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Innovative strategies to maximise youth skill development: Lessons from NZ Cricket, Auckland Cricket and AUT

In the following webinar we hear from NZ Cricket and AUT on lessons learned from applying bio-banding to skill-development camps. 

In 2018, NZ Cricket began to have a hunch that the vast majority of players arriving at their pre-elite system (at the U17 level) were excluding late-maturers. Maturation is quite simply the process young people go through as they move towards adult stature. An early-maturer is basically somebody who is maturing earlier than the majority of other young people the same age. This is most notably obvious during the ‘growth spurt’ period as young people go through puberty. If NZ Cricket’s hunch was true, it meant that a number of biases were possibly at play further down in the community cricket system, and as such: 

  • The size of the talent pool that NZ Cricket could draw on for the elite spectrum of the game was being stunted 
  • Young people who were late-maturers were less likely to continue participating in cricket, or at the very least be afforded the same quality of experience that their early-maturing peers were being provided 

NZ Cricket connected with AUT to begin a study on this, which would subsequently confirm NZ Cricket’s hunch. In 2018-2019, all players in the NZ U17 team, as well as players playing in the NZ U17 national tournament, were measured to look at maturation rates across the population group. In a normal population you would expect to see 17% late-maturers, 66% on-time-maturers, and 17% early-maturers. Of the 72 players measured, all were found to be either early-maturers or trending towards being early-maturers (i.e. there were no late-maturers).  

Subsequently, NZ Cricket, Auckland Cricket and AUT developed an intervention, using bio-banding, to address the bias that early- and late-matureres are predisposed to. This intervention was delivered in the setting of a 3-day Skill Development Camp delivered by Auckland Cricket. The following video is a presentation by Simon Walters from AUT and Richard Pithey from NZ Cricket about this project. 

Times stamps: 

00:00:57 – Simon Walters introduces the project, providing an overview of the project’s background. 

00:02:05 – Overview of the maturation trends for NZ U17 Cricket Players and players in the NZ U17 National Tournament. 

00:04:15 – Explanation of bio-banding, using a video from US Soccer. 

00:07:54 – When does the bias begin? Unpacking of what age cricket in NZ begins to see signs of bias towards early-maturers. 

00:09:35 – Introduction to the Auckland Cricket 3-day skill development camp, with constraints-based learning activities designed by Associate Professor Ian Renshaw and players bio-banded for games. 

00:10:51 – Example of bio-banded teams. 

0012:52 – Insights from NZ Cricket about skill and game play differences between the different bio-banded teams. 

00:16:10 – Insights from players on their experiences at the skill development camp. 

00:19:13 – Insights from coaches on their experiences at the skill development camp. 

00:21:27 – Discussion about the limitations encountered in this project when trying to apply bio-banding to young females. 

Key lessons for sports: 

  • Bio-banding was seen as a potential tool to address the following problems underpinned by coaching, selection and game biases: 

    1- Specialisation of young people into positions based on physical attributes rather than potential related to skill. 

    2- Young people being predisposed to developing different skill sets relevant to whether they fall on the early-to-late mature continuum. In cricket, early maturers would be more likely to develop and demonstrate skills supported by power (e.g. throwing further, hitting the ball harder, hitting the ball in the V, bowling fast), whereas late-maturers were more likely to develop and demonstrate skills supported by finesse (e.g. spin bowling, batting around the wicket). There are clear short-term costs for late-maturers who may not be able to ‘compete’ as effectively against more physically mature peers. There are also potential long-term costs to late-maturers who may be devoid of some skill sets, having been over reliant on physical attributes in their development. 
  • Bio-banding shouldn’t be seen as a tool to replace all traditional age-group structures. Grouping young people by age in club and school competitions is still important especially for social and psychological reasons. 
  • NZ Cricket, Auckland Cricket and AUT found bio-banding was a useful tool to use in a skill-development setting (in this example Skill Development Camps) where players are motivated to invest in their skill development. 
  • In this study both early and late maturing participants spoke to the benefits playing in games that were underpinned by bio-banding: 

    “It’s a lot of fun because we learn a lot of stuff […] playing with people the same size as us. Because when you play with the bigger people like you get intimidated… so when you play with your own size you don’t feel like that and you just play naturally” 

    “When they are smaller [bowlers] the ball doesn’t come at you as high and as such it’s definitely a bigger challenge when you have another big guy coming at you. It’s definitely more challenging this week and that’s a good challenge.” 
  • Likewise, coaches and parents (especially parents of smaller, late-maturers) spoke to the benefits of the bio-banding for the skill development and enjoyment of players. 
  • More work is required to understand the implications of implementing a bio-banding approach with females. In this project, the females engaged earlier in the project, didn’t want measurements of their weight recorded and compared which meant the pre-screening tests to support allocation of participants into different bio-bands couldn’t be completed. 

Image Credits: Canva

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