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.