The Federal Activity Project: more mad ideas around the Movement movement.

I get that some of the following is random, or ill-thought-out. Fair enough. But I’m going to relish the role of agent-provocateur and airer of the daft and unthinkable, if only because we need, surely, to break open the debate around  health? Tinkering with the ageing, sedentary population thing or the obesity issue feels pitifully weedy – insulting, even. We need to think big and broad and radical.

To get started, maybe go read my previous blog; then we can race in to the brainstorming about stuff that might really make a difference. Then join in, go loopy or protest, or write your own manifesto for Wales/the UK/the world and call it Have a Cuppa Tea Good Days Ahead. Or something. I’ll be back here, foaming, writing about sport, or more broadly, ‘Activity’.

Here I propose a list of ‘measures’ (lol) for getting us moving, for inspiring and/or practically enabling the Movement movement. They start here, with politico-philosophical jousting which I insist *is relevant* – indeed it provides the necessary context through which the delivery of the Project becomes possible. So;

  • Elect your government – local, national – around their actual commitment to green issues, to public health, to sport and culture. Insist there is nothing more important.
  • Make your voices heard. Do not accept either economic austerity or austerity of the soul. Vote for people who are open and generous and who (ideally) have Tom Waits or PJ Harvey albums… and ride bikes, run, or go watch the Scarlets. Or paint.
  • Follow and/or support those who would actually consider levering the social/economic debate right open, because they will never accept that The Market is God.
  • Maybe first, foremost and most specifically, demand that money be found to fund a massive Activity Project. (Political choices have and are being made, to make it seem as though there is no money available – and never will be – for indulgences of this sort). Refuse to accept that; this is no fringe agenda; the Movement movement is central to the mental, physical and holistic-economic health of the nation.

Ok relax. That’s the Loony bit done. Now, comrades, let’s all grapple with the radical-possibles: we need to get stormingly brainy here, to stir up the idle, the cynical and the unaware. What can we do, to get everybody moving?

I don’t have answers, but I do have questions – none of which imply any criticism whatsoever of our health professionals. *None of which*.

In a zillion ways, I contend we have to provide masses of opportunities for Activity, whether or not this is in or on schools, parks, mountains, rivers, shopping malls or housing estates. To be clear, these opportunities must be free, or cheap as chips – as the unfortunate saying goes.

Some folks will literally come running but others, for a whole host of reasons – some of which are valid – will not. Clearly the vectors of Not Running-in, Helpfully and Those Likely To Be A Burden (With All Due Respect) To The NHS show a certain common outline. These folks – young, middle-aged or old – we need to engage with: bigtime.

We need great ideas, new and novel adventures and an open, feisty debate about mental and physical health, responsibility and compulsion.

What’s do-able, given the consensus around urgent improvement? I don’t see how we can address this without a profound look at the role of the NHS.

  • Doctors are effectively the front line, when it comes to the ill-health/must change interface. Of course it can be argued that it’s not their job to fight for Activity as well as fight against illness, but…
  • Might we train/authorise/empower/coerce doctors into actively persuading/compelling patients into better diet and more movement?
  • Could we not, in some way – with appropriate training and remuneration – develop the (patient-) transformative side of the NHS, so as to empower/compel/educate staff towards offering great ideas and opportunities for activity, post the surgery/hospital fix? Clearly I know some of this aspiration is in place but I’m talking about a real shift in terms of expectation. Doctors (or somebody at the place of contact) guiding or bundling Patient Z into doing something. I fully understand the complex issues around this but still feel we need to wrestle with them: openly.
  • I guess I’m wondering what more can be done – culturally, practically – through government, through the agency of the NHS, to get unhealthy people not just immediately better, but long-term well and into wellness? Into lifelong healthy habits. Because a) surely more could be done, b) we need more impact on the thinking (or lack of it) from patients, following contact with the NHS. Which sounds like a criticism.

Maybe I’ve gone with this first because it seems most challenging? Maybe I’ve made shocking assumptions about many things. Maybe the shocking obviousness of the need for more coaches, trainers or sporty teachers for schools or youth clubs or community groups or spaces has meant I’m ‘targetting’ other, less obvious things. Whatever, this difficult stuff, where we eyeball issues across public health to civil liberties is unavoidable.

