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What is it that can make a sports club a special place?

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It’s been a strange turn of events for a family that has revolved around football for so long. With a number of happenings resulting in a quieter summer than usual, we find ourselves immersed in a world of Grassroots Cricket. Yes. Cricket!

OK. So I played a little as a kid, have visited Trent Bridge a few times and have a passing World Cup or Ashes Series interest in what the England team is up to. So when Hazza decides to take the game up more seriously why do we find ourselves really enjoying spending time around this new sport? Last night, as I sat by the pavilion, being overlooked by the postcard worthy church, listening to conversations whilst watching kids of all ages take part in the weekly practice, I had my answer. Six weeks or so into this new venture, I find myself relaxing in an atmosphere many other Sports Clubs could learn from. We love it because of the environment it takes place in. The aesthetic beauty of the village, coupled with the attitude of those around us.

So the question then becomes…..What Makes a Sports Club a Special Place?

The atmosphere was so welcoming. People were interested in where we came from and what brought us to their club. They directed Hazza to an age group and asked him what he liked to do in the game, rather that if he was any good at any of it. We paid a joining fee (a tenth of the other club we had tried, which had a very different philosophy!) and a reasonable weekly couple of quid. I sat back to watch with a cup of tea (50p, china mug – Local football clubs, shame on you!).

90 minutes later, after an evening in the nets, Hazza used the phrase every coach wants to hear. ‘Can I come back next week?’ The other lads had been happy to involve him without any of the suspicion I have seen from young teenagers when new players turn up who may steal favour. Coaches were patient and helpful with Hazza and they recognised his inexperience but readiness to learn and improve. The next couple of weeks saw him proudly wearing the club shirt as he took part in his first match. His first overs and innings are recorded in ink the books, whilst the constant encouragement from team mates and coaches are etched on all our memories and are far more significant to us. He felt like he belonged, part of the team, part of the club. Readers of my blogs know my mantra. Every Child Counts!

Birthday money was spent in the Sports Shop.  ‘Cricket’ was now in the diary.

I enjoy watching coaches work. Whatever the sport or situation I can learn so much listening to their delivery and language as they try to get the best out of the players. I understand the club coaches have various level badges, similar to football clubs and I’m struck that it’s a ‘team’ of coaches and supporting adults, working together and sharing the responsibilities as each training session unfolds. I know very little about the technical aspects of this sport but I do have an understanding of coaching and I know learning is taking place when I see the expressions and hear the sounds of absolute glee from the youngest group, participating in another ‘All-Stars’ session. Brightly coloured equipment, fun and interesting mini-games and crucially a Coach just helping them PLAY this game and fall in love with it. There’s no long technical discussions, no lectures and no waiting around. It’s cricket based and played at a fast pace with little waiting around. These kids are absolutely loving it. Perfect for those of us that believe in ‘Just Let Them Play’. Throwing, agility, catching and co-ordination, all wrapped up in play as they go through the fundamental movements which will become technique later on.

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Elsewhere on the large field, older kids are in the nets or practising fielding. Praise and encouragement is everywhere. The adults involved clearly enjoy being there (I’m not sure there’s anywhere they would rather be) and the ownership of the session is shared with the players as they ask the youngsters ‘What do you want to do?’ A question we should always be asking as coaches? The session must always belong to the kids.

Hazza, who’s last dismissal had been the night before, asked the coach for feedback. Apparently he ‘over rotated’. I don’t know what that means (yet) but Hazza was given the chance to go into the nets and face similar deliveries to try and work it out. Self-Correction and Trial and Error, two of our greatest weapons as coaches has helped him understand the mistake, learn and improve. As a parent, I couldn’t ask for more and am getting increasingly comfortable at this club.

So where does the environment come from and how is it maintained? I guess it comes from an overall philosophy of those involved which was summed up by a conversation I heard last night, loosely based around a more ‘elitist’ club and punctuated by phrases like ‘Everyone deserves a chance to play the game’ and ‘Who decides what bad bowling is anyway? Don’t we need to learn to hit both good and bad balls?’ This club seems to be about the opportunity to PLAY the sport and not only to excel. With that attitude, excellence will come? We’ve seen the quote before as to how a tiny percentage of kids will go on to be professionals but ‘100% of them will continue to be citizens’. This environment gets kids out of their houses, away from their screens and interacting socially with one another. Isn’t that what a club is for? It’s fantastic when you hear someone sit on a bench next to you and say ‘Year by year there seems to be more kids here playing cricket’. Somebody must be getting it right!

