Sir Garfield Sobers

Coaching cricket serves two purposes: One is to explain the basics of this marvelous game of cricket; the second, which is perhaps more important than the first, is to underline just what enjoyment of cricket can give everyone, particularly young people. Enjoying the game is vital - it is the heart of cricket.

I believe that taking the game too seriously at an early age can hinder the development of young cricketers. When I cast my mind back to my boyhood in Barbados, I can recall clearly the games of tennisball cricket we played on the beaches and in the parklands. We called it windball, but that is slightly misleading - it was just cricket played with a tennisball.

Windball is still played throughout the West Indies by young children, teenagers, even adults. When I was back in Barbados a couple of years ago, there were 120 teams on the island playing this form of cricket on an organise, competitive basis. I am convinced that tennisball cricket has been a major factor in developing the natural talents of the cricketers of the Caribbean. To me, it is always easy to pick a young batsman who has had the benefit of tennisball cricket. He moves into position behind the line of the ball without hesitation, whereas a boy who has learned the game with a hard ball is often wary of being hit and a little tentative when moving into the correct position.

Until recently, I had seen this game played only in the West Indies, but now it is also practised in Sri Lanka. I am sure it will help in the development of that island's young players. It has seemed a pity to my way of thinking that the youth of Australia and England have not had the same opportunity. In those countries, specialist coaching is employed at an early age and with parents pushing children to do better all the time, the enjoyment of the game is lost far too early.

Tennisball cricket has become so popular in the West Indies that many players come back to it after childhood, either because thy got so much enjoyment from it or because thy disliked playing the hard ball version of the game. It is a fact that in Barbados competition there are many people in their twenties playing the game on specially prepared wickets. Ideally, youngsters should start playing the game with a tennisball at about nine or ten and continue for three or four year before graduation to the hard ball game and specialised coaching.

I also strongly believe that in the early stages of the development of young cricketers, their coaches should concentrate on eye-to-hand co-ordination. Ability is good co-ordination, which is often seen in youngsters playing in their natural environment - the parks and the streets. You can see them when you are driving along, picking up a ball, kicking a soccer ball or bouncing a basketball. There is a kind of rhythm in the way they do these things. So often people think that natural ability is something cannot see. Of course you can! How often have you heard the phrase: 'That child has the ability' from those who are watching. The only reason they know is because of the youngster's movements. Usually, when children are playing in their natural environment, it is with a soft ball. The mastery of bounce like that of a soft ball is basic part of eye-to-hand co-ordination.

I am afraid that too many potential cricketers are not given the chance to develop their talents in an enjoyable way. In England and Australia especially, too much pressure is put on them by their coaches and their parents. In this way, the enjoyment the game provides is missed. To me, the game of cricket was always a great source of enjoyment, even at the end of my career. I know I learned how to enjoy it at an early age and with a tennisball.

Sir Garfield Sobers, Sri Lanka, 1983
Taken from Cricket Skills, by Frank Tyson and John Harris