It’s no secret that participation in sport comes in ebbs and flows. Trends in sports’ uptake can be predicted by a variety of factors; which sports have recently become popular in schools, which sports are enjoying success and media coverage at a national level, and which sports have recently had major events globally. With the advent of technology, we often see fast-paced, fun sports being most popular, and slower-paced, subtle sports being outed. Unfortunately, some might say that sounds eerily like cricket!
Cricket however, has a saviour! Twenty20. The ‘problem’ child as deemed by cricket purists, has brought about much a needed ‘excitement factor’ to the game. Junior cricket has a new lease on life and organisations are promoting a shorter, more explosive brand of the game. The younger generation are playing with amazing freedom and most importantly, participation numbers are steadier. The questions now are; how do we minimise participation drop-off in cricket, and how do we maintain the ‘high’ cricket is currently enjoying?
Based on my experience playing and coaching cricket at various levels, here are five tips that may help with this:
1. Make use of your Major Organisation
Most cricket organisations around the world are now fully aware of the importance that having fun and retaining youth participation in cricket is. Gone are the days of trying to make juniors play with proper rules and traditions, it was boring for them. For this reason, they have developed many hybrid cricket games and coaching philosophies designed to instill excitement. Use these organisations and apply as many of the recommended coaching techniques and methodologies as you can to your kid’s team. There is plenty of time in the future for them to start playing more seriously and learn the traditional game. The skills they learn now will put them in great stead for this, don’t underestimate this.
2. Employ outsourced, enthusiastic coaches
Many parents act as volunteer coaches during their kids’ junior years. These efforts are integral to the cricketing community and should be recognised and awarded. However, the value of employing a qualified, enthusiastic coach might just be, that much more beneficial. Reasons being; children tend to start ignoring parents and become uncoachable; they see you everywhere and unfortunately not all parents are deemed ‘cool’. There will probably be many parents nodding their heads to this statement and it certainly does not apply to every single one. Experience coaches can be more relatable, can converse with kids on their level and most importantly keep their attention and get them to do as they say! If affordability around this becomes an issue, alternatively organise guest coach appearances which can also give parents great ideas for coaching techniques.
3. Use technology to engage, coach and develop
Kids love it, kids understand it, use it. That’s about all that needs to be said but let’s elaborate. Technology in cricket is gaining traction through all levels. The feedback that used to be available only at a professional level is very quickly growing to a grassroot level. Make use of these technologies where you can. Video feedback is a great tool for coaching, phones now have amazing slow motion capabilities and actually provide a very powerful vehicle for instant feedback. Start documenting this where you can so you have timelines of progression. This can act as supporting proof to show development and be very rewarding for both you and the young cricketers. Additionally many apps are available that include hundreds of ideas around drills, skills and games.
4. Encourage one-to-one coaching
It is slowly becoming common knowledge that an hour of one to one coaching is as valuable as a few weeks of team trainings. Having all energy focussed on your child for an hour, with a coach who knows what they are talking about is invaluable. Visually, you can see improvements happen in front of your eyes, especially in the first few sessions. This type of coaching is certainly on the rise and you may already be doing this. Financially, there is a cost associated. If this is a concern, perhaps to start, you could set aside enough for 5 sessions initially. Once you see the results, you’ll likely never look back.
5. Promote development by encouraging freedom and fun
Encouraging freedom is a very loose term in a coaching sense. So what exactly does it mean? Well, kids are watching players on TV doing incredible things, from the player’s shots, bowling techniques and fielding feats. They all want to try these and emulate certain cricketers, sometimes a different cricketer every week! Allow this to happen as it’s part of growing up as a cricketer. Don’t be so strict on getting them to decide what they want to be. If they are trying everything when they can, they will have a fair idea of what they are good at eventually. Everyone becomes their own cricketer eventually and there is nothing wrong with having some experimentation along the way.
The predicament of diminishing participation in sport is upon us. Too often we hear the ‘back in the day’ gloated speech rather than proactive movements to solve the issue. We are essentially fighting a battle to make sport more enjoyable than alternative and generally unhealthy options for kids. Preventing the issue now will be a whole lot easier than fixing a potential crisis in the future. The time to act is now.