Let’s get back to ideas. Other avenues we might joyously, leaf-hoofingly race down.

  • Play. As well as transforming levels of activity in schools by increasing time for Physical Education, we could (and should) increase the amount of learning through Physical Education.
  • A finer understanding of what Physical Literacy is and what it means, is developing. Primary Schools in particular are getting comfortable with the idea that Activity can assist or lead development in academic terms as well as holistically (and of course physically). Many of us will argue that activity should lead more extensively.
  • Inter-active rooms are a fabulous extension of the notion that children might often experience learning through their senses, through movement, through participatory action rather than just passive ‘listening to teacher’. Sports coaches (believe me) can develop childrens’ social, creative, cognitive, personal skills as well as supporting their physical health and fitness. They don’t just teach sports skills; it’s way more sophisticated than that – it’s a richer experience.
  • It’s about all-round growth: Physical Literacy means building a pathway, understanding and promoting development through considered, appropriate activity.
  • (I’ve just gotten the tee-shirt on this, having spent two days training for Cricket Wales coaching duties with Create Development, who specialise in lubricating those six ‘cogs’ in the young child. I am clearer than ever – and more importantly, it is widely recognised in education – that skilful, guided physical activity in early years can be truly revelatory in broad, broad terms, as opposed to merely good for sports/agility/co-ordination).

But where else, how else do we change the world, other than by flooding schools at all levels with enlightened coaches, teachers, leaders-of-activity? Get thinking.

I’m going to give you a couple of final thoughts, which maybe epitomise my sense of crazy-open dialogue… and urgency.

I’m taken by the idea of re-wilding not just nature but also ourselves. By that I mean getting our hands in the soil, on the trees, in brooks, on frogs. If you’re familiar with recent work from either Robert MacFarlane or George Monbiot or both, you’ll get where I’m coming from. (If not, shame on you – get reading).

MacFarlane has been big into the ideas around spaces to play: how the range of a child now is criminally smaller and less worldly and adventurous than twenty years ago. Why? Because we parents don’t trust society around us. We think it’s stacked with paedophiles and rapists and junkies and thieves.

Cobblers, of course but this perception means we drive Jonny or Sarah the forty yards to cricket or football and they simply don’t go ‘out to play’ like we (middle-agers) did.

It’s cruel, it’s stifling and yet completely normal and responsible parenting. We don’t, in our busy lives, allow ourselves time to think what they’re missing: the bluebell wood, maybe, the stack of hay-bales. MacFarlane mourns this and calls for a debate, for some action to reclaim the possibilities and the words we are losing because of  this appalling shrinkage.

Apart from hugging the man and supporting, wholeheartedly, his campaign(s) I wonder if we can go further. Time for a bulletpoint.

  • Could we reclaim some play-spaces, in and out of built-up areas? Designate them as Play Spaces (or something) and employ DBS-checked, trained Rangers (or something) to a) lead play b) keep out the psycho’s? Let – indeed encourage kids go absolutely (relatively) wild! And, as with the Activity generally, go really big on this?

This is absolutely a conversational hare; a wild one, gamboling away, down the field. As a symbol of the kind of free-range thinking I reckon we need, though, I’ll go with it.

We need a change of mindset; us, the government. We need some inspiration – some great ideas enacted. To start, let’s go with a massive ‘Federal Activity Project’, to develop our selves, our physical and mental fitness, our capacity to wonder and to grow. There is nothing more important.

 

 

 

A Year in the Life of…

May seem weird to some of you but most of my work for the year is done. Which is why I’m writing this from the medium-strength comfort of a leathery settee in a very pleasant caff in St Davids – @orielyparc, if you must know – where, as well as putting away a more than acceptable veggy tagine, I’m reflecting on stuff.

But hang on – how come that thing about the work?

It’s because I’m (mainly) a cricket coach and (mainly) I go into schools. And the bulk of that work builds towards festivals and they are all done.

Sure it’s true that there are other reasons, other venues for my cricketstuff; sure I will be leading a tour in August and there will be @cricketmanwales-prompted activity come September through the winter but broadly – broadly – the energy has been dolloped already.

