Yes but what does it all mean? (For #ECB #CoachingInsight).

A confession.

Having been asked to contribute something to ‘Coaching Insights’, I not only went back to re-read the last issuebut also re-watched ‘Wings to Fly 2018’. This, I think, something to do with that inclination to feel (and of course be perceived as) ‘kosher’, informed, ‘worth listening to’.

Setting aside the Coach/Ego phenomenon for a moment –we’ll return to that – I’m glad I did that revision-thing, for several reasons.

Firstly, both resources made me think; think about the richness and challenge that inevitably accompanies the phenomenal range of things coaches do. From being selflessly paternal or maternal guide-mentor to (for example) an autistic child, to hosting conversations-through-practise led, in fact, by athletes at a kind of intellectual as well as physical peak. (See both in Wings to Fly, 2018!)

Secondly, because I wanted to hug or buy beers for one or two of the coaches featured – such was their obvious human decency.

Thirdly, because (in the example of the England Women’s Hockey section) there was a powerfully contemporary, almost provocatively demanding feel to the coaching activity that I felt asked questions of all of us – whatever our level.

The apparent transfer of almost all responsibilities across to the players during Thinking Thursday sessions made me wonder about transfers between coaching levels generally. What, if anything is common?  What can we take and re-calibrate around ability and experience and meaningfully plant somewhere else?

(Do recommend a watch, by the way: you will see brilliant, international coaches – hockey, in this case – really challenge their players. It’s exciting. It may be uncomfortable; it’s very much in line with what we might call the Grow the Athlete, Test the Athlete principle – to enable growth and resilience through player ownership – but it’s exacting, exciting stuff).

So I read and I watched right through and thought wow. Amazing. What a responsibility. What a privilege. How can all that stuff be the same job?!?

Then I thought some more – on and through the labels.

A digression if I may. Anyone else a tad concerned about Jargonistas? Meaning folks who quite possibly being social media fiends like myself, seem to load up any post or hypothesis with impenetrable terminology? As though the need to justify/authenticate/‘establish’ is as urgent as the need to share?

I know in a sense I may be guilty of something similar. However it may be that looking to out-rank or outflank the Ordinary Coach is a rather mean-spirited thing to do –imho.

Of course specialisms and elite spheres of practice have technical terms/jargon, but I for one am slightly discomfited by the air of superiority and separation that can accompany missives from the Performance Posse. I’m not an elite-level coach but this doesn’t mean that I’m not interested in the higher stratospheres: seems a shame that language can be used to exclude me/us.

Get that much of this really is a function of the times, the dangers of Social Media and yes, language… but back to labels. In particular this notion of ‘player-centred’ coaching. What does that mean, anyway?

Let’s let the ideas, the connotations tumble out.

It means or implies that ‘it’s all about the player’.
That the coach must sacrifice some part of his or her ego… because the player is key.
*That means being deeply generous…
and humble, in a sense – even when as coaches we may be likely to be extrovert or ‘vocal’ or ‘opinionated’…
even when we’re sure about a way of playing that feels utterly right – that would ‘sort the issue quickly’; we might have to ask a further, better, more generous question, as opposed to direct things a tad more sharply.
It maybe also implies a particular way of coaching?

There are so-o many things to think about, here. Player-centred coaching might mean in-cred-dibly different things at different stages or strata of the game… or it might mean the same. Or it might be more a philosophy than a practise?

We could go on. We could look for scenarios, for definitions which fit. They could be ace or awful or banale or something. Everything is interpretation.

The fact that this conundrum-fest implies a kind of openness or arguably uncertainty is best seen as a positive. It’s great that questions kinda swamp answers; that though we coaches may never lose our certainties, we learn (hopefully) to treat them as supporting material rather than gospel to be spread noisily, urgently far and wide.

This restraint is a fabulous challenge. At a time when half the universe surely wants to crowd in to Surrey CCC nets to unpick the brilliant secrets of what feels like a return to Traditional Inviolables, shouldn’t we be ditching some of the new-fangled generosity and get back to drilling in timeless, simple truths?

Good question.

Surrey are flying (at the time of writing!) and they are openly trumpeting intensive rehearsal of (and I think trust in) The Basics. Meaning playing straight; being conscious of the value of your wicket; having a ‘sound technique’: the basics, in fact, as commonly, traditionally understood.

(Appreciate that our friends from the County Champions may well argue with some of this interpretation – perhaps particularly the third of those alluring soundbites – but it seems to me a fairish translation of what many cricket people are thinking).

But does the stunning success of Surrey at county level and beyond have ramifications for coaches and Coach Education broadly? Quite possibly. And does it follow then, that a ‘return to basics’ undermines arguments for player-centred coaching – which might understandably be viewed as a kind of modernist, liberal nonsense? Hopefully not. Surely not?

It does, however, challenge us all.

It challenges the ECB because their lead coaching staff will be as conscious as the rest of us that plenty of sages-of-a-certain-age are nodding wisely and doing that ‘told you so’ thing. Saying that some things are non-negotiable – that there is such a thing as a solid defence and that everyone has to have that before the other stuff. In this way we might understand a surge, forward or back, towards what we might call the traditional.

That shift may happen: not that it’s necessarily the job of John Neal or Martyn Kiel to flinch or capitulate to this year’s model or method. They will nevertheless reflect – that’s what good coaches do, right?

