"Pete I'm pleased to inform you that the tennis balls you sent last year is what we are using for this tournament."

Emmanuel Pessima, Founder of Kent Cricket Club, Sierra Leone

Start Them Young

Many parents ask me what age I think they should start introducing their child to cricket and the answer I give has changed over the past year or two. I used to think 6 years old was perhaps the ideal age to let a child start hitting a ball thrown towards him or her but due to my experience of playing with my own 2 year old, I'm now convinced that children should be encouraged to play cricket, or any sport for that matter, as soon as they are physically able.

Start Them Young

There is a huge amount of evidence now indicating that the earlier a child is exposed to various athletic challenges such as running, balancing and catching, the quicker they will learn to develop that skill and the greater their potential when they reach adulthood.

The England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB) is now fully encompassing the theory of Long Term Athletic Development (LTAD) into their coaching philosophy. Put simply, LTAD says children from a very early age should play as many different sports and physical recreation activities as possible to learn all the athletic and motor skills needed to become a better athlete in later life.

The more sports played by a child creates that many more physical challenges and situations which that child will need to overcome, be it swimming a width, evading a tackler, or learning how to fall over. As a child grows, those skills learnt at an early age give him or her a far better chance of becoming a competent athlete in their chosen specialist sport(s).

Interestingly, LTAD says that children who only play one sport at an early age may indeed become more proficient at it than their peers whilst still a child but that when they reach their teen years and early adulthood, the lack of motor/athletic skills acquired from other activities will ultimately lead to them failing to reach their potential.

For those parents wanting to give their children the best start in cricket, I would advise introducing the fundamental skills as soon as they're able to run around. These might include:

  1. Fetching a tennis ball and bringing it back
  2. Stopping a ball rolled towards them
  3. Hitting a stationary ball placed on a plastic cup with a small bat or stick of about arms length (once this skill is mastered, a ball rolled along the floor will increase the level of difficulty)
  4. Rolling a ball through a target goal
  5. Throwing a ball back to you (both underarm and overarm)
  6. Catching a tennis ball thrown from a short distance

By 2 years old, some children will have the necessary cognitive/physical skills to successfully complete all of these tasks and even if they are unable to accomplish the task in full, they will learn an enormous amount from attempting it.

In terms of specialisation, LTAD indicates that when a child reaches the age of about 15, they can begin to channel their focus on one or two specific sports which for me would have been cricket and rugby. What is very interesting is that when coaching fielding to children, several of Coaching Cricket Excellence's coaching team and myself often find that the best natural fielders are the ones who also play rugby, where an enormous emphasis is given to Speed-Agility-Quickness (SAQ) training.

Their grasp of movement and balance combined with good running mechanics stands out and certainly assists them when evading the clutches of marauding props and flankers. In cricket, many county youth squads will only select young players who show the requisite athletic ability to make them good fielders regardless of their cricketing talent.

The bottom line is that a child's athletic potential is not set and there is an enormous amount parents and helpers can do to enhance the physical skills their child possesses. The earlier they learn the basics, the sooner they can move on to acquiring the more complex techniques required to succeed in sport.

Peter Wellings

Coaching Cricket Excellence

October 2007

Coaching Cricket Excellence
 

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