In this sub post-coital moment, I find myself stepping outside and viewing my crazy sporty life bundle as though it’s someone else’s – or somehow dreamily extra-me? Weighing up again and maybe luxuriating in the fabulousness or fascination of much of what’s happened. It feels good. It feels like a year’s worth of work.

I suppose it began last September, with the start of the new school year. I work for Cricket Wales, meaning I have a schedule and pretty clear objectives but at this moment, sans diary, I have no real idea what I did when, or in what order things happened, so apols if this sounds unhelpfully amorphous.

Treat it as a highlights package, or another ‘5 Things I can slap down, sharpish’ – a contemporary way in to the stories. Or perhaps a remembrance of how things feel, looking back.

I know again that because this is personal there’s the possibility it’s also wildly egocentric but I’m both too old and too committed to care about how I might be judged in this. I’m well-content to look you all in the eye and say that this is about the value of the sport, endof. I am clear – defiantly and kindof proudly clear – that there has been value.

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So highlights include the following; a first ever morning with allegedly challenging kids at a medium-notorious school; the impact of a few hub sessions on one single child; the festivals; being gobsmacked by a particular talent; the possibility that another individual with particular needs *just might* do that ugly duckling-to-swan thing, following brilliant support from a tranche of Sports Development folks and a Headteacher or two.

That first morning with children at a ‘school with challenges’ was and is a sensational place to start.

I’ve since been told that some sporty peeps actively swerve this establishment but I found it raw inspiring. The kids absolutely bought my daft-friendly engagement; the alleged hooligans hurling their energy into zapping, kappowing or listening out for the hikes in the challenge. If my faith in the Power of the Game ever needed re-booting, these children did that… and more.

We’d simply gotten busy together. Yep, it was mildly anarchic when 30something balls were flying about but because we kept driving forwards through the games (and because mostly they ALL had a ball!) we smashed that behaviour issue out of the park.

When the kids went back in the Headteacher came out to ask me what the hell I’d done to them, such was the mad-healthy buzz flashing through. It was a reminder that a) I’m in the right job b) making kids feel heard/encouraging them is still the greatest, most mutually-uplifting experience.

There was actually maybe a year’s worth of good done in that single morning: simply credit the game.

The second highlight I wrote about in ‘Just one experience’. Read that. Or note again my utter conviction that revelatory changes can and do happen when coaches or teachers go right past the apparent ability of a given child. When they open up possibilities by being a pal and by (sorry for the over-clunky coachification here) incrementally increasing appropriate challenges.

The child in this instance went from being a silent non-participant to having a go at almost everything – and I’m not just talking sport, here.

Where once there was no capacity to dare or risk involvement, over a few weekly sessions a whole new language of confidence emerged – all without that child being ‘singled out’ as the one who needed special attention. (My strong suspicion is this child’s relationships with sport/school/society were transformed because the encouragement was deeply subtle.) Whichever way something massive happened.

Our Cricket Wales Festivals are soo-perb days out for the kids – and for me. They are nearly all based around the kwik cricket, eight player, four batting pairs format where every player bowls a single over. They are both genuinely spiced with competitive spirit and a lovely, therapeutic escape from school.

There are flags or banners, pitches tend to be marked out ‘properly’ and we ring the boundaries with cones so it does feel like a kosher occasion. There is adrenalin. Importantly, there are  two fundamental breeds of festival, one being for the school’s best players of either sex, the other being just for girls. Proper cricket breaks out in both; crap cricket occurs in both; kids kinda grow in both.

They grow because they are stretched and possibly tested – and I use that word particularly advisedly. Festivals are dynamic and teamy and communal and individually liberating whilst they are challenging. They are places for picnics and giggles and fleeting disappointments and daft glories. Kids love them and so do I.

In one such festival I nearly got felled by the most incredible bit of fielding. The batter had clattered something out to deep midwicket, where the most athletic gather was followed by the most exciting long throw I’ve seen in years.

I can barely describe the combination of grace, power and laser-like accuracy expressed in that stunning moment. Partly because the fielder was a thirteen year-old girl (and I really have to choose my words carefully for fear of sounding frankly a bit pervy) and partly because I was and remain simply shocked at the quality of the work.

