A director of the Barbados Cricket Association (BCA) has expressed concern about coaches pigeonholing young cricketers.
He suggested the practice was doing budding talent a great disservice.
“Children under the age of eleven should not be considered an opening batsman or bowler, that is too young to specialized,” said Roland Butcher, the chairman of the Sir Everton Weekes Centre of Excellence.
Butcher, the first black man to play Test cricket for England, told Barbados TODAY that boys at such a tender age should be given the opportunity to perform a variety of roles.
“That is why I favour a lot of friendly cricket between schools, whereby a boy can open the batting in a game and bat lower down the order in the next match. This give the boys an opportunity to perform in a number of roles,” the head coach of the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies said.
He explained when a coach instilled in boy under the age of eleven that he was an opening batsman, he was expected to perform that role and never learn anything else.
Butcher added that when that boy has failures at that role, he often walked away from the game.
Butcher suggested that when a coach assessed a boy at the age of eleven, he has no way of knowing how that child will develop. The coach’s assessment was merely an educated guess, Butcher stated.
“He may be an opening batsman in the early stages of his development. But in his latter years he may be a bowler. What I am saying is to give him the opportunity to learn all of the skills of the game, as time progress, he will specialise in the one he has mastered,” Butcher stated.
The former batsman for Middlesex in the English County Championship advanced the theory that boys under the age of eleven should be batting, bowling and even wicketkeeping.
Butcher called on coaches to give their charges a foundation, teach them the fundamentals of cricket and then watch how they developed.
“Some of them will go into batting or bowling but I think right now in the Herman Griffith Competition, as much as I like the tournament and acknowledge the role it has played in Barbados’ cricket, I am concerned that within those teams, they are selecting boys and thrusting them into specialist positions at too much of a young age,” Butcher said.
He expressed the view that too much pressure was being placed on boys to perform and suggested this was due to the amount of organised cricket the youngsters were playing.
“There is too much organised cricket. It is too structured. While there is nothing wrong with having structured cricket for children, I would like to see informal matches against schools that are not part of a competition. Friendly cricket with the emphasis not being placed on winning, this will expose more boys and more talent can be developed,” Butcher said.
Butcher suggested that too many coaches were being influenced by the number of runs or wickets a boy accumulated and were paying little attention to analysing their strengths and weaknesses.
He gave an example of two boys between the ages of 11 and 13; one bigger than the other.
“The bigger boy may be stronger and hits the ball harder. In cricket at that level, a lot of bad balls are bowled so the bigger and stronger child hits the ball harder and scores a century. The smaller boy who is more technically correct, but does not have the strength as yet, is left out of the loop. Because the focus tends to be on the child who scores the century, while the boy who is technically more sound is neglected,” argued Butcher.
“I want our coaches at the junior level to start analysing our young cricketers and understand their limitations. I want them to see the potential in these boys and develop it. Those boys will eventually develop into the kind of cricketers who will serve our cricket in good stead. Coaches should not only focus on the boy who always stands out. Instead, they should also look for the boys who show that with the right kind of coaching and guidance they can develop into good cricketers,” he added.
Butcher, who is a certified Level Three coach with the England and Wales Cricket Board, said that some of the coaches within recent times had received the training that allowed them to develop young cricketers. But he stressed that coaches required more than training in their quest to develop young cricketers.
“It calls for experience. A coach has to be in the game over a period of time to really understand how children develop. I think too often coaches treat children as young adults and not as children. The first thing to understand is that children are children and not young adults and are going to make mistakes,” Butcher explained.
He continued: “ Do not expect boys to act like an adult, they are going to make mistakes. Some coaches are expecting a boy of 13 to be a complete player. That is impossible, there are men who are not complete players and they are playing at the International level.”
He called for coaches to understand that boys go through a process of development and at that stage the principal object of a coach was to teach and nurture them.
Butcher, who was born in St Philip, and migrated to England at an early age, played three Test matches for England in the early 1980s. He has coached in several countries, among them England, Australia, New Zealand and Bermuda.