism, we break the action or technique down into its constituent parts and train the children on these part through repetition. The aim is that through repletion the action becomes a part of  muscle memory, with the aim being that the child  can then carry out the technique without thinking,  in other words  it become an automatic response.

For Cricket as I imagine for baseball this is important as a ball being bowled at a batter at 90 mph over a distance of 22 yards, will give the batter about 300 milliseconds to react to and play the ball* , you certainly would not have time to think about what you are doing.

( here needs to be a link in here to Daniel Kahneman and thinking fast, thinking slow)

Variable to Complicated

Here we are seeking to introduce practice that more closely relates to a game based situation, so instead of repeating the same action over and over again we are asking the child to react quickly to variable situations. This is where we can start to really hone their skills, widening the range of availability automatic responses to differing game based situations, if its short hook it, if it pitched up drive it, if it a good ball defend it.

This is the realm of good practice as there may be many different techniques to use depending on the context of the practice, some will be better than others and some will literally depend on the abilities of the player. We are now saying “these are the type of shot you would use here” or “this is the type of ball you could bowl” in this context much of this expertise comes through experience so good coaches have usually played the game themselves and to a decent level, they are experts.

Game Based to Complex

We all like to end every practice with a game, after all playing the game is why the kids come to practice in the first place.

Here we have children interacting with each other in what is definitely a complex adaptive system, as the kids interact they change the game and so act as modulators.

If it’s a practice it’s a safe environment, they are encouraged to experiment and try things out as there are no real consequences for getting things wrong, apart from the usual ribbing kids give each other of course, so its “Safe to Fail”.

With kids cricket even in a competitive game, they get a pre-defined amount of time to bat or bowl, so even if the child makes a mistake they still get the same opportunity to learn as those that don’t make a mistake, this is invaluable as making a mistake is how we learn quickest.

Regardless of whether a game is in practice of for real, we provide the kids with quick feedback, as well as lots of praise allowing them to adjust their decision making to allow for a better outcome next time.


Simply put if you don’t know what to do in a situation you will likely do what ever you feel most comfortable with.this can be seen when a captain makes a wrong judgement call, or  a player plays the wrong shot at the wrong time.

Clearly we see a lot of this with the kids and better decision come with more practice and an understanding of what to do were and when, in the words of Gary Player a famous South African golfer from the 1960 & 1970s.

“The one thing I’ve found out,” ….. “is that the more I practice, the luckier I get.”

There are obvious used for the Cynefin Dynamics too and this would appear to be another blog post.