Awards Season.

Awards Season. Meaning mixed feelings, right? Because most of us know that should we actually win something, there are always so-o many people who are worthier/better/better qualified in every way. And sometimes (let’s be honest) people get ‘recognised’ when actually they are sheisters or monsters or simply there and have somehow endured over time.

But c’mon, fortunately, it’s often the reverse. People get fleetingly recognised when they should be hugged and hoisted and fed with booze or chocs or given everlasting Gunn and Moore or Gray Nicholls contracts; they get waaay less than they deserve – under-recognised. I know loads of these people. People whose goodness and commitment is real.

Some of these people have won awards; some are up for awards this winter. I personally may even see some of them pick up some trophy – hope I do.

Some of you will know I bang on a fair bit about the importance of sport, of activity. I’m fully aware how cornball all this can sound, particularly in the context of the endless schmatzfest/tritefest/pompfest that is social media, which I contribute so readily-heavily to. But the thing is we really do have to gear up and get real around this: society must have a strategy, a compulsion, an irresistible way-in and lifelong relationship with movement… like the guys and gals at the sports awards.

Doesn’t, of course, have to be sport. Doesn’t have to be competitive. But movement, activity, the sense that doing stuff is the essential and natural way to be, simply has to be built-in to all of us. Not most – all.

This becomes massive in the sense that it means national and local governments must address it as urgently as we, as individuals, must. If the first job of government is to keep citizens safe then maybe this notion might include the responsibility to steer citizens away from the self-harm that (for example) indolence or dietary ignorance engender. (Yup *can of worms* provocatively opened).

If that responsibility feels a tad mushy for Rule One then okay let’s stick it into Rule Two: ‘Government must provide direction and support around Wellness’.

For me that’s a reasonably agreeable purpose, in every sense, for Politics.

It may even be that the next phase for where we’re at demands that urgent consideration be given to what the necessary levels of opportunity and provision look like – and possibly how, if at all, this strategy is braced with compulsion/coercion. (I get that we’d all prefer inspiration to compulsion but… how to make the resolutely non-doers doers?)

I need to divert into politics here – forgive me. My own view is that our current government is disgracefully adrift and indeed indifferent of the issues here in much the same way as it is re Climate Change. Being arguably amoral and unarguably in thrall to shockingly narrow,  mindlessly pro-capitalist views, they lack both the understanding and the vision to change things. So we drift towards calamity: there’s an emergency but no response.

Of course many of us do the same, as individuals – drift, I mean. It’s easier. Plus things conspire (food/agriculture industry, Right Now This Instant culture, political expediency, lobbyists) towards a depressingly rudderless status quo.

Weird mind, that whilst in terms that the Honourable Leadership might understand, we clearly cannot afford to be a fat, sedentary nation, there is still no determined grasping of that thorny issue of ownership of said inactivity. Unforgivable, or understandable, given the political dangers?

Rule 3 might be ‘Governments must lead’. Transformations can and must begin in early years, maybe somehow at home as well as in schools, with a radical re-positioning of activity close to the centre of everything ‘educational’. This, obviously, is government-level stuff,  it has to be that way – has to be led.

However, if there is a ‘we’, the people, then we have to accept some responsibility alongside The Few (who can actually legislate). That bit is tough – especially the desire/compulsion towards wellness amongst those of us who lack familiarity or confidence around sport. Understand that. We do, all of us though, need to acknowlege that the conversation around obesity, diabetes, etc bloody-well has to happen. And then we need that to lead somewhere.

The difficulty (or the question) appears to be that if there is such a thing as society then does that society has every right to expect

a) the chance to be well?

b) Individuals to commit towards wellness?

These can be worryingly divergent aspirations. Fully accept that (as with capitalism) some people are much better equipped to ‘succeed’ and that therefore extra support must be in place to bear those who are struggling towards a better place. But we do need them to get on that journey – to get active on that. Fair enough?

Sports Awards; this is where we came in, remember? People being recognised for coaching, playing, enabling activity. People who are kinda wonderfully and disproportionately positively tipping the balance, god bless’em. People actually reclaiming words like value and inspiration from sheisters who glibly stick them into adverts or company policy, or blogs.

Sounds feeble to say we need these folks more than ever but there is some truth in that, given the chronic – and it is chronic – state we’re in. How can there be anything ahead of general and individual wellbeing, in the queue of priorities? How do us sportyfolks lobby harder?

