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How much is too much when it comes to youth sport?

How much is too much when it comes to youth sport?

How to coach with a Balance is Better philosophy

How to coach with a Balance is Better philosophy

Balance is Better Principles Poster

Balance is Better Principles Poster

Creating a positive parent culture

Creating a positive parent culture

Unpacking the Balance is Better principles

Unpacking the Balance is Better principles

Running good trials and selections

Running good trials and selections

Balanced Female Health

Balanced Female Health

Girls Smash with Otago Cricket

Girls Smash is a modified, girls-only cricket programme for years 3 -6 (going to year 8 in some areas) developed by Otago Cricket in 2016.

  • 40 minute session, once a week.
  • Short and action packed.
  • Five weeks duration
  • 6 a-side, 12 overs, bat in pairs, everyone bowls(or throws) one over, soft ball.
  • No cost to play, and each girl receives a free t-shirt
  • No cricket experience or equipment needed. Everything is provided.
  • Delivered in one location in each DA –all girls come together.
  • Music, fun, festival-type atmosphere.
  • Quality outfield sand family friendly viewing where possible
  • Come along, have fun, go home –great for both girls and parents
  • Delivered in each region across the MA–full commitment

The opportunity

The 2014/15 playing census identified there were only two junior girls-only team across the entire MA. Otago Cricket acknowledged they needed a new plan. They developed a strategy of targeted growth and developed a pathway map, specifically identifying what opportunities exist for females to play with, and against, other females. The Community Development Officers (CDOs)brainstormed ideas fora suitable cricket product which aligned with both their female strategy and the national cricket programme at the time. Girls Smash was born.

We needed to develop a plan. There’s a void that needed to be filled’

Jess Davidson, Otago Cricket: Cricket Development Officer

The Community Development Officers (CDOs) brainstormed ideas fora suitable cricket product which aligned with both their female strategy and the national cricket programme at the time. Girls Smash was born.

You’ve got to start somewhere

Girls Smash was initially planned to start in Dunedin term 4 2016. However, there was little interest. The plan was reviewed, and it was identified term 1 was a better fit (around other sports and activities).Further work was also undertaken in schools to generate interest and raise awareness of the programme. In term 1 2017, Girls Smash was officially underway.

A sponsor was secured (SBS Bank), which ensured the programme would be free for all girls, and everyone would also receive a free t-shirt. Promotional posters were created and the programme was actively promoted on Otago Cricket’s social media, utilising local WHITE FERNS such as Suzie Bates and Leigh Kasperek.

As demand has grown, new locations have been added and Girls Smash is now offered in both term 1 and term 4 each year.

When you start these programmes, often the consensus is they can’t happen….we’re not a big district…we can’t get girls along. But we had some really good success. That’s through enthusiasm and setting that festival atmosphere over five weeks’

Sam Bastin, Otago Country Cricket:Cricket Development Officer

Generate demand

Targeted school visits were carried out to a broad range of schools across each DA –not just schools that were already engaged in cricket.

  • Discussions with teachers to outline what Girls Smash was
  • Promotional posters provided to schools
  • Tasters sessions offered, to give the girls a sample of Girls Smash
  • A sample of the free t-shirt shown to the girls which generated excitement
  • Sign-up sheet for girls that were interested

The sign-up sheet was critical –CDOs were then able to go back to the teacher and the school to show how many girls were interested. This eliminated feedback from dis-engaged teachers that ‘no girls want to join’ –as the CDO had a list of names and already started the work on behalf of the teacher. With only six girls needed for a team, CDOs were making it as easy as possible for schools, and girls, to get involved.

‘Knock down the resistance barriers’

Sam Bastin, Otago Country Cricket: Cricket Development Officer

No girl was turned away, with girls able to register as an individual if their school did not have enough players for a full team. This saw the creation of several combined school teams such as ‘The Allstars’ and ‘Super Six’ which allowed girls to play, and form friendships with, those from other schools.

It’s got to be fun. Girls only!

Girls enjoy playing with girls, and against other girls. They are with their friends and having fun. Being held in one, central location enables girls to see other girls playing and having fun, which is a big part of ‘normalising’ cricket involvement for young females.

With all the girls wearing their free Girls Smash t-shirt, it also creates a fun vibe -they easily recognize each other, and it becomes an ‘equalizer’, as everyone is the same.

Rules and the technical aspects of cricket aren’t important at Girls Smash –girls can bowl by throwing if they like. Skill development occurs through playing and though assistance from the Games Leaders, rather than drills and activities.

Game Leaders also have an impact on the experience for each girl –they are young female leaders (normally Years 10-13) who umpire and control each game, providing encouragement and assistance with helpful tips to the girls as they play.

