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Business, Gender Edition Women’s Cricket Hits the Sport Spotlight

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By: Belinda Clark AM •  4 years ago •  

GROWING UP, I PLAYED A LOT OF SPORT HOWEVER TENNIS WAS MY MAIN FOCUS UP UNTIL THE AGE OF 12/13. MY PARENTS AND 3 SIBLINGS ALL PLAYED SPORT, SO IT WAS BIG PART OF OUR LIVES. THE CONNECTION WITH CRICKET CAME FROM MY OLDER BROTHER; WE HAD A LOT OF CRICKET EQUIPMENT LYING AROUND THE HOUSE. A COMBINATION OF THIS AND THE START OF THE EXCITING WORLD SERIES CRICKET BEING BEAMED INTO OUR LOUNGE ROOM LED ME DOWN THE PATH OF PLAYING CRICKET MYSELF. INITIALLY MY ONLY OPPORTUNITIES WERE IN THE BACKYARD.

Belinda Clark Intro

I

t wasn’t until I was 13 that I played a real game in a school team. Something in cricket obviously captured my imagination. It was a girls team and there was a reasonably advanced government school pathway for cricket in NSW, and in my case in the Hunter region. From that, I started playing Saturday morning cricket in Newcastle as a junior in the U16 boys team at age 14. At the time, I didn’t think very much of it. My parents and the team were both very supportive. I wasn’t very good at that point, so I was just happy to be able to play. The team itself was quite talented, and one of the boys (Anthony Stuart) went on to play for Australia. The biggest issue was whether to get changed in the car or the change room when the boys had finished! Looking back from an adult’s perspective, there were a few barriers, but a child’s ignorance is bliss. Whilst the opportunities in girls competitions have grown enormously in the last 20 years, many girls across the country, particularly in regional areas, are still playing at junior level in boys teams where there aren’t sufficient numbers to make a full girls team.

When I was 15, my brother was playing first grade cricket in Newcastle and one of his teammate’s sisters (Sally Griffiths) was playing for Australia in Sydney every weekend. That gave me the opportunity to jump in the car with her and play grade cricket in the women’s competition myself. From then on, every Saturday over summer was spent driving to and from Sydney and playing cricket, until I finally moved to Sydney to go to university.

I always had decent basic skills, but it wasn’t until I was 17 or 18 that I started to hit my straps. It’s a very different world now. Most of my one-on-one skill development happened in a different context through indoor cricket which was great because I was learning primarily in the context of a game. Our coach, Martin Soper, was responsible for a lot of my skill development from ages 15-18. At 20, I was selected in the NSW senior team and went away for the two-week championship in January. I played well and was selected for the Australian team at the end of the championships. I only played 5 or 6 state games before playing for Australia, and became captain 3 years later in the 1993/94 season. Probably the most influential coach I had while playing for Australia was John Harmer, who became coach of the Australian team in 1996 and stayed for about 5 years.

At the time, I didn’t feel a great amount of pressure, I was just enjoying it. As everything started unfolding, it was rather like my initial games with the boys where I just enjoyed playing without any pressure from anyone to become something. I was able to just take the opportunities as they came and keep moving forward. My first game for Australia was a One Day International in Hobart against New Zealand. It was a big thrill, obviously. The other players were very welcoming, and to me, it was just a matter of playing another game of cricket, so I wasn’t overawed.

The highlight of my career was winning the World Cup in Eden Gardens, India in 1997, in front of 70,000 people. That was pretty special. Playing cricket in India is one of the most amazing things to do as a cricketer as the people of India really love their cricket. The following year (1998) we went to England and won every game we played in the Ashes series. We were pretty dominant as a young team in those years. The lowlight was in 2000 when we lost the World Cup to New Zealand by only 4 runs! But in 2005 we won it again in South Africa.

I finished playing in 2005 after the Ashes and at that stage had been working in cricket alongside my playing career for almost 12 years. In 2000, I was fortunate to be provided the opportunity to be the Executive Officer of Women’s Cricket Australia (WCA) while still playing. In the short term, the role was to integrate WCA with Cricket Australia (CA) which was completed in 2003. When I finished playing, I came to Brisbane to work on the National High Performance Program and am now based at CA’s Bupa National Cricket Centre (NCC).

Media was different then, women’s sport was struggling for press and recognition, so those who were playing were in it purely for the love of the game. They trained hard and were very supportive of each other.

It was a very different environment to what we now expect of our sports people. In some respects, it’s easier now but the demands are different. Then, if I wanted to have a practice or a gym session, I arranged that myself. I would have had a program from the National staff, but a lot of the work you did was self-driven and self-arranged.

POTCHEFSTROOM, SOUTH AFRICA - APRIL 5: (TOUCHLINE IMAGES ARE AVAILABLE TO CLIENTS IN THE UK, USA AND AUSTRALIA ONLY) Belinda Clark of Australia hits out during the IWCC Women's World Cup semi-final match between England and Australia on April 5, 2005 at Sedgars Park Stadium in Potchefstroom, South Africa. (Photo by Touchline/Getty Images)

Now, with an injection of funds, much of the training is structured and organised, so it’s simplified for the athlete but the expectations and requirements of them are different, which adds the complexity back in. The more time they get to spend on the sport and the more they get to play, the better they’re going to be. That’s what we’re seeing in all sports, as they’ve evolved over time, with greater specialised support and more full-time roles. The world of sport will continue to evolve. The opportunities cricket now provides to females are amazing. The players are playing more both internationally and domestically with the Women’s Big Bash League being a great addition last year. They are getting paid, are on TV, have World Cups every 2 years, have seen the emergence of T20 cricket, and are receiving light years more exposure than ever before.

