A generation of young Australian players grew up trying to shoot like Patty Mills or Lauren Jackson, bat like Ricky Ponting or snap from the boundary like Buddy Franklin. Imitating our sporting heroes is very much part of how Australians develop their early skills.
In my youth, it was the elegant cover drive of Greg Chappell, the perfect bowling action of DK Lillee and classic raking right foot of Geoff Raines out of the middle that was imitated in the front yard or driveway daily.
Imitation has long been a key element in young players across all sports learning and developing skill and is an area that coaches should embrace and encourage with their young players.
High and soft –
Teaching shooting is one of areas of our great game that remains a challenge for many youth coaches.
At the mini-ball level, the ball size, ring height and physical limitations make it difficult to embed the conventional shooting technique.
At times we can be guilty of coaching and teaching technique that simply does not allow the young player any chance of success, due to physical limitations.
Success is a powerful tool in development. At the entry level, having players explore and find a way to get the ball through the net provides a level of success and more importantly, joy.
Respected development coach Rex Nottage has long espoused the value of shooting “high and soft” and the importance of the ball going UP to go IN.
As my now 10-year old started to play as a 6-year old, the “high and soft” mantra has been the only shooting “advice” I have offered.
No reference to elbow alignment, grip, follow through or using the legs. As he explored his shot on the driveway, it has simply been “high and soft” or “ball up to go in”.
In essence from there, watching “coaches” on television like Chris Goulding, Lauren Nicholson and even Devon Booker “taught” him to shoot as he mimicked their footwork and follow through in “games” on the driveway.
This imitation and exploration led to questions and that is where the coach can now engage and use the platform “learned” by free play can be refined.
Add some excellent junior coaches as he started to play in an organised setting and while no star, his shot is “fundamentally sound” and can develop further through refinement.
All the great things are simple.
Coaching is included in this.
— Cody Royle (@codyroyle) September 19, 2021
Straight bat, horizontal bat –
A long-time friend and successful youth cricket coach provided an epiphany as the driveway was converted from half court into a makeshift pitch.
Again, a love of cricket had started from that same 10-year-old watching the extraordinary exploits of Steve Smith and his Big Bash heroes.
But how can I “coach” him so he can enjoy having a hit with his mates in their driveway test matches?
“Just tell him if the ball is below his waist, hit with a straight bat, anything above the waist hit it hard with cross bat.” That’s it, that’s where the coaching ends!
It speaks to the value of a simple plan and allows any developing player operate with a clear mind, not one cluttered by elbow positioning, footwork and the importance of hitting the ball along the ground.
Then let Ellyse Perry, Steve Smith and Dave Warner do the rest of the “coaching” through joyful imitation and discovery.
The Coach as Facilitator –
Simple imitation is of course not the entire answer and certainly quality, fundamental instruction is still crucial to developing skill.
Incorporating and encouraging imitation as a youth coach is a powerful development tool. In teaching skill, reference their heroes and use examples of elite players for specific skill sets.
The common factor for their heroes will be high level skill and allowing developing players to explore in this way will have positive outcomes at all levels.
Exploration through free play and imitation will be valuable and rather than coaches setting “homework” outside of practice time, consider just encouraging free play and imitating heroes.
Some will warn of the danger of developing “bad habits” by attempting to imitate the best of the best. This is where the coach as the facilitator comes in and guided discovery can be implemented.
Usually any “bad habits” from imitating sporting heroes is geared around athleticism or physical actions; coaches can help here by celebrating the skill component.
Peter Lonergan – Director of High Performance Coach Development, Basketball Australia