Most of those slipping shyly onto stages before humbly acknowledging those acknowledging them won’t be dwelling especially on the philosophical import of what they do: or the societal impact, or even the physical good. They’ll be there because they love sport and can’t stop, or even contemplate stopping. Why would they?

Let’s raise a cheer, or a (yaknow) sensible glass, to those who are leading the movement.

All Stars.

Pleased to see there’s been a reasonable lump of coverage for the All Stars Project over recent weeks; it really is significant, I think. Certainly in terms of bringing the precious ‘new families’ that we’ve heard so much about, into the game. Whatever we may think of, or read into that apparently central plank of the ECB strategy, All Stars has delivered strong numbers, for our sport: in Wales, 3,505 sign-ups over 118 centres.

A twitter-friend of mine and cricket-writer (Rob Johnston) wondered whether the project might indeed be more important than The Hundred? Interesting thought.

Whether you load that thought up with political/philosophical vitriol around the depth or quality of experience and the implications for Everything Else… is up to you. I want to keep this simple – or rather to leave you with a restoratively uncluttered message – that All Stars has been, will be, is really, really good. It’s All Stars I want to talk about, in the end.

You may know that much of the thinking behind All Stars came from a) large, hairy and fearless market research b) Australia. A particular bloke name of Dwyer was drafted in to brutally challenge the status quo and deliver a new vision. (Actually the first bit of that is untrue: he did brutally challenge but that was not necessarily the brief. Interestingly, possibly fascinatingly for those suspicious of the current direction of travel, Dwyer left – I believe before his contract was up).

It’s important, at the outset, in the wider context of so much controversy and opinion, that All Stars is recognised as merely a part of the whole re-invention of the Cricket Offer: part of Cricket Unleashed, part of the warp-factor-ten departure into the unknown. Theoretically and I think in reality, AS does have stand-alone qualities – the specific age-group, the immediacy, the impact of kitted-out kids – but it would surely be unwise to imagine it travelling radically solo. It’s not.

All Stars exists in and because of the context of more opportunities for girls and women. In the context of ‘community’ activity and retention projects for those teens drifting from the game. In the context of City Cricket/The Hundred.

I’m not wading in to the relative value, wisdom or centrality of any of these other things now: most of us have lived off those arguments for the last year. Instead I’m going to try to say why All Stars is pretty ace: in a bullet-point or two.

  • The prequel. Noting that All Stars has been generally supported by 4-6 weeks cricket-based activity in local Primary Schools, aimed at enthusing kids for the game (via the outstanding Chance to Shine curriculum) before offering that link to AS in clubs. Part of the generally impressive #joinedupthinking. But back to the activity proper…
  • It’s ace value. Despite blokes like me fearing that £40 was going to feel too much for most parents down our way, AS is undeniably good value – and parents forked out. The kids get kit worth about £20 and eight typically well-run, skilfully-themed sessions (which tend to be an absolute blast, for kids and coach alike). Those people still weirdly imagining this is an earner for the ECB need to get a grip, to be honest: it’s a massive investment in change and development, not at all – certainly in the short term – an ‘earner’. Costs have been set at a minimum, I imagine: of course there are some families who will regrettably be put off by the £40… but very few… and some clubs will underwrite that, if necessary.
  • The actual sessions are ver-ry cute – in a really good way. This has not been flung together. The target age-group (5-8, boys and girls) is guided through an hour or more (generally more) of movement, games and skills; the time fizzes and charges as much as the children do. It’s infectious and purposeful and liberating in a way that the three letters F.U.N. cannot do justice to: and yet it is precisely that – naive, anarchic, noisy, edgy fun. Brilliantly so, in my experience.
  • The quality of enjoyment thing. I may be repeating myself but what I saw, as an Activator and coach, was ace to the point of affecting – and I am clear most parents felt that too.
  • The family thing – 1. Okay, so if one of the key aspirations for the whole ECB cricket-makeover is to ‘burst the bubble’ in which cricket sits, vis-a-vis who knows, plays and gets the game, then obviously All Stars sits comfortably within that. The target group is children still finding stuff. Plainly, the ECB would be grateful if some of these children – perhaps the majority – emerge from non-cricketing families. That’s happening. Because of skilful marketing, smart imagery, the ‘non-threatening’, non-technical nature of the offer. Headline figures for AS in Wales last year suggested 71% coming from a non-cricketing background… which is not far short of phenomenal. I’m hearing also – also significantly – that around 35% of our Wales 2018 All Stars are girls.
  • The family thing – 2. Activators (i.e. those who led the AS sessions) were trained to encourage parents to take part. In fact a key part of the marketing whole was this idea that families might reclaim a special hour of family time through participating (at a level they were comfortable with). This interaction with non-qualified agents – hah! Mums, dads!! – was rightly to be gently monitored by the Activator, but opened up a new dimension to the proceedings. Our sessions started with family members ‘warming up’ their All Star; often mums or dads or siblings stayed involved, offering practical help and encouragement. This cuts right across the traditional practice of Level 2 Coaches ‘running things’. I am not remotely looking to undermine that practice or the quality thereof when I say that in my experience the active support of family members was not only essential in practical terms but absolutely key to the feel and the enjoyment of our sessions. I soon gathered five or six sub-Activators who were lovely, intelligent, generous, capable people and I hope and expect that they may support the project – and what is now their club! – next year. This ‘loosening-up’ was done by design, in the knowledge that it might/should work at this age-group; it did.
  • The gentle prod thing. Did you know you can pre-register for AS 2019? You can.