On this point specifically I’m slightly fascinated to see how the language in ECB Coaching Courses and publications might respond over the next year or two. Will the philosophical generosity (player-centredness?) of the Core Principles be tweaked… or not? Does it follow at all that the imprint of Surrey’s successful regime will register beyond… and if so, how? 

Things are complex. Feelings run high. The coaching community, being a mixed tribe, will respond in myriad ways. Surrey may respond to this – by making an inviolably convincing argument that there is NOTHING traditional or ‘old-fashioned’ about their goals or their methods! It really could be that their coaches are as ‘enlightened’ and player-centred as anyone. It just feels like a drift back to demonstrations, in nets, might happen, on the back of whispers from the Oval.

I hope that not too many of us fall into a kind of smugness or vitriol around this. (Let’s face it, it’s all the rage!) To conflate/equate the perceived triumph of traditional values with the need to return to traditional coaching methods would be questionable, in my view. A) Because surely traditional skills and values can be supported by contemporary, less didactic coaching and B) because who knows, really, what’s making the difference?

I am fine with being uncertain about many things. I can see a difference between player-centred coaching as a method… and as a philosophy. I’m not sure where that gets me -other than to a place where I might (coaches might) recognise that the ‘player-centred’ coaching we are doing is so dominated by our own goals or expectations that it lacks utterly the generosity implied by that phrase. It’s so loaded with our perfectly-formed plans that despite our fine relationship with the player it cannot be truly player-centred.

This is surely an issue?

For the term ‘player-centred’ to really cut it, I reckon we’ve got to be talking about a pret-ty radical shift in the player-coach alliance. Inevitably the coach will have certain aspirations – patterns he or she hopes to share and follow. But I think the essence of contemporary coaching has rightly moved towards offering the player the opportunity to grow and to self-direct on that pathway. More or less. According to the individual. Because better learning occurs this way.

Being player-centred might mean providing the context, the activity, appropriate to the recipient individual. But it’s not superficial, ideally. In other words, asking questions and playing games might tick some progressive boxes but may not either really work… or be really player-centred.

The essence of the task is about using your human skills – social, psychological? – alongside those cricket coaching skills to truly, generously develop the player. (This I guess is why the word ‘holistic’ appears, at times like these). We’re back to the awesome, exciting, wonderful, challenging enormity of the role of the coach.

Let me leave you with another quandary – questions deliciously swamping answers, right? If we are now clear what Player-centred Coaching is, does that mean the coach or the player, during practice, chooses how things are done?

Onwards, with a top-end example of a particular approach. It’s widely noted that the mighty All Blacks coaches haven’t done match-day team-talks for aeons. Because the players have already done – and owned – the preparation. So no need for the Kiwi equivalent of Churchillian rhetoric from the coach. None.

Imagine the temptation, when the adrenalin is pumping, to bawl instruction or pour fire into the hearts of your players, immediately pre-match. None. Because the players have gotten themselves ready; you know that – you hosted those sessions.

In cricket the ground has shifted so quickly beneath us that the very idea of a common technique for this or that is somewhere between questionable and outright redundant. Format changes; revolutions in every aspect. So in that intoxicating flux, what might be constant?

Maybe nothing. Maybe the need to learn. Maybe in our case developing the player by understanding his or her needs and skills and idiosyncrasies as deeply as possible. 

We aim to get better. Or we should. That was a central message from both ‘Coaching Insights’ and ‘Wings to Fly 2018’ – appropriately, in my view. (I do read and do watch, by the way – you? Daft not to).

For many of us this might mean exposing ourselves to ideas which in truth may not make us more sure about what’s right. And yet that same exposure may still be hugely beneficial.

Being player-centred, like everything else, is a matter of understanding. Understanding them – as far as possible – understanding our role as coaches and offering a whole lot. A dialogue. A sounding-board. A springboard.

 

 

 

How much it can mean.

I, the Community Cricket Coach. Busy to exhausting period. Multiple schools per week, trying to keep the value and the intensity and the positive vibe going for the children.

A quick, true story – as always more about that universal fabness than about any ‘ownership’ by Yours F. Truly. I know sports coaches the world over have experiences like this every day; in fact something about the sheer volume of good delivered in this way feeds into my own flow of whatever it is; makes it possible.

Un-nameable school and pupil. Newish, blandish location.  Rain – so indoors. A hall, glossy-floored, with just a wee patch that evidences flattened chips, or the dust-pan-&-brushed ghost thereof. A few ‘Health & Safeties – so (ever the Pro’ 😉)  I park red cones around those dodgy perimeters.

Incoming, an assistant, gratefully received; particularly so as as she is sports-trained and it turns out she’s “been here a few months and know the kids”. I was here last year.

I get a perfectly fair warning about a lively group (whom I’d remembered) and a particular individual.

I have a  clear memory of at least two children with quite powerful issues, at this school. That’s fine and to be expected – I’m never fearful nor intimidated by that situation. I’m confident that our activity (and yes, my personality, because often that’s what it takes) can get us through.

