The Dutch approach to regional development
Three-quarters of the way through their initial eight-month appointments the KNCB’s two regional development officers, Hannah Hofman and Subir Shrestha, are in a good position to reflect on the possibilities for grassroots development of Dutch cricket – and the difficulties which lie in the way.
They are both extremely realistic about what it has been possible to achieve in a few months’ work with the clubs in their respective regions, which they see as the start of a long process of growth and development.
And they share the view that one of the most significant inhibiting factors is the small number of volunteers who can shoulder the work in many of the clubs they are trying to support.
‘The lack of available manpower makes it difficult to expand the base,’ says Hofman, who is responsible for Amsterdam and the Haarlem-Bloemendaal district.
‘But many of the clubs have made a good start, and in areas like Amsterdam South-East clubs such as Dosti and VVV are talking to the local authority about ways in which they can develop effective youth sections.’
Hofman emphasises that the three main parts of her region – the Amstelveen corridor which includes VRA and ACC, Amsterdam South-East, and Haarlem and Bloemendaal – are all very different, and require different kinds of support.
The same is even more true for Shrestha, whose territory extends from Zwolle to Breda and from Utrecht to the German border.
‘There’s a strong base in Utrecht,’ he points out, ‘and there are some interesting developments in the south and east, but in both these cases, distance presents considerable difficulties.’
The main focus for both the RDOs has been on the implementation of the KNCB’s youth plan, which aims to double the number of junior players over four years. One of the ways in which this is being tackled is through a greater element of regional co-operation.
‘Part of our job is to connect people with each other,’ Hofman says. ‘We can help to overcome the feeling of isolation by enabling volunteers to work together across the clubs, sharing experiences and pooling resources.
‘We want to encourage club administrators to think as a team, and to set achievable goals.’
Shrestha agrees, adding that each club has to find its own path, setting its own goals within regional and national frameworks. ‘Every club’s different,’ he acknowledges, but then adds that at its next regional meeting his group will be discussing how to make effective use of the best practice which exists among the clubs.
He is optimistic that current developments at MOP in Vught, which has built a thriving youth section in recent months, Eindhoven and Nijmegen will lead to a regional youth competition in the south-east of the country next season, and believes that this is a model which could also be used elsewhere.
One of the most important challenges is bringing cricket into Dutch schools, and both Hofman and Shrestha are quick to acknowledge the progress which is being made.
‘The Bloemendaal club, for instance, has been really active in their local schools,’ Hofman points out, ‘and that has enabled them virtually to create a whole youth team from scratch.
‘We are finding that the local authorities are extremely receptive to the introduction of cricket if they are approached in the right way, stressing that it’s a multicultural non-contact sport in which respect is a crucial factor, and that in the younger age-groups it can be played in mixed teams of both boys and girls.’
Herself a member of the Dutch national women’s side, she is understandably concerned about the decline of women’s cricket, and sees projects like the Bilingual Schools Challenge, in which both RDOs have been actively involved, as an important element in reversing the downward trend.
Shrestha, too, believes that schools competitions could play a big part in expanding youth cricket generally. Seven of the eight schools which have reached the Bilingual Schools’ finals day on 27 September come from his vast region.
‘We tend to focus on the existing clubs,’ he says, ‘and they have a big contribution to make. But kids often identify strongly with their school, and are proud to represent it.
‘A schools cricket competition gives them a chance to do that, especially in areas where there is at present no cricket club.’
He is cautious, though, about the possibility of combining club and school teams in a single competition: ‘teachers are not keen on being committed at the weekend,’ he points out, ‘when most of our junior matches are played, so in most cases parallel club and school competitions would probably be the best way forward.’
Other possibilities exist as well, Shrestha adds. ‘We want to expand the “platform of opportunity”,’ he says, ‘by working with the local authorities to reach inner-city kids and community workers.
‘As a multicultural sport, cricket offers a great deal in such areas, and we are hoping that it will be possible to co-fund projects with the local authorities to take the game beyond the existing structures of clubs and schools.’
This brings us back to the need for greater regional co-operation, which has been developing since the Youth Plan was launched back in February.
‘It’s difficult to look wider than your own club,’ Hofman concedes, ‘but the RDOs can help widen volunteers’ perspectives, and encourage people to change their mindset. That’s essential if we’re going to make real progress.’
Shrestha nods. ‘And the more successful clubs can make a big contribution by offering support to those who are just starting youth development,’ he adds, ‘or finding the process more difficult.’
The pair also agree that moves to increase the number of qualified coaches in the clubs are crucial for successful expansion. Hofman takes the point further, arguing that even if they are not formally qualified, older youth players in a club can help out by assisting with coaching, serving as role models for the younger children and improving their own skills at the same time.
It will, they both emphasise, be a long-term process if it is to have lasting benefits for Dutch cricket.
‘People want instant results,’ Hofman says, ‘but we knew at the outset that it would take time. It’s hard work for everyone involved but, believe me, it will pay off!’