Cricket Argentina’s online Spanish course programme, which found takers across the region, is the Development Initiative of the Year in the ICC Development Awards.
In any other year, Sian Kelly, Argentina’s women’s development manager, would have flown back to her home in England for the summer.
Kelly had first arrived in Argentina in 2016, as a 20-year-old, for a year abroad as part of her Spanish degree. When she, a former wicket-keeper with Warwickshire, got a job coaching the Argentina women’s national team, she ended up staying a lot longer. From there, her involvement in the country’s cricket only grew. She coached, she umpired and she helped take cricket to disadvantaged communities while heading back to England every year in the off-season.
But in 2020, with borders sealed off and countries in lockdown, Kelly was forced to remain in her home in Buenos Aires, wondering what to do with her time. To La Asociación de Cricket Argentino (Cricket Argentina) this offered a good opportunity to keep her involved, even as they addressed a challenge they had long struggled with.
For a while, Cricket Argentina had wanted more coaches, umpires and scorers in the system to help them grow the game. Every year, they ran a few courses on this, but the attendance was “nothing too special”. With COVID and every one confined to their homes, they saw a chance to take these courses online and reach people who were keen to pick up new skills during lockdown, perhaps beyond baking bread, and Kelly was put on the job.
Little did they imagine then that over the next few months, their programme to develop free courses would grow to 17 courses and cover 257 participants, including 105 women. It reached seven countries in the region and has now won recognition at the ICC Global Development Awards 2020 in the category Development Initiative of the Year.
It all started small: The first session offered, ‘Coaching Level 1’, had 15 participants. The Association had identified that a big challenge in growing cricket in a football-loving country was the language. So Kelly’s first task had been to prepare course material in Spanish. As they opened the sessions to the rest of the Spanish-speaking region in South America, the participation in each course rose to 39.
Those from Brazil, Chile, Peru, Costa Rica, Panama and Mexico, too, logged in to the Zoom sessions. “We are aware that Spanish resources and courses don’t come around that often and we have half the region where Spanish is the mother tongue. Therefore, it's common for us to share resources when available,” explained Esteban Mac Dermott, CEO of Cricket Argentina.
Overall, they held four courses on ‘Umpiring Level 1 and Online Scoring’, three on Umpiring Level 2, six on Coaching Level 1 and four on Coaching Level 2. While the Level 1 courses were for two sessions, Level 2 courses were of four sessions, mostly on weekends. Along with Kelly, Andrew Elliott from England too pitched in as a trainer.
The results were almost immediate.
“The courses were very helpful for players to understand the proper way of teaching the sport,” said Pedro Baron, a batter in the men's national team, who took part in the coaching session. “Playing it is a whole different thing to coaching it. It will be very useful [to] apply our knowledge in our clubs as many of us are involved in junior coaching.”
Nuevo curso de coaching online. Con amigos de toda la region. Más de 40 participantes incluyendo gente de @LasLoicasChile @brasil_cricket @cricket_peru @CricketCR @CricketMexico @Cricket_Chi cc @ICC @iccamericas @ZubinSurkari @iamfaragorsi @WillGlenwright pic.twitter.com/iUy2ViFcZ6— Cricket Argentina (@Cricketarg) June 14, 2020
Mariana Martinez of the women’s team believes it has boosted her confidence and helped her as a player. “The number and variety of drills and modified games we went through was great,” she said.
Once cricket resumed in December, all junior and senior men’s and women’s games, over 70 matches, had umpires. Online scoring was implemented at almost every level for representative matches and fully for senior competitions.
One of the biggest measures of success of the programme is that it reached those outside the traditional cricket community. Physical education teachers especially were very receptive, keen to add the basics of cricket knowledge to their experience of managing groups from other sports.
And in three clubs, Atlético del Rosario, Old Georgian Club and Miraflores, the new coaches were able to start cricket programmes for boys and girls. Overall, 500 junior players were benefitted by the newly upskilled coaches.
Cricket Argentina aren’t done yet: They’re hoping to hold 10 more courses in 2021 and would love to see their programme modified by other nations. “For us, being a small cricketing country, it is important to put Argentina on the cricketing map,” said Mac Dermott. “And if any other country can be inspired or thinks that this idea could work for them, it would be great to see them use it. At the end of the day, we all work to make cricket bigger!”
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