By Richard Edwards
8th November 2023
There has been an undeniable
explosion of interest in cricket over the past five years, one which has
stepped up in pace post-Covid. But could more be done to ensure that the number
of coaches required to cope with these increasing numbers keeps pace?
In football, it’s now possible to achieve the FA’s Level One coaching qualification entirely online, providing flexibility for those with busy work lives during the week, and busy sport and family commitments at weekends.
Cricket has embraced virtual learning too, but the equivalent qualification in the sport, in Hampshire at least, would take out two Saturdays. The Core Coach qualification runs over four weekends. There are online elements to both these courses, but clearly, taking either requires significant time commitments from those looking to complete them.
At Ben Stokes’ club in Cockermouth, they’re benefiting from the surge of interest inspired directly by one of their own. Gareth White, is the club’s chairman, and he tells the Club Cricket Conference of the challenges clubs in Cumbria face when coaches move from the old Level One (now the Foundation course) to the old Level Two (now the Core qualification).
“Our club is in a pretty good place as far as coaches go,” he says. “As you work your way up the cricket qualifications it does become very intensive, and it’s fairly prescriptive in terms of time.
“I wonder if there’s something to say about having a greater degree of flexibility because a large proportion of those people who are doing these courses are likely to be like us – people who are working heavy hours during the week and then have family commitments at the weekend, including sports commitments with kids.
“To block it out for four weeks is a big ask. And probably insurmountable for a lot of people.
“We have a lot of activity on the coaching front at Cockermouth at the moment, which is really, really positive. We’re in a really good place and we’re subsidising those who are going through the pathway – thats a big chunk of our revenue going on ensuring that we have that pipeline of coaches coming through.
“A lot of those are coming through the first level, where it’s a one or two week commitment – people will bite the bullet and do that. Moving up to the next level, it’s a really significant uptick in time.”
Cumbria faces its own unique set of difficulties by virtue of the distances required to travel from one of England’s most remote counties. And that’s particularly true for the professionals travelling to Cumbria to play over the summer.
“To get your governing bodies endorsement, your professional has to have that (Core) qualification, unless they’ve got the equivalent from back home,” he says.
“it’s a logistical nightmare,
For us, the nearest coaching courses are at Old Trafford, which is two and a
half hours away. We have to get them down there for four separate sessions and
logistically, that makes life very, very difficult.”
Peter Free, the former Leicestershire cricketer, is the Women and Girl’s Development Officer at the Norfolk Cricket Board and has witnessed at first hand the surge in demand for female cricket provision in the east of the country. He’s intent on ensuring that the requisite number of coaches are available to cope with it.
“I think what we’re seeing is that this is very much the job of the clubs, because the provision in state schools is still very poor,” he says. “It’s really down to the clubs to provide that entrance point into the game, and having qualified coaches on hand to do that is clearly a massive part of it.
“It will vary from board to board and the resources available as to how the time commitment is split up but you do really need a sports hall and a classroom to conduct it properly. There are some online elements, it’s a mixture of both. What was the old Level One and the Core, there are e-learning modules on both courses. In order to be certified at the end of it, you do have to pass the e-learning modules and the face-to-face element. It is reasonably intensive, I guess, but I think it’s a good mix – you have to put in the time if you want to get the qualification at the end of it.”
The ECB also offers the Support Coach qualification, which is the level below the foundation. As the name suggests, it then allows those who have taken it to act in a supervisory role to a more senior coach in the nets, on the outfield or in the sports hall during the depths of winter.
In short, you could probably argue that there’s something for everybody. Although whether all those who could take the Core course to bolster their club’s offering end up doing so, is probably a moot point.
For his part, Free is doing his bit to attempt to raise coaching standards and numbers in schools by running a course targeted directly at teachers in Norfolk early in 2024.
“If it goes well then that will obviously be fed back to the ECB,” he says. “I think it’s something that is well worth doing.”
In Cornwall, Truro coach, Robert Harrison, believes the opportunities are there for aspiring coaches looking to get into the sport, and those looking to take a step-up the qualification ladder.
“We have always found Cornwall Cricket Board to be very accommodating and offer a number of courses over the years at various times, some weekends and evenings to support coaches,” he says. “They also offer support for women and girls. The ECB could always do more but that would take more money - which Cricket does not have.”
A sport, generally, is only as healthy as the coaching pool available to improve the players of today and the talent of tomorrow. The recreational game seems to be in a relatively good place. But no-one should be taking their eye off the ball.