Today’s Chance to Shine/Cricket Wales session will be about #BrilliantBatting, about getting familiar with the bat: experiencing it in the hand, using it to twiddle and control and spirit different balls to different places. I note to myself that a bat can be a weapon – so best be attentive – but then re-focus on making the lesson sharp and shiny and engaging, so that anyone and everyone will be seduced, in the healthiest of ways, into happy, busy engagement.

As always, I have a broad plan and the session is ‘set out’. As always, my antennae will be up and twitching, pre-empting flattish periods by finessing, recalibrating, changing the challenge. As always I am hoping this will be irresistibly good lols for these children and I will look to encourage each and every one of them.

Ok. Ready to go and I’m alone with my thoughts for a moment. I remember (again) thinking just what the hell is this child going through at home? To make them so, so volatile?

Then children in the corridor, bustling. Deep breath and begin the welcome. From near the back of a friendly but fairly anarchic ‘line-up’ I see ‘this child’ is breaking out towards me. He runs to where I am standing (alone, in the middle of the hall) and throws himself around my waist. He says – fascinatingly clearly and with some emotion – “I’ve been waiting for you to come back!”

The Sports Assistant is kindof beaming  through raised eyebrows. Later, I’m choked (now, I’m welling-up!) but in the moment I acknowledged his fabulous greeting before moving on. (We have to take care, with physical contact, yes? I can’t pick the lad up and hug him enthusiastically – or I enter problematic territory if I do).

However the quality of his response was extraordinary – it’s why I’m writing.

I/we get plenty of lovely welcomes, right(?) but this was different-level wonderful. I feel somewhat humbled by it – all that feeling. I am absolutely re-energised by it, but also conscious of the responsibility it projects back onto us coaches…

“Look how much it can mean. Be conscious, always, that it can be that meaningful. Aim that high.

At the risk of de-mystifying this touchy-feelyness, it seems only right and proper to note that though I had of course remembered this child from my half-dozen visits last year, I was not, frankly, aware how much of an impression our sessions had made. And there’s some learning in that – for me, for all of us. God I’m grateful but he surprised me.

The lesson is great. My long-lost pal is utterly with us, throughout, performing the bat-skills with attention and even patience – mostly. Okaay, he drifts here and there but he’s not disruptive of anyone, or anything. Wow. Sport, eh?

 

#WBBLFinal. Moments.

Let’s start with this: my conviction that the dashingly, upliftingly positive upward trend in women’s cricket – women and girls’ cricket in fact – is probably the most exciting and profound development in sport, right now. Bar none. From grassroots to the elite levels, things are getting better and that fabulous, liberating wave will continue: all over.

Meanwhile, over there (Oz – the world-leaders in this wonderful romp) we find 5,368 fans and more, luxuriant sunshine. Another huge, smiley yomp forward underway, Sydney hosting its own Sixers and the Brisbane Heat in a carnival, a festival, a cup final of a day.

Could be my West-Walian vantage-point but duw, duw, bois, it looked on the blistering side of bright; weather for being hot and bothered in. Is it or was it indiscreet of me to note that even the sublime athlete that is Perry had that beads-of-sweat-on-the-forearms thing going on, whilst batting out there? Forgive me. Heat is an issue for us Brits.

She (E.A. Perry) may even have been a tad flustered by some consistently tidy bowling from Kimmince Jonassen and co; her striking rhythm appeared off. Maybe this is merely relative, given the expectation of almost absurdly serene progress in this most flurrytastic of formats but though, inevitably, she contributed, Perry looked a bit like somebody else.

She looked, in fact, like a normal batter, for much of her 33, before being caught skying a sweep by an understandably relentlessly watchful Mooney. She wasn’t then, going to take the game beyond the Heat, going to dismiss them entirely, with the bat. For the neutral, maybe this was good?

Kimmince, for me, has something. Maybe has something special – certainly that full outswinger is a real ace, especially when it grips and leaves the right-hander a touch too. Here, this Special One removes the bewildered Healy, clipping the off-stick quietly after that killer moment in the air… and off the deck. Soo-perb. Huge Wicket. Healy – a match-winner, as we know – is gone for 18 typically prompt runs.

There follows a generally lukewarm-ish effort, from the Sixers, to be honest. Credit, of course to some goodish bowling and generally attentive fielding but given the strength and dynamism of the home team’s lineup, the scoring rate was mediocre throughout – and some of this felt like lack of ambition.

Gardner, so often powerful, was mixed. Burns, McGlashan and Kapp were relatively uninfluential. It was left to van Niekerk to raise the bar towards something challenging, with a bullish 32, from 15. 131 for 7 the total.

Despite my opening paragraph (and despite the possibility that it may be unhelpful to suggest it) there may be a sense that the women’s game still needs to take most every opportunity to obliterate negativity and prejudice. So in addition to the traditional pressures accompanying a final, that imperative towards providing a great game, in front of a brilliant crowd, lurked somewhat – was in the ether. Great in terms of quality and drama… and ideally a nail-biter, a close one. We got almost all of that.

Sixers might rightly feel they can defend almost anything, anywhere, anytime, given their bowling attack. Captain Routinely Sensational and Marvellous (Perry) and her sidekick, the spiky, relentless Kapp, queen of the send-off. Two Absolute Worldies; they alone, if necessary, will keep them ‘in the contest’.