I’d not seen or met this girl before but from what I saw in the next half-hour, she’s a nailed-on international athlete, or should be. Her talent spoke of skills that were brilliant but raw – that throw being a spike of genius in an on-off matrix which bore witness (amongst other wonderful things) to a clear unfamiliarity with cricket. Making it all the more exciting!

So I ‘discovered’ somebody? No. Or yes and no. Yes this girl is absolutely dynamite; no, I don’t think she’s either playing or going to play regular cricket. I’m fine with that, too – as long as she’s expressing that brilliance somewhere.

The point of this is that festivals (that sport) can stun us, delight us, blow us away simply by providing the forum, the opportunity, the bat, the ball.

My final ‘moment’ must be wrapped in much care and discretion. All I will say is that someone young who spends most of their life on the receiving end of bollockings (because their behaviour is continually twitching back to mad-naughty) may get a chance to break out. To show the universe they have value. It’s a gamble a few of us are playing… because the kid has talent.

We all have talent. We all have stories. We most of us find a way of expressing just some of that – more or less. How great to be in the business of enabling that gift.

Contemplating my navel and my ‘bag’, I’m re-enthused and genuinely grateful. I’m so-o in on the game, so aware of its invincible goodness. One deep breath and I’ll be playing again.

 

 

 

 

The Brilliance of Games.

It’s not just the prompt that is #MHAW16 that makes me think of the link between sport and wellbeing. At the risk of sounding like some faker or fanatic, I never really divert from that #caseforsport thing.

In my daily life I’m completely in the business of getting kids moving and smiling. My head continually swims with responses to sport – and for those in the London Borough of Brent, nope I’m not necessarily talking competitive sport here. I’m talking activity. I’m talking freedom, movement – the finding of skills, the building of rhythms and confidences. For me the brilliance of games are an obvious and essential way in to both social and academic skills as well as a rich but direct route to joy and achievement.

Let’s put something daft and challenging out there. I believe that we could radically improve the health, wellbeing and academic development of children if we put the much-vaunted Physical Literacy Framework right at the centre of Primary School life. Or more exactly – because I don’t want to get bogged down in This Year’s Ideological Re-structure – if we expanded our understanding of the role of physical education.

Decent coaches and/or teachers know PE can be used broadly (but phenomenally successfully) to gather unwilling or disaffected or ‘non-academic’ children in to the curriculum, as well as boosting levels of engagement and achievement in bright kids. It provides a way in – even with those who initially lack co-ordination.

Good coaches re-calibrate the challenge of the game and feed encouragement into the faces of children. They hear them and guide them and praise them towards some tiny- gargantuan triumph… like making a catch or swatting a ball off a tee crisply, with a deeply satisfying clump. In these moments lives can (honestly) be changed.

If I tell you I know that during every session I run something pret-ty damn profound happens that isn’t about me. It’s about the fact of that transformation through the game. A boy or girl *getting it*.

Maybe that getting it is the execution of a single (or probably more likely) a compound skill; or maybe it’s the moment when a lifetime of healthy activity kickstarts, because the child felt something magic… and they were seen… and they were heard; their skill or value was noted in the handbook of the world; their mark – maybe so often ignored, erased or simply un-made – was made, recognised, appreciated.

These are revelatory  moments and they can and should herald wonderful leaps forward.

Children can and often are welcomed in to curriculum work, to academic development via progress in games. (And yes, I am placing the games before the Proper School Work here. If we worked this way round more often rather than bundled on into SATS or some other ‘measurement’ then we might develop more confident, capable and sophisticated young thinkers. And that’s what we want, right?)

Through games children can learn co-operation, awareness, that sense of place – both in terms of belonging and in terms of hierarchy. Whilst the former tends to be powerfully helpful, the latter may turn out a real-world scramble that often needs supporting but must be negotiated.

Beyond the ‘obvious’ skill development comes the progress re- a child’s ability to make intelligent (tactical) decisions. Sport implies and needs the hot-wiring of judgements – often adrenalin-fuelled, often exhilirating. Such moments are surely growth spurts for the mind?

All this over and above the mere movement; the mere propping up of the universe and the NHS *because we got fittish kids*. PE dictates an increasingly alarmingly sedentary generation move something other than their texting or snapchatting fingers.

