I was born in Auckland, NZ in 1984. My grandmother lived across the road from Eden Park, the main stadium in Auckland, so I watched cricket games over her fence, developing a love for the game.
started playing junior level for a club, then moved into representative cricket which allowed me to play as an overseas amateur in the off-seasons – Scotland, West Midlands (UK), and eventually Australia. A mate had been doing the same as a senior playing for Wynnum Manly Cricket Club in the Brisbane Grade Competition, and invited me to join him. I played 2 seasons of premier cricket in Queensland, learning the hard graft Australian way of playing. I was keen to understand why Australian cricket was so strong and what made it work.
I’d always done little pieces of coaching in Auckland and the UK, more one-on-one or small age group sessions. As soon as I’d moved to Brisbane, I got my coaching and fitness trainer qualifications done, intending to upskill myself through the networks of premier cricket, sponging snippets of information off people like ex-Australian One Day player Ben Laughlin and all the other great players at the club. Every premier club has a different culture and coaching style related to its history, which you have to adapt to. In Sydney, Anthony Clark was one of the coaching leaders in the pack who has been very influential on myself and others. Ash Gannon, an Essendon Cricket Club coach in Victoria, also took me under his wing to learn the coaching ropes.
Compared to Scotland and Auckland, the skill sets were very similar however the Australians have a hard nature of training, such as:
- batsmen with no pads playing spin balls to understand how to play the ball better
- training hard with a competitive edge rather than like a social session
- a huge depth of players fighting for few opportunities at premier level
- more sport science to develop better skills and players
It’s a great time to be involved in coaching and playing as it’s evolving very quickly.
JUMPING IN WITH BOTH FEET
As a now club coach at Yarraville Cricket Club and a junior coordinator, I received a few calls from intellectually disabled cricketers who couldn’t get a game with any regular sides for various reasons. With the passion I have, I was determined to help one way or another. At the end of the day, it’s less people playing cricket – Australia’s No.1 summer sport.
Cricket Australia had a national disability cricket strategy, and under Cricket Victoria’s All Abilities action plan, expanded it through Victoria first and then throughout Australia. Melbourne All Abilities Cricket Association (MAACA) is Australia’s first All Abilities Cricket Association for people with intellectual disabilities.
So, I contacted Cricket Victoria and found out about All Abilities cricket, then utilised their cricket network to put the message out, and over 60 people turned up to the Western suburbs for the first day/trial. It was massive. It showed Cricket Victoria and the public around those areas that these people want to play the game. it provided an opportunity. I had some help from Lorraine Woodman, who ran programs for people with disabilities through Lord Taverner and an all abilities indoor cricket club in the Western suburbs for people who wanted to try. We connected and spread the news of our plans to the disability groups to advertise, and the response was remarkable.
The key for me was to understand the disability community and tap into the existing disability networks, such as FIDA – the AFL’s Football Integration Development Association for all abilities football players – to see if those participants would be interested in turning to cricket for the summer seasons. From there, it’s about being inclusive as part of a society/club, building their fitness base, and ultimately build more clubs as it grows.
Yarraville Club in the western suburbs is a melting pot of cultures and backgrounds. There are refugees, low socio-economic and migrant backgrounds, and a high proportion of overweight and diabetic residents in the surrounding areas. The club understood who their community were, what was required to run it, and I was the man who put my hand up as a volunteer with a lot of great helpers. I utilise those negative points to create a cricket program that is very inclusive. Being part of a club is something massive, and gives you a lot of life lessons and learned responsibility, even simply being on time for games. We run with club support but for me it has never been about money – it’s been a way for me to give back to cricket. For myself, it’s provided me an opportunity to mix with other coaches and other sports and sporting bodies such as Tennis Australia who are looking to improve their programs in this area.
INCLUSIVITY AND STRUCTURE IS KEY
We were able to create two teams for the competition, one for each grade: Ten Over Tonk for low-functioning players and focused on non-competitive participation with a softer ball, and a competitive Super League which has 30 overs, full cricket equipment and provides a pathway for players to become an Australian All Abilities cricketer. Both grades have their own rules and playing conditions to suit the ability of the players.
We have different types of intellectual disabilities: Down syndrome, autism, Fragile X and Prader-Willi syndrome, for which I needed better understanding about their characteristics, how they could be best served with their training schedules, and in creating routines to follow. Their IQs are usually below 70, their disabilities ranging from low to severe, and they may have difficulties learning and processing different components. But the main key has always been creating an inclusive environment where they all understand each other and understand clearly their role in a team. Teaching style, rules and equipment have been the key components to creating this. On a wider scale impact on quality of life, at lot of players have even returned to study through seeing their teammates do so capably. Their self-esteem has increased.
Part of an intellectual disability can be a lack of decision-making skills and poor short term memory, alongside general literacy and numeracy skills. When you’re playing cricket, if you’re batting you’ve only a few seconds to make a decision when the ball is coming at you, or if you’re bowling you’ve got a certain area where you need to put the ball. Therefore, we break the skills down to keep the instructions short and concise with limited numbers, and create a well-structured training environment with a big whiteboard of instructions for what each player is doing for the session. It requires constant adaption through checking with the players what is and isn’t working. I look at each player, what skills they have, what they lack, and what we can improve on for the next session.
BREAKING DOWN SOCIAL BARRIERS
Even to begin with, I had a long-term goal to build up at least 2 players over a 3-year period to get onto the Australian team. The plan was to first get representation on the Victorian team, then to play in the Big Bash with either the Melbourne Renegades or Stars, and then on to playing for Australia.
Our team was unbeaten throughout the last season and won the Grand Final. We were then invited to the Victoria carnival for both country and metro teams, where we were again unbeaten, winning the carnival on the last ball. Four of our players were selected for the Melbourne Renegades to play Big Bash and during that time, I was given the coaching role for the Renegades as I was in the western suburbs. The All Abilities Bash is pre-game to the Big Bash game. We played the Melbourne Stars and beat them convincingly, taking out the first ever inaugural All Abilities Big Bash Cup. Those 4 players went on to play for Victoria. It proved that they had skill development and that there was a pathway for others to follow and pursue. Our wicket keeper was even able to play in regular club competition where they bowl at 130km/hr.
I ended up winning the Senior Men’s Cricket Coach of the Year and overall Coach of the Year against other mainstream Cricket Victoria and premier club coaches, which has given me the opportunity to spend some time with the Australian team and opened the door on some other coaching positions. It’s also put All Abilities cricket in the limelight, which is brilliant.
In the future, I would like to see more awareness and club inclusiveness. Social attitudes can often be more difficult to overcome than physical ones. It’s about breaking the barrier and creating an environment where every person with a disability has the confidence to pick up a bat or a ball and have a go, no matter their ability. It shows that good attitudes on a community club level can lead to great things. While many clubs don’t currently offer this kind of opportunity, it may come down to lack of knowledge in how to run it. The state bodies will be pushing this out more and more. At the end of the day, it’s about getting more people off the couch and out there being active.
Powerful Stories, Tips and Amazing Insight
Ready, Set, Go! Everything you need to know to start coaching from the legends in the field. As well as the Business and Life coaches, our launch edition features David Parkin (AFL), Lisa Alexander (Netball Australia), Adam Commens (Hockey Australia), Simon Cusack (Swimming Australia), Sean Douglas (FFA) and many more!