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Advice from an old friend in Australia

After last weekend’s one-sided cricket results I have decided to go on a fact-finding mission on ways to improve cricket locally. In an effort to do that I have reached out to a good friend of mine, Australian Jeff McKenna.

I first met Jeff while playing cricket in England back in the 1990s. We became room-mates and have stayed in touch ever since.

Jeff is from Griffith, New South Wales, Australia and is currently co-Regional Director of Coaching, whose duties include mentoring other representative coaches. As a coach, Jeff generally drifts towards a fast bowling specialist role, and on match day a motivator and tactician (he has also studied Sports Psychology and other Psychology disciplines).

In addition, Jeff is also working in a Continual Improvement Officer’s role. His job is to constantly challenge cricket hierarchy and administration to become more professional, efficient and transparent. His task is then to present different scenarios on how to achieve those improvements. It is a role Jeff enjoys immeasurably despite the obvious personality clashes the position demands. Jeff also owns and manages a sports retail store in Griffith. The following is a question and answer with him:

Q: From your experience can you tell me why one-league cricket is not a good idea instead of two with promotion and demotion?

A: With limited knowledge of your local cricket, the obvious hesitation in such a move is diluting the strength of your competition. Sporting bodies merging into one league usually do so due to unprecedented strength, when the competition boasts more talent than the current structure can sustain. It is when it is felt it is necessary to ensure so many talented players are exposed to the highest level of competition each and every week, not having wasted talent in a lower division. BCB needs to ask themselves, is this the case? If it is not the case, if Bermuda as I suspect is currently not as strong as it was just 10-15 years ago then an expanded competition is fraught with danger. With a population of only 65,000, I would imagine the First Division would not be able to field any more than six teams strong enough to ensure Bermuda is capable of producing cricketers of true international standard.

Clay’s note: I found this amazing as “Super 6” is exactly what national coach David Moore implemented last year and without the current knowledge of our league structure he would say this based on his years of cricket experience.

Q: When trying to develop players or a country, what things must you have in place or how would you go about such a major task?

A: To answer this question accurately I would have to write a thesis. All sports must start at end, the "front office" and “grassroots”. There are no alternatives if you wish to successfully build your brand. The administration must ensure everyone from the President to the canteen ladies, are on the same page. That everyone is aware of exactly what the collective vision for the game is, and how it will be achieved. It is important that the people in key positions are of course cricket passionate people, but also people with a proven work ethic.

Generally public servants, for example, do not make great sports employees. The need for self-motivation, discipline and the ability to work huge hours within a budget are usually more suited to small business people, tradesmen, farmers etc . . . People who are used to working 60 hour weeks for seemingly little return, knowing the harvest of their labour will be evident in the future. Unfortunately, too often sporting administrators are star struck by hugely successful business people. A history of strong unsupervised work ethic, combined with cricket passion should always be the essential criteria for cricket administration and employees.

Grassroots are often the forgotten duty when sporting associations are after quick results. They will often use the term, without truly embracing the importance of the role. The easiest and most economical means of ensuring cricket is exposed to all children (girls and boys) is to ensure all schools in Bermuda are engaged in a prestigious interschool competition.

At the senior level the more obvious goals required to produce quality players are; quality turf wickets offering something for both the bowler, and rewarding sound batting techniques and temperament. High quality opposition on a weekly basis, professional quality umpiring, opportunities for career advancement for elite players (overseas scholarships etc . . .), regular representative games with touring teams, professional off-season coaching programmes from Under-14 level, playing super competitive cricket weekly, whilst ensuring on field discipline is maintained, players are able to play longer formats of the game as well as limited overs games.

Clay’s note: To move forward there must be a clear plan, a vision and everyone must know how we aim to achieve this plan. So what is our plan? Do we have a short term and long term plan? If we do why isn’t it shared among all so that we know what direction our cricket is heading and how we plan to get there?

Q: Getting cricket in schools has not been easy in Bermuda for whatever reasons. What ideas or suggestions do you figure could assist?

A: Ensure all schools in Bermuda are engaged in a prestigious inter-school competition. Your government would need to support the initiative, but so too BCB would have to give it their undying support. The players must believe they are playing in a truly prestigious event. From there the player must be presented with a clear pathway to ensure they can reach the highest level their ability will allow. There must be clear avenues for talented player identification and coaching.

For the younger kids, pre-school and six to seven year olds, I have previously run what we call In 2 Cricket Programmes. They are skills based sessions. Mostly just fun cricket based skills, such as hitting balls from batting tees into hula hoops, bowling a ball on to a bag of lollies (the lollies being the reward for success), these types of things.

Clay’s note: School cricket has to be sold to the children by the BCB. Presentations at school assemblies, showing children a direct link from school cricket, to club cricket, to the Cricket Academy. Also, as I have stated previously, find new innovative programmes that will capture the child’s mind and make them want to participate.

Q: What are some things you must have in place for cricket to improve?

A: All the things mentioned earlier, with an emphasis on field and off field discipline. You also need to grow your game financially to ensure salaries to key personnel are enough to attract quality people.

Clay’s note: If umpires were paid a better salary would it attract some of our past players to come and umpire, hence improving the standard of officiating? If groundsmen were paid more would they spend more time preparing better wickets? Has anyone done a survey on this to check?

Q: David Moore, a fellow Australian has been coaching here in Bermuda for the last few years and one thing he tried to implement was an elite league. There were four teams with all the supposedly best players in the country playing. Can you tell us from your experience why this would be good for Bermuda and furthermore how do we sell it to the players? Could this be marketed or sponsored to encourage participation?

A: I believe his belief is that by introducing an elite competition, it reduces the opportunity for cheap runs and wickets against inferior players. Without meaning to second guess a guy who obviously knows the cricket in Bermuda far better than I, I would think 44 players being exposed to top level cricket is cutting it a little thin. A few injuries to key players, loss of form here and there, and the pool of players exposed to that weekly competitions is very thin indeed. But again yes, financial recourses are paramount to success. Sponsorships are an obvious avenue, but never dismiss the possibility of benefactors.

BCB board members should go cap in hand to anyone, anywhere who might be inclined to financially support cricket in Bermuda. As for encouraging players to play, I am a big believer of "build it, and they will come". If the competition is fierce, the players with the motivation and determination to succeed will want to be part of it. Those wishing to play a substandard level of cricket are not the type of people you wish to have associated with an elite level competition anyway.

Clay’s note: The Elite League is a must if we plan to compete on the international level, even if there are only three Elite teams from which your National team is to be selected from. This league should have its own sponsor, coloured clothing, trophies, awards, played only at the National Stadium or St. David’s, due to the size of the fields. With our league structure now gone to all one-league an Elite League is a MUST.

We have already seen teams like Nepal and Uganda overtake us and if we are not careful teams that we were successful against in the Division 3 Tournament, Italy and Oman, will also surpass us. Please do not take the competitiveness out of our national sport and turn it into a recreation sport.

Quote of the week: If winning isn’t everything, why do they keep score? — Vince Lombardi

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Published May 31, 2013 at 9:14 am (Updated May 31, 2013 at 9:14 am)

Advice from an old friend in Australia

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