Taking Cricket to the Next Level in Scotland’s Schools

06 May

Jake Perry give us his thoughts on pushing cricket into schools and how new innovative forms of cricket have emerged to challenge the preconceptions of the game. 

“What actually IS cricket?”

As a teacher it isn’t unusual to have to field unexpected questions from young pupils. This one, however, told so much more than it asked.   

When coverage of the Indian Premier League moved from ITV4 to Sky Sports last year, the loss of that last opportunity to watch free-to-air live cricket put the task of introducing the game to new generations firmly into the hands of our clubs and schools. Today, in the sports hall at Beeslack Community High School in Midlothian, thirty excitable first year pupils are being given their first taste of the game in a few rounds of non-stop cricket led by Penicuik CC coach Jack Hilton. It’s fast and furious, with the backdrop of laughter, whoops, groans and cheers providing ample evidence that, once the answer to that initial question has been demonstrated, cricket is a game that genuinely captures the young imagination.

As ever, though, it is sustaining that interest into the long term that is the trick. Whilst some youngsters are encouraged by sessions such as these to take the plunge and go along to their local clubs, the reality is that beyond this and other such initiatives cricket is still comparatively rare within Scottish state schools. Amongst teachers, many of whom have grown up as the sport has slipped ever further from view thanks to those lucrative but short-sighted TV deals, cricket can still be seen as a foreign, even impenetrable sport, requiring specialist knowledge of technique and complicated rules, hard to come by equipment and spacious, dedicated facilities.

Huge strides toward righting those misconceptions have already been made, of course, and Cricket Scotland’s role at the forefront of developing the game was recognised last week with the Best Overall Cricket Development Programme Award from the ICC, rewarding the exceptional work of coaches, staff and volunteers in delivering what has been an extensive and groundbreaking series of initiatives.

Speaking at the announcement, Ian Sandbrook, Head of Participation at Cricket Scotland, was understandably proud of what had been achieved but also keen to emphasise the future.

“We are continually looking at how we can improve our work with clubs, schools and other key stakeholders to attract new people to the game and build a sustainable future for cricket”, he told cricketscotland.com.  

“Great initiatives like the Thriving Clubs Programme, CricketForce, our Community Coaching Programme, the new Club Awards, Last Man Stands leagues, the roll out of the Curriculum for Excellence programme and our continued growth in female cricket has started to establish a stronger foundation for the game to flourish.

“From my perspective we have only just started, and we`re absolutely committed to building on this to take cricket to the next level in Scotland.”

Those foundations are demonstrably solid, but vital in reaching that next level is how cricket can be absorbed into the everyday school curriculum. Cricket Scotland and the local clubs can only do so much, and in moving forward it is our school teachers, particularly those in our high schools, who now hold the most significant key.  

From the perspective of teachers, always looking to expand the experiences of their pupils but pressed to deliver what is an already crowded curriculum, two things are needed. One is training, and in this Cricket Scotland been proactive in providing what have been well-received professional development courses to both student and more experienced teachers.     

The second factor, though, is perhaps most important of all - an easy to set up, simple and fast-paced game, true to the distinctive feel and techniques of cricket, which can be played to a satisfactory conclusion within a highly limited timeframe. And in Cage Cricket, an answer to Touch Rugby, Street Hockey and Flag Football, all of which are already played with great success in high schools up and down the country, there is a proven example of a solution.

The roots of Cage Cricket lie in a childhood game invented by the most famous cricketer of them all. As a youngster Sir Donald Bradman would repeatedly hit a golf ball against the curved brick base of the family water tank with a cricket stump, reacting to the unpredictable rebound of the ball and looking to ‘score’ by playing it on to the adjacent wall. Cage Cricket is similarly based on accuracy of placement rather than power hitting, making the game suitable for both boys and girls of all ages, stages and abilities.

Designed to be played within any available space and with a minimum of equipment, Cage Cricket is an ideal fit to the school environment. Each game is six overs long, allowing several to be squeezed into a typical high school lesson, and with points being awarded for batting, bowling and fielding and every player changing position at the end of each over the potential for teenage apathy to have an influence on proceedings is minimised.

Crucially, too, it is the players themselves who take ownership of the game, taking turns to be responsible for scoring and umpiring and so providing a further avenue to develop the ‘soft skills’ that Curriculum for Excellence seeks to nurture across all subjects.

For use in schools, and potentially beyond, Cage Cricket represents an attractive package. Down south it has already been used with great success by schools and community organisations, and since 2012 has been the focus of a thriving programme still being delivered in Oban. But whether through Cage or Kwik Cricket, Cricket Scotland, the Active Schools programme or our local clubs out in their communities, it is getting youngsters involved in our sport by whatever means that is most important. Once the imagination is captured the potential becomes limitless.

“So what did you make of cricket?” I asked the lad who had posed that initial, troublesome question.

“Fun!” he smiled. “Can we do it next week?”

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