I’m enjoying being a parent, blissfully not involved in all the administration and effort of all the volunteers to keep things running. I’m sure there’s a plethora of things to do and am thankful people are there to pick the jobs up for these kids. I’m sure many of the same kids will end up volunteering for the next generation, keeping this community alive.

So back to my question. What Makes A Sports Club a Special Place? Is it the facilities, the equipment, the badges or the ability to generate income? Of course it’s none of these.

Hazza turned down an opportunity to go to a big Twenty20 match. He decided he would rather go to a club barbecue with the rest of his new team. He’s making new relationships and enjoying the process. Participation in Sport brings people together.

What Makes A Club?  People make a Club!

Thanks for reading

Rich

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Comments (5)

   
andrewb62

Great post, Rich, and welcome to the game.

04/09/17
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andrewb62

Oops...didn't mean to repeat myself... Cricket clubs have many advantages when it comes to welcoming new players and members - slow(er) pace of the game with an emphasis on individual skill, generally warmer evenings for practice (and spectating). And yet, as you comment, not every Club gets it right. All Stars Cricket is a brave initiative from the ECB (not perfect, by any means, but what a great way to bring young players into the game), but it has faced a lot of criticism, some (most?) of which seems to emanate from those "elite" clubs that don't see the need to reach out to the wider sporting community. Her's hoping the best elements are recognised, retained and repeated more widely.

04/09/17
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Clenchiecoach

Thanks Andrew,

Still yet to watch a session without a hoodie on!

It's interesting what you say about the All Stars initiative as I've had two experiences of cricket clubs this year with very different observations.
For me, somewhat an outsider still, any initiative that gets kids involved early deserves credit. I know very little about it's success but as a coach that has spent many years around the Foundation Stages I can see how the bright colours and fun games would be very appealing. If it is not yet perfect, then hopefully feedback and input from those involved in delivery will be taken on board, reviewed and improved? However, all this is worth little if the right attitude and delivery doesn't exist from the 'grown-ups'.
What I've seen as detailed above is a group of coaches believing in smiling, encouraging and meeting every mistake with an opportunity to try again and self-correct. The learning of physical, game related fundamentals is clear, without long, technical (and boring) instruction.
Kids are the best judges and it looks fun to me! Hope it continues to grow and improve.

04/09/17
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andrewb62

I guess the hoodie is the price you have to pay for living so close to the North Sea...still, must be warmer than watching football practice in November!

05/09/17
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andrewb62

The criticisms of All Stars (that I heard) were not of the concept or delivery, but financial (ranging from "it's too costly for kids round here" to "my club makes money from the juniors - we can't afford to give U9s eight weeks of cricket for just £5 per player per season") or around targeting ("We have more than enough players at U9 - why can't the ECB do something to help us keep our U13s in the game?").

05/09/17
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Clenchiecoach

I think retaining kids is a problem for many sports with so many other influences out there and as I've looked at in another blog, they seem to go from kids to adults very quickly, almost missing out the young teenager phase now!

Change often brings criticism I guess, especially when there are costs involved, which can often be useful ammunition to those always opposed to initiatives? It's interesting where you say the criticism mostly comes from. Inward looking clubs that don't always see sport as a community project? I've just spoken to a friend involved in a very successful club which doesn't have a large programme for kids, citing similar reasons to your suggestions. They have a really nice new bowling machine though!

I don't have the experience or knowledge to deserve too much opinion here and I'm sure all that brightly coloured equipment comes at a significant cost but should money always be the barrier to helping kids enjoy the environment? Is it possible to have an enjoyable hour with a bat/ball and a wheelie bin?
I once went to a major concert where most of the lights failed. Lead singer carries on and announces 'If you can't do it with an old acoustic guitar and a spotlight you might as well **** of home!'

Loving your sport right now! Even on the fresh North Norfolk coast!

05/09/17
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