So mentally and physically we win and we win. I say we celebrate that and prioritise that by making it genuinely central to Primary Education (as opposed to merely re-branding it Physical Literacy and continuing that tendency to significantly underachieve.)

I hear the arguments from those who had a ‘bad experience’ of PE at school and who fear that insensitive blokes with scary beards or gruff manners might revisit all that in the playgrounds of their own children. But coaches or PE Teachers are way better than this now. Things are simply waaay more sophisticated and child-centred.

Coaches bring new levels of understanding and yes sensitivity to games these days. The kids who ‘would never get picked’ are involved now – they share in the activity. Far from being by-passed or damaged, children are more often found/released/directed.

Personally, after a couple of sessions I frequently invite children to build their own game – having prepared the ground with questions about fairness, structure, the sharing of the bat. It’s massively challenging.

There’s no hiding from deepish, philosophical issues because we’ve established that abstracted groundrule that ‘we’re looking for a way to make this work’. We’ve dug into the difficulties about the primeval urge to be the batter; we’ve asked ourselves what a good number might be for the bowler to bowl and those two(!) batters to bat. We’ve considered the shape of things; grappled with social, existential, practical stuff – stuff about time and number and patience and feeling and nerve. We’ve put the Education into the Physical.

Then we go play. And the children choose and negotiate and muscle through that barrier towards sharing.

I don’t think I’m overplaying the levels of mental/academic consideration we’re looking towards here. This is meant to support engagement on a zillion levels but it may (on a purely intellectual stratum) be a separate phenomenon to wellbeing. So let’s briefly look at that.

Young humans generally love to move – despite the aforementioned epidemic in sedentary behaviour – I maintain they/we are stimulated by and enjoy movement. Not because some coach or teacher tells us that games are good or important or healthy but because (when we are guided or supported well) something positive floods through our bodies.

That may be a profoundly individual sensation or it may be something communally-felt. There may be a process that folks in labs could unpick for us: it may be adrenalin/endorphins or some other biological/chemical surge that frankly I am hugely underinformed about. I’m not that interested in the mechanics – that’s not real to me.

What is real is the smiling and the running and the delight. The development. The newness and achievement and growth. Children (in this case) freed and uplifted or unshackled because someone got them moving. That’s real – even if it may not be measured.

#MHAW16 may have pointed some of us towards greater awareness of issues. I applaud that. I also get that my subject matter here typically rests in the non-acute area of interventions into wellbeing. However, as a positive bloke I’m happy to bundle through the politesse around all this and daub a simple, positive message: about sport being a way in.

I have seen Physical Education or Activity support those feeling or struggling with isolation, non-engagement, misunderstanding, chronic lack of confidence, furious anger. I have watched as ‘difficult kids’ are seduced into the struggle or the joyful search; as their minds flash with genius and pain and learning. I have seen teeny, gargantuan worlds light up – often.

 

 

Beautiful Game.

My ‘One a the Boys’ rating has always been somewhere between questionable and variable and what follows may do little to re-affirm my status as a fella you could comfortably share a pint and a kosher backslap with. Because I’m dealing in whimsy here; poetry of a sort; and the ‘b’ word comes out.

Let’s cut through that frisson sharply now and tell the story.

You know I’m a cricket coach and I go into schools and clubs to enthuse kids and generally lark about. You know I’m up for it to the point of (that word again) embarrassment – being foamaciously enthusiastic and committed as a whirlwind.

I’ve just been into schools in Fishguard and Goodwick– or as the demonstrably, audibly lovelier welsh words would have it – Abergwaun ac Wdig. Abergwaun, in February, doing cricket. It’s been fabulous.

We found an island of spectacular weather with that unsurpassably stunning winter light zapping from glorious sky to sea to river Gwaun, to asphalt or tarmac pitch. Literally brilliant – but coldish. All the more reason, then, for a certain Cricket Wales missionary to stir the enthusiasm rather than curb it. I went at it, in friendly-comedian and hopefully man-worth-listening-to mode.

Somehow, over three days, delivering sessions that were about multi-skills as much as cricket (movement between cones/hopping/catching/bouncing/listening because things change, right?) a happy and successful and invigorating and enjoyable mood was sustained. The weather was reflected. Children were challenged and entertained – they were distracted into listening.

