Dan Heath out to provide choice for first class cricket progress
Developing the next generation
The development of young cricketers goes under the radar in comparison to its more noisy counterparts in football and rugby union.
There is constant promotion of the week-long courses and training camps for the two sports, with a choice of venues and providers instantly available.
Given the louder heralding of the opportunities, the awareness is greater at what is available, but the same opportunities exist in cricket, it is just more subtly and softly marketed.
First Choice Coaching was set up by Great Shelford cricketers Dan Heath and Alex Stafford two years ago, primarily to deliver cricket coaching.
Heath was a PE teacher at Bourn Primary Academy, combining it with his studies at the University of Suffolk and doing coaching in his spare time, while Stafford was a cricket coach at King’s School.
The duo had previously been team-mates in the Granta and county youth teams, but they had lost touch for a few years and it was only when their paths crossed again by accident that they hatched a plan to organise a cricket camp together.
“Cricket over the last two, five, 10, 15 years has changed so much with the T20 and all the franchises,” said 27-year-old Heath.
“It might be time for something a little bit different in the coaching, maybe younger coaches with a few different ideas.
“We felt it had maybe become a bit too technique based and by the book, and we felt there was a place for some young lads who were still playing cricket to a good level, still enjoying their cricket and still playing the modern game to coach that to kids.
“There was nobody doing holiday camps and going to clubs and coaching, or going to schools and coaching.”
The pair put together the camp in six days and had clearly found a niche – it attracted 40 kids every day and has snowballed ever since.
They have had more than 125 different children attend sessions this summer, from masterclasses to junior and senior camps.
And the hope is to get more than 150 for the eight-week period.
They have also got a database of more than 455 people.
It is those figures that Heath uses to illustrate that there is a hunger for cricket, although he does add the caveat of the difference of Cambridgeshire not being a first-class county.
“Every single private school plays seven or eight games of cricket a year, each age group, so they get three teams out per age group so that’s 33 kids per school, per age, so there is a lot of hunger for it,” he said.
“Because Cambridgeshire is a Minor Counties team, there is not that hunger to play for Cambridgeshire – I think it’s just a want to play cricket.
“The draw at Essex, Nottinghamshire and Warwickshire is to play for them, and you don’t really get that here. There is not a real drive for young people to want to represent Cambridgeshire at the top level.
“So there is obviously a hunger for participation, whether there is a hunger for real top quality excellence, I’m not so sure.
“There has obviously been a few lads that have come through and done really well, like Max Holden, who is doing amazingly well, and Tom Westley, who has come through the Cambridgeshire system.
“But when you think about the number of people that are coming through to the number of people that are playing, it’s very small.”
One big aim for Heath is to make cricket coaching more accessible in state schools.
As a student at Netherhall School, he accepts that provisions for the sport in private schools is far greater, but would love FCC to try to address the imbalance.
“I think the problem with cricket is that the provision in state schools is very minimal; there are hardly any cricket coaches in state schools whatsoever,” he said.
“I would say that 95 per cent of all our customers are private school-based, and, being a state schoolboy myself, it is something that I really want to work on this year.
“But when there is no cricket coach in state schools, which the majority of people go to, the numbers are always going to be low.”
And in terms of the reach of cricket, Heath echoes some sentiments that are regularly voiced regarding the coverage of the sport in the media, in particular on television.
“I also don’t think cricket on Sky helps very much,” he said. “I was 14 during the 2005 Ashes and everyone was watching cricket, everyone was playing cricket, and that was on Channel 4.
“As good as Sky does for the game, and pumps money into it – they have done so much good – but it has also done so much bad as well.
“If people can’t watch cricket, it means how will there be an interest in it. If a kid hasn’t got Sky Sports, they cannot watch cricket.
“Channel 5 do highlights, but it’s not the same.
“The 2005 Ashes everyone was watching cricket, the start of the Premier League season took a backseat to us winning the Ashes and that’s because everyone could watch it on terrestrial TV.
“I think it has made a big difference. That, for me, is why the numbers probably are what they are because coaching in state schools is very low and exposure on TV is probably too low as well.”
The coaching is not just in the summer for FCC, they continue indoors at Hills Road Tennis Centre during the off-season.
And they have expanded to run multi-sport classes and also oversee the PE department at Abbey College, the international language school.
“It’s something completely different to what we do, but it’s under the umbrella of FCC and it keeps us really busy,” said Heath.
“Cricket is where it all started. It’s our main thing, it’s what we do best, we think it’s what we do better than anybody.
“It was a niche in the market that was open. Alex and I saw an opportunity two years ago, and now we have 18 people working for us within six private schools and it’s snowballed.”
For more information visit firstchoicecoaching.co.uk