Cricket throughout Europe is full of people working hard to spread their passion for cricket to a wider audience. One of those individuals is Chris Pearce, who together with his wife Renata runs the Kriketová Akademie ČR (the Czech cricket academy) in Prague in the Czech Republic.
Originally from Mansfield Woodhouse in England, Chris originally moved to the Czech Republic from Sweden after meeting a Czech girl and following her back home ten years ago. The relationship didn’t last but his involvement in Czech cricket certainly has.
Before moving to the country, he contacted Bohemians Cricket Club and spoke with the late Scott Page. Originally settling in Brno, the second largest city after Prague and travelled every weekend during the cricket season. He moved to Prague in time for the next season and began helping out on the coaching side along with Scott, particularly with the younger players in the set-up.
After a couple of years, he started working with a group at an international school for two years. It was during this time that Chris began to notice the raw talent of some the native Czech kids, particularly the girls, due to the prevalence of tennis in the country.
This sparked an idea and after a date with his now wife at a tournament for the international schools he took the plunge to move away from the corporate world and set up the academy along with his wife, which began in September 2015.
At the beginning of the academy he largely mirrored what he had seen in the UK, going through clubs and not making much progress. In late 2017/early 2018 he changed focus and looked to make the program as Czech as possible, ignoring what worked in the UK if it didn’t work in his new home.
In the spring of 2018, he went from having 70 kids involved in after school clubs to around 250, with the majority being native Czechs. Prior to the Covid pandemic there were just under 400 kids involved in 15 after school clubs running year-round in a sports hall and 12 more run outside on school playing fields as well as a small amount not associated with schools.
Currently mostly running in Prague, there were plans to grow outside the capital further prior to Covid putting a brake on that expansion.
Rather than rely on the existing cricket community in the country, Chris has developed a Level 1 coaching certificate along with Darren Talbot of Twenty20 Community Cricket and Alan Harrison of the Nottinghamshire County Cricket Board to produce Czech coaches. Mainly coming from Czech university students with no existing knowledge of cricket, the four-hour course allows them to go on to run out of school clubs for local kids.
Educating parents about cricket has also been a challenge, with Chris recalling one memorable time when on an application form a parent asked if the academy provided the horses. Family days have been introduced so parents can see the fun their kids are having playing cricket.
Mostly concentrating on softball cricket, late last year saw the first intake of 100% Czech kids onto a hard-ball program and this year they played their first hard ball matches in a modified format due to the wide age range from 11 to 16.
On his Twitter biography, Chris mentions his ambitious goal - to get a team of players who learnt cricket in the Czech Republic to represent the country at a World Cup or the Olympics. The benefits of Olympic participation on the finances of associate cricket are well known, but there’s also the added benefit on the perception of cricket with Chris clear in his opinion that Olympic cricket would do wonders with helping to convince parents to sign their kids up for cricket.
On the way to that overall goal, Chris has set himself some interim goals of developing developmental pathways and developing junior leagues with the hope to get an academy team in the main adult league within the next two years.
By 2025 – assuming Covid gets out of the way – Chris hopes to have league up to under-16 level, have over 1,000 kids and up to 80 coaches involved both inside and outside Prague, and have had the first initial players graduate into the senior national team.
Whilst development of cricket may not generate headlines, those who, like Chris, are putting in such effort to spread the game in new frontiers certainly deserve wider attention. Getting a team of players who learnt the game in the Czech Republic to a World Cup may seem a lofty ambition, but anyone who speaks to Chris about the work the Kriketová Akademie has done will come away from the conversation convinced that it can happen.