The means for them to coach me how to throw was found, or built, from stories of disillusioned dogs (epic fail – more like a shot putt!) and ecstatic pooches chasing missiles hurled from a High Elbow and Long, Long Arm. A rare outbreak this, of Technical Stuff, in a matrix of buzz, movement, sharing bats, booming balls. The kids were in there, they were on it, they were up for it; I think maybe I barely gave them a choice.

In one school I ran three sessions in the morning. In the last of these I was joined by a (woman) teacher of some standing in the school whom I know not well, but well enough to respect as somebody who gets sport can offer. She was accompanied by another specialist teacher supporting a young boy with a particular challenge. In the sparkling sunshine, on a playground pitched quite alarmingly down from right to left as I cheerfully ‘prepped’ the session, we went to work.

First up I did do that thing where you invite the group to listen so they don’t miss any of the fun. I made it all a giggle and a deal. Then on we charged.

Through coloured ‘gates’ we had to shift – forward or back, jogging or hopping. Through four or ten or how many? Thirty?!? Then basketball/catching/clapping; always offering a calibrated challenge so that fliers could fly and fumblers find a happy way through. Then that throwing round the garden thing, with a partner and a target on the floor and (actually) the space and attention and confidence in the bank to talk technical, for just a mo’. Another step on my mission to teach half the western world (well, Pembs) that dog-launching life-skill.

Round the garden I went, with a dose of encouragement for everyone. Not just spooned to the wind blandly, but proffered into every face.

These or’nary kids really got it. They really listened, really threw with their feet, really tried to hit that target. It all flowed; my positive energy, their smiley determination. The teachers sat back contentedly, or joined in.

Timing-wise and ambience-wise a clumping of balls from tees to finish seemed absolutely appropriate. Fifteen minutes then, of building a way of sharing the bat – dumb questions from the coach finding a ‘taking it in turns’ protocol agreeable to all. It may have been the sunshine but this group shared magnificently, irresistibly proficient fielders passing the ball over to their less dynamic compadres for their turn to ‘give it some wallop.’

Not the most original way to end a session, it’s true. But in terms of learning arguably quite profound lessons on what makes games (or life?) work and combining that with a pure, liberating, hitting experience it stands as valid and valuable. And the kids loved it. Broadly, it felt great, obviously, undeniably great to all of us – one of the best I can remember – in all sorts of ways.

I closed the session by saying thankyou and asking one or two more dumb questions about what we’d accidentally found; catching-wise, throwing-wise, making games work-wise. I told the children I was dee-lighted to report that I’d be back for more… and they seemed genuinely pleased. Finally I asked them if they’d be so good as to go quietly back into school with their teachers.

At that point the senior teacher spoke. She asked the children if there was something they thought they should say to me and they responded in Welsh (largely) – diolch yn fawr iawn, Rick! Predictably enough. But the teacher went on to say that she thought the children should note how ‘beautifully’ I had spoken to them and how this had been a special – she used the word again – beautiful lesson that they should remember for a long time.

You weren’t there so I’ll just add that she was in no way either showboating or being glib. She was, to her credit, visibly touched by something and was trying to a) thank me, generously and sincerely but also b) mark that there had been something profound and lovely as well as merely successfully sporty going on. There had.

There had but I’m not after the credit: I’m after making that case for sport again. I’m touched by the boldness and generosity of the language used – specifically, of course by the use of that precious ‘b’ word, which most folks would’ve surely swerved and which I’ve never heard before in this context.

On reflection, by the way, I’m clear that what was beautiful was the children’s level of engagement. I may also contend (dangerously, because it interests me!) that the teacher’s sex may have played an important role in the discourse – Big Boys generally being too dumbed by machismo to speak so fearlessly and naturally of loveliness. But this is another subject.

I was gladdened and sure, made proud by the implications around all this. Chiefly I was clear that for whatever reason, a moment had been marked; we’d heard – the universe had heard – that encouragement, movement, co-ordination can be beautiful.

Dawning; typical of me but I think I’ve just realised why I wrote this. Could be because I do wonder if us blokes are generally so unable to say ‘b’ words (or similar) that perhaps we don’t let ourselves recognise the transforming poetry in moments like this.  Or if we do we don’t say it.  And if we don’t say it maybe it’s not evidenced in the way it might be.  And if it’s not evidenced then less kids (maybe) get fit, or open themselves up to the game. Any game.