 

Finally, something minor-league weird. I am still wearing a rather faded rubber bangle – the kind we were giving out in schools during the Chance to Shine sessions which preceded our signposting of kids over to All Stars Cricket. I am still wearing it… since April, maybe?

This may mean something worrying about absence of a life in my life, but maybe only if we overthink stuff, eh? I’m not wistfully stroking it or anything. It’s just still there. It says ALL STARS CRICKET and ALLSTARSCRICKET.CO.UK.

I think of our sessions at Llanrhian CC and how crazy-but-happy the kids were… and how wonderful the families were… and how blessed we all were, with that sun. So I guess that’s the explanation? If we need one?

 

 

 

Great week.

Been involved in two events this last week, with a particular character – or so you might think, when I put the labels on. S.E.N and #Disability, or #insportseries.

Unravel that with me.

S.E.N, as many will know, stands for Special Educational Needs and therefore referred, in our case, to Primary School children who have a range – an extraordinary, fascinating range – of issues or needs. (Written on this before, in particular this idea that somewhere in the cloud of embarrassment, prejudice, guilt(?) and awkwardness around ‘needs’ maybe there’s a rich opportunity for us Normal Folks to challenge our own complacency or sheer ignorance; our awarenesses and comfort around Special Needs being often woefully inadequate).

Having confirmed my own frailties in those terms – I, too am relatively twitchy or clumsy in this environment – I’m going to leave it to experts in the field to unpick the differences, subtle or otherwise, between S.E.N and Disability, because a) despite some really excellent and relevant Coach Education, I am not an expert or specialist in this field and b) in reality, as coaches, we don’t typically know very much about what kinds of issues the individuals attending are going to present: we live off our wits.

Before people start kicking off about dangerously inadequate preparation, I should say that what feels like a responsible and reasonable amount of information-sharing and risk-assessment does take place. We just don’t get much detail. So us coaches do inevitably experience that ‘okaaaay, how do I need to pitch this game to this individual?’ moment as the participants arrive. It’s a brilliant, energising test for us; one that hopefully transfers into sharply-focused but engaging (and seemingly relaxed) sessions.

In absolutely glorious sunshine, at Haverfordwest CC, we Cricket Wales people, in tandem with our colleagues at Sport Pembrokeshire, hosted an event for the S.E.N. Units of the county: Primary.

We were well-staffed. We gathered in good time and set up five or six possible areas with different challenges, games or themes. We talked quite a lot about what was going to feel appropriate, how we might rotate groups through, how big those groups might be or ideally should be. We checked for flexibility within games – for the capacity to recalibrate higher or lower – for both difficulty and to accommodate talent and ambition. Then groups arrived.

I recognised a few children from previous events but generally we were into  New Territory – all of us. There was a certain delay as schools arrived separately and (given the epic sunshine) awnings or gazebos and/or similar were set up. There was too much drift so I cut through the formalities, grabbed a group of children and bundled them over to my throwing game. We were off.

I think maybe you set out on days like these, with the fear of making a calamitous and deeply patronising error; or twelve. There is certainly scope for that, right? So what you do (I do) is get the antennae up. Get looking, get listening. Talk the same way, act the same way but get the antennae up for issues of understanding and movement. Get right on all that and offer somebody something different – quietly – if that’s necessary.