We’re into the reply. Poor Grace Harris. Seems a chirpy, entertaining sort but she’s run out literally painfully, early doors, in the Heat innings. Backing up, slipping awkwardly and twisting her knee before failing to make her ground. Soon after, Kapp is borderline abusive in sending Johnson off, bowled – a reminder that this is serious, that the juices are pulsing passionately.

As things progress, it’s tight. The Heat skipper, Short and their powerhouse Mooney are coping okay. Sixers will call upon eight bowlers, from Aley, with her slighty laboured (slightly) one-o’clock bowling arm position, guiding them in there, to the frontline four of Perry, Kapp, van Niekerk and Burns.

When Short is caught by Burns off van Niekerk, the drama focuses on Beth Mooney – remarkably so.

Mooney’s innings was almost painful to watch, it was so traumatically, memorably tough. The Heat’s keeper and key bat could barely stand, at times, due to the broiling conditions. She merely survived it, squeezing every ounce of concentration and competitive spirit into the moment after delivery: somehow, heroically – but alarmingly rosy-cheeked – clubbing the ball instinctively around.

Mooney’s condition was a) the cause of genuine concern from medical staff and b) something of a distraction in the game – hence the lack of sympathy from Healy behind the stumps, amongst others. Sixers felt, perhaps, that some of this was a deliberate breaking-up of the contest.

This, remember, is top-level competitive sport: ultimately some will regard the powerfully-built batter as an ‘absolute heroine’ and others, as an out-of-shape chancer.

The Heat are chipping away at that total but then the game shifts. They lose 3 for 5, stirring the crowd. Tension. Scrambled minds. Nerves on both sides, in fact.

What feels like an important error by Healy – failing to gather a throw with batters a-scampering – becomes unimportant as the next ball from Burns draws a successful lbw appeal.

However the Heat look to be muddling through with 15 needed from 12 and the stylish South African Wolvaardt at the crease. Harris, her partner, has seemed nervy.

More drama as Van Niekerk – her international skipper – gifts Wolvaardt a poor full toss for four but then Kapp’s brilliant arm runs her out, charging for the second run and the strike. Zoiks. It’s the WBBL semi’s revisited, with 5 needed off 6, 7 wickets down, come the last over. Kapp to bowl it.

Kimmince charges but only gets the one. Then Harris clubs one to deep midwicket… and a miscommunication (or noncommunication) on the rope – two fielders colliding – sees the Heat home in a pile of bodies.

A scruffyish finish but Brisbane Heat don’t give a toss. There’s a pretty convincing outbreak of ecstasy (and a further, more joyful pile of bodies) as they run in to celebrate a first WBBL title. Screams and rebel yells and another outstanding day for women’s cricket is done.

 

Game of Throws.

Most of you will know that I’m a Community Coach, for Cricket Wales. This means, amongst other things, that I go into schools – I typically describe myself as “the daft bugger who throws things around, with kids, in schools”.

It’s sometimes challenging but mostly so magbloodynificent I need to ramp the language over the scoreboard to describe it. Today is one of those flowtastically energising days. Sorry.

I’ve been into a Primary School, on our Chance to Shine mission, which is so multi-faceted (in a good way) I’m going to invent some swift bullet-points, to give the sense of covering it all briefly.

Frankly don’t care if this sounds like a salespitch: what happened today was mercifully and definitively beyond mere capitalism, dear friends. Here’s some edited highlights from the err, manifesto.

We Community Coaches, we Chance to Shiners aim to;

  • offer a load of sporty fun.
  • Build co-ordination around cricket-based games.
  • Build confidence through and confidence in movement.
  • Offer new stuff – skills, ‘drills’, ways in to catching, throwing, striking etc.
  • Stimulate listening skills, teamwork &/or individual application to challenges: build numeracy (yes I do mean that!) and communication skills – oracy.
  • Get familiar, or more familiar with a bat, a ball, or different bats, different balls.
  • Specifically follow, more or less, a curriculum which Chance to Shine has assembled, drawing on masses of expertise and research… and stuff.
  • In the abstract we aim (I certainly aim) to make kids laugh a bit, whilst charging round the place with purpose. Structured bursting and giggling and launching and swiping and mostly achieving something, which may or may not be measurable but may well be actually rather profound.

Hence my sickening upbeat-ness. Cos we did all that this morning. Two brilliant sessions with children from Year 2 then Year 3. Brilliant? Them – them! – not me. They lit up the place.

In my post-euphoric foolishness, I’m wondering if there might be some merit in describing what we did. So here goes.

Last week with these children, we followed the Chance to Shine model for batting games, via Striking Star and Super Skills Circuit – you can find these here and I do recommend them.

https://www.chancetoshine.org/teaching-resources

Having done the ‘get familiar with the bats’ thing, it made sense to do something different, today. So out with hoops and spots and balls, for games again developed from that C2S curriculum.

We were inside, in an average-sized school hall. I drew out a Throwing Line, with red cones, then placed three yellow hoops and a spot, about four or five metres out, parallel to the Throwing Line, spaced evenly apart. Three or four metres beyond, two blue hoops and two blue spots, again making a line, across the hall. Finally, the distant targets – four red hoops.

I welcomed the children in, in English and inadequate Welsh, as per. Then, after asking them again how they turned their ears on and warning them in the nicest possible way that the games would change, briefly described (rather than demonstrated) what we would do. We would throw underarm at the yellow targets.

