Friday, 24 October 2014

Whose game is it really?

Number two son has loved his cricket for a long time. He always played with positivity and a huge grin on his face.
 In Grade 4 he took huge delight in reverse sweeping the bowlers for six again and again because he knew the short boundary was favouring the right hand batsmen. As a left hander, he wanted a piece of that short boundary.
 He scored his first ton the week he turned 10 when he got 126 not out. He taught himself to bowl offspin and half way through last season switched from pace to offspin. And he did really well out of it.
 He was one of the best in his grade in the field, relishing in a short cover position, but also with a strong throwing arm from the deep. He played Premier Grade and Rep cricket, and joined his big brother's team in the annual Hawkes Bay tournament.

Then one day about three months ago he told me he didn't want to play cricket anymore. Not. At. All.
He had just had enough.
How on earth do you deal with that? First I had to find out what was causing the angst and the reluctance to play. I managed to get him to confess that he just wasn't having fun at cricket anymore. His coach wasn't picking him for rep fixtures  and the rep teams were constantly shuffled around. He also got feedback that he needed to work on his fielding and his batting wasn't good enough because he liked to play across the line. Lastly, some of his team mates thought it was funny to try bodyline bowling on him in the nets. Well, hardly surprising that he didn't enjoy it with all that going on.He was 11 years old!

Knowing how much good stuff he gets from cricket, playing with his mates, hanging out with them between innings, testing his skills and trying new things, I resolved to help him learn to enjoy the game again. So back in July, we started off in the nets with some one on one sessions with a professional coach. It started really slowly. The first week he broke down in tears when he was batting. Tears of frustration. He thought he couldn't go on. Then coach told him to get his frustrations out on the ball. Hit it anyway he wanted. No-one was judging his technique. He opened the throttle a little and punished the ball. He has always been a good timer of the ball, and that skill had not disappeared with his confidence.

There were a few more weeks in the nets, a couple more breakdowns, a lot more frustration. There were weeks when he was crying and saying he's 'not going to play anyway, so why are we doing these sessions?' I kept saying 'because I love to come and watch you play. Just have some fun with it'
Week by week both his confidence and his skill grew and he inched his way towards the new season.

Then came time for Premier Cricket Trials. The coaches were all asking him if he was going to trial and I could see his confidence eroding by the minute. He didn't want to let them down but he knew in his heart that he didn't want to play that Premier cricket and hear that he wasn't good enough in the field/with the bat/wherever. He didn't want to see the same kids open the batting every week, watch them get all the chances while he waited week after week for his turn, only to be told to go in and 'score quickly, because we need the runs now.' He didn't want to see the coach's son behind the stumps all the time when he believed he could do a better job. He was frustrated at being left to bowl later in the innings when there were fewer wickets to collect.

A lot of this stuff stems from parent coaches, setting up a platform for their son to succeed on. Some of it comes from the introduction of CricHQ and live scoring at Junior Cricket level. The kids all compete for MVP status and it has changed their (and their parents) attitude for the worse. But it also comes from a young man with a whole lot of self doubt that just needed some support.

Well, today I saw that spark. It's there again. It's been there all along, but he found himself today. He watched Amla's magnificent 119 runs this morning, and this afternoon he went into the nets and played a number of Amla shots. He copied Amla's footwork and his stroke play, and he had an absolute blast doing it. Watching from the end of the lane I could see his teeth as he was grinning from under his helmet when he connected with the ball again and again. He scored sixes and fours and sent lofty drives straight back over the bowler's head.

I think he'll be ok. He is not going to play Premier cricket, is not interested in it at all. He is going to play with his mates in A Grade and have a whole heap of fun, He will have the time of his life. And I will enjoy watching him doing it.

If you're a parent coach, or thinking about becoming one, just remember one thing. It is meant to be fun. For the kids. It's their game, not yours.


  1. Well written, my friend. Parents living vicariously through their children is sad - no-one benefits, either short or long term. Similarly, when parents yell and scream on the sidelines - strangely vociferous encouragement can be as unsettling for a child as the negative and overly aggressive tirades.

    I love your approach - like you, my thoughts are very clear of who children's sport is for and who should benefit.

    Parent coaches are tough roles to fill, and whilst they need to understand their role, I can also see how things "unravel". When clubs and schools ask for coaches, how many people put their hands up? So few are interested in the task - not an easy one, and often thankless. Thankless, not because of rewards of seeing grow; thankless because of the "advice" and expectations of those who didn't raise their hands and offer their time.

    But what of the promotion of their own child? Some do it subconsciously, not realising they are doing it and simply trying to help their child excel at, and enjoy, their sport. Others believe that given their position, their child is entitled to special treatment as payment for their efforts. Others, sadly, decrease their child's opportunities by making an overt effort to demonstrate a visible lack of bias. Again, no-one wins.

    My time is coming - I have no wish to get involved, but it won't be about me and it's likely I'll be involved somehow though work dictates it's unlikely to be regularly. The biggest battles are not with children - they're easy; well-meaning parents on the other hand...

  2. Congratulations on writing this. In my experience, most Premier grade teams at that age have between one and a handful of 'marginalised' players who are suffering through lack of opportunity, whether it be because they are not quite strong enough to be in the grade, the coach doesn't favour them or whatever. Very often these players are better off in the grade below - whether or not they're playing with mates - and I have known a number of families who have taken this course with their son, usually with positive results. On the other side of the equation I have seen plenty of boys who stopped playing after Year 8 as a result of their negative experiences in Premier grade at that age.

    You may be interested to know that Cricket Wellington and College Sport Wellington will from 2015 be implementing the concept of 'batting pods' for all grades up to and including Year 10. For a squad of 12 players, the boys are divided up into four pods of three players each. In week one, that pod bats in positions 1-3, in week two 4-6, in week three 7-9 etc. These pods will be mandatory for all teams and are intended not only to increase involvement in matches for all players, but also to help foster 'hidden' talent in players who may previously have been pigeon-holed as a batsman or bowler at too young an age.