We had a laugh. The kids were great; engaged, smiling, contributing to the banter, the shape of the game. ‘Course they were. There were children that could launch an overarm throw, there were those that wandered in and out of the playing area, unable to fulfil the mission but visibly enjoying some activity. Honestly, in the sunshine, they were brilliant – it was brilliant. Periodically, another group came in.

In other ‘zones’ children boomed balls off teas, or caught big balls, small balls, teddies, spiky things, beanbaggy things, foamtastic things. Elsewhere they played nonstop cricket – with or without a helping hand. There were pitstops for drinks and sarnies and more bantz.

It’s going to sound weirdly self-congratulatory if I describe it as something of a triumph but (with apologies) it really was. Not my triumph but everybody’s. Everybody including the sun’s.

My abiding memory is of a fellow coach, who shall remain nameless. This particular bloke is a powerfully experienced cricket bloke and longtime coach and supporter and administrator of the game. He’s been there… but not, as he said, in ‘situations quite like this’. As we packed up and chatted, it was striking that the level of enjoyment  – their’s, his – had been something of a revelation to him.

Three days later we were again involved, supporting an event at Pembroke Leisure Centre. This was an #insportseries Disability/Community event, open to all but shared that schools/learning feature in the sense that children with carers or support staff were brought in to take part. Again the weather was spectacular – almost too hot.

My first memory of this occasion was of a single, tall, strongly-built young man appearing early on at my shoulder, being a quiet presence and me not sure, initially, whether he was (as it were) a candidate for action, or not. Fortunately, my instinct to offer a ‘quick game’ (anyway) proved helpful… and off we went, with other children soon joining.

Here’s where things became profoundly different to that Primary School event earlier in the week, in a way I happily admit, I hadn’t, in my medium-crass naivety, foreseen.

Firstly that biggish young man, then others were really good – to the extent that I could, should, did coach them as opposed to simply hosting a game. (Doh… of course they were!)

Specifically, we got into bowling… because they could really bowl. We got into high hands and following through, with me being careful and even apologetic about being boring and coachy but having no choice because the players were driving us thataway, because they were good. There was also that hike in the attention-span in the players and their capacity to make and sustain their own game. I may have underestimated that, too.

I still have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand I reckon I did okay because I know these youngsters did enjoy what they/we did. On the other I have to think about where my expectations were at that first moment. I did not, in truth, as I breezed in to that event, expect to be delivering stuff that I might share with an able-bodied county-level player. I was wrong – and how great is that?

This event, like the one in Haverfordwest, was a notable success – funded and supported strongly, visible and diverse. As well as presenting a range of activities, somebody (Angela Miles?) had the nous to invite Rob Evans and Gareth Davies from the current Wales rugby squad, much to the delight of our participants and many of the on-site and suddenly inquisitive Pembroke School children. Both these guys did a fine and generous job of circulating, encouraging and just being nice to anyone in the vicinity. (Chapeau, gentlemen, enjoy Croatia!)

I wandered through to check out the whole festival, from wheelchair rugby to rifle-range. Outstanding. On a personal note it was fabulous to see such an impressive turnout of Sport Pembrokeshire staff; was proud to muck in alongside to make our own, Cricket Wales contribution. It’s been a great week.

 

Cows and buzzards and crows.

It’s hard to judge the impact of things, eh? Because we don’t know what people are thinking and in any case surely market research is heavily flawed, or skewed? Questions too obvious, contexts too directed, intelligence too dubious. Figures – even figures – are arbitrary.

Cricket is being measured and moaned about again: it always was and is and maybe the attention is good – or at least potentially good. The Profile is all. The Argument validates Life Itself.

I love that people care so much about cricket – about anything. They dwell on it, or in it, bawling or beaming or nagging away. The mad-wonderful truth could be, can be that cricket is the matrix within which they express their extraordinary brilliance or passion or flair or psychosis. Measure the massiveness of that.

So, I acknowledge figures more than I trust them. I believe in the truth of the madness. And yet.

We Community Coaches, in Wales and elsewhere have been working mainly recently on the huge All Stars Cricket project. I say huge because from the inside it feels big – and yet I’m not aware of as much hoopla around it this year as last. (Has the level of investment in media-stuff dipped? I don’t know).

