A new season, a new challenge for @cricketmanwales.

Pembrokeshire’s very own Community Cricket Coach is known to hundreds of primary school children as The Cricket Man! (And yes, there generally is an exclamation mark in that greeting.)

Also known as Rick Walton, this particular coach has been bouncing into schools and clubs with a level of energy and enthusiasm that’s won him friends and supporters around the county.

Rick is both trained and genetically programmed to perform and/or coach sport, coming as he does from a distinguished sporting family. In a loose moment Rick might confess to a passion for both rugby and football but he is proud of and dedicated to his work for Cricket Wales. But what does he actually do?

For three years Rick (a.k.a. @cricketmanwales on twitter!) has delivered what he would like to think are dynamic and often challenging sessions of fun, cricket-based games into schools. Generally, he has worked in the primary sector but he has also been involved – for example offering Girl’s cricket sessions leading into the now widely enjoyed Lady Taverners competition – in all the secondary schools in the county.

The work has several aims, some of which may sound rather ambitious. Let’s start with the obvious;
• to enthuse children for the game – for healthy activity
• to offer a link between schools and local cricket clubs – and therefore sustain and enrich that activity.

Nobody would doubt that any sports coach is in the business of facilitating those two ideals but Rick is clear that the scope of his work – his responsibilities as well as his intentions – goes way beyond these fairly narrow sporting targets. So what about these, then, for aspirations?

• to stimulate children to think and listen and work together
• to capture their attention and make them better learners
• to support literacy and numeracy as well as ‘development’ in terms of the physical literacy framework
• to offer opportunities to devise games – and therefore develop understandings about sharing and about what works for everybody, not just ‘me’
• to light up individuals, some of whom may find academic work beyond them
• to provide both a kind of release and a way in to class work for children who have difficulty engaging.

Ask @cricketmanwales about all of the above and he would say simply that ‘daft games of cricket’ can and often manifestly do achieve all that.

Most recently Rick has been working in schools in Milford and in North Pembrokeshire. At Y Frenni in Crymych he not only led sessions indoor and out but hosted a genuine and delightful discussion about what a good game of cricket might look like. Children were asked to help sort out a hypothetical game – drawn out on a whiteboard – in order to discuss what a successful playground game might look and feel like. Their response was fabulous – intelligent, thoughtful, generous.

At Ysgol Gynradd Eglwyswrw, the Headteacher Mr Tim Davies shook Rick warmly by the hand after watching some of his first session.
“Brilliant” he said. “And I can’t believe how it was so much more than cricket!” Another teacher, on thanking Rick after he left the final session, described the impact of his work as “wonderful”.

Now because these things aren’t entirely thrown together, Rick had been signposting the children in the North of the county to Monday night ‘Cricket Hub’ activity at Crymych Leisure Centre (5-6pm, children Years 3,4,5 and 6 most welcome! Call 01437 776690.) Now established, it is hoped that these sessions will be ongoing.

Down in Milford, a similar approach was in place. Rick delivered three or four weekly sessions into Hakin, Hubberston and Milford Junior schools with a view to continuing the cricket at The Meads Leisure Centre. Subsequently 23 boys and girls aged 8-11 turned up to the first Cricket Hub night – making it a remarkable success. (Cricket Hub activity is on a Friday in Milford, from 5-6pm. Please contact The Meads – Milford Haven Leisure Centre 01437 775959 – for details or to book your child in.)

Rick’s work in Milford again demonstrated that cricket games can be hugely engaging and inspiring for children. He made a whole lot of new friends and received outstanding support from the respective Headteachers and the staff who assisted. And children really did wave excitedly every week as The Cricket Man arrived. Imagine how Rick feels when he sees that?

He tells me he feels blessed to be sharing his game. He tells me he is more convinced than ever that what his sponsors call the #powerofcricket is a very real, positive force. Now, word is he might be down Pembroke way next – there’s a potential Cricket Hub down there, alright.

So, will @cricketmanwales be visiting your school soon, I wonder?

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