I coach in local State schools — some Chance to Shine with KS2 (7-11 yrs old), some work with girls in early KS3 (11-13). All with the intention of introducing the wonderful game of cricket to children who might never have seen the game, or if they had thought it was only for grey, old, men.
(No sniggering at the back…yes, I have looked in the mirror, recently — if there were other coaches, more relatable role models, I wouldn’t be there. There aren’t, yet, so the yr7 girls get me…)
And I (and the other Community and freelance coaches delivering CTS and Team Up) do it in the knowledge that once we leave, the children might not get to play cricket again in school.
How do we keep young players coming into the game, when the game now barely exists in the State education sector?
The problem in schools
I understand why cricket isn’t being played in State schools.
- The summer term is filled with exams – SATS for yr6, school exams then GCSEs for older children — there really isn’t time for much organised sport;
- cricket looks difficult to coach — I do my best to dispel this perception whenever I have a teacher or teaching assistant watching or helping;
- cricket does need time, space, and equipment that simply isn’t available in a lot of State schools;
- the game itself isn’t always welcoming as a participation sport — too much time mostly just watching (one of the great attractions for amateur players with a love for the game and its rhythms; not good for PE lessons).
So I really don’t think that it is realistic to expect a major revival of the game in State schools.
What can Clubs do to fill this void?
What’s the point of junior cricket?
Much as I have enjoyed umpiring U19 Club T20 games, U19 is too late to start worrying about player retention. By this age, players have already decided that cricket is a game for them. Or they have walked away.
Even U16 is probably too late — preparation will be interrupted by exams and some players will take off on holidays once GCSEs are out of the way, even when matches are scheduled over the summer holidays (a couple of years ago, our County U16 comp ran through late May and June…🤦♂️).
So perhaps this needs to look at U13?
What might be the solution?
- Play more U13 games, through the summer and not only in school term time — yes, if this can be accommodated.
- Look at a mix of formats:
- T20, certainly, or (if it takes off) The100™️ — ‘cos it’s fun and fast, and what they will see on TV;
- some longer formats, if possible, perhaps combined with U15s — because (I believe) that it is important that young players see that there is more to the game than slamming 6s…;
- maybe (whisper it) soft ball or tape ball cricket — less equipment, easier to put on a game, but still technically & tactically challenging;
- maybe Pairs, or another explicitly participation format such as LastManStands, played with smaller teams (8 a-side), perhaps played over the summer holidays, to accommodate Clubs that lose players to the long vacation.
- Allow only CAG players to play open age cricket at U13, pushing the age when all junior are eligible to play open age cricket back by one year.
- With many Counties now only starting CAG squads at U13, there might be some merit in this — soon, there might not even be any U12 CAG players.
Young players do learn a lot from playing open-age…not always good habits, perhaps, but the experience of playing with and against older players is invaluable to the development of any young player.
Not many Clubs have an explicitly “development” ethos, however, in spite of various ECB edicts on inclusion of junior players in open age cricket.
And it is certainly the case that many (adult) captains and players commit “schoolboy errors” in senior League matches, because they know no better.
But if U13s see open age competition as “proper cricket’, there is a danger that the youngsters never get enough opportunities to learn through their own experiences. If they progress from heavily managed U11 competition (where I still see “managers” setting fields and changing bowlers from the boundary) to adult competition, they miss out on the chance to make their own mistakes.
So it really does fall to Clubs (and the ECB) to put on more cricket for this age group.
This post has taken three weeks to pull together — actually, that is quite quick, for me — and a lot has happened since I started to draft this item.
I began writing shortly after hearing of the death of Haydn Davies.
Haydn was a remarkable man — when I was at school, back in the 1970s, he taught at Langdon School (bitter rivals on the cricket and football pitches), and managed district and County rep sides (and a whole lot more).
I well remember playing against his Langdon teams— Chris Gladwin, latterly of Essex, starred, but the lightning pace of Micky Payne possibly made the greatest impact.
A decent score one Saturday morning earned me my one and only trial for the County Schools team (as it then was), on the playing fields at Bancroft’s School — I didn’t get any further; Neil Foster (Essex & England) did.
Even back then, cricket survived in schools due to the dedication of men like Haydn.
I started this post before it became apparent that the 2020 cricket season was going to be so dramatically curtailed by the covid-19 pandemic. It is looking increasingly possible that there could be no recreational cricket at all in 2020
But the topic “what’s the point of junior cricket?” might just become even more relevant, as we look to re-build the game in the wake of covid-19.