What would we throw? Cricket ball-sized sponge balls and two or three significantly bigger but still unthreatening, lightweight ‘footballs’, plus a softly-spiky pink plastic ball: all of which I said I’d like to see shared around.

The children had a couple of goes before I tried that “Ok people, imagine if I was an alien and I’d just landed on Planet Har’ford; how would you explain how this underarm throw works(?)” routine. “What’s moving?”

I might now be modelling the throw but not saying anything. Instead I ask the ‘coaches’ (kids) to talk me through “pushing my palm, stepping forward, aiming with my hand-that-isn’t-throwing”. It’s a listening event and describing event, for the children; hopefully more than a demonstration.

We move on, as soon as; we want to be throwing, more, further, harder!

I ask how many points we should give ourselves for hitting the nearest (yellow) hoops ”first bounce – on the full?” Somebody confidently shouts “Ten!” Ten it is.

”So how many for the blue?”

(Somebody else). “Thir-teee!”

”And what about the red?!?”

”FIFF-TEEEE!!!”

Suddenly we have a Proper Game. In which “for a bitta fun” we can keep score if we want.

I offer them more choices; they can now throw under or overarm and they can aim at any hoop or spot. (Incidentally, if it felt necessary, I would offer the discussion about whether a blue hoop is worth more or less points than a blue spot – which is smaller. Feels unnecessary, here. Note too, that we haven’t discussed throwing overarm yet; let them launch a few first).

Surprise surprise, everybody lashes it out there in the general direction of the distant red hoops. It’s wonderful, stretchy-wild and energetic. They love it.

Before the next round of throws – just to focus the concentration a tad – I bring in A Rule. “You have to name the colour before you throw”. We go on. It’s still fairly chaotic… but great.

Next up we revisit the scoring. “Which are the easiest targets to hit? Why? So if we really were counting our score, what colour do we think might be the one where we are most likely to get some points? Or… if we are enjoying throwing harder, further (at the red, maybe) what can we do, to give ourselves every chance of hitting?”

It’s gotten tactical. They realise that. There’s that lovely sense of liberation – through the physical act of throwing – and also the whirr of cognition and ‘getting the game’.

”I’m going yellow – no, blue!”

”I’m going red. I’m still going red, because…”

It’s gotten to a point where I think there is some real value in me demonstrating an overarm throw – despite my half-decent grasp of ECBCA initiatives towards Core Principles, as opposed to old-school ‘coaching’. So I offer three suggestions; feet wide apart and in line with the target; ‘pointing’ or aiming with the non-throwing hand; throwing hand waaaaay up and back away from the face.

In my defence, as it were, I do offer this model via a story, with questions.

”Who’s got a dog, friends?

Half the class.

”Okaaay. So have I. Picture the scene, on Newgale (beach). Me and one very waggy dog and a ball. Does my dog want me to do this… (throws with hand at his ear, feebly)… or (collects ball and notably draws elbow and hand high and loooong and back, away from the head) does your dog want you to launch one?” (Launches one, to unsolicited whhooooos and whoooorrs from the kids).

”Your dog wants you to zap it. To enjoy throwing hard and far. Powerfully. Come on, let’s get wide feet, pointy hands and get that ball awaaaay from our faces. Let’s ab-so-lute-ly lash it AT THESE TARGETS!!

Typically I shift one red hoop to the furthest, furthest point and up the ante to 500 points for that one. It’s a blast – slightly wild – but my personal mission to teach the mini-universe to be able to throw, to love throwing has bounded forward… and that’s magic.

I’ve missed some details out but this is the gist of a session that I repeated, this morning. Minimal changes for Years 2 then 3. Biggish groups – 30-odd. I guarantee you that nobody felt inadequate, or left out. The level of engagement was stratospheric.

I finished both sessions with my Moving Target challenge, for a thousand points. It offers a kind of individual moment for everyone; one in which everyone Wins Big.

I walk across in front of the children, holding a hoop up at what feels like a comfortable height for their throws. One by one, they all have to throw through the hoop, as I move. Miraculously (possibly with an occasional strategic twitch from yours truly) everybody nails it! It’s crazily, dizzily, wonderfully satisfying – maybe especially for those who weren’t throwing ‘naturally?’

“A thousand points! What a way to finish!”

About fifty minutes-worth of entertaining, challenging, sometimes mind-bending Chance to Shine/CricketWales fun. With balls. And hoops. In January, in a school hall. Some educational boxes ticked but mainly, mainly a deeply pleasurable experience for all concerned; including me.

 

 

Another Year in the Life of…

Here’s the thing. In Fishguard; just finished the Christmas shopping blitz alarmingly early, by my appalling standards, largely courtesy of the town’s delightful independent bookshop. Feeling tad smug; almost triumphal, even.

(Allow me to get my retaliatory confession in early, here. Abso-lutely cough to being shockingly blokey about adventures in Retail Land. Love the family ecstatically but even this fails to de-glaze the eyes during the *buying things* process. Can only manage it in bursts).

Sometimes, however, the twitchtastic ‘yes, yes, that’s definitely it’ instinct operates on a level that really might be described as inspired. Like today. Like when I bought the flag of the European Union (£1.99) and the monkey-shaped tea strainer (4 quid) and then all those books to erm complement the previous, eye-poppingly eclectic purchases.

