Worcestershire Cricket Board Limited (WCBL) are on course to achieve their target of introducing 40,000 children to the game by 2020 - and in the process increase the chances of finding the next Ollie Westbury. Westbury was introduced to the game via a Dudley playground through the WCBL programme, is now part of the professional staff at New Road and last summer scored 196 on his England Under-19s Test debut.
WCBL development director Tom Hill says Westbury "will act as an inspiration to others" and potential women's cricketers also have a role model in Thea Brookes who came through the same system and now plays for Loughborough Lightning. But already the Board have introduced nearly 16,000 children in Worcestershire to cricket in just two years. And the knock on effect of increasing interest in cricket at an early age has seen a 17% increase in junior teams entering WCB competitions.
Hill believes all the signs are encouraging in trying to win the "battle of the school yard" in an era where there are so many other sporting and non-sporting attractions available to youngsters. He said: "We’re on track to achieve our target of introducing 40,000 young children to our game by 2020, with 15,791 having been introduced during the past two years.
"We need to try and win that battle of the school yard. When I grew up, it was cricket in the summer, rugby or football in the winter and that was it. But now you've got 46 sports that kids can choose and on top of that they've got wifi, ipads, and video games. That is ultimately what we are up against. There are worrying ECB stats which show only 2% of kids aged seven to 15 rate cricket as their favourite sport and only 7% have cricket in their top two."
"That is why I am so excited about our results over the last couple of years, our coaching team have done an excellent job at engaging in 38 new schools this year. The year 2016 was a successful one for our schools programme, with 8,291 school children being introduced to cricket in local schools and 48% of all schools across the county engaging in cricket - either entering competitions or taking part in coaching activity."
"In total we’ve delivered cricket to over 75% of schools across the county and it has had a tangible impact on the number of junior teams entering competitions. There has been a 17% increase in junior teams entering competitions thanks to 70 new teams entering in 2016, a testament to the work of our coaching team and ultimately the work undertaken by our club volunteers who put in the hard yards at club training nights. This was crowned with Barnt Green CC U15’s becoming the first Worcestershire club to win a national competition, champions of the Natwest U15 Club Championship out of over 1600 clubs who entered."
Hill says Westbury's success and potential cannot be over-stated in inspiring other youngsters.
He said: "We know every player we introduce to the game is 11 times more likely to attend a game at New Road and four times more likely to follow cricket. The more people you attract into the game, the more chance of attracting the next Ollie Westbury or Thea Brookes. We want more kids to choose cricket and have that as their summer sport choice and create a culture within our schools."
"Then we will get more talented kids coming through, ie: Ollie Westbury who scored his 196 against Sri Lanka Under-19s and the likes of Thea Brookes. Our role is very much about sowing the seeds of the next generation. These will be the next club volunteers but also potentially the next Worcestershire CCC and international cricketers. Perhaps one of those 16,000 kids we've got playing the game might go all the way."
"It is really exciting when you have got someone like that who has genuinely started on a playground in Worcestershire and makes it all the way through to the professional staff at New Road. There is no doubting that both Ollie's and Thea’s success will inspire others. It is a really important achievement."
To continue on our mission we’re still looking for the support of donations through the Worcestershire Cobham Cricket Trust, who will help us take cricket to 40,000 young children by 2020. To help our cause and make a donation please click here.