Just one experience.

Disclaimer; certain things have been changed here so that (I believe) no-one could be undermined by the following story. I’d like to think that wider interests – much wider than me or mine or Cricket Wales’s – might, can and arguably should be served by recounting what follows. It’s healthy, it’s heart-warming and it really happened.

Right now we’re test-driving a project that (rather than gathering children and ‘migrating’ them into local cricket clubs) is offering them an indoor knockabout. The kids get @cricketmanwales, his partner in crime, C****, a hall, some kit and then we play stuff. Once a week, for a few weeks; out of school hours.

I don’t want to get bogged down with the whys and tactical wotnots but (because two of you may be interested) we’re doing this for the following reasons, amongst others;

• The Leisure Centres are available to us now.
• Local cricket clubs don’t have the capacity for us Cricket Wales peeps to drive yet another clutch of budding Under Nines or Elevens into their hands – or at least they’re telling us they can’t accommodate a new team – fair enough.
• Some kids just don’t or won’t feel comfortable in the club environment – maybe they aren’t ‘good enough’ (or don’t think they are) to make anybody’s team? Maybe they’re a wee bit scared that they’ll have to face a Proper Hard Cricket Ball? Maybe Mum or Dad says it’ll cost too much?
• Simply, we wanted to offer a different opportunity and, without actually targeting any particular group, without remotely abandoning the idea that clubs are rightly at the centre of what cricket is, see what a mildly alternative space and proposal might offer.

This may have the sound of a fringe project, an experiment and there’s some truth in that view of it. A little. But though I confess to indulging in occasional meetings about all this strategic stuff, rest assured, dear friends that I/we are about the cricket – the act, the action that happens when a daft bugger like me is let loose with a bunch of kids. These weeny earthlings don’t feel part of any project. They’re too busy moving, catching, stopping, starting.

We’ve called the sessions ‘cricket hubs’. We didn’t, on the poster that ultimately my daughter cobbled together, specify ‘beginners’ or anything else other than ‘Boys and Girls, 6-11’. I then did some sessions in local schools and Bigged the Thing Up in an assembly or two and then off we went… we knew not where.

At the Leisure Centres, as a familiar face to the arriving children, I ‘lead’; which is a posh way of saying it’s me that does most of the shouting. Given these young ‘uns do turn out to be anywhere from six to eleven years old and do have a fairly alarming but fascinating range of abilities, the sessions have to live off my sense of what they can do – what they can have fun with – and maybe what’s possible to learn.

At one particular centre a boy I’m not going to describe or name joined us. When I say joined us, he slid in with what felt like an unremarkable degree of reticence. After a welcome to all I ran a warm-up game. Amongst the giggly anarchy I saw that maybe we needed to place a few balls – asitappens, we were using anything from teddies to beach balls to foam rugby balls – into his hands rather than either let or expect fellow players to lob things at him. He was involved on the periphery, neither happy nor unhappy but with his hands unconvincingly outstretched, at risk of either failing to acquit himself or being bypassed by ‘better players’.

Don’t panic. This post isn’t going to be about the quality of my coaching. It’s about the quality of this wee lad’s experience. Sure I’ll take a modicum of credit for getting fairly early on that he wasn’t, in the dangerously contentious phrase, a ‘natural’; that the games were going to have to come to meet him. I reckon I probably also intuited something about the appropriate level of fuss he’d most effectively ‘respond to’ and just quietly kindof revisited him now and then, to show tiddly things, without focussing on this fella as the Possible Struggler in the group.

Interestingly – and unusually – the boy’s dozen compadres were mostly children who clearly found catching and co-ordinating movements generally a challenge. Maybe this helped. We played simple games – yup, including that ole chestnut hitting from tees! – which everyone could do and I hiked the technical info with certain individuals when they needed to extend. It went okay.

This went on once a week for four weeks. The boy attended every week and to my knowledge did not speak a single word to either myself or one of the other children – even when asking for a pass, a catch. He simply got marginally more proficient, more convincing at the body language, the shape of the movements, in proffering those arms. In time he tried throwing, bowling, all of it; they all did. Skills, in between or in and around what we might call small-sided games. He managed, found a way through, without either busting the proverbial gut, or getting frustrated, or making spectacular leaps forward. He was it seemed in that undemonstrative middle-ground.

The fifth week comes and the boy arrives a tad late. His mum (whom I‘ve seen, watching discreetly but never met or spoken to) does that ‘would you mind if I had a quiet word’ gesture and we step out of the hall momentarily. She says something very close to this;

Look I just wanted to thank you, really. I don’t know if you know but my son has really significant confidence issues – really significant.

I say I had an inkling but…

No they’re really debilitating. And I just wanted to thank you because he’s NEVER EVER done anything like this. He just can’t. So he never does anything.

I say something crass like ‘that’s genuinely lovely to hear, thankyou.’

No, thank YOU. It’s remarkable – are you going to be able to keep on going with this? He got up this morning and asked what day it was and when I said xxxxday he said ‘Oh great – cricket tonight! Believe me he NEVER says anything like that!! So thank you.

People, I was more than a bit choked. I managed to blurt out something about the cricket going on again after Christmas and then went back in to join C**** and the kids.

On the How Rewarding Was All That?-o-meter this ranks pretty high. Maybe because it felt both literally (eek!) awesome and a little mysterious. How could this lad’s seemingly non-animated engagement with our cricket-thing turn out so… profoundly? I’m delighted but also shocked, almost, that he’s found it so enjoyable – frankly it didn’t really seem like he was having that much fun. Whatever that unknowable process, we find ourselves reflecting on a stunning example of the fab-you-luss-ness of … what? Games? Movement? Interaction? Those few encouraging words?

Good to reflect, for one minute. Because I’m thinking this is evidence of the power of sport. This young boy has now bounded more than slid – albeit in his own, magical, ghostly-silent way – into a new, expanding universe. He is both denying six years of absence and disengagement and bulleting towards possibilities previously unthinkable. Why? Because he enjoyed the movement, the encouragement, the sporting challenge. It acted as a trigger.

We may never understand quite why this worked. It may not matter. But the fact of it matters. The quality of this boy’s experience was such that things were transformed.

This I suppose is anecdotal evidence. We can’t ‘map’ it or prove it so as to legitimise ourselves in the eyes of local authorities or funders. It’s pretty much non-measurable. But know what? To me it feels like a really great bit of work.

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8 thoughts on “Just one experience.

  1. I coach myself and I am sure you can agree there is no better feeling than seeing them progress and succeed. It is amazing to think what cricket can do to individuals as you said in particular about a child!

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  2. I’m in the process of trying ‘communal’ cricket for girls in our local area. The density of numbers is not enough to sustain teams in multiple clubs and create leagues.

    Your story is one I relate too not least because so many clubs (including my own) are focused on finding the next little star – their definition and mine of a little star differs greatly.

    Thanks for sharing

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  3. Catching up on my reading; very glad I went back to the old year to read this one. It’s a great story. But at the same time as it warms me, I feel anxious. You can probably guess why.. where does this lad go after your wonderful sessions end? Can he challenge himself again, but more so, and turn up at a cricket club? I hope so, but fear not.

    Chris

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    1. This individual unlikely to be *catered for* at some clubs – it’s true. Hence Plan C – hubs! Club membership only feasible (you suspect) if softball/festival cricket offered for some considerable time. Whatever, great to have made a start. An important start.

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