In 2017 All Stars felt incontrovertibly a once-in-a-lifetime size commitment, a genuine game-changer’ in terms of investment and impact. 2018 feels maybe less extravagantly present but actually I’m clear it’s acting powerfully and it’s not just the figures that bear this out: it’s the experience.

I’m shockingly biased and shockingly pro-cricket but please hear me out; I’m in there, I know something of this. All Stars is a grower, on me, and in terms of its force.

I led the delivery of the (parallel) Chance to Shine cricket curriculum in Pembrokeshire schools in the winter and early spring, and now act as an Activator (meaning I run the All Stars sessions) at a local village club.

Village? Na, on reflection it’s a magical, seemingly movable speck on the rural landscape (for no-one can find it) nestling against a farm, overlooked only by cows and buzzards and crows. It’s idyllic on heartwarming drugs. It’s Llanrhian. Thursday nights the place is wild.

Wales-wide, there are more than 3,200 children signed up to All Stars, this year. (They tell me this is a thousand more than last year). At Llanrhian we have 26, which between you and me, is almost too many.

This signing-up thing is significant in several respects. Children pay £40, for an 8-week, informal course-with-benefits. They get clobber – bat, ball, t-shirt, etc, etc – but they as a family are kindof invited to commit. Commit the money, the time… and then maybe commit to joining in a little, at the sessions.

The design and the marketing raison-d’etre here speaks of gathering families in – ideally ‘new’, non-cricketing families – to a fun-but-guided sporty, family experience. The aspiration is towards not just providing good healthy fun but also the possibility for really rich shared time.

Some parents will instinctively get this; that this rather profound benefit may be there. Others will be too shy or too deep into the i-phone to notice. Fair enough. The All Stars sessions will be frothing over with good energy into which the parents can dip, or contribute, if they so choose.

I have some fantastically bright and busy and yes ‘boisterous’ kids in my group. The quality of listening is mixed, so I’ve already press-ganged in some support. It’s also – two sessions in – feeling part of the process that some parents (maybe surprised at the drift amongst some of their children?) are starting to wander in to games, to join in, in a way that they sense is helpful.

Hope this doesn’t sound like I’m either abrogating my responsibilities as coach, or endangering relationships, here: I remain aware of the issues around both safeguarding and control. It’s just that careful encouragment of positive interactive activity (which turns into family or truly social activity) really might be the icing on this Starry cake. I’m certainly hoping so… and working towards that. Watchfully.

Look, if, despite the cost and investment in time, a thousand more children have been signed up this year in Wales, and if what they tell me is true regarding 71% of All Stars children last year coming from new, uncricketing families, then I think we can put big ticks in the plus column. The data is positive – and there’s plenty more where that came from.

But we need more than that. We need recounted experiences, facts about feelings.

One example. I can tell you, I have seen that many children were, until All Stars or Chance to Shine lessons in schools, relatively or entirely unfamiliar with the feeling of bat in hand. Patently and understandably, this, in my experience, is the case. That’s changing or changed, because All Stars/Chance to Shine interventions have been huge. More children are getting to know the game.

Secondly, the glee factor – remember that? Kids are going ballistic in a wonderfully liberated way, at our All Stars sessions. It’s noisy and daft and over-the-top because the Stars are absolutely loving it. We’re setting them loose more than we’re directing them. I had one lad last week turn up with his broken arm in plaster: Dad said ‘there was no way he was going to miss it!’ Marley grinned and grabbed a ball.

Just this week we (Cricket Wales) Cricket People are trumpeting #4millionNotOut to celebrate that number of children receiving Chance to Shine cricket in some form. A big PR thing has gone off on our patch – da iawn, Milly-May, in Port Talbot! – so we’re full of ourselves, over that one. Doesn’t matter if this figure is less than football or rugby, or more than tennis or netball. Four million cricketing events. Plus the weight of All Stars on top; recently, now, next few weeks, all over – this matters.

The ECB decided that a monster wedge needed to go into junior cricket. Something transformative. A bubble had to be burst, the game had to be shared. Cricket was wonderful but was nearly out of time – or out of its time? Money to Chance to Shine was doubled, to raise the profile in Primary Schools and then something major had to be done to get new families into clubs.

All Stars is no panacea: said before that I know enough folks in cricket admin who fully accept that retention of fourteen/fifteen year-olds and of course the very shape and format of cricket itself are equally acutely important. Of course they are.