The Shopping. All done! And capped off with some deeply groovy dinosaur wrapping paper that will further convince the family that the descent into shambolic eccentricity continues worryingly unabated. Haha – all done!

So what better time than to retreat into the Gourmet Pig (ambient hipstertastic deli but don’t let that put you off) and flick through the diary to rustle up a few highlights? Whilst the dander is more up than Solskjaer’s: when we need some Good News, to counter the divisive disasterfest that is Brexit And All That. Let’s de-politicise the universe for a moment and remind ourselves, shall we, of the power of sport?

January. 2018. Kindof off-season for us Community Coaches but not entirely for my good self, on account of the social media role(s). So two blogs, early doors; one shamelessly backing the All Stars project, the second a weird indulgence around how you can’t own the sportsplace without being Ricky, not Rick, or Rooty, not Joe. (Go figure or go read: 40 posts during the year!)

Also some training, at what was still then the Swalec (I think), now appropriately restored as Sophia Gardens. And what we call a ‘CDO meet’, which means a conflab with my esteemed handlers, to talk about what the year is gonna look like – the actual work and the actual imperatives.

By all means picture us poring over the strategic overview in some intimidatingly businesslike office-block: in fact we met at Morriston’s caff in Carmarthen. I hasten to add that this didn’t stop us thrashing out a pret-ty comprehensive Cunning Plan; something our funders and seniors would have emphatically rubber-stamped – with or without the brown sauce.

Jan 11th and 12th the Community Team underwent further training, in Cardiff. (If this was the Create Development training, it was excellent: challenging, stimulating and a laugh – but authentic. Shout out to their guys; if you have a group of coaches you want to nudge forward or ask good questions of, seek them out).

Saturday the 13th I have a note that Barnet Newman failed twice to get his teacher’s certificate, on the grounds that he couldn’t draw stuff. This relates both to a blog I was writing about governing for culture, sport and health, and also flags up the fact that the universe can be dumb as hell… but you have to keep on, yes? Jan 15th I re-booted the Cricket Wales facebook effort.

29th I started my year of coaching by leading a session for mighty Sport Pembrokeshire; an interesting one as it gathered in children of various ages who had the ‘home educated’ label in common. Enjoyable. Predictably great, lively kids: plus helpful prep for me, as two days later I am in to the day-job with a wallop.

I start in schools ‘proper’ Wednesday Jan 31st. By this I mean in my Cricket Wales Community Coach role, supporting and supported by the fabulous Chance to Shine, bringing a considerable dollop of cricket-based games and curriculum-linked nuggets to bunches of kids over a number of weeks. Meaningful lumps of sporty-but-also-holistically-enriching development, in other words: and yes I do mean that – all of it.

Five sessions in the day, for groups of about 25-30 children, aged 5/6/7. Quite intense, despite the breaks.

Intense but rewarding. Hope this doesn’t feel indiscreet if I whisper behind my hand that this school (Pembroke Dock Community School) is something else, in a good way. Visibly, demonstrably, powerfully connected to both sport and artsy stuff as means to enliven and (that word again) enrich. This school leads the way in many respects, not least because *they* genuinely place the movement of the body and (actually) the spirit slap-bang central to the whole educational experience.

*They, obviously, being the Headmistress, Mrs Thomas and her staff. Bravo!

So what a place to start! In the deep dark winter! Weeks of back-to-back, rip-roaring, darkness-defying games. Remember being medium-shattered but inwardly grinning; school-fit; ready.

February. What we call Views training – Views being the on-line system for recording our work. Genning-up on the hows and whys of inputting data onto the site that tracks and accounts for what we do. Because quite reasonably, people are wanting to know what we’re at; how many hours are coached, who to, when?

Being from the Stiff Little Fingers school of computer (il)literacy, I have to work reasonably hard at this – get my diligent head on. It’s a chore but no complaints: no accounting, no job.

The schools work is coming at me, now. Saundersfoot, Sageston, Stepaside. Southish Pembs. Fascinatingly different but all smallish village schools. Fantastic welcome and support from staff, some of whom I know. Gratifyingly, over time, that essential and confirmatory buy-in from teachers won over by the level of engagement or sometimes sheer joy from the kids. The moments where teachers get it… are important.

Milford Juniors, as one roster of schools rolls into the next. Assemblies where I maybe have to follow the vicar, carefully transitioning from Easter to All Stars messaging, without offending or failing to ‘signpost’ children over to their local clubs.

(It’s true: we do have to execute the salespitch side of this, by presenting something All Starstastic in front of the school/staff/the extended community. On reflection, I followed two gentlemen of the cloth onto the stage during last season. Mercifully, I remain un-struck-down).

Johnston and then ‘Lady Taverners’ – meaning delivery to and supervision of Secondary School girls, who (here in Pembs) are all over the idea of practicing a bit then playing matches against other schools. Been running for years, this, at U13 and U15 level, with great support from our colleagues at Sport Pembrokeshire. It is sociable and often extra-curricular but also competitive – appropriately competitive, I would say.

Gelliswick. A new school and new to me. The Head is a friend (and former Scotland international cricketer!) so feeling good about my first visit. Weather against us and main hall unavailable so we have up to five sessions every Tuesday in a tight space. Sponge balls and multiple, diverse relays and a whole load of adlibbed ‘storytelling’ – for wee children, largely. A healthy challenge for the coach, this one.