Converting.

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.

A new season, a new challenge for @cricketmanwales.

Pembrokeshire’s very own Community Cricket Coach is known to hundreds of primary school children as The Cricket Man! (And yes, there generally is an exclamation mark in that greeting.)

Also known as Rick Walton, this particular coach has been bouncing into schools and clubs with a level of energy and enthusiasm that’s won him friends and supporters around the county.

Rick is both trained and genetically programmed to perform and/or coach sport, coming as he does from a distinguished sporting family. In a loose moment Rick might confess to a passion for both rugby and football but he is proud of and dedicated to his work for Cricket Wales. But what does he actually do?

For three years Rick (a.k.a. @cricketmanwales on twitter!) has delivered what he would like to think are dynamic and often challenging sessions of fun, cricket-based games into schools. Generally, he has worked in the primary sector but he has also been involved – for example offering Girl’s cricket sessions leading into the now widely enjoyed Lady Taverners competition – in all the secondary schools in the county.

The work has several aims, some of which may sound rather ambitious. Let’s start with the obvious;
• to enthuse children for the game – for healthy activity
• to offer a link between schools and local cricket clubs – and therefore sustain and enrich that activity.

Nobody would doubt that any sports coach is in the business of facilitating those two ideals but Rick is clear that the scope of his work – his responsibilities as well as his intentions – goes way beyond these fairly narrow sporting targets. So what about these, then, for aspirations?

• to stimulate children to think and listen and work together
• to capture their attention and make them better learners
• to support literacy and numeracy as well as ‘development’ in terms of the physical literacy framework
• to offer opportunities to devise games – and therefore develop understandings about sharing and about what works for everybody, not just ‘me’
• to light up individuals, some of whom may find academic work beyond them
• to provide both a kind of release and a way in to class work for children who have difficulty engaging.

Ask @cricketmanwales about all of the above and he would say simply that ‘daft games of cricket’ can and often manifestly do achieve all that.

Most recently Rick has been working in schools in Milford and in North Pembrokeshire. At Y Frenni in Crymych he not only led sessions indoor and out but hosted a genuine and delightful discussion about what a good game of cricket might look like. Children were asked to help sort out a hypothetical game – drawn out on a whiteboard – in order to discuss what a successful playground game might look and feel like. Their response was fabulous – intelligent, thoughtful, generous.

At Ysgol Gynradd Eglwyswrw, the Headteacher Mr Tim Davies shook Rick warmly by the hand after watching some of his first session.
“Brilliant” he said. “And I can’t believe how it was so much more than cricket!” Another teacher, on thanking Rick after he left the final session, described the impact of his work as “wonderful”.

Now because these things aren’t entirely thrown together, Rick had been signposting the children in the North of the county to Monday night ‘Cricket Hub’ activity at Crymych Leisure Centre (5-6pm, children Years 3,4,5 and 6 most welcome! Call 01437 776690.) Now established, it is hoped that these sessions will be ongoing.

Down in Milford, a similar approach was in place. Rick delivered three or four weekly sessions into Hakin, Hubberston and Milford Junior schools with a view to continuing the cricket at The Meads Leisure Centre. Subsequently 23 boys and girls aged 8-11 turned up to the first Cricket Hub night – making it a remarkable success. (Cricket Hub activity is on a Friday in Milford, from 5-6pm. Please contact The Meads – Milford Haven Leisure Centre 01437 775959 – for details or to book your child in.)

Rick’s work in Milford again demonstrated that cricket games can be hugely engaging and inspiring for children. He made a whole lot of new friends and received outstanding support from the respective Headteachers and the staff who assisted. And children really did wave excitedly every week as The Cricket Man arrived. Imagine how Rick feels when he sees that?

He tells me he feels blessed to be sharing his game. He tells me he is more convinced than ever that what his sponsors call the #powerofcricket is a very real, positive force. Now, word is he might be down Pembroke way next – there’s a potential Cricket Hub down there, alright.

So, will @cricketmanwales be visiting your school soon, I wonder?