In his recent article on learning to bat before learning to bash, Greg Chappell provided some recommendations for introducing young cricketers to competition. However, what he highlighted presents an interesting challenge for junior cricket administrators and coach co-ordinators responsible for designing programmes that introduce the game to children. Given the increased aggressive marketing by a number of sports for the hearts and minds of young people, there is a view that children need to be put in ‘organised’ competitions as early as possible to ‘capture’ them for the sport. However, sadly, at present this results in the first experiences of cricket for many young children being one of failure and more than likely boredom due to the long periods of inactivity.
I still fail to understand why we make 6 and 7 year olds play in formal games that last up to 2 hours where they only get to face 12 balls and bowl 12 balls…the rest of the time we see an assortment of cartwheels and handstands by fielders trying to make their time in the game more interesting. In two hours each child should be continuously hitting , bowling, throwing and catching balls…
As Greg Chappell wisely states:“Competition should be restricted until batsmen can recognise length and have developed a battery of options to hit the ball into gaps.”
For bowlers, I would say the equivalent would be:
“Competition should be restricted until bowlers can bowl accurately and have some control of length.”
For me, early experiences of cricket require the modification of games and activities to ensure that the basic skills can be acquired in fun environments. Bowling should be to graduated targets to give bowlers “points” for accuracy. Batting should be with controlled ‘bowled” feeds that put the ball in areas that are “hittable”, throwing should be at “big” targets and catching should be introduced with soft balls that don’t hurt when dropped. Games should be fast paced and made up of lots of goes.
Essentially, Chappell emphasised that young children should not be playing ‘competitive’ cricket until they can play. That is until they are capable of ‘scoring runs’ and I would add until they can bowl relatively accurately.
The key challenge for junior clubs and schools, is that many young players still do not have these skills by the early teenage years, so what do we do with these boys and girls? These children should be given opportunities to play in small-sided modified games where there are more gaps (as there are less fielders) to hit the ball into. In fact, I was struck by watching a 13 year old boy having a great time in a 8 v 8 game in the last training session of the season who I over heard saying to his batting partner “this is the first time I have scored runs all season.” We have to be smarter and modify games to meet the needs of the children. By doing this we will create a deeper engagement with the game and meet the goals of the sporting administrators at the same time.
Key message to parents: be patient, there is no rush to play ‘proper’ cricket. Additionally. you can speed up the readiness for competition with backyard games and activities (I have given some suggestions in earlier posts).