Narberth. Suddenly a boomtown, with more galleries and foody cafés than (I dunno) Islington. The Guardianistas may be here but the school feels reassuringly untroubled by the changes all around. Lots of welsh spoken; playgrounds that feel timelessly boisterous, or quiet, or windy, or raw in another, unstable March. There most of the day, so confess did occasionally indulge in the local food emporia. Occasionally.

We’re into what we call Roadshows, now. One-off visits where we may do a session or two but will certainly look to present a snappy and engaging something-or-other before a biggish lump of children in the (All Stars) target group of 5-8 year-olds. So again being more salesperson than coach, in truth. (Prefer the other stuff, to be honest but again no complaints – it’s part of what we do). So do it well and gather some kids for the local clubs.

Have a series of Roadshows plus a final round of new schools to hit, now, as we approach the key period – before the All Stars kick-off in early May. Fenton, Neyland, Cleddau Reach, Lamphey, Penrhyn, Golden Grove. Easter, rather unhelpfully, interveneth.

Then, renewed, the final charge. Croesgoch and Ysgol Bro Dewi for my own pet All Stars project at Llanrhian CC. Soo-perb support from staff and a fair bit of decent weather just when we need it. I follow the sign-ups on the ECB system. 7, 8, 10, more.

We get to 26 All Stars, for Llanrhian. A truly exceptional number given the fabulorural nature of the schools and the club. Unthinkable without tremendous backing in every way from the schools’ staff, who have actively joined in with sessions – despite their own Welsh-language ethos and my poor, poor Welsh – and their consistent support for the notion of activity beyond school. 

Over the proverbial parrot to report that I’m going back in, in 2019, to flush out a new group of All Stars; a thought that amongst others, has kept me going through the floods and the potentially crushing gloom.

We get through to mission end. Then many of us Community Coaches lead All Stars in clubs – meaning eight weekly sessions or more.

At Llanrhian only the very first session had to retreat indoors, to the local leisure centre. Went okaaay but thank god for the glorious weather which followed. We were out on the most absurdly wunnerful Proper Rural Cricket Ground imaginable. For eight more idyllic weeks.

It was crazy, energy-sapping  but also mysteriously, undeniably restorative. It was, at the end, both absolutely necessary and incredibly hard… to stop.

But reel back a bit. Because May and June in the schools means Festival Time. Busy but easy, because the Primary School Festivals we run pretty much run themselves. Because the kids love it and the teachers, the teachers are magnificent.

These are day-long events which nail the sport-and-development-and-social-interaction combo beautifully year after year. (8 a side, batting pairs, two overs each pair; when fielding each player must bowl). Things move along – so if you get beat you’re onto the next one before you go dwelling on all that ‘negative stuff’. Actually, for me – honestly – there is no negative stuff.

Outstanding, well-structured game-days which build in brilliant, shared activity. Such a privilege to host. We ran about a dozen of these, in Pembrokeshire this year; almost all in bewitching, Australian weather.

And then it’s summer. Which is not the end of the year… but does mark a slowdown in the number of hours coaching. Autumn and winter,  I’m doing the year-round (social) media stuff, with occasional CDO meets and admin, and more Views training.

Eventually – but spookily swiftly – we’re planning the next mission. All Stars 3, in short. Schools delivery to Years 1-4 (mainly) in support of All Stars activity at local clubs.

In November I started approaching schools for that next round of action: some new, some delightfully, encouragingly familiar. Am booked into nine, so far, will be chasing other schools immediately after the festivities – 18 in total, more than last year.

It may sound glib but I am hugely thankful for the support that schools or individuals offer. The friends, the soul-brothers and sisters – the allies. This comradeship and understanding, unspoken or otherwise, is central to the work.

The work all of us Community Coaches do (and yes I am including our counterparts in other sports in this) really can, really does have a certain power. The movement and the sheer, infectious enjoyment makes children listen: this in itself becomes a profound opportunity – a gateway.

Some schools want me in pronto after Christmas, others will wait for warmer, brighter days. All will get a daft, ‘distinguished’ geezer proud to front up, to lead, to sell the game that I love and push towards that precious culture of daily, ‘natural’ activity.

So, a happy and healthy break to all. Then bring it on; I’m ready again.

Significant Threat.

I was there when England scuffed and skipped, fainted and feinted their way past South Africa in the World Cup semi, in Bristol. It was, as they say, dramatic – dramatically bad for one’s equilibrium – whoever you happened to be supporting.

I do realise that that was a different time, place and format but sometimes it feels like there are *themes*, eh?

In the 50 over comp Heather Knight’s posse somehow came out on top but not before most of us England fans had bawled or tutted or cut out the middle person and shat ourselves. On the one hand, the subsequent, glorious victory at Lords squishes all arguments regarding England’s durability but on the other it feels true to also characterize the side with the rider ‘likes a wobble’.

They do – and we’ve already seen that in this WT20, during the win against Sri Lanka. In this game the first ball dismissal of Wyatt precipitated some pret-ty major, visibly contagious and relatively prolonged angst. So we approach the crucial game tonight, versus *arch-enemies South Africa with hope, yes but also with fear.