It’s important Girls Smash is a fun and easy experience for parents and teachers as well. Keeping the time to 40 minutes, starting straight after school and always at the same location helps make it an easy commitment for parents. It’s important that parents and teachers also understand the philosophy of the programme –which is focused on fun, and not technical skills training.

Build atmosphere

Having Girls Smash based in one, central location has been critical to building an atmosphere and the success of the programme. It’s optimal to use locations where several pitches can be setup on the same field is optimal. Having all girls, Game Leaders, parents, teachers and supporters together creates a lively, energetic and fun atmosphere every week.

Large, branded tear drop flags were produced –these were great for creating brand awareness and also help players and spectators locate the Girls Smash pitches each week.

‘They’ve created their own identity now. They call themselves the ‘Girl Smashers’

Jess Davidson, OtagoCricket: Cricket Development Officer

The girls have an action-packed experience, and leave looking forward to coming back the next week.Key to the experience of Girls Smash is music being played around the ground. Otago Cricket invested in high-quality speaker systems–which has resulted in girls dancing while they field, and occasional cartwheel and hand stand competitions have proven a huge hit!

The last week of Girls Smash is accompanied by a festival-type evening which includes a family BBQ, lolly scramble, face painting, Otago Sparks player appearances and giveaways. This is a great way to end the season on a high, leaving the girls excited about coming back next term.

Continuity of DA staff is also a key factor. The experience gained from being involved in Girls Smash each season is difficult to replicate.

Results so far…

Participation has grown steadily over the past four seasons across Otago, to peak at 101 teams in the recent 2019/20 season.

Worth noting, that in the seasons where a DA has seen a decrease in participation, this has coinciding with a change in DA staff. Illustrating further the importance of staff continuity.

Also worth noting that before the 2016/17 season, there was no alternative programme that junior girls teams were involved in. So the vast majority of the x73 teams that joined in the 2016/17 season were completely new to cricket. This represents a real (and significant) increase in participation –not simply girls switching from other cricket programmes or teams to Girls Smash. This was one of the key objectives of the strategy Otago Cricket developed in 2016.

As well as the increase in participation in Girls Smash, participation has also increased in other aspects of junior and youth female cricket over the same time period.

  • Greater number of females attending Otago Cricket’s soft ball holiday programmes
  • 51% increase in females registered for junior club cricket from 2017/18 to 2018/19. Participation has held steady since 2018/19.
  • In Oamaru, an increase in participation at the Valley Sports Club as seen the creation of x2 female only teams for the first time –participating in the intermediate and youth grades. This has created a genuine girls-only participation pathway in the rural Otago town.
  • Dunedin’s mid-week Secondary School girls-only hard ball competition doubled from x6 teams to x12 teams within two seasons. This has seen the implementation of two pools in the competition.
  • In 2015, Otago had only one DA team (Otago Country) represented in the South Island Primary School Girls Tournament. In 2020, all x4 DAs had teams attend the same tournament.
  • In Dunedin’s mid-week Intermediate girls-only hard ball competition, registrations have increased:2016/17: x4 teams2017/18: x6 teams2018/19: x8 teams. Participation has held steady since2018/19.

Other benefits

Alongside increased participation of junior girls, other benefits have also been experienced:

  • Changing the way girls and their parents think about cricket –it can be short, action packed and fun
  • Significant brand awareness around the region through girls wearing their free t-shirts
  • Increase in young females engaging with cricket through the Otago Sparks and Otago Volts games
  • Development of the Game Leaders –empowering a group of young female cricket leaders to confidently facilitate games and be leaders within the sport and their community
  • Knowledge sharing and connections with other sports –both football and rugby reached out to learn more about Girls Smash
  • Recipient of NZC’s Female initiative Award in 2019

What’s next?

The objective to continue to increase participation remains, however it is acknowledged that Cricket Otago’s x4 DAs have a limited population and participation can only grow so much.

Enhancing and improving Girls Smash so that it continues to be an attractive product and engage girls to stay in cricket and transition into other programmes once they finish Girls Smash is of increasing importance.

Some of the key ideas for growth include:

  • Creating ‘Girls Smash Plus’ –targeted at girls who have attended Girls Smash for a couple of school terms, and introduce them to more traditional cricket elements. Such as introducing boundaries (not simply hit and run), wooden bats and gloves.
  • ‘Skill of the week’ –starting each Girls Smash session with a quick 10 minute skill focus, practicing one new skill each week.
  • Games Leaders –continue to develop the programme around this group
  • Yeah! Girls –develop a visible and obvious link to Yeah! Girls, for girls to move on to once they reach Year 7 or older
  • Potential to introduce a user-pay element in the 20/21 season to cover the operational costs of Girls Smash. This would ensure a quality programme can continue for years to come.

Image Source: Otago Cricket

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