I’ve always been a sportsman not a salesman. But now I have to factor in stuff from outside of that previously ‘natural’ territory where I just run/ran around innocently clouting or throwing or hoofing things. Things like ‘delivery’, things like ‘migration’ now muscle into my consciousness in a way that’s both a challenge and maybe sometimes a concern.
This is because I now work (as well as volunteer) in sport – as Community Cricket Coach for Pembrokeshire. Get the sick-bowl ready people because I’m gonna have to tell you that I’m absolutely all over this work; I love what I’m doing and I’m kindof defiantly proud of the nature and the impact of what us Cricket Wales Peeps are doing at the lily-white coal-face of the game.
I know, for example, that our/your Community Cricket Coaches are right now lighting up the lives of children – today, now. They are organising/running and fronting festivals wherein children play what we call kwik or festival cricket in the most fabulous and intelligently competitive way. In my own region we’ve clicked over from delivering sensaaaaayshunnal and bright and profoundly educational sessions in schools into this, the Festival Season, where most of my ludicrously freeform Good Energy pours into Big Days Out.
Recently we had 19 schools attending the Girls’ Finals Day. Except that they weren’t attending; they were gallivanting, they were giggling, they were smashing and sprinting and munching sandwiches too fast too early before springing up to bat/bowl/field. Each one batting in every single game; each one bowling in every single game – so sharing the experience, the opportunity in a way that utterly confounds the difficulties around How This Game Works for Everybody. Playing four or five games per Big Day Out.
Likewise at the Pembroke Cluster of Schools Festival, held at Pembroke Dock Cricket Club on an immaculately bright sunny day on their immaculately sunny ground, prepared as if for a visit from royalty or from Sky Sports.
Maurice and John and Andrew having plumped the cushions to offer unknown and unseen children a wonderful, cricketacious day, perhaps in the hope that some might return and fix themselves into the fabric of the club, perhaps simply because they’re good blokes who love the idea of kids doing sporty stuff, who understand the world this way. Eight schools here, including Orielton, a tiny ‘country’ primary punching mind-bogglingly above their weight in terms of achievement on the park.
Imagine. Stackpole and Cosheston and (in huge contrast) Pembroke Dock Community School; St Marys and Golden Grove; schools so extraordinarily diverse the gathering in-ness of the occasion was an essential part of the holistic magic. On twitter later one school reported its pride at the behaviour of their team, on a day when a zillion skills including attention, focus and thoughtfulness were called for just as much as rip-roaring expression with bat or ball. It was triumphant in its insidious charm; they always are.
At Haverfordwest CC – where the level to which the club ‘accommodates’ our Festivals is such that we should run out of knighthoods, never mind superlatives – the H’west Cluster gathered yesterday. In cool, cool sun. Fifteen schools, about 150 children, for more Mixed But Actually Simply Your Best Team-style action. (About 30 girls, I’m guessing.)
I, in welcoming the expectant throng, ban stress for five hours and ask the children how many batters/balls/overs/smiles is going to make this thing work? They emphatically assist with any concerns I may have and together we dart into the fizz and doink of the matches. We’re generous re wides and no-balls. Teachers score whilst The Coach wanders and monitors and encourages, mainly. Three groups of five teams at this one with top two proceeding to the County Finals. Lots of real cricket breaking out, with Hook Primary School notably prominent. Brilliantly so, in fact.
A taster for and of now. The summer mission to run successful days. Maybe to convert a teacher or Headteacher or two – nurdle them towards getting it. How could they not, in the presence of all this lifeskill-rich, learning-supportive activity? All evidenced (actually) by the total engagement of allegedly disaffected or disengaged children, or by the maturity and flawlessness of Bethan’s bowling action – learned at sessions in the school. Physical Literacy not so much embodied but ecstatically performed.
I make no apology for implying (or, okaaay ladling on) the notion that Festival Days are special. I have no doubt they leave a huge and almost uniformly wonderful imprint on hundreds of children… and that’s just in Pembrokeshire. Sporty children are stretched but supported by the appropriate scope and structure of the game. Competition is pitched just right. I really do pretty much outlaw stress – enforcing with targeted bantz or panfuls of encouragement.
Less confident or developing players get ‘a go’, an equal, significant go. It may be less impactful in terms of the score but nevertheless it registers on that Physical Literacy ladder and perhaps more meaningfully – within the thing that defies measurement – the confidence of the child.
Around and before these halcyon days I go into schools and deliver. I’ve written elsewhere about the essences of that work and remain clear of the value of that contact. Cricket in Wales benefits because many hundreds of children are exposed to a game they may not, in the age of Sky Sports, be familiar with and children get to play and learn with a spookily well-trained sportsgeezer. Me.
There is this year a further area of work for the Pembrokeshire exponent of the Art of Conversion. Under the outstanding and insightful guidance of Cricket Development Officer Matt Freeman I’ve linked schools sessions to setting up Cricket Hubs in three of our local Leisure Centres. So post the work in schools, children have been invited to continue cricket games with myself and colleague Ceri Brace at a facility down the road. We may be the only region adopting this pathway so let me briefly explain.
There is evidence that Yrs 3 and 4 at primary level are under-supported in terms of sports provision; often Yrs 5 and 6 (the top two years in primary, for those still thinking in old money) collar most attention and therefore funding. Given this, and the fact that we found most Pembrokeshire Cricket Clubs are at capacity, we decided to approach Leisure Centres to host winter/spring sessions for children aged around six to nine.
If some of these children subsequently wanted to migrate into a local club come summer, then hap-pee days. If not the sessions themselves would have an intrinsic value. Children do however get ‘signposted’ to clubs to enable the ideal, long-term, lifetime-in-the-sport scenario.
This pilot scheme has been successful on several levels. In Milford Haven 15-20 boys and girls have been attending weekly cricket sessions. At least one of them (I have no doubt there are more but await confirmation from other clubs) has come across to my own club where he’s developed into a keen and enthusiastic member. Intriguingly and encouragingly, this fella is not an obvious candidate; he’s grappled bravely rather than coasted towards cricketdom.
Down in Pembroke there are two lovely and contrasting stories. Two girls, one of whom I’d worked with school and the other who’s bowling was a thing of beauty (aged 8) at a recent festival. They both now attend the Leisure Centre where their apparently divergent learning curves are now soaring together towards the vertical. And they’re smiling; whilst exploring, really exploring and then de-constructing/re-constructing the possible. The word development barely does it justice.
Meanwhile Crymych CC posted a thank-you on twitter last night to some geezer calling himself @cricketmanwales following fifteen Under 11’s bouncing in to their junior practice. – good numbers for a deeply rural club.
This follows work from yours truly in Eglwyswrw and Y Frenni schools in the winter and sessions at Crymych Leisure Centre during the spring. I initiated those but Rhodri from Crymych CC took over, built numbers up, and Pied Piper-ed his posse over to the club he loves. Superb and successful model. Bringing me back to the festivals.
Tomorrow it’s Crymych. Eight Welsh-medium schools on an idyllic village ground at Glandy Cross. Weather set fine; red kites likely.