The youth of today

The sun is getting higher, the cool breeze is easing, just a bit. You can smell the new cut grass. Nights are longer, it all adds up to one thing. The start of a cricket season.

While the elder folk dust off their whites or coloured clothing as it seems to be more often than not nowadays, the young ones are giddy with excitement as training gets scheduled.

Parents are on taxi duty, ferrying between the last of the football, rugby, tennis, hockey sessions (take your pick) to get their offspring down to the early season practice. Even the more mature still get that thrill, tempered with the realisation that the muscles may not coordinate in April quite as well as they did late August when that season ended with you in the form of your life.

Early season is tough, aside from inevitable rustiness, there are questions, what team will I be on, where will I bat, does the captain fancy my newly developed off breaks, who is on teas? For the youth, there are no such questions, give them a bat, give them a ball and they will play.

Last summer I spent a month going around youth finals on behalf of Cricket Leinster and it was a highlight of my year. There is nothing quite as rewarding as watching children relishing their sport. After each game I would head home and tell the family about the latest dynamite player that I had spotted. Cue the eye rolls. But it was true!

Like most cricketers of an age, we reckon we can spot a good one, at least that is what we believe. Maybe I should do one of those time capsule things, write down by the name of the "next best thing" when they cross my path and bury it for 10 years before digging it up and doing a "where are they now". It would be an interesting undertaking.

There are coaches who will tell you that they were the first to spot the latest star and how they called it at the time. Maybe so, maybe not. The reality is that many more of the child stars do not make it through to the top of the adult game than do. Sadly many do not make it to the adult game at all.

For every Eoin Morgan there are hundreds of others spat out by the game before they reach even the low foothills of the cricketing Everest. Eoin is an extreme case perhaps but there are no shortage of coaches who claim an influence over the young man, many who say (now) how they spotted his potential and guided him on his route to stardom. Perhaps they did, perhaps the young man nodded and let the advice wash over him and let's face it he must have been subjected to an immense amount of input in his formative years.

Hands up, he had to listen to some certifiable nonsense from myself as he was a member of 2 of the three under 13 Leinster sides that I looked after all those years ago. There were some decent players in those teams but this coach was very quickly informed after his debut in the role that he was the first such coach to lose to Munster. It did not bother me and I guess that the team got over it in five minutes.

So I do not hold any claims over the young man, I did not predict that one day he would hold aloft a World Cup Trophy not even that the money men in India would be happy to pay a fortune to him to play in their tournament every year. No, he was a kid who just like his teammates had potential, what he made of it was up to him, not his coach.

And that's the key, as coaches, managers, mentors whatever you might like to call yourself, the bottom line is that it is the kid who decides what becomes of their talent, not you. Endless throw downs in the nets may or may not be of any use to them. Technical details, video analysis, whatever, may be of use, maybe not. There is a time and a place for this type of coaching, this type of mentoring but the time and the place are a decision for the player and the coach, not just the coach.

We often think back to a player and feel “what a waste of talent”, of a kid who “quit” - these days they quit. But is that fair? Cricket is not for everyone, it is a tough and at times lonely sport with occasional highs and frequent lows. Not everyone is cut out for that type of existence, offer that choice to most rational people and I bet they will pass on it.

The attrition rate is high when it comes to the drop out in cricket, for lots of reasons. Some as simple as ability but often more complex reasonings which go way beyond the game itself. Sometimes, dare I say it, the expectations put on a kid are so great that they cannot deal with that type of stress nor should they have to.

Youth coaches have one responsibility in my opinion and that is to make sure the kids come back next week, then next month and Hallelujah there they are walking through the gates next year. We do not need to worry so much about the good kids, they will be ok, they will make sure they are. They will be the ones who are picked for and play every game possible, get call ups for the representative squads, they will organise the extra nets with their mates, endlessly play stump tests, throw balls at each other, honing their skills without even realising they are doing it, just having fun.

Technical stuff can come when they are ready to listen, and recognise they need to learn. You can teach them to play like robots, if you want, but that is what you will get, a robot. Cricket is a game for the player, not the coach.

So let us be happy to see the kids in the nets, laughing, joking, messing, dare I say cheating. Having fun and while they are doing that, learning the game in a more meaningful way than any formal practice.

Remember we all play or played the game because we enjoyed it, allow them to enjoy it, it's the sole purpose for any sport. The umpires are right, after all how do they start a game?

With a single word “Play”.