Questions for the game.

Every sport is navel-gazing. By that I mean doing that soul-searching thing to find a way to either grow or sustain; holding workshops or seminars where the men (mainly) who administrate gather to chew the fat and challenge themselves over matters of strategy and policy. I realise now that the quality of questions asked at these pow-wows is erm , powerfully important: in that respect it’s not unlike coaching.

I went to two days of exactly these kinds of meetings earlier this week as part of the Cricket Wales posse charged with thinking deeply but also freely about what we do. I should say clearly now that what follows is neither a Cricket Wales-approved synopsis of what happened and what this means, nor some kind of manifesto.

On the first count let it be known that whilst I am unashamedly proud – yes, proud! – to work for CW, I speak and occasionally get up a lather very much of my own and am therefore what we might call a medium-loose cannon. I’m a team-man, certainly but have waaaaaay too many fast-twitch fibres to be a full-time office-waller and/or strategic thinker – for now!

However – and in contradiction – I do get that there is value in skilled and informed and generous brainstorming; it’s complacent not to do it and (for the cynics out there) my experience has been positive, in the sense that I now reckon people genuinely work hard and honestly at these gatherings – certainly our lot do. Then we drink brandy ‘til 2 a.m.

In essence, during our medium-epic philosophical shakeout, we were set two prime tasks; to identify the three most significant issues facing Junior Cricket in Wales and then, having reflected on those, propose what we might do differently next year.

(I may need to briefly remind or inform my sagacious readership that as I am a Community Coach, the bulk of my work and that of my colleagues is around enthusing kids for the game and getting them to transfer from schools into clubs/hubs or leisure centres so that the healthy cricket stuff sustains – hence the concentration on that end of the market. Cricket Wales, of course, is charged with leading and inspiring as well as administrating the whole of the recreational game in Wales but we Community Coaches inevitably(?) spend the bulk of our time playing daft games wiv kids.)

The following – a shocking mixture of ‘conclusion’, ‘experience’, hunch and sooo-premely insightful observation – will need some care, as a diplomatic disaster or twelve could unfold *unless* you are prepared to believe me when I say that neither myself nor my colleagues are characterised by a kind of appalling and arrogant CricketWalescentricity. (I promise.)

Having looked at rafts of data and swapped intensely our many, many coaching/club/school impressions, the clear winner in the Big Issue For Junior Cricket stakes was (the idea that the) experience for children who had transferred into clubs wasn’t magic or entertaining or (who knows?) comfortable enough for enough of those children to stick with cricket. A big number of kids were gathered in but a smallish number stayed.

There are several ways we might interpret that – from the idea that the game itself proved to be unappealing after a few sessions to the notion that something within or about the club experience was undermining (excuse the Sports Development Speak) migration. Plus, there would be sub-notions that I simply don’t have time and space to address – for now. Clearly, if the proverbial lessons are to be learned then the data – which shows a big drop off between the numbers of children who actually went to clubs, having been inspired (or bundled kicking and screaming) by Community Cricket Coaches and those who stayed there for more than a few weeks (and therefore became new members at those clubs) must be de-mystified if possible.

We threw most of the relevant notions round the room, earnestly as well as liberally and there was a consensus around the following; that whilst some clubs offer new children the kind of (actually) pretty dynamic and inclusive and entertaining sessions they get from Community Coaches who visit their schools (generally for around four lessons), others don’t. The experience is either a little intimidating or starchy or dull… or something.

We cannot know what every child feels about the transfer into clubs and clearly children (like allegedly mature adults) don’t always tell us the truth, anyway. But plenty do get asked about this – it is surveyed. Could be that we need more and better information around this but for what it’s worth (and I am clear it’s worth something) the Community Cricket Coaches and their immediate seniors the Cricket Development Officers of Wales were notably in agreement that migration numbers fall away sharply partly because sessions aren’t fun enough to make it worth the child (and by implication, the family) committing to the club regularly.

The chief difficulty around this may be the argument that Doh! Of course Cricket Wales staff are going to conclude that their coaches are more fabulous than those unblessed with the CW badge! Their very lives and jobs depend upon deciding to Big Up and Justify their own excellence!

People, on this one, all I can say is I’m pretty certain some of us like the sound of our own voices (Exhibit A, this website) and ye-es, it’s possible that we are the annoying geezers who Say Too Much Too Loudly whenever the opportunity to peacock our cricket knowledge around the gaff presents itself but honestly… we ain’t so cheap as to masturbate our own egos over this one. It’s too big, too important and besides – again, honestly – as a mob our lot are too genuinely concerned for the good of the game to invent some self-serving cobblers to deflect undeserved flak someplace else.

All of which means I am saying to you, to my colleagues and soulbrothers and sisters in club cricket, that it could be the case that some children, newly arrived at your club, are being inadequately accommodated. Some are feeling that sessions are a bit dull; some feel excluded – even though they have manifestly made a step towards the game; some maybe feel a bit lost. I should add – and not just for the sake of ‘fairness’ – that all of these feelings may arise in one of my sessions… but percentage-wise this appears to be less likely than in a club environment.

Please try to get past the arrogance implicit in the view of this and ask yourself how new, young players arriving at your club feel about what you’re offering. What is training like, for them? What is the environment like – what are the people these children are being led or coached or signed in by sounding like? Think about how the children who may never make one of your competitive teams but who have stepped across that threshold anyway feel. Maybe think about how your club activity fits against the fun festivals and inclusive, un-threatening, softball sport these children may have gotten used to at school. There may be an argument that you should be offering an extension of that experience as well as developing competitive players/Test stars of the future.

I’m here to ask some difficult questions. I realise the answers may be about changes in format or governance as well as culture change in individual clubs. I’m not providing answers and I know what I do – what Cricket Wales – does is flawed too. This blog – all of these blogs – are about making a contribution to a debate. Endof.

Look I know there are many many wonderful clubs and coaches out there. I am privileged to know and to work with an inspiring lump of them, either as a volunteer, or as a Cricket Wales fella, wearing *that badge*, remembering *that training*, aspiring to *those goals*. But however unpalatable it may sound, I am clear there are things we all have to improve, not just for some spurious need to ‘grow the game’ but because surely we are all together charged with offering our players – young and old – something fabulous for them.

Finally, it may sound like I’m somehow down on traditional cricket and traditional cricket clubs. No. Nothing I’ve argued is to suggest that traditional cricket is either out-dated or inappropriate or short on fun. It ain’t. It’s wonderful. But my strong conviction is we may need to provide some other stuff too, for the kids who want to join us… but then turn away.