Plans are being finalised to restructure junior cricket in Ireland, creating a new pathways programme following a best-practice review of under-age structures in some of the leading cricket nations.
“Without a doubt, the International Cricket Council awarding Ireland Full Member status has given the cricket in Ireland a real shot in the arm. We are aware that now is the time to capitalise on this,” said Elaine Nolan, Participation Director at Cricket Ireland.
Cricket Ireland’s Strategic Plan 2016-2020 identifies growing the game sustainably as a key priority, and Ms Nolan has been overseeing a major review of junior and youth development pathways.
“We want to grow participation and interest in the sport, and to that end we are looking at best-practice models around the world that attract kids to the game, and then sustain their involvement,” Ms Nolan said.
The current structure of the junior representative pathway sees U11 and U13 playing two and three games respectively. Cricket Ireland want to provide more opportunities to more players in a competitive fun environment and will be investing in developing inter-regional competitions within Provincial Unions for these age groups.
The review of junior and youth structures has been undertaken in consultation with representatives from the Provincial Unions in Ireland, including the current landscape and playing numbers.
“We also undertook research into similar junior structures in leading cricket nations like New Zealand, Australia and England. While the domestic context here differs in many aspects from these other countries, we identified a number of learnings around modified rules, equipment and game formats which sought to address barriers to a more attractive experience at introductory levels,” Ms Nolan said.
“There’s a balance to be found creating engagement and participation in sport and achieving excellence. Experience shows that if engagement and enjoyment come first, if children enjoy their cricket experience then they are more likely to stay in the game for life. The more who stay playing cricket, the more talent will emerge, which will increase the competitiveness of our club game, our representative competitions and our International teams.“
There are 71 clubs in Ireland providing junior and youth boys cricket, however 50% of clubs are offering Under-11s cricket, 53% offering Under-13s cricket, 47% offering Under-15 and 13% offering Under-17. The largest challenge in youth participation is girl’s cricket, with only around 8% of clubs offering opportunities at junior and youth levels. We need to ensure that we are developing and growing the game extensively enough at the lower age groups, equally we must work to retain players these players as lifelong participants in our sport.
“We are taking a holistic approach to restructuring junior cricket, not limiting our review to the playing opportunities, but also reviewing coaching structures and educational offerings within school and community settings.”
Andrew Fleming, Chair of the North West Cricket Union and Chair of the Cricket Ireland’s Cricket Committee, said:
“We want to ensure we are offering more children more opportunities to play cricket, in safe, competitive, fun environments which support skill development and offers every child the chance to succeed.”
“While in the North West we would certainly like to develop the next Boyd Rankin or Andrew McBrine, we recognise first and foremost that attracting and retaining players at junior levels is critical. Strengthening grassroots participation will lead to a more players competing a club level and grow the talent pool of cricketers in future years.”
Ms Nolan outlined the breadth of the challenge in Ireland:
“We have a willingness to improve at all levels of the sport, and an unprecedented level of interest in cricket in modern times. The picture is bright, but we don’t shy away from acknowledging the challenges that face us.”
“There is a need to provide flexible formats of the game with the express aim of getting (and keeping) people involved in cricket, developing coaching infrastructure across the country and a need to embed the sport in schools. These are the elements that will help make cricket a mainstream sport in Ireland.”