For those who might not be aware, the ECB recently launched a new initiative which aims to reverse the decline in youth participation in cricket. Named ‘All Stars Cricket’, the scheme is designed to get 5-8 year old boys and girls to “fun” coaching sessions at their local cricket clubs. The parents pay £40 to the ECB a few weeks before the sessions start, and in return they receive eight hour-long training sessions and a backpack containing a personalised cricket top, a water bottle, a hat, a cricket bat and a ball. The coaching is carefully designed by experts to be help children in their fitness and hand-eye coordination, as well as being entertaining. In addition, there are videos online featuring current men’s and women’s England players, and suggestions for cricket-based games the parents can play with their children in their back garden.
At the launch a mere 7 weeks ago, the ECB were suggesting that they were targeting approximately 50,000 boys and girls to take part. They had announced a collaboration with MumsNet, an influential parenting website, and promised a marketing campaign to extend All Stars Cricket’s appeal beyond the children of existing cricket fans. 10,000 children who sign up before May 10th will also be randomly selected to meet and play with current England players at various events around the country.
Matt Dwyer, the Director of Participation & Growth at the ECB who is responsible for All Stars Cricket, was on Test Match Special on Sunday talking about it. The thing which immediately jumped out at me during the interview is that he said it’s on course to have around 20,000 children participating this year. This is 40% of the ECB’s own target, which begs the question: Why has it all gone wrong?
Cost And Value
The first thing that jumps out at me about All Stars Cricket is the cost. £40 upfront is not a small amount of money for a lot of people. Apart from excluding children with poor parents, it also represents a gamble even for cricket-loving middle-class parents. If they sign up their child only for the kid to hate it and refuse to go back, the parents will have paid £40 for the backpack and one hour of training.
And what do you get for £40? I’m pretty sure I’ve seen cricket bats with balls in one of my local pound shops, as well as water bottles and caps. The personalised shirt and backpack might be a little more expensive, but not much. I’d personally be amazed if the ECB was paying more than £4 for every child’s full kit.
As for the coaching itself, £40 still seems a lot of money for 8 hours of junior cricket coaching. To take the example of my local cricket club, they offer a weekly 90-minute training session for under-11s for £2.50, plus an annual junior membership of £5. For the same money as All Stars Cricket, a child gets 21 hours of coaching. It’s presumably by the same coaches, teaching the same skills and probably in quite similar ways. Perhaps it seems like better value in more expensive parts of the country, but it’s hard to see All Stars Cricket as anything other than a rip off where I live.
An important thing to remember is that All Stars Cricket isn’t just competing with existing cricket coaching, if parents have £40 to spend on making their child happy they have much better ways to spend it available to them. They could buy at least five or six new DVDs for them to watch, which is almost certain to offer more than 8 hours of entertainment. They could buy a new console game for around £40, again you’d expect more than 8 hours fun from that. They could buy 40 cheap crappy toys from their local pound shops, way more than 8 hours of fun there.
It might seem like an oversimplification but if the ECB wanted to attract new people to the sport with the All Stars Cricket programme, perhaps it shouldn’t be more expensive than existing juniors cricket coaching or almost literally every other single thing a kid could be doing instead?
The other obvious flaw I see in All Stars Cricket is that it requires forward planning by the parents. The whole training plan is based around the kit the kids will get in the backpack. Each one has to be personalised and then delivered, which obviously takes some time. If someone heard about their local cricket club’s All Stars Cricket sessions the day before they started, they couldn’t just drop their kid off on the day with £40. If a kid who has signed up enjoys it, nothing they can do could get their friends to join up until the next year. If a family has a holiday booked for one of the weeks, the child will miss out and potentially be left behind the other children taking part. And of course the parents will still be paying for the hour’s training that the child misses.
All Stars Cricket, like most ECB-run schemes, suffers from rigidity and over-centralisation. If a new kid turned up at my local club’s regular junior coaching session, they wouldn’t be expected to pay anything up front. They’d almost certainly get one free trial session to meet everyone and see if they enjoyed it. They wouldn’t need any of their own kit. Kids who forget to bring their weekly fees or pay their membership are still allowed to play, with a gentle reminder to bring them next week. With more than 8 hours of coaching every summer, if a child is away one week they won’t miss out on specific skills they might need to play cricket at the same level as the rest.
I’m also a little curious what happens with a club’s All Stars Cricket programme if some of it has to be cancelled due to rain. Can the club schedule an extra week, or do the kids lose out on some of the carefully selected activities due to lack of time? Again, and I hate to keep banging on about it, I doubt the parents get a refund either way.
I don’t have any children, so I suppose it’s possible that the marketing is great and I’m just not seeing it. Obviously people who are already active with their local cricket clubs will almost certainly be aware of All Stars Cricket. I’d assume there are probably articles about it in many local newspapers, and some clubs will have managed to put up posters, handed out flyers, talked at school assemblies and so on. The usual kind of local unpaid outreach done largely by selfless volunteers.
I’ve not been able to find any evidence of the collaboration with MumsNet which was much heralded at the scheme’s launch. The only things which show up when searching for “All Stars Cricket” on MumsNet.com are an invitation to the launch event in March and a handful of posts in localised forums. I honestly find it a bit embarrassing.
Beyond that, all I’ve seen are social media posts and articles by national cricket journalists. The thing about these is that they’re only going to be seen by existing cricket fans. For a programme which many people had suggested could reach out to children without a cricket-loving parent, I’m not seeing any evidence of the ECB even trying.
In short: The ECB (which tries to solve everything with lots of money, mediocre marketing and no understanding of the general public) has tried to solve poor youth cricket participation with lots of money, mediocre marketing and no understanding of the general public. I’m honestly a little surprised even 20,000 kids will sign up.
As always at the ECB, despite creating a colossal failure no one will lose their job. It was probably all KP’s fault. Or it was the public’s fault for not understanding what a great deal the ECB were offering them. Clearly no one can be held responsible for this, or is so incompetent that they need to be replaced.
Feel free to insult me, or the ECB, in the comments below.