Retaining Young Cricketers: When to Play Senior Cricket | Cricket coaching, fitness and tips

Retaining Young Cricketers: When to Play Senior Cricket

Filed in:

This is a guest article from Darren Talbot of Darren Talbot Cricket Coaching and Head of Coach Mentoring at Surrey County Cricket Club.

It's never been more difficult to retain youngsters in cricket. The numbers leaving the game from ages 14-18 are increasing every year and club senior numbers are dwindling as a consequence.

Growing pressure on young people to pass exams is a factor, but clubs are often missing tricks to make that transition more attractive and keep some of these young players in the game.

So in this series of articles, I want to look at what we can do to help youngsters stay in the game.

And for me, that starts with deciding when is the best time to make the jump into senior cricket.

13 is the age when young cricketers are typically allowed to play in senior matches and it’s far from unusual to see players playing alongside their sons on a Sunday afternoon, or indeed on a Saturday when availability is tough!

But the big question to ask is; are they ready?

Too often young players pushed to play senior cricket too early due to over keen parents and coaches or - more likely - a need to get out 11 players on the park.

This is a very dangerous policy.

Just one game too early could end the chances of these young players playing in senior cricket for good. It's important the player is ready:

  • physically
  • emotionally
  • technically

When is a player ready?

Take a look at his or her fielding. They are mostly likely going to be doing a lot of running around in the field. They need to be confident of fielding the ball.

If the ball was hit high into the air straight down the throat of this young cricketer, would you be 100% sure they will stand their ground and make a good attempt at the catch?

If the ball was drilled as hard as possible straight at this young player, along the ground, how sure are you that they'll get down confidently behind the ball and try to make the stop.

If you're less than 100% sure, then you shouldn't play them in senior cricket.

It's not worth the risk for safety or development.

Before we've even looked at them holding a bat or bowling a ball, you are already well on the road to making the correct decision about playing. It's often better to play with 10 then to ruin a future prospect by putting them off the game.

For more advice on improving your club player retention, download a copy of Darren Talbot's eBook, Better Senior Net Session.

Broadcast Your Cricket Matches!

Ever wanted your skills to be shown to the world? PV/MATCH is the revolutionary product for cricket clubs and schools to stream matches, upload HD highlights instantly to Twitter and Facebook and make you a hero!

PV/MATCH let's you score the game, record video of each ball, share it and use the outcomes to take to training and improve you further.

Click here for details.


Great article, although sadly falling on far too many deaf ears. I am a coach who also captains our lowest level league side with a view to using this team as a route into adult cricketers for our junior players - at least two other sides in the division have similar coach/captains and I would say all three of us try very hard to adhere to the messages above. Sadly we also play against teams who are far keener to play juniors ASAP (including below school year Cool which the league turns a blind eye to, presumably with the justification that without these players teams would probably be unable to fullfil fixtures, pragmatism or short-termism, take your pick.

The common factor between between the good and not-so-good clubs seems to be having a more formal youth structure, with these clubs taking a much more considered view of player development. It probably also helps that players can find their level in age group cricket whilst developing their skills in readiness to step up to the adult game. I appreciate it is difficult for all clubs to run junior sides, but I have in the past formed a joint team with another club to get viable squad sizes at an age group, although is often seen more as a threat than a benefit by many adult club members.

On the flip side, playing adult cricket from age 11, as I did, can be a great learning experience. Young people don't need to be wrapped up in cotton wool and it's good to learn about failure from a young age so long as its managed well by senior players.

It's interesting to note the number of northern players who were state educated and reached a high level in the game compared to souther counterparts. I believe this could be because, generally speaking, northern youngsters are thrown into adult from a young age. It would be interesting to conduct a study on this.

I agree that some 11 year olds aren't ready and should not play just to make up numbers. These players are generally those who haven't developed basic technical and tactical skills. Selectors have to take it on a case by case basis.

I believe that one of the main reasons why 14-18's drop out of cricket is not because they played adult cricket as an 11 year old but because they get frustrated and bored playing for the whole day on a Saturday while their mates are out having fun. And this doesn't mean they don't love the game but not everyone wants to sacrifice a whole saturday / weekend to play.

A better solution would be to have t20 cricket on Saturday mornings, that way you finish before late afternoon and you get the rest of the day and evening to do other things in your life. It should be 11a-side, red ball and whites.

Unfortunately this doesn't happen and it's down to the ECB, the county boards and the leagues to work together to fix it. The ECB will argue that they have Last Man Stands, which is great in its own right but many people want to play traditional cricket with 11 players but NOT ALL DAY. instead hold it on a Saturday morning and not all day starting at 1pm!

The leagues seem to be stuck in their ways and afraid of change. Some argue that league matches start at 12 or 1pm because some people work on Saturday mornings. Surely the majority work Monday to Friday? All they need to do is start an additional league on Saturday mornings for teams who can get a saturday morning t20 11 out. Then you will find all the 14-18 year olds on the brink of dropping out returning to play this format plus all the 30+ year olds who have families. Whose going to administer this additional league, all our resources go into our main leagues, I hear them scream. Simple, the county boards. After all, it is their job to develop recreational cricket.

Ben, interesting points. Agree kids shouldn't be wrapped in cotton wool, but would still argue that they should only step up when able (and given) a chance to make a meaningful contribution to an adult game - my three under 14s on Saturday batted 5, 7 and 8 with the last two sharing the longest partnership of our innings - both are decent T20 players at youth level but adapted well to the match situation and 'dug in' which is neither of their natural games. The other lad got a good ball but then came back to keep well and got a stumping in his first senior game Smiling

Agree with the long format being a barrier to keeping players within the game, the ECB have been doing research but I guess each county has its own local circumstances. For me Saturday morning T20 would raise a number of issues, most notably with groundsmen and in splitting the player base from traditional Saturday afternoon cricket although the net effect may see more people playing, also many clubs locally run their juniors on Saturday mornings. What is your objection to midweek T20 / LMS as a matter of interest?

Thanks for your reply tony, I agree with everything you said. It would be difficult to incorporate a sat morning t20 into current structure but not impossible and, in my view, worth the effort.

I have no objection to mid week t20/LMS. In fact I currently play LMS and think its great. In terms of club t20, I don't think there is enough of it. Allot of county league t20 comps are either knock out where you end up playing very few games or round robin leagues which poses the same problem.

I suppose I am a traditionalist in one sence because I do like playing on picturesque grounds in whites on a nice flat deck (I'm a batsman if you hadn't already guessed), which is what you don't get with LMS. Having said that I also have a young family and find it difficult to commit my whole Saturday to league cricket as much as I love it. Therefore, for me, the perfect solution would be sat morning club league t20. Just to be clear, I think LMS is a great modern addition to English recreational cricket.

Interesting to read the comments and fully agree with what has been said around the right time to introduce young players into the senior game. Other considerations are how the young players are treated; the opportunities to make worthwhile contributions and the impact this may have on the team’s competitiveness. Captains can make a huge difference to the experience of the young player and allowing them to have significant batting/ bowling options have to be juggled with keeping the senior players happy. The ethos of the club and team has a lot of bearing on the way the young player is treated. Do you want to win at all costs? Do you want to keep the flow of young players coming through? Do you want to ensure that the players enjoy their cricket experience or more likely a combination of all the above.
Leagues could make a substantial difference to the transition of young players into the senior game. Bowling & Batting Restrictions would ensure more players have the opportunity for serious contributions in the game. Starting times, travel requirements and playing formats all have a bearing on the enjoyment of the players and it is heartening to see leagues looking at these with the retention of players becoming a priority.