But both at the input-of-juniors level and culturally, All Stars is, in it’s gambolling, free-form, radical and hearty-risky way, opening up both the game of cricket and possibilities and understandings for coaching activity itself. This is profound. Slightly crazy, immeasurably good stuff often is, right?

The Boy Who ‘Couldn’t Catch’.

Now I have to be discreet about the following, for reasons that will become pretty swiftly clear.

Recently, I was coaching in a local Primary School – first session. As a ‘way in’ – that is to get the children moving, giggling, but listening and used to my voice – I often give them all a ball and set them off on ‘journeys’ around the space. (Mostly, the space is a playground and the journeys are a number of lengths or widths, or maybe circuits).

The ball may be different from player to player; often I encourage them to swap so as to experience a different size, shape, feeling.

I think I may have started this particular group off by asking them to make a particular number of catches, over two journeys. Before the off, I asked the children how high we should throw the ball, before launching one forty feet up.

That high? (Giggles).

Why not? Exactly! Because it would be chaos! Because we’d kill every passing seagull or hit Sara, Fred and Tomos on the head and we don’t want that, do we? (Giggles and inevitable contradictions…)

Okaaaay. Maybe we do that seagull stuff later. But first, how many catches? 

After having agreed to throw them about three metres up (max), the children set off, choosing their own kind of catch, as instructed. There are 30 children, which is a few more than the ideal number. I mingle / get in the way, because this too, can be fun and because this way I can check on things and get some encouragement into nearly everyone’s face, immediately.

There’s a boy in tears. I see him early but go past so as not to draw too much attention and then watch a little as I interact with other children – most of whom are unaware of the issue.

Ok. It’s clear the boy is tearful because he ‘can’t catch’ – because he’s frustrated but mainly because of the shame. He’s probably eight. He’s not the only one struggling but he’s the only one who can’t bear the weight of his own ‘inadequacy’. It’s actually the most heartbreaking thing I’ve seen for years, in a school situation.

(Later, whilst considering writing this, I think about how this boy might be described. Obviously I’m not going to detail anything about his appearance in a way that might identify him but there are other difficulties here. Privately, I might (we might?) describe him as ‘looking like a rather sensitive sort’. He was paleish, thinnish. Thirty years ago I/we might have said he was ‘a bit weedy-looking’).

These feel like grossly pejorative terms, now, to the extent that I may yet cut them.  If I persist it’s because I think the feeling I had after the event that this boy should never have been allowed to get to his age without being comfortable with a ball in his hands was a) kinda legitimate and b) as complicated by my own worldview as his alleged lack was (and is) by where he finds himself.

He is in a place that has denied him that particular physical experience – or the few words of encouragement or guidance that might transform that awful fear-fest into an easy, pleasurable life-skill. I think it’s fair – whilst in no way searching for scapegoats – to note the possibility that  the world has failed him.

In the here and now, though, I have to help. As discreetly as possible, right?

I could have found a bigger ball… but this didn’t feel discreet enough, given the level of sensitivity, given the ongoing tears and the boy’s pitiful explanation that he ‘just can’t do it’.

I am in emergency mode here, in a way. I cannot halt the session to offer this boy a one-to-one… and yet I must. I’m simply not having this level of hurt, over something so do-able.

So I flit to and from the individual, whilst dolloping out the encouragement to all. We have to move on and forward. The challenges actually should get incrementally  more sharp – more fun – as we proceed but clearly now I have to offer choices.

Whilst the class in general are more-or-less coping with adding claps into their catches, or bounces, or inventions of their own, I’m looking to grab a few seconds here or there with The Boy Who Can’t Catch. I do. The others are loving it, they are in their own world of adventure.

Firstly, I encourage and I sound friendly. Second, I really get him to listen. Thirdly, I put in there the idea that maybe the ball becomes the only thing in the whole wide universe for one minute… and that we just have to watch it ALL THE WAY IN.

And then I’m gone, to bawl

Wadda catch, Sara! 

or

No waaay did you just get EIGHT claps in there, dude?!? That’s unREAL!

A few discreet returns and one or two repeats later… and we have a Boy Who Can Catch. Maybe not every time – but most, or many.

I move through a zillion swift catching challenges, every time repeating to all that we can choose to stay with our own practice if that feels good to us. Nobody takes a blind bit of notice of that offer but one individual; the rest are finding other, theoretically more ambitious avenues – getting comfortable with that next diversion.