(*Arch-enemies? Can we still say that?!? There is a smidge of something approaching enmity, I suspect, between these two camps).

Strangely or boldly, England retain their 3 leftie spinners: can they/ will they do that against Aus? South Africa win the toss and opt to bat.

Lee, Wolvaardt, Kapp and van Niekerk are all players; by that I mean legitimate international players, with talent and experience. The concern around them is two-fold. Where is their confidence? Can they go at this?

The answer to question two is a resounding and disappointing ‘no’. Whisper it – for fear of encouraging more, bellicose negativity from male ‘traditionalists’ – but 21 of the first 24 balls… are dot balls.

The extraordinary aggression-void has engulfed South Africa in the same way it has smothered the ambitions of other teams in the competition. To the extent that this is in danger of not feeling like a competition – more a procession, led by Australia, where nominal rivals act out the role of opponents, rather meekly.

We can hope that India, the Windies and England may yet make a nonsense of this argument: Australia may not prove to be dominant. However the gulf in terms of intent between the Southern Stars and most others is striking… and a tad dispiriting.

But back to tonight’s opener – where sadly it is again as though the powerplay doesn’t exist (for South Africa) – or at least that part of the powerplay that opens up possibilities for the batters to clatter boundaries; that actively encourages it.

I have no doubt that this side of the game will develop in good time: more importantly a notably animated Charlotte Edwards bemoaning the generally disappointing lack of ambition (in commentary on TMS) goes on to repeatedly insist that a gear-change is completely essential. That gap must close.

Meanwhile wickets fall, the runrate continues to stall. 43 for 4 after 13 – but still somehow drama-less.

Knight claims a catch. Rather cheekily, according to the replay (according to Edwards); but the current England skipper is rather fascinatingly certain, even through the re-played denial. Kidding herself, being shamelessly competitive/cynical? Who knows?

Chloe Tryon belatedly launches; smites two sixes in quick succession. Can’t sustain it – caught off Sciver, to snuff out any real hopes of approaching 100. Tunnicliffe follows Tryon to the dressing-room. I can only imagine the trauma for Proteas supporters; the unambition, the disappointment seems endless.

Last over. Shrubsole skittles Ismail, has Klaas caught next ball off a leading edge then achieves the unthinkable-but-somehow inevitable by cleaning out Fourie. Hat-trick! Sciver’s wunnerful-ludicrous figures of 4 overs, 3 for 4 will rightly draw the eye of the cognoscenti but Shrubsole, again, will make the headlines.

Innings done at 85 all out. Okaay, South Africa’s strong suit is their bowling but at this stage it feels like they are about to be crushed. Except that England do like a wobble.

The spikes in quality continue. Klaas gifts England a four with a piece of fielding that is frankly humiliating: painful to watch. Wyatt blasts away with intent and some style. A different level of commitment to run-scoring – or just running.

With an angry Ismail putting it all in there, Beaumont drives her beautifully through firstly midwicket, then extra cover. Both times for four. Proper Top Level Cricket. Important for a tournament still disentangling itself from perceived mediocrity.

General note on this: I think all of us who genuinely enjoy supporting women’s cricket struggle around how to pitch any criticism. Better for female voices to do it. It’s not easy. But clearly learning can come from criticism as well as praise.

Very much on the plus side, Dani Wyatt is energetic, watchable and – tonight – has gotten swiftly into her flow. She belts through a series of borderline singles, diving to gain her ground at some cost to her physical safety. In simple terms, there is no comparison between the approach of the English openers and the preceding South Africans.

Come the end of the powerplay, England are 41 for 0. (South Africa were 24 for 1).

The Wyatt and Beaumont partnership are past cruising, at 55 for 0. Into, or possibly disappearing towards that dreamland where Statements Are Really Made. Could they do this in 12 overs, for none down?

No. Van Niekerk’s loopy leggies get Wyatt, clunkily, behind her legs,  premeditating a sweep but ultimately looking rather daft.

Sciver does something similar, to Daniels, walking to off and being bowled leg stick. After 10, England are 59 for 2. Then Beaumont gifts van Niekerk a further wicket, booming directly to long on.

With Amy Jones now joining captain Heather Knight it does feel like England have sufficient quality remaining to find the required runs. This they do. 87 for 3, ultimately. They’ve eased there, in truth.

Maybe it’s as well that Jones and Knight – both 14 not out at the close – have had some more time in the middle. Maybe. Certainly Jones will have enjoyed clubbing Ismail so emphatically through the covers and blasting the winning runs. Likewise Knight will have loved the two beautiful straight drives she stroked – and I do mean stroked – downtown.

But there may also be that minor frustration around the possibility for a 10 wicket job. Wyatt and Beaumont were simply playing at a higher level than the South African batters. Both got themselves out in their 20s, when plainly bigger scores – and additional psychological advantages – were there for the taking.

Maybe scratch that? Maybe we should be simply enjoying a thoroughly convincing win against traditionally competitive rivals? Maybe save Ultimate Ruthlessness Mode for the teams – Windies, India, Australia – who pose the most significant threat. Maybe don’t even note in passing, that there was no discernible wobble here.

Played, England. Good to see you so focused, so positive. Good to see you enjoy the win. Move on; you’re in this, now.

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.