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Keeping Coaching Simple

It was some 30 years ago I had my first epiphany about fast bowling.

On my MLB pro tryout with Philadelphia Phillies, the pitching coach asked me why I had slowed down my speed when throwing. I answered something akin to “slowing down to bowl a line & length” in cricket terms, which he proceeded to destroy in biomechanics terms, as being completely incorrect. It seems in rotational, ballistic sports, you SPEED UP to become more accurate. My first lesson was taught, learned and the rest is, well… history.

Today, the world’s leading coaches strive to hugely simplify what they say. This includes the overlooked and widely misunderstood technical terminology of fast bowling, so it can be taught – and is the real way to educate a generation. I was never a person that would make this complex, complicated or ambiguous. I would never be a person to ‘stand corrected’ because I had rushed into something that wasn’t true or appropriate, only to tweak my view when challenged or blow with the wind because others have opposing views. After all, gravity is gravity whatever you choose to call it.

So my methodology had to stand the test of time. And more than that, it would have to take what IS a complex and inherently hard to understand series of movements and make them into a coherent coaching system for Fast Bowlers.  I never bought in to ‘generalist’ view of coaching requiring knowledge of multi-layered subjects before you could be effective.  In fact, much like medicine and GP’s vs Specialists, I learned very early on that you have to be specialised in what you do and make it exceptional. Coaching for far too long has been generic and not specific. (See article: What is a Qualified Coach? )

I am simple man. I have a simple brief: to improve the speed & control of everyone I work alongside and with – if that is what they want. Far too many coaches make things immensely challenging to understand. And this can only be because they are unsure how things really work – that or they are deliberately trying to appear ‘clever’ or ‘smart’. But no coach needs to do that.  Instead, we need to be clear, concise and above all be communicating correctly with students, parents and other coaches. No coach needs to try and impress if they are already good enough. There’s no need to seek others’ approval to verify what you do, if the results you get are already superior and working. No coaching should be too hard to understand that it appears as if it’s written from a scientific paper. It should never be so overbearing & onerous that it cannot be written in just a few sentences.

If a 9 year-old doesn’t understand it, it’s probably too full of jargon and gobbledegook. If it can’t be worked out, it has little purpose other than to make people turn away confused. And that is the greatest mistake in coaching.

It’s why when I started, I advertised “Bowl faster or your money back” fast bowling courses. Armed with a speed gun to ‘prove’ the increases, and an orange target on off stump to ‘prove’ the accuracy, it became all about working hands on with bowling actions. School boy & club cricketers got it straight away. Improvements for all the bowlers were instantaneous. The seeds of UPF were born.

My introduction to biomechanics, kinetics and isometrics came from Dr Ken West, a professor of human movement working across 46 different sports (who as a leading optometrist in his own right, helped Anul Kumble disregard his glasses for specialised contact lenses). Ken questioned everything I did as a coach. He educated me in the hugely complicated & technical world of human movement as it applied to fast bowling with practical advice & support. But I followed Ken’s success methodology: Keep It Simple. This is why he worked in so many sports, across all the levels to World-Class standard. He UNDERSTOOD how to adapt & adopt different ideas so they became relevant to the sport he was working in at the time. There would be some human movement non-negotiable issues in that, too. For example, humans can only move in certain way and in that, we are ALL THE SAME. But the style we perform the movement in is individual. Hence, for me, the notion you can coach speed into everyone became obvious if you focus exclusively on structure, which is what we know as TECHNIQUE IN FAST BOWLING.

To create a success formula, you need a starting point. Understanding what constitutes a ‘perfect’ technique and what errors fast bowlers make, gives you the base for coaching speed. This is what has held back successive National Boards, coach educators and those wanting to, but not knowing how to work with speed. It has therefore been dismissed as “un-coachable” giving rise to to the “you are born with it” propaganda pumped out (often inadvertently) from ex-players who themselves had no help in this area. Instead of challenging things, there is safety in hordes of people agreeing with one another – even if what they say isn’t true. It has put fast bowling out on its own as the only sport remaining backwards in the knowledge that great technique takes us forwards.

In my journey then, I had influences from Dr West from sports such as tennis, swimming, martial arts, American football, basketball and even skiing, alongside my own interaction with baseball & javelin. It got me to look for common ground in sports as well as identify similar patterning for fast bowling. The “13 key indicator points” (common mistakes many of the bowlers made) forming the bedrock of The Fast Bowler’s Bible became refined to The 4 Tent Pegs and RSSSA (Range, Speed, Sequence, Speed & Alignment) now seen in Ultimate Pace Secrets. And all the skill drills that go with those positions – to maximise the speed of ANY bowler – were fully developed into what they are today. No jargon and few if any, external props required. Just the purist form of educating speed into bowlers regardless of their size, shape, build, genetics, background or environment. That education underpinned by exceptionally effective static, progression & isolation drills that alter muscle memory. Relevant, repetitive and ballistic rotational moves to replicate the bowling action by highjacking the bowler’s system.

Realising you cannot just shoehorn movements from other sports was a vital part of this – even on a very basic level of understanding. Baseball pitchers for example, do not have a run up. This means their base ‘pushes’ (dips & drives) in a completely different way to fast bowlers who ‘drop’ because they use a run up momentum, which alters the sequential muscle stretch & contraction. Every baseball pitcher starts sideways on the plate to throw. And to gain power, the pitcher has to generate a very large delivery stride so their top half can get up to speed. None of this is the same in fast bowling. Javelin throwers throw upwards meaning their arm mechanics differ to a fast bowler. Their release point is behind them, not in front of them as in fast bowling, so the trunk flexion creates an extension and not a contraction for a longer period of time. Foot patterning/planting is different, too. And of course both baseball & javelin use the extra hinge mechanics of a bend in the elbow. These are simple enough differences to realise that you cannot just copy across to fast bowling from other sports. You have to make a nod to those biomechanics and learn how they APPLY to a fast bowler through adaption, not mimicking. Even then, you need to understand whether they do actually apply in the first place.

I worked out 30 years ago, this journey wouldn’t be about how much I knew. It would be about how much I could get students to understand. The knowledge held by any coach isn’t relevant if those they work with have little idea how to replicate it. And the cardinal sin, according to the great, world-class tutors who mentored me right at the start of my coaching education, is to make coaching all about me instead of the fast bowler.

I would always want to coach others as I wish to be coached myself. For me, that is a simple, repeatable methodology, which isn’t shrouded in any words you need a dictionary to understand the message or a spellchecker.

It’s what sets UPF coaching apart from anything else currently being offered. It’s also why we are able to turn fast bowlers into the best version of themselves they can be. And it’s why we are making a difference in fast bowling coaching today.

Ian Pont