England stars Michael Vaughan and Jonny Bairstow were on hand to inspire the next generation of Hackney cricketers at the launch of an England and Wales Cricket Board initiative at the Olympic Park on Monday.
The All Stars Cricket programme aims to get more than 50,000 children between the ages of five and eight taking up the sport at grassroots level this year.
The organisation hopes to make the game more attractive. Those who sign up for the programme will receive a starter pack which includes the basic tools of the trade, such as a bat, ball and personalised kit.
Former England Captain Michael Vaughan, one of the programme’s ambassadors, said: “I started playing cricket at my local club and have seen firsthand how important it is to introduce kids to our sport in a fun way.
“As a parent, I’ve also seen how tough it can be to get kids interested in sport especially given the amount of activities competing for their time,” added the Yorkshireman, who led England to a dramatic Ashes win over Australia in 2005.
Local children in Hackney will be among those to have the chance to get involved in the All Stars initiative, with Stoke Newington Cricket Club one of 2000 clubs across the country to have signed up.
Duncan Holden, cricket co-ordinator at the club, told the Hackney Post that the scheme would help boost the number of children at the club:
“We’re very excited about participating. Having a national campaign which feeds kids into us is fantastic,” he said. “We already have 275 kids at our club and we’ve got the capacity to take even more.
“Although we’re one of the strongest junior cricket clubs in Middlesex there are limits to how far we can get our name out there so that people know all about the good stuff we are doing.”
Starting on 23 May, the club will be holding two after-school sessions each week as part of the two-month programme, with Hackney Downs and Clissold Park hosting the events on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
“We think that there is going to be huge demand for this and we wanted to locate the sessions where it was easy for kids to walk to after school,” Holden added.
“Having these All Stars Cricket sessions in public parks where people can walk to them after school, we thought that was the best way to do it.”
As well as introducing children to the basic fundamentals of the game, such as a batting, bowling and fielding, the programme is designed to instil a number of core life skills, such as teamwork and communication.
Matt Dwyer, the ECB’s Director of Participation and Growth, and the mastermind of the initiative said: “Three-quarters of the kids in the UK spend less time outside than a prison inmate and that’s a fairly stark fact.
“One of the reasons they don’t go outside is that they live in built-up areas lacking in green space,” he continued.
“We are mindful of that with regards to the programme, it can be run anywhere and at any time of the year.”
“It’s a skill-based programme designed to offer outstanding experiences for kids and their parents through the game of cricket,” said Dwyer, speaking at the programme’s launch at the Olympic Park.
“It’s about building those skills but by also having a lot of fun – It’s cricket like kids have never seen before.”
Participation among young people has been an area of concern for the sport in recent years. According to Sport England’s Active Participation Survey from last year, participation in cricket had dropped by around 36,000 among people over the age of 16 between October 2006 and October 2016.
By targeting kids between five and eight, the ECB hopes to generate interest that will last into their teens and beyond.
“Less than 2 per cent of kids have cricket as their favourite sport, so regardless of what factors have led to those statistics, it is concerning and proves the game is not as relevant as we would like it to be,” admitted Dwyer.
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“Unless a child has picked up a bat by the time they leave primary school, there is very little chance that they will be either players or fans in the future.”
Dwyer was responsible for implementing a similar scheme in his native Australia a few years ago, and claims that it has already borne fruit down under, with more people sticking with the game till their late teens.
“When we ran a similar type of programme in Australia, it improved both quality and quantity,” he said. “It doubled the number of people playing under-12’s cricket and it halved the number of extras in average cricket games.”
“Last year, they took the game from fifth favourite to the number one favourite sport in Australia.
“This ECB initiative is just what cricket needs and its targeting exactly the right age group,” Holden agreed. “If we can get kids hooked on cricket between the ages of five and eight then we’ve probably got them, if not for life, then for a very long time.”