The case for sport – the case for cricket.

Anything to declare? Yes…

I work as a Community Cricket Coach for Cricket Wales. I get sport and I’m not going to pretend otherwise. I’m not impartial and I’m not tolerant, particularly, of the idea that sport is somehow narrow and only relevant to those who can run/jump/throw/catch. Neither am I going to define sport – other than to say that clearly it does not need to be competitive. It’s often most brilliant and transformative when acting upon young children and sometimes we barely recognise this.

I want to say something about this need to recognise/appreciate/understand what sport can achieve. How it can work upon the lives of young people; this is my area of ‘specialism’.

Forgive me but I’m going to get either my retaliation or my apology in first, dear reader, by saying that I have earned the right to campaign on this through a lifetime playing, coaching and sharing sporting experiences and by training, reading, observing. So whilst I am neither going to write nor argue in the manner of an academic and whilst I am easily de-flowered in terms of any scholarly authenticity, I’m expecting you to listen. Okay?

Imagine then, a bloke like me, charged with going into a Primary School to deliver four or six sessions of cricket. What might that look like? If classes are mid-twenties, some children may not ever have seen cricket and (let’s say) certain individuals may not actually be attending but for sporty activities provided by the school.

Yup – that’s right. There are children at this school (and, by extension, at plenty of others around the country/world, right?) who would likely truant if (let’s say) Mikey wasn’t doing his Free Running in the hall from 8 a.m to 9 o’clockish. Please note that in the Evidence for Sports Provision column. Fact – they queue (early!) for sport and this is what gets them in the building.

The essential tools in my kitbag – as well as bats balls and teddies, obviously – are;

1. My alarmingly irresistible good energy
2. A gert big heart
3. All that training around progression/physical literacy/the links to numeracy, to adding educational value to the game(s)
4. A stack of ideas (some planned, some responsive to how the group feels) around which a series of lessons are built
5. (In all innocence) a love of children. And the ability to communicate with them – make them laugh and listen
6. Information about what happens next. Which club or leisure centre children can go on to.

Some of that may need explaining. The unsound stuff about energy and heart I stand by completely. I want these kids to like me and latch on to the buzz that I can generate.

If that sounds like a cross between ego-mania and stand-up comedy then I can live with that. This work is certainly about performance, and/or projection, and/or role-modelling. But I am trained to think about getting a positive message, a dollop of praise into every individual young life. So I flit around whilst children are bouncing and catching and giggling, pointing at Sarah or Jack with a “Wadda Catch!!” or a “sen-SAAAY-shunnell dribbling!” I make them feel special because I am trained and built to know that’s important (that’s how I understand life, right?)… and because they are. Who knows, maybe next week they will want to attend because Cricket Man is in today?

There’s a continual flow between big ideas and micro-management, aspirations being both monumental and tiddly. Can I get these guys to communicate? Can I get that fella to hold a bat the right way round?

A bit more on the ‘hows’. I try to do the coaching whilst offering just a few questions rather than zillions of ‘snippets’ of quasi-technical advice. If I demonstrate catching I will say watch me and then tell me the things that worked. “You coach me”.

How did I stand? Did I have my ‘game face’ on? Hands? Did any of it work?

Then (almost as though it was planned) we find ourselves doing quite a complicated series of shuttles requiring memory/calculation/teamwork/co-ordination and (oh yeh) catching skills. And we make it a laugh – or a race if we want. (On that one, you try stopping some of them.)

So we construct games or activity which is cricket-based but projects positively and often powerfully into life-skills such as sharing, consideration, managing disappointment, even.

Not unimportant fact(oid); twenty something percent of what I do is around prompting ways to share the bat.  Think about that. Then maybe 50 percent is about capturing attention in a way that is designed to make the players better learners. Over time, children are challenged to devise or organise their own games; to develop understandings about what works for everybody and maybe not just me.

This is pretty grown up and philosophical stuff, right? But I am talking about Year 3 through to Year 6; sixish to eleven year-olds. Of course the challenges are re-calibrated according to the group but I am clear that as well as offering great healthy physical activity it is achievable (and right) to aim to;

• stimulate children to think and work together
• support literacy, numeracy and communications skills – oracy
• light up individuals re- their love of the/a game
• light up or foster a willingness to attend (in every sense) and to learn.

I’m thinking these are not only ambitious but generous and deeply (ohoh deadly dangerous word alert) civilised targets. Hand over ticker I can say that I am proud of the level to which we the Cricket Wales posse actively and practically endorse these values by coaching to develop the child at least as much as the game.

I’m reading lots of stuff just now that reinforces the argument that this (ohoh over-used word alert) holistic approach not only works for some immeasurable greater good but also, interestingly, for the individual performance. It seems that England and Wales Cricket Board mission statements towards making better people as well as better players are not just altruistically maaarvellous but predicated on the idea that well-rounded people often make great players.

So however unforgivably pompous or contradictory it may sound, it’s official. I am in the playfully daft-serious business of melding personal growth with clouting and running. Happy to be freeing the spirit, improving the learning of children and increasingly aware of the evidence legitimising what I do.

Meanwhile the cricket-specific objective of enthusing kids for the game and perhaps offering or (let’s hope) inspiring them towards playing more, more, more at the local leisure centre or club is symbiotically twinkling.

Post the Cricket Wales in-schools extravaganza, we always signpost children to cricket activity outside of school, led by ourselves. Rates of transfer from school to club vary but it may be that that greater figure, the number who start to get this sport thing, whom we are gathering in to a life-long love of activity – as opposed to those who will choose cricket specifically – is the one that delivers widest, most significant benefits. We naturally hope for both fascinatingly diverse but inevitably related boxes to get ticked.

I am inviolably optimistic – on this and everything else. But if you happen to be either doubtful or undecided, or if you happen to be making tough choices about what gives at your school, please consider what’s been said here.

Consider how fabulous is that very real possibility that a game or two with @cricketmanwales might yet be influential in turning Joe or Alexis or Sam towards a life in sport? And how big and necessary is that, for him/them/society/the NHS?

When their capacity to be a fit, happy and engaged child who enjoys (never mind attends) school really may be contingent upon the provision of Intelligent Games why not then support those games?

Frankly I don’t care much if this sounds like a sales pitch. Why wouldn’t I champion the case for sport? When I myself see daily the ‘anecdotal’ evidence that is children made vital, comfortable and engaged with learning via or in the form of sport. When I hear or read the clear evidence from academic or other, experiential sources.

With (for example) increasing obesity and despite challenges around school funding I absolutely and defiantly make the case for sport at the core of efficient learning. But there is evidence to back up these cries from the heart.

Good sports coaching develops what some academics are calling Personal Assets in the player, the pupil. Throwing a ball around may be a more enriching experience than you think.

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