Tempo the Forgotten Factor
Fri, Jun 10, '05
During the Clive Lloyd and Gary Sobers eras, West Indies cricketers thrilled cricket lovers around the world with their natural, exciting and often reflexive style of cricket. The purists of the day often complained that the players? mechanics or techniques were wrong.
And yet, under Lloyd and Viv Richards, the West Indies team dominated cricket for seventeen consecutive years, consistently outscoring and outplaying all opponents.
In the case of the batsmen, these critics, like many of today?s cricket coaches, were so preoccupied with body positions and the conscious control of those positions that they missed one of the most important fundamentals of the sport - tempo.
While those West Indies players had different and distinctive techniques, they all shared good tempo (timing) and rhythm. The body positions that these coaches espouse are the effects of a good bat swing and not the cause of it. And conscious control of body positions during the very short time between the start of the backswing and the impact of bat with ball is very difficult. It is not only difficult; it can distract the player from watching and hitting the ball.
If you are a player with reasonably sound mechanics, good tempo will take you to a higher level of performance. With good tempo, you won?t have to worry about the mechanics of the swing. They will happen instinctively and reflexively. Hardly any of today?s cricket coaches focus on tempo. Conventional coaching therefore ignores one of the most important fundamentals of the game.
In his book, ?I Can?t Accept Not Trying,? Michael Jordan the basketball player stressed: ?The fundamentals are the basic building blocks or principles that make everything work. I don?t care what you?re doing or trying to accomplish: you can?t skip the fundamentals if you want to be the best.?
Tom Watson, the great golfer, once said that good tempo lets your mechanics work for you during the swing. He added that good tempo could compensate to some extent for poor mechanics since it allows your movements to take place in the correct sequence. He stressed that one of the first casualties of poor tempo is balance. And when your balance goes, you automatically lose your ability to strike the ball well.
The word paradigm has become quite common. But what does it mean? It can be regarded as a set of rules that defines boundaries and tells you how to behave within those boundaries in order to be successful.
When teaching batting skills, today?s coaches often break down batting into its constituent parts and try to improve each component. Once this is done they assume that the individual parts will blend automatically to produce a more efficient whole. But, this is not altogether a rational assumption. That is the paradigm that most of today?s coaches employ. I believe that it is time for coaches and players to look at a different paradigm because in batting the whole is more than the sum of its parts.
Let?s consider the metaphor of the bicycle and the frog. You can break down a bicycle into its parts, clean and oil them and then put them back together to produce a well functioning bicycle. When you remove a part of the frog, the rest of the body might compensate to keep the frog alive. However, if you remove other parts the frog will lose its life force and die, and no matter how well you put back those parts in the body, the frog will not live again. The difference is that the bicycle is an inanimate object and the frog is a living organism.
The golf swing and the bat swing are not inanimate. Like the frog, they are complex living systems. Good tempo gives life to the swing. It is the force that blends the component parts of the swing into a cohesive, flowing, efficient and living whole.
What is tempo? How can it be learnt?
Cricket can learn a lot from other sports. Bismarck when discussing military strategy once said: ?Fools say that they learn by experience. I prefer to profit from other peoples? experience.? He probably said this because soldiers often don?t get a second chance to learn from their experiences.
John Novosel, an American sports writer, recently did extensive research on the tempo of professional golfers and he claims that there are two parts to tempo in golf.
The time it takes the club to travel from the start of the backswing to the impact of the club head with the ball. In good players this time varied between 1.06 seconds and 1.20 seconds and in less skilled players 1.3 to 3.0 seconds;
2. The ratio of the time it takes to execute the backswing to the time it takes to execute the downswing to the point of impact. He found that regardless of style or form this ratio was 3 to 1 in professional golfers. In other words, the backswing took three times as long as the downswing. Less skilled players usually have a different ratio. But even among professionals, poor shots resulted whenever that 3 to 1 ratio changed.
Perhaps researchers should do similar studies on the best batsmen in cricket. The demands and circumstances might be different from those in golf but the findings could help us to better understand and improve tempo in batting.
In golf, the club head strikes a stationary ball. But, in cricket, the batsman reacts to the bowler and the movement of the ball as it leaves his hand. His bat swing is triggered by his visual, cognitive and perceptual skills, which also help him to judge the line, length, bounce, spin and speed of the ball.
Good tempo is one of the first casualties of tension, anxiety, loss of confidence, pressure, and poor concentration. Effective management of the mental skills is therefore critical in preserving good tempo.
I have my own ideas about how tempo can be learned in cricket. But, I wish to engage the reader in generating his own ideas and finding his own solutions to this important but forgotten factor in the game.
* Dr. Rudi Webster is a former first class cricketer who now serves as Director of the Cricket Academy of St. George's University in Grenada. This article appears by special arrangement with the ChappellWay Web site.
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