The philosophy and objective for the Australian men’s and women’s teams is the same but the environment is different. What we’re seeing now is that we’re getting greater access to our female athletes than we were previously. Up until the last 2-3 years, of the female squad of 16 contracted players, many were still working as well as playing. This has started to change. While the emerging male players would come to the NCC for 3-4 months to train over winter, the females would only come up for 3 or 4 camps over the same period on the weekends and would then head back home to work or university. Essentially the males have a centralised program and the females are operating in a decentralised way. That’s changing now, and more of the females are spending more time at the NCC where they can access facilities and staff year round.

The changes however are not limited to players. Cricket Australia (CA), under the leadership of Darren Holder (CA Elite Coach Development Manager), has recently conducted the annual Level 3 coaching course which has 5 females on the road to gaining their accreditation. Now that the game is starting to become professional, there are more opportunities for coaches as well as players. The knock-on effect of having increased salaries going to the athletes means there are also greater opportunities for staff to work with them, and coaching is at the forefront of that.

We’re encouraging our elite coaches to coach both genders as they’re developing and learning the craft, making sure they get opportunities and the understanding to coach females, and that a female coach doesn’t have to only coach females. Culturally, that will take a while to shift through, but this is the environment we’re trying to create, removing gender as a barrier.

Matthew Mott, current coach of the Australian Women’s team, has previously worked in men’s domestic cricket in Australia, UK and India. We also have a growing pool of talented female coaches who are now coaching state women’s teams and/or pathway programs, and have the opportunity to work into male programs as well, which we are encouraging. While there are not yet any women coaching in the male system, they have been involved as specialist coaches and in training sessions, trying to break down those cultural barriers. The biggest difference I’ve seen is when the males start coaching the female teams and gain an appreciation for the differences. They have to stop and consider the people in front of them and how they’re going to get the best out of the group.

Not all cricket knowledge is held in the heads of males!

I think that it’s worth challenging the norm, because if you don’t, you’re missing part of the puzzle. It will take a while for the biases and gender-related assumptions to be broken down.

As a player, there is always a lot of information coming at you from all different places. The trick is to be able to filter that to the point where you pick out what you want. You don’t want to have a narrow view to start with and filter information out before it’s processed. Many male athletes are more likely to shut extra information out and concentrate on what they know, without any processing. Most of the females that I deal with will try to take too much on and try to please everyone that’s provided them with advice. That’s a generalisation, but it can be a challenge when coaching females. With females, it’s often about getting them to process information and make a call on the direction they want to head, and with males it’s, “Can you please listen to someone?”. It’s great that the girls are open and receptive, but it comes at a consequence of potentially going round and round in circles.

18 Dec 2000: Belinda Clark (left) and Lisa Keightley of Australia during their opening partnership of 170 during the Australia v South Africa Semi Final match in the 2000 CricInfo Womens Cricket World Cup match played at BIL Oval, Lincoln, New Zealand. Australia defeated South Africa by 9 wickets. DIGITAL IMAGE. Mandatory Credit: Scott Barbour/ALLSPORT

Whilst the progress is encouraging, the system still needs to shift. Females are now coming through the State and Territory organisations to coach teams, so it’s more of a 50:50 split of coaches in the junior female pathways and with State or WBBL teams.  It’s pleasing that many of my former team mates who played under our inspirational coach, John Harmer, have turned their hand to coaching: Julia Price, Lisa Keightley, Cathryn Fitzpatrick and Joanne Broadbent are all leading the way

An example of someone breaking down barriers is Shelley Nitschke, a former Australian cricketer, who has recently been appointed to a pathway coaching position with the South Australian Cricket Association. Last year Shelley joined Ryan Harris (former Australian fast bowler) coaching a CA XI boys U17 team at a National Championship. The players in that team were exposed to 2 ex-Australian players and enjoyed the different styles of the pair. Shelley has recently also coached the first ever national Indigenous women’s team who toured India. The opportunities are increasing!

I think coaching in cricket has evolved quite rapidly over the last 5 years. In another 3-4 years, it will be fascinating to see where it is at. We might see a female coach involved with a state men’s team or KFC Big Bash League team. Who knows? The point is, if we don’t create opportunities to nurture and support female coaches now, when will it happen? Across all sports, there’s a lot more male coaches in the world than females but this will change as the prominence and importance of female sports continues to crash through barriers. The whole concept of diversity needs to move into the coaching space and all sports will be better off when that happens.

BELINDA CLARK

Belinda Clark AM is an Australian cricket legend. She is currently the Senior Manager for Team Performance at Cricket Australia. She captained the Australian Women’s national team from 1994-2005 to win two World Cups, was the first person of either gender to score a double century in a One Day International, and holds the record for the most test runs and most ODI runs by an Australian. She was inducted into the ICC Cricket Hall of Fame, the Sport Australia Hall of Fame, and the Australian Cricket Hall of Fame, and was made a Member of the Order of Australia for service to cricket and the promotion and development of the game for women and girls.

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