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I’m not bowling, I only came for a beer after the game!

With the start of the cricket season upon us, I began to think about the challenges that I will be faced with as the captain of my club’s 2nd XI. The different motivations of players, the barriers to participation that confront others and somewhere in the middle there is me, an individual who has to keep that band of merry men (and women) happy!! 

If we use language taken from the current DCMS Strategy for Sport I have an audience of new markets mixed in with a collection of traditional club players. I have an individual from a disadvantaged community who can’t afford to play every week, the individual whose participation is challenged by his working hours and a ‘single parent’ who is constrained by looking after his family. Then, throw into the mix, the win at all costs fortysomething and the bloke who uses cricket as a vehicle to have a beer after the game and some may argue I have a toxic mix. But every weekend across the country, coaches, captains and managers from a range of sports bring similar characters together to participate alongside each other and generally make it work.

Cricket is having a tough time nationally with a 6% reduction in participation, but in my own county of Shropshire we have 150 teams playing cricket throughout the season, so something must be working!

Dare I offer the opinion that the perceived stereotypical club environment and the coaches / captains within it may be getting it right?  That they do understand the need to embrace a wider audience, providing experiences that satisfy a variety of motivations. What I’m sure of, is that the challenge of keeping my team mates happy is becoming harder. The modern world provides so many more instant hits, quick fixes and satisfying experiences at the touch of a button. Currently, I have a very talented player in my team who is more motivated to work on a Saturday to earn money in order to broaden his life experiences. Were cricket used to be his sole motivation, life now offers him a wider range of opportunities that satisfy his needs. Have I, the club and even the sport let him down?  Do we no longer provide him with the experience that he craves?

It seems to me, however, that good coaches and good captains do get this right. They create environments that meet the participant’s needs and adapt as the individual’s motivations change in order to retain a player’s enjoyment in the sport.

More recently the coaching sector has been challenged to understand ‘Behaviour Change’.  A theory that was initially used in the health sector to assess an individual’s readiness to act on a new behaviour and take them through a process of change. As the coaching sector considers adopting these new theories by taking individuals who are not ready to engage through to regular participation, I wonder how much of that we already do as good coaches and captains. Certainly when an individual signs up to join a participation intervention or a sports club, the coach / captain can be critical in modifying and maintaining that behaviour change.  But do coaches and captains do enough in what the theory calls the ‘pre-contemplation’ phase? Does our sector do enough to encourage change and make potential participants aware of the benefits of change? Is it even our role? 

Maybe it is too early to answer those questions?  I have no doubt that the wider coaching sector can improve and participation figures show us that there is still a need to engage new markets such as Women and Girls, Disability, BAME and low socio-economic groups. 

But does the wider industry have to look at a range of solutions if we are to stimulate these new markets and embrace ‘behaviour change’?  Is it too simple to think that more and better coaches will be the solution to all our problems?

I’ll leave you with this thought.  In recent years one of the Governing Bodies of Sport that I work with has used the Net Promoter Score (NPS) as a tool to gauge their customer loyalty.  For coach qualifications and education the score has been an amazing high of 95%, for participation the NPS is still impressive but only averages 60%. Cost, length of the game and travel are major detractors. Yet and maybe to everyone’s credit, we continue to look at the coaching workforce and solutions within coach education. But are we looking in the right place? 

Pete Ezard, sports coach UK, Coaching System Manager