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

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People first: A new approach to coach development at Canterbury Cricket

Coaches have one of the biggest influences on a young person’s experience with sport. An innovative initiative from Canterbury Cricket is ensuring coaches are equipped and supported to bring the best out of the region’s young cricketers.

With keen, eager-to-learn coaches in the region calling for more forms of support, Canterbury Cricket knew it had to think outside the box.

During the 2022/23 season, the Canterbury Country Cricket district association only had two staff in formal coach development roles, meaning a ratio of one coach developer per 90 coaches. Other district associations were facing a similar challenge, with the demand for support outweighed by the number of coach development staff available.

To address this, Canterbury Cricket ran two pilots to provide informal support for junior and youth coaches during 2022/23. The focus was on providing coaches with more support ‘on the grass’ – working alongside them in an informal capacity at trainings and at matches.

  • Club Coach Connector Pilot: This pilot, with Canterbury Country Cricket, involved people from outside the formal coach development staffing structure informally connecting with coaches at training and at matches to provide support.
  • Back Fill Pilot: The purpose of this pilot was to test how other staff could pick up the delivery of cricket programmes, to free up the trained coach developers to spend more time face-to-face with coaches in their environments. Canterbury Country Cricket, Mid Canterbury Cricket, South Canterbury Cricket, and Christchurch Metro Cricket were involved with this pilot.

Key principles behind the pilots

There were several key principles underpinning the pilots, reflecting the type of support that coaches were asking for:

  • Support was provided ‘on the grass’ – at training sessions and/or matches
  • No formal outcomes – learning and support was organic rather than prescribed
  • The coach developer works alongside the coach, rather than in front of the coach
  • The coach developer adds value via observations, conversations, and other organic means
  • Strong, trusting relationships are built between coaches and coach developers

“More confidence and ideas”

During the 2022/23 season, there were over 80 instances of informal coach development support recorded in Canterbury. Among the coaches who benefitted from some of these was John Foley, who coached a junior (Section 4 – Challenge) team at Lincoln Cricket Club. Foley received informal coaching support from Liam Foulkes, Coaching and Development Officer at Canterbury Country Cricket.

“Liam coming to our practice was excellent; he made the whole session fun and interactive and he built rapport quickly with the kids. I think my practice sessions were way more productive after Liam had come along,” recalls Foley.

“The best piece of advice I took away was to keep things simple. Section 4 is a foundational grade, and there’s a wide range of abilities among the kids.”

Foulkes notes that Foley “gained key knowledge and confidence for the rest of the season”.

“Having the coach going away with more confidence and ideas will have a direct effect on the young athletes themselves, and create a positive experience,” says Foulkes.

“I think that informal support is a great way to get to know a coach and make them feel comfortable. This is a great approach for new or inexperienced coaches who want hands-on help.”

Foley isn’t the only coach singing the praises of the pilots. Feedback from other coaches has been overwhelmingly positive, with many saying at the end of the season that they were excited to coach again in 2023/24, thanks to feeling supported and valued in their roles.

A wider culture shift

Foley’s and Foulkes’ comments on the experience reflect the wider culture shift that the pilots have sparked in cricket coaching across Canterbury – specifically, that strong and trusting relationships are critical at all levels, with this ultimately flowing through to a positive experience for young people playing cricket.

It’s a view shared by Toby Doyle, Regional Coach Development Manager at New Zealand Cricket.

“Coaches who feel valued and supported will have more enthusiasm to deliver quality coaching to young people,” Doyle says.

Doyle noted that by sharing the learnings from the pilot with the cricket network, he had seen the majority of major and district associations incorporate some form of additional support into coaches’ development plans for the 2023/24 season. This support is being implemented in a variety of ways, from developing communities of support through to bespoke one-on-one mentoring or embedding a coach connector in a club or school.

“We are seeing a shift in how we deliver coach development, to be more focused on support and relationship-building first, with learning and development coming later. This is starkly different to solely focusing on delivering coaching courses and hoping learning sticks for coaches,” Doyle adds.

Through their relationship with a coach developer, [coaches] will have reflective and growth conversations around how they are coaching, which may lead them to alter their coaching method to be more positive for young people.

“Young people who build rapport and trust with a coach is central to the sporting experience within a team. If we can wrap more support around coaches to get them back again the following season, this may influence the decision of young people to continue playing.”

Reflecting on the pilots and his experience, Foley perhaps sums it up best with one sentence.

“In my first year of coaching cricket, it was the single best thing I did.”

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