Almanac Cricket – Resistance to culture change: Junior coach’s letter ignored in 2013

This letter was written five years ago by a coach of Under 14 inner suburban cricket in Melbourne, to the junior committee. We have elected not to publicise the club nor association. The letter was written following the death of Phil Hughes. And yet, at the time the letter was dismissed as political correctness. It was ignored.

Will events in South Africa cause cricket people to examine our cricket culture?

Is there a problem? If so, what is the answer?

 

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Letter to Committee, 2013

Dear Junior Committee,

This article in today’s Age has finally motivated me to write to the XXXX junior committee.

 http://www.theage.com.au/sport/cricket/we-owe-it-to-phillip-hughes-to-stop-sledging-jonathan-agnew-20150113-12n6dh.html

These reflections come from the perspective of a parent with two children playing cricket in the XXXX, a coach at both the higher levels (under 14) and the developmental levels (under 10), a captain of a senior team and representative team manager.

As a parent and a cricket lover I have been disappointed with what I have observed on cricket fields over the past two seasons. Cricket has the opportunity to teach young people wonderful life lessons and values: teamwork, skill development, persistence, patience, critical thinking and self-reflection to name a few. As with many concepts in junior sport, they are easy to name but harder to live. I would argue that the environment we have created in the XXXX at junior levels is win at all cost and to value selection in representative teams above all else.

In the light of the recent death of Phil Hughes I have been watching how we as a cricket community respond. Much has been made about the spirit of the game, and rituals were forged around the number 63 – but was it going to shock us into remembering that cricket is a game, a pastime that is played for its innate enjoyment, for making friends and joining them in a common goal? That the result of any cricket match is irrelevant and especially so in the context of junior players?

My observation of the response in XXXX was…

On the morning of the under 14 game on the week of Phil Hughes’ death I was approached at the toss by the opposition coach who said that the association was suggesting players retire at 63 instead of the normal 50. I replied that I did not care what rules we played under but would prefer the legacy to be that the players retire at a lower score and every player got a hit. This resulted in a prolonged period of silence and a young umpire was left in untenable situation (which occurs far too often) in between two older coaches and a grey area of rule interpretation.

Therefore, the outcome of the Phil Hughes legacy on that day was that the best player in the team who already bats more time than any other player in the competition batted even longer and other players on his teams did not get to participate at all.

 A week later I stood at square leg I listened to a team sledge batsmen, cackle like hyenas when players were intimidated by short pitch bowling and generally play the “Australian” brand of cricket. These boys are 13 years old. It saddened me deeply that these are lessons we are teaching about what hard cricket looks like. It is a culture that the XXXX condones and supports by its lack of action.

From my understanding, the junior committee’s time is highly weighed to adjudicating rule infractions and complaints. The fact is, no matter how detailed the rule book is there will always be grey areas and the young umpires (who do a sensational job and should be supported rather than being frequently placed in the middle of petty rule interpretations), will always be under pressure in the current culture of many coaches which implicitly says, “if you can get an advantage take it”.

The answer to this situation must come from looking at the spirit of how the game is played as opposed to adding more rules to the rule book. We should recognise that results are irrelevant and measuring ourselves as an association on the spirit in which our players play is more important than our performance at representative tournaments.

To do this I propose that XXXX shows the vision to attack the core of this culture; sledging. It is in this act that young cricketers begin to learn the “Australian way” and it is wrong. It is wrong to teach young people that this is ok. That intimidation, arrogance and gamesmanship are acceptable in the pursuit of victory. Just because it is modelled by our national team does not make it any less wrong. I propose that XXXX junior committee could show enormous vision by implementing one simple rule.

It is illegal to speak to an opposition batsmen during his innings other than to wish him/her good luck.

I cannot see any argument that justifies any cricketer sledging an opponent and especially a junior cricketer, however we continue to overlook it because “You’ve got to get used to it” and because it is the Australian way. When the Prime Minister was recently asked about his cricket ability he said, “I couldn’t bowl or bat well but I was good at sledging”, it demonstrates how ingrained this culture is.

The reason I have been moved to comment is that we need to see the behaviour for what it is. It is simply false bravado and in the end, what it leads to is players leaving the game. It also sends a terrible message to young people about the role of aggression in sports.

I propose that the XXXX develop a policy on sledging and the spirit of the game that is enacted and lived. Rather than annual briefings focusing on the next set of new rules and guidelines and committee meetings wasted by adjudicating unimportant results of junior cricket games and rule infractions, I propose that we develop a shared vision of how we play cricket in this region.

If there is to be any positive legacy from the death of Phil Hughes surely it must begin with our language and our actions as cricketers and administrators and I believe the committee has an opportunity to take action at a time when the cricket community should be reflecting on its values and its future.

Regards

[Name supplied]

 

Comments

  1. E.regnans says:

    I understand that it can be hard to swim against the current.
    But some hard things are worth doing.

    “Who do I want to be?” is an excellent question.
    “How can we do better?” is another excellent question.

    Nothing seems to be changing at the top levels; where self-justifying statements are regularly trotted out.
    Junior levels are our best hope.
    But only with principled leadership.

    To borrow from Rick Kane’s post in another thread:
    All concerned should probably read this speech by BB McCullum:

    https://speakola.com/sports/brendon-mccullum-cowdrey-lecture-lords-2016

  2. Earl O'Neill says:

    Hear, hear!! That letter ought be posted in the rooms and offices of every sport association in the country, especially junior clubs.
    Cricket is unique with the time available for sledging, aka talking shit.

  3. E.regnans says:

    And yes, Earl, hear hear.
    Sledging is a foundation stone of a bullying culture.
    If you want to change the culture, you start with respect.
    It’s one of the realisations that BB McCullum had.

  4. Dave Brown says:

    I remember being acutely disappointed at the time that the Australians did not seem to take stock of their behavior in any meaningful way that summer. I am now merely confused about the extent to which Warner perpetuated that culture and now appears to be an outlier (i.e. his reported ostracisation from the team).

    Our junior association reinforced its position a couple of months back, following a couple of unsavoury incidents, that chatter on the field directed towards the batter would not be tolerated. By all reports it is not necessarily consistently reinforced. It does highlight the point, however, that in most cases the umpires in junior matches are the two team’s coaches. They lead the culture and are in a position to enforce it. Picking up players’ behavior with “that’s not the way we do it at this club” can be a powerful message.

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