As published by The Footy Almanac, 3 December 2015
In a former life as a sports development officer I was heavily involved with pushing a nationally branded participation program for a severely under resourced sport in a crowded, ambivalent market.
Needless to say coercing parents and teachers across Victoria to sign up for Touch footy was a tough battle. But although success was marginal, the sessions themselves, so far as the way they were structured to teach the inherently foreign concepts, skills and rules, would rank pretty highly in the strata of introductory programs I’ve encountered.
Nonetheless, in terms of junior sport, the old adages of ‘you get what you pay for’ and ‘nothing attracts a crowd like a crowd’ generally ring true.
Luckily my kids offset their screen time with a keen desire to play most sports and I’m only too happy to enable them. With Auskick done and dusted, presently they are having a shot at basketball, soccer and cricket, plus swimming lessons. Last year they also tried tennis.
Cost-wise the basketball and cricket programs are on a par (alongside Auskick), though basketball doesn’t have a sponsor to fund a you-beaut registration pack. The ‘Brazilian Soccer School’ they attend is almost double the cost, nor does it boast any giveaways. But I must say, as someone with marginal appreciation of the beautiful game, the quality of coaching and the level of skill attainment is light years ahead of cricket and footy. Basketball is perhaps somewhere in the middle.
I wrote last year of concerns with my local Auskick centre and sadly this season was no improvement. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the challenge of coaching/wrangling a group of 16 recalcitrant 8 year olds. But by the 18th week and not a single ounce of help forthcoming from the 4 members of the weekly convened fathers’ club meeting (at least they showed up), capped off by not even a verbal thankyou from the coordinator to any of the weary volunteers at the end-of-season, I felt as appreciated and successful as Mick Malthouse c2015.
Interestingly, the Milo Cricket coordinator’s philosophy is the polar opposite to the point where parents are actually getting in the way. In the first session the mother of one child took up position at silly mid-pitch. But I digress.
Based on last years’ experience I was reluctant to sign up again on the basis Mr 8 and Miss 7 learnt twice as much in half the time in the backyard and on the beach. But being aligned with the local club closer to home, and all of us being suckers for included cricket gear (no matter how plastic), we gave it another go.
On Saturday, after about two and a half minutes of waiting in line to paddle the ball hockey style through a short obstacle course, Mr 8 and I looked at each other and headed for the nets. Other activities included using the plastic stump bases as a fielding cradle (WTF?) and a poorly explained duel between kids running between wickets alongside other kids bowling at a set of stumps. Worst of all, the purpose of the activities was barely explained, if at all.
I have no truck with running skill based activities instead of matches, as was the practice early dawes, but five weeks into Milo cricket and I’ve yet to see a forward defence, or any shot for that matter, referenced or demonstrated. Likewise, any actual fielding or bowling skill instruction is minimal. Perhaps the expectation is on the hovering parents, however 90% of them would have less idea than the kids.
Surely more engaging and practical training ideas could have been devised on the way to the ground, let alone the days in between? Is there not a manual for this? Clearly fun is the fuel on which these programs succeed but Milo Cricket needs servicing here too. For example the two activities from the previous week at least had merit, alas they each dragged on for half an hour. Only the Aussies efforts to knock off the final 12 runs against the Kiwis has been more excruciating cricket viewing.
Whilst I’m off the long run, perhaps some responsibility lies with the host club. Good on them for making their field and clubrooms available and putting on a couple BBQ’s, but surely if they want to impress parents and recruit kids into their Under 9’s then a couple players or club stalwarts lurking about could make a big difference by sharing some tips to struggling kids.
Cricket is a technically difficult game for young ‘uns but I don’t see dumbing it down and ignoring technique as a solution. Even for preps – grade 2’s.
I can only speak for my local Milo Cricket centre so I would be interested to hear of others’ experiences. Are mass sport participation programs in general all they’re cracked up to be? Do they adequately prepare children for junior competition? Which ones are good and how can others be better to reduce rates of churn? Are my expectations too high?