Deciding what to do is often as much an art-form as an exercise in diplomacy or joined-up thinking. Sculpting from intimidating choices that which merely works may not, in the contemporary flux, be enough – in life and in sport. Good moves, on the contrary, imply some well-springing beyond mere survival, into (actually) greater health; virility; dynamism. But given that we often concede to the reality that everything seems compound or complicated, the tendency to play safe weighs heavily against the brilliant, the inspired or truly creative; so good moves are hard to find.
We cricketpeeps have our challenges. On the global scale this might mean heavyweight conversations about governance; on a national or practical or structural level maybe that heave-hoing see-saw between County Cricket and the inevitable slot for Blast-dom. How do we manage all that? Significant. Significant issues but maybe not as big as the (okaaaay, related) question of how we retain players.
The @cricketmanwales-familiar among you will know that I work in cricket at what tends to get slightly patronisingly called the ‘grassroots’ level. As a Community Coach for Cricket Wales I spend a lump of my working life enthusing small people towards the game – go read previous posts and you’ll get the drift. I can tell you that generally it’s easy enough to gather players in under the spell but there is a problem in the teenage years.
Not just for cricket. Other team games are finding a disturbing number of players – boys, possibly in particular – drift away between the ages of say 14 and 17.
We could all write a fabulously strident thesis on the reasons for the exodus (I’d love to – please send funding to the Death to Nintendo/McDonalds and The Folks Who Produce Reality TV Campaign) but that’s for another day. What I want to begin to address is what it is we might do to keep young fellas/girls playing our game, when either doubts or other opportunities or distractions enter the frame. Or at least I want say something about a particular event which felt important, recently.
There may be a prequel to this; one which features stonkingly obvious insights between the link between quality of experience for players and retention… and more subtle understandings around coaching… and relationships.
If youngish boys and girls have an inviolably wonderful time at their cricket club then clearly they are likely to stay in the game. More than that; having appreciated the quality of coaching(?) learning(?) growing(?) they benefited from, they may well later look to make a contribution – possibly an enlightened one – of their own, to their club and/or the game. Thus good-ness stimulates good moves in the future, which in turn increase the likelihood of great people staying in cricket, enriching the cricket-peep gene pool . But what does this aforementioned wonderful time look like and feel like?
It looks different but like fun. It looks like a diving catch or an all-out, lung-bursting shuttle race – finishing with another dive… and slide, onto a watered outfield. It looks like whatever sharing a joke looks like. It’s physical; it’s ‘psychological’; it’s about movement. Maybe?
Maybe it also looks like a superbly thought-out series of training sessions where a zillion skills are learned… incidentally, almost? Because the coach knows he or she doesn’t need to teach too much, just offer some games and ask some skilfull questions. Let the players find a way to play.
But this is very abstract. Let’s move on to stuff wot actually happened…
Recently, Cricket Wales ran an Under 19’s T20 competition. The idea essentially being that cricket clubs throughout the principality could enter teams in an event that not only looked and sounded like a Big Bash (or similar) but was essentially and indeed boomtastically directed by the players. They were, within reason, to shape it in the way they chose. So yes, there was coloured kit. Yes, there was some geezer wiv kickin’ toons. And yes, it was more than slightly wonderful. My lot – Pembrokeshire- missed the deadline for entering.
Actually that may not be entirely true but something, something got in the way – fortunately, not for long.
I’ve been on the fringes of this but I remember asking the question of our local fire-starter (and Chairman of Pembrokeshire Association for Cricket Coaches) Mr Jonathan Twigg
what’s happening re- the Under19 thing?
Then having a couple of brief conversations with our local Cricket Development Officer (Matt Freeman) and a longer one with Haverfordwest CC’s Junior Head Coach Simon Williams. All of which left me thinking we might be in a slightly embarrassing black hole, having neatly fulfilled metropolitan prejudices about Sleepy Ole Pembrokeshire.
HA HA! Wrong!
In fact, faster than a speeding cherry, Messrs Twigg and Williams had a) nobbled half the county and b) bundled a key clutch of the potentially (cricket-wise) underemployed youff into a seething, expectant and actively-engaged posse. Sponsorship was sorted; kit and fixtures were sorted; a Final’s Day (as well as the friendly games) was posted into the calendar. Most magnificently… things really happened.
My own club’s teens swiftly metamorphosed into Blue Lightning, players now resplendent in blue, sporty-disco shirts with name and squad number on the back. Likewise at Carew Rooks or Burton Warriors or Cleddau Crusaders – all in grooviciously contemporary clobber. Twigg and Williams and god bless ’em their equivalents elsewhere got the games on – at Haverfordwest superbly supported by Big Scrivs, the local MC/DJ/esteemed provider of music and (quite literally) fanfares.
In other words, games took place. Teen-appropriate events. Cricket events unlike anything seen before in our county. 20 overs of wallop and bantz-loaded cricket, for young people, watched by lots of other young people – and often their families – accompanied by bursts of reassuringly dated Popular Music. Wicked!
On the Finals Day at Haverfordwest Cricket Club the organisation as well as the cricket was ramped up to fever pitch. ‘Twiggo’ had established a Control Room containing more pens, forms, balloons and members of the media (thanks @FraserMercsport) than a Jeremy Corbyn rally. Umpires – proper ones – had not only been sourced but kitted out in fetching acid green by main sponsors Nat West, represented locally by long-time Narberth CC man Huw Simpkins. Ditto sponsors from Tees r us, alongside Mark White from Cricket Wales HQ. It was all alarmingly kosher.
In terms of the practicalities, 3 pitches were available at Haverfordwest CC whilst a preliminary fixture was played at Hook CC a few miles down the road. 8 teams entered, including Llanelli Knights from… well, you-know-where, some 50-odd miles east, plus, remarkably, I think, 7 from Pembrokeshire. All teams were guaranteed at least two games, with a plate competition being played out (ten overs per innings) for those beaten in the first matches.
For the record, Llanelli Knights were deserved winners, beating Burton in the final: Haverfordwest won the plate. However the occasion was such a clear and overwhelming success – and spoke so loudly of frontiers being opened – that we might dare to hope that in the continuation of this one event a significant step forward might be possible in terms of retention.
Some of us are already thinking that our local County Cricket Club needs to take a long, hard, unprejudiced look at this. Because it may not just be relevant to teenagers. It strikes me that whether we like it or not, gathered-in, short-format cricket of this or a similar sort may be central to how cricket develops – and I do mean develops – all over. Our own struggling lower divisions in Pembrokeshire might be sustained in this way… and how comfortable us older folks are with that may be irrelevant. Local leagues may need to provide both longer format and T20 boomathon cricket.
Most teams brought about fifteen players to Pembrokeshire Finals Day, so that meant 120 teenage players doing what they feel comfortable with – feel good about. Panacea? Possibly not. Model? Quite possibly. Good move? Abso-lutely.
Here’s what Fraser Watson from The Western Telegraph made of that day – http://www.westerntelegraph.co.uk/sport/13715660.T20_teams_have_a_blast_at_Finals_Day/