Let me set the scene. For the majority of my childhood during the summer, my weekends were spent at the local cricket club with my sister, brother and best friends watching our dads play cricket or, to put it more accurately, running riot around the grounds of the cricket club – building camps, moving from one sport to another, 52 bunker, water fights, climbing trees and maybe, just maybe, stopping for a quick drink if we were really thirsty. It was at the local cricket club where as a young girl I grew to love and consume myself with sport – especially cricket.
As an 11 year old, I was part of the local girls football team, played in all the girls sports teams at school as well as being the only girl in the school cricket team, and I also happened to be the only girl in the cricket team at the cricket club. At the time, I didn’t feel too bothered about it, the boys in my team (one of whom was my brother) treated me as if I was one of them, and I think it probably helped that I was quite handy! In hindsight it was also a huge part of my development as a cricketer – quicker bowlers, balls were hit harder at you in the field and the margins for error as a bowler were smaller.
At that age, there was only one type of young female cricketer playing the game, and there were only a a few of us around, of which I was one. I was a girl who could hold my own when playing against the boys, I wasn’t too fussed about changing in a toilet cubicle on my own, whilst the rest of my team were getting ready in the changing room, the sneers and remarks from opposition parents as I got out of the car on an away fixture didn’t get to me too much, and the umpires giving me out just because they didn’t think I shouldn’t be playing with the boys was manageable (ish!). The sole reason for me putting up with this is simply because I loved the sport and I wanted to play for my country – it also helped that I was pretty good and therefore wasn’t exposed – which as a young person growing up is something you never want to experience!
Today, girls cricket in schools is in the luxurious position of having a blank canvas, and as teachers and coaches, we are the ones who can dictate as to just how brilliantly fun and memorable their cricketing journey can be, and just like any journey, we can choose to take the quickest, most direct and soulless route on the motorway, or we can take the country route and really embrace the experience which tends to be the most memorable. Schools can take comfort in knowing that there is a now a genuine pathway for the better girl cricketers to be challenged outside of school and of course there is always the option of them playing with the boys.
When you sit down today and listen to the reasons for why young girls in schools enjoy cricket, surprisingly enough, it isn’t always because they want to play for England. It is because they have grown to love the game, a game which has so many dimensions to it, that even the girls who don’t normally excel in sport can find their niche. It teaches them leadership, respect, teamwork, winning and losing gracefully, confidence and the importance of being a good tactician. These are skills they are able to learn when they are in the right environment. For these girls, (the ones who weren’t around when I was 11 – because they didn’t have the opportunity) it isn’t about showing off the immaculate technique, or back of the hand slower ball because they want to play for England – it is about having a sense of community and being part of something which they haven’t experienced before – it is about them learning something new, at a pace that is manageable and fills them with confidence.
A study carried out by the Youth Sports Trust asked young girls aged 7-11 why they don’t like being active in schools. 50% of the reasons were made up of a lack of confidence, worrying about trying new activities and thinking they aren’t good enough. To me this is something that is very much in the control of us as teachers and coaches.
A question I often get asked from schools is ‘How soon do we need to move on to hard ball cricket?’. Schools are in a transitional phase with girls’ cricket and it will take a couple of years for everyone to get to the same point so, if you are a sports teacher or cricket coach introducing the game to a group of girls for the first time, I would urge you to take the time to teach them game and above all make it fun! Teach them what is really beautiful about the game, teach them all the different skills, tell them what makes a really good cricket tea, teach them the funny signals for umpiring, teach them that trying to ‘mankad’ a batter isn’t in the ‘Spirit of Cricket’ but it is good use of initiative, make it fun, think outside the box, get them to hit the ball as hard as they can without worrying about technique, get the crash mats out and let them fling themselves as far as they can – then ask them to catch the ball. That reminds me, when it comes to the type of ball it really doesn’t matter and to quote the brilliantly witty Barmy Army, as long as ‘it’s red and round, and bounces on the ground’ that is fine.
For the schools who are established with their girls cricket your patience and support in helping other schools develop is hugely helpful, and will help speed up the process of all schools getting to the point where they will be able to play hard ball but it shouldn’t be rushed. The girls programme doesn’t need to match the boys program and in my opinion it shouldn’t.
In essence, if we want girls to stay involved in sport we sometimes have to let our egos go and simply make sure they enjoy it and create the right environment for the majority – the better players will get opportunities either playing with the boys, or playing outside of school but for now there are huge numbers of girls who are exploring a new sport for the first time, and it is our jobs to make that as exciting and inspiring as possible!
Lydia Greenway represented England 225 times across all formats of the game during a career spanning over 13 years! She has helped England win two World Cups and five Ashes Series, she has also been England’s Player of the Year and shortlisted for ICC World Player of the Year.
Lydia now runs Cricket for Girls, providing females of all ages and abilities with a positive cricketing experience. Cricket for Girls offers high quality cricket coaching to females of ALL ages and abilities. Find out more at https://cricketforgirls.com/