Later in the session we are throwing. The boy has partnered-up with a girl as they throw underarm at a hoop on the floor, opposite each other, stepping back one pace if either one of them hits that target. They do hit. It is evident, in a lovely, quiet way, that both of them are enjoying this.

KP; a brief wallow.

KP. Gone. Gone to save the rhinos, with (perhaps for the first time?) a coalition of goodwill behind him. But previously…

Flamingoing god. Revolutionary genius. Caresser, counter-attacker, take-the-contest-by-the-scruff-of-the-necker… or utter, utter tosser? Mincer and moaner, delusional with with his own greatness, bigger than everything. The Maestro Who Would Not Listen. KP.

This wee column ain’t gonna change how you feel about Pietersen. You sorted that yonks ago. When you saw him unpick Ingerland’s chief oppo’s or re-calibrate the do-able as a mid-order bat. You either surfed that bore with him, or did the uncomfortably surly thing – turned away, to enjoy stuff later, when the blokes you felt you could really back jumped in. Or maybe found a mid-position, where you were pleased by victories but neutral about KP’s role – however central?

With the South African’s brilliance there was that tidal surge of baggage. For the bristling xenophobes, that stuff about origins and authentic britness, or otherwise; perenially relevant of course to half the flipping squad but particularly so to Pietersen because of his extravagant profile and that feeling that he might turn Afrikaaner at any point. The non-relationship with the ECB and their coach(es?) seemed unhappily in thrall to this feeble idealogical wrestle.

More legitimately, for many, the *relationships issues*. Our Kev as a prima donna of the highest order, who (though we fully accept might have/should have been managed better) refused the throw-downs, denied or actively undermined the Team Culture. (It may be a complete irrelevance but I think I just dreamt about Pietersen on an All Blacks training camp. He was being drowned, so it appeared, in a cattle-trough, for flagrant contravention of the No Dickheads rule).

KP was either a) years ahead (again) because he knew what he needed to practice b) a mardy, irrespectful git or c) poorly managed. Or something else. Certainly it was messy and both sides of the KP / ECB/Moores/Flowers/Strauss/whoever divide may need to (in the contemporary committee-speak) ‘reflect on their behaviours’. Nobody comes out of this well, I think.

I’m bit lost and a bit anxious almost. Many of the voices I know and/or respect are pretty much besotted with KP. I’m really not. I can’t quite get past the refusing to join with the team thing – not entirely.

If I felt that brash young bloke with the partly-blue barnet really was a deeply rebellious, big-hearted genius I’d be more in his camp. But too much ‘happened’: whatever KP Legacy there is feels surely so much about poisons arising around his selfishness, his arrogance, that a durable argument can not be made based on the player’s ‘fierce, individual commitment?’

For me, that barnet seemed more a signal of something rather dumb, rather naff: something estranged from real, legitimate, subversive-in-a-good-wayness. KP the private school prat. KP who maybe thought Nik Kershaw was punk and that Celine Dion is the Queen of Soul.

What I mean by this is that for me, Pietersen was a tremendous cricket player but a vain, cardboard cut-out of a bloke. And in my view of him, this counts.

I’m not so naive I fail to recognise the rivalries and personality clashes within every team ever: of course I see that. Sport is often about egos and how they are revealed, managed, sacrificed, expressed. The KP story is something of a classic and an epic, in this wonderfully cod-psychological regard. Hence my wallowing. Briefly

It’s surely telling and probably boring that much of the actual cricket is squeezed out, here. Thank god, elsewhere there will be zillions of folks writing or reminiscing about KP’s batting, over this, his retirement weekend. I only saw him live three or four times. I missed the truly great moments: I truly hope you loved yours.

 

Rocket Science.

The snow may be piled up against the iconic Pembrokeshire hedgebanks but I’ve already done about a month’s worth of cricket sessions in our primary schools. Sure, on the one hand this feels crazy-premature – and inevitably most of the delivery has taken place indoors – but a) I/we have a lot of ground to cover and b) there’s a different time-pressure, this year.

My 2018 Cricket Wales brief is shortish and sharpish in the sense that I’m almost completely committed to All Stars Cricket-related action. Sessions for 5-8 year-old children, to be completed before about 11th May, when the  clubs will begin to roll out their own programme of guided, cricket-based fun.

The gist of this is guys and gals like me will offer a bundle of weekly sessions – typically 6 per class – from a genuinely smart curriculum which runs parallel to (and I suppose leads to) the summer romp in the clubs.

