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.

Contributions.

The sun.  The Steyn.  The promise.

The SSE Swalec on a Friday night, lifting with possibilities – most of which feel good to the locals.  Even the thought of seeing Sangakkara.

Glammy are on a surge and the evening is fair.  The fanzone has been bubbling with children (in particular) and the vibe is generous and busy, so I get to wandering and this turns out stories.  Off-the-pitch cricket stories.

I’ll declare an interest and then we can move on swiftly.  I work for Cricket Wales as a coach and in So-shul Meedya so I’ll concede an inclination to support Glamorgan.  I’m also an independent thinker and a do-er of sportystuff which makes me too vital (honest) to offer up some lame sales pitch.  You’ve come this far; have a listen.

Tonight I’m drawn to look at the energy around the mob – to the folks who are contributing to what I’m going to call Glammy In The Abstract.  The family, the workers, the Activators, the people who charge up the battery of the thing.

Why would I do that when Glammy are flying high and Steyn is materially committed and Surrey are Biggish Beasts and the game arguably if not massively key?  Why go outside the pitch for anything?

Because a) maybe the universe needs to hear these things b) there are shared challenges here c) my hunch is Glamorgan are top of this experience table too.  Or bolting for that summit.

This afternoon and tonight I’ve spoken at length to Volunteers – capital V ab-so-lutely justified – caterers, front of house peeps and the bloke who Fixes Everything.  To the scorer, the umpires, the compere and half the folks with their hands on the punter-buttons.  A rareish richish positive picture emerges.  (I’m not necessarily going to argue that this is unique but I am going to bang on briefly about its brilliance.)

There’s something really good going on. From that scorer/museum curator/educator/facilitator of epiphanies Dr Andrew Hignell to the Volunteers and Activators out welcoming kids, brandishing the un-coolest wigs in the history of headgear.

My admittedly hugely un-scientific research confirms that somehow they all get it, this need to maximise, to welcome, to hook.  And what I like and what feels particularly gratifying is that despite the inevitable presence of motivational mantras deep in the subconscious of all this – the hint of entirely appropriate and forward-thinking policy – this feels predicated on the human touch.  Being friendly.  Being helpful.  Being game.

This is not to say that everybody’s bought instinctively into some fabulously post-corporate or corporate-free idyll.  It’s a company!  It’s a business!  But what feels refreshingly clear is the commitment not just to sales but to (that word again) experience.

I’m going to delve further into this sometime.  For now I’m going to just put out there that I rate the use of ambassadors and Volunteers and the golf and the rugby and the climbing wall and the free-form cricket knockabout and the players signing bats and the fount-of-all-knowledge that is Dewi’s Den in the fanzone.

Glamorgan are not so much pulling out all the stops as inventing them.  The energy is awesomely good – if I thought I could get away with it in a cynical world I’d say they deserve to succeed.

Suddenly I’m into the game.  Steyn’s brisk but pensive walk back to his mark.  His right mitt wafting – doing that restrained jazz-hands thing.  His beautifully controlled, swift, even-but-swift run.  Steyn, on his final sprint in this spell (he said, implying the South African Great must surely return) looking hawk-like, predatory, expectant.  His contribution tonight includes comprehensively skittling a Curran but more generally and maybe significantly raising the heat out there and in the stands in the way that only truly elite fast bowlers can.

30 for 3. Mixed feelings as Sangakkara is gone, via a triumphantly elasticated star-jump of a catch from Cooke.  But momentum lurch.  Then a frankly fairly amateurish run-out gifts Glammy their fourth wicket and we’re entering steamroller territory – whoever bowls squishes out a wicket.

Soon it’s 74 for 6 as Ansari is caught and bowled by Cosker, who’s firing it in there, challenging, enjoying the luxury of chasing wickets.  The locals – on and off the park – are starting to swagger.  (Or possibly stagger.)

As so often when the feeling’s this good there’s no keeping a lid on it.  The crowd is somewhere between amiably boorish and full-on ecstatic and the home players tap into that.  We know we’re less than halfway through this but… another win feels nailed-on.

The attendance, by the way, is somewhere over the 4,500 mark – enough to register – but my report will have to read Could Do Better.  Not that I’m going back to that woolly argument re meritocracies and spiritual justice: I’m just urging Wales to Feel The (other, Bale-less) Surge.

19 overs in and Surrey – who are Big, who are London, who are loaded up with Bravo and Sangakkara and stuff – are 110 all out.

The world nips to the loo and the bar then Lloyd goes caught behind in the first over from Curran. Minor blip.  It’s 42 for 1 off 6/74 for 1 off 11.  The skipper, whilst still not looking wholly fluent, middles a few and remains undefeated alongside his compatriot Mr Ingram as Glammy proceed to the genuinely inevitable conclusion.

Rudolph rightly plays the supporting role as Ingram, without needing to engage his favoured missile-launching mode, goes sufficiently ballistic to dismiss the visitors in a way I suspect the watching Alec Stewart will not enjoy.  Glamorgan, meanwhile, surge on.

Earlier, I’d met some friendly South African fella in borderline shorts looking mildly lost around the rear of the corporate boxes.  Colin Ingram’s dad.  I said something chirpy about how he must be enjoying watching his son’s hot streak: he confirmed ‘Col’s loving it here now’.

As I wandered back out to see the Volunteers and the youngsters in the sunshine I thought… yeh.  Feels good.  Why wouldn’t he?  .