By Jamie Harrison
I have, for some time, called for the creation of a national youth cricket organization, to be directed by a national youth cricket coordinator. I truly believe that without a clear hierarchal structure, implementing a unified vision for American youth cricket, even the most fervent of efforts will have limited impact, if not fizzle out altogether.
There are many possibilities for the form a national organization might take, and still time to come together behind a collective, yet singular, vision of how best to advance youth cricket. Please consider what is to follow as merely my offering to the conversation.
To assist in visualizing how I see this program functioning, I'll start with what I believe will be a common scenario:
A member of a cricket club in the suburbs of Houston speaks to a member of the Houston Independent School District's school board, who is receptive to the idea of teaching cricket in Houston elementary and middle schools. The immediate need is for cricket sets for these 218 schools, because the school district says that they haven't budgeted for this expense. The wholesale cost of each set is $60, which creates a need of over $13,000 in cricket sets. The cricket club member approaches the East Texas Youth Cricket Association regarding this opportunity. The ETYCA emails its members and supporters, and is soon able to commit to the purchase of 100 sets; the West Texas Youth Cricket Association agrees to donate another 25. The ETYCA then contacts the United States Youth Cricket Association regarding the balance. The USYCA immediately works its network of member associations in the US, plus other supporters and patrons nationally and internationally, and within days has secured the funding to purchase the remaining sets. Thus, within weeks, cricket supporters across the nation (and perhaps even the world) have worked together to get cricket started in 218 schools that will now teach cricket to 140,000 children in Houston.
In this scenario, cricketers and cricket supporters across the United States are pooling their time, talent and resources in a unified effort to advance the game among young people in our country. This, of course, is the best possible, and most efficient use of our admittedly limited resources to achieve our ends. And it is also the only way in which we will succeed, because if we allow ourselves to continue as a fragmented collection of disjointed programs, we will never have the strength to overcome the not insubstantial obstacles before us. Together, however, as a single community of thousands or perhaps even hundreds of thousands, we cannot fail.
I think it is also instructive to note that my scenario speaks to the introduction of cricket in elementary and middle schools. I believe that this is the appropriate place to target our efforts (while not necessarily excluding high schoolers), because younger children are more open to new experiences, they have not yet settled on what will be "their sport" (which often, in the parents' drive to make their child great, excludes all others from consideration), and they are still years away from requiring the national infrastructure that we do not yet have for advanced skills training. As an example, lets say we recruit a 13 year-old to become a cricketer, and he falls in love with the sport. Within a year or two, he will realize that there is little hope for him to develop as a player, because local academies and camps, not to mention the opportunity to play consistently, are almost non-existent in the US. On the other hand, an 8 year-old will not be expecting these things, and if we are given five years to work our national program, by the time this child is a teenager, there will be many more opportunities for him to enhance his skills and move on to the next level.
The bottom line is that, as in any well-considered project, we must build from the ground up, allowing the infrastructure to flourish naturally around us as we go. A mistake often made is to attempt to build cricket from the top down, with no existing system to support the effort. We must not repeat past mistakes.
Something else I'd like to note is the need for the United States Youth Cricket Association, and the state associations, to operate independently of any individual or existing organization for the time being. My goal is to avoid the snares of petty politics, jealousies and infighting that would endanger our success. Far too often we have seen great ideas and good intentions derailed by these things. We are far too small a community, and there is far too much work to be done, to risk allowing our numbers to be divided by politics. We must do all we can to build bridges between individuals and organizations, and avoid this fatal trap. Whoever would enter our company must be willing to check his pride and his ambitions at the door.
No matter what the final form, we must soon establish this national hierarchy to guide and nurture youth cricket in the United States. Too many years have already elapsed without a coherent national policy, and too many young people have already been lost to cricket because we could not provide the infrastructure to support them.
A national discussion is finally underway, and this is a great step forward. However, we must also be careful that we not allow the ongoing conversation to become a reason for inaction. Let us reach a consensus, and then move with alacrity to establish the year 2010 as the year that American cricket was reborn.