You may have mixed feelings about any or all of this, including the revelation that us Community Coaches have received a whole lot of training so as to deliver something which is not only engaging and sporty-cricketty but also a great prompt towards creative, cognitive and co-operative learning and (actually) a shedload of other meaningful objectives. We may often coach by instinct and continually adapt – even in a heavily-designed situation such as this. However this particular mission has ‘we don’t throw this together, right?’ written all over it.

I wrote in early January about my confidence and indeed pride in the quality of our Community Coach work. I’ll spare you that here, if you promise to accept the following: that a lot of kids are really being enthused for cricket and a lot of teachers/headteachers are respecting the educational as well as sporting value of what we’re doing. This matters – in particular if we want to have a sustained influence in schools.

So, the Chance to Shine resources that we base our delivery around are almost inviolably excellent. The theory is that the holistic brilliance of our side of the project will translate into powerful transfer across into All Stars ‘proper’. Families do have to pay to sign their kids up to All Stars: £40. But as I wrote in ‘It’s huge’, in Jan, it’s not about the money. The ECB, Chance to Shine, the game, all of us… we need new blood and a higher, broader profile. We’re driving that objective through the schools/All Stars link.

As coaches we have pretty stiff targets (hate that word!) in terms of numbers of children entertained, given the relatively short window of opportunity and the practical difficulties (for schools) in presenting groups of both (for example) Year 1 and Year 3, one after t’other. (Often, when speaking to schools, it becomes obvious that they would love it if I delivered more sessions but they simply cannot juggle to accommodate. Frustrating – especially as I am conscious that my own ‘numbers’ may be lowish due to the relatively small size of some of the local schools).

There’s no easy way round this; true, ECB investment in Chance to Shine has doubled, but I am still flying solo re- the delivery of sessions. No complaints; the new money means that for the first time we do have other staff backing up what I do but they are doing one-off visits – All Stars Roadshows – as opposed to mirroring my weekly ‘courses’.

But enough of this strategic nonsense, what do the sessions feel and look like? I hear you ask.

They vary – a lot. Year 1 and 2 are young, (three and four, I think) so there ain’t much in the way of forward defensive. It’s often as much about storytelling as sport. Being a rocket to the moon, landing carefully. Miming the ‘spaceman’ together; climbing into a suit; plopping that helmet on with a smile, before setting out to explore the universe.

I think I told Pembroke Dock Community School that the Proper Spacemen Who Landed on the Moon celebrated by playing a game that looked… like… this. Golf! So why don’t we celebrate at some of the stars (cones) in our galaxy by playing any game we want… with a ball? Then we can go rocketing on, to the moon (yellow crescent of cones) and then home to earth (blue circle of cones). It was a story, a game that built towards catching games; it was rocket science!

Those children just wanted to have fun, to move, to feel a game and maybe a ball in that wonderfully naive, amorphous, explorative way. So that’s what we did. They almost got that we were going around a galaxy and yes, they could make rocket noises and the rocket cost a fortune so they really should rocket carefully and land beautifully and softly. 

Some things were understood, some followed. The rest was environment, goodwill, freedom to find.

Year 3, meanwhile could aim at targets ‘properly’ and have some sense of measuring and maybe tallying. I adapted Chance to Shine’s ‘Brilliant Bowler’ into a game where children bowled different sized balls on different length pitches, whilst scoring on a whiteboard at the side of the hall. (The shortest of the three pitches put the target within reach of every child; the longest was a pret-ty serious challenge. Players (teams) rotated through the tasks, to make it fair and to give them some understanding of distance, weight of shot, degree of focus etc etc).

I am pleased to note in passing that the teachers were bloody impressed at the breadth of the activity; the kids loved the tallying – which of course was literally a record of their success.

This game is endlessly re-calibrateable and provides the opportunity for questions around technique(s). I often ask the kids to tell me how they made their throwing (or bowling) work. Their answers – I looked/ I aimed/ I went like this – prompting brief further questions, until something simple and appropriately memorable emerges. We aren’t looking to get bogged down in anything here, eh? We just want to have an enjoyable experience and drop in a couple of friendly markers.

In a nutshell, this is how the sessions are: anarchic but friendly, guided but free. They are way more than cricket, despite the apparent lack of high elbows, levelled eyes, stilled heads. We’re playing, we’re building – towards All Stars.