Giving children back their childhood

Whilst I was umpiring the other day, with great new umpire Keith Stratton, we noticed that one of our charges in the Under 12s match was sick and struggling to cope. The young man had a barking cough, asthma and was in enough pain for tears to be running down his cheeks. Keith called a halt to the game. We had early drinks and offered the young man the right to retire hurt, and return once his condition had improved. However, his father, who was also coach, was content to let his determined yet feverish son continue batting. After all, he was the teams main batsman and they were struggling to put together a big total. Neither Keith or I were particularly happy to let the player stay at the wicket and both of us were relieved when the youngster was soon out.

It was a distasteful incident and it started me thinking about the pressures we place on our young players and whether theyre altogether wholesome?

So much has changed since I was a lad. I didnt even own a bat, I just used the teams equipment most of the team did. In fact, most of us thought the kids with their own gear were nancy-boys with embarrassing parents. Thats all changed. Now each of the little tikes drags behind him a huge individual kit, replete with a double scoop English willow bat, brand-name pads and a helmet. These kits are so large they have wheels I kid you not. Along with this massive economic investment in equipment also comes an equally huge investment in expectation. And admittedly the quality of play has increased. They throw themselves around in the field with a vigour and determination which the rest of us can only envy. But Im not so certain that the end result will be positive. Certainly the level of competitiveness will probably mean Australia remains a cricket superpower, but what of the great majority of players who dont play for state or country? What kind of individuals are we producing?

I noticed in the atmosphere of high expectation, sledging was commonplace and Keith and I were required to rebuke a couple of kids during our game together. Its a disturbing phenomenon when children repetitively parrot rhymes to mentally disturb their opponents. At one stage one young assailant yelled out:Hes got more missus than Henry VIII. So I asked him who Henry VIII was and he said: Hes an Egyptian isnt he?

Sadly what Steve Waugh euphemistically referred to as mental disintegration is so deeply embedded in our sporting culture that, like couch grass itself, it will be with us forever.

However, there is a grassroots movement in England which is endeavouring to give children back their childhoods.

Admittedly its a soccer campaign, but its primary aim is to reclaim childrens football from the tyranny of pushy parents and overbearing coaches.

The campaign, which is called Give Us Back Our Game (GUBOG), is the brainchild of Paul Cooper, a coach based in Gloucestershire, and Rick Fenoglio, a sports scientist from Manchester. In the new comp children aged between six and 10 play four against four, referee themselves and play almost entirely without the interference of adults. Its a great idea and deserves development.

In cricketing terms we could establish a junior competition where there are no sides or separate teams. Instead, the teams would be chosen on the day. They could umpire themselves and if the games were no fee or very low fee we might be able to re-engage those kids who are now part of destructive gangs around the region. Anyone interested in helping turn this vision into a reality, email me at

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