All Stars Cricket February 10, 2017

ECB hope new All Stars initiative can arrest cricket's decline among children

The Milo Cricket scheme in Australia is the basis of the All Stars approach © Cricket Australia/Getty Images

The ECB are to launch an ambitious project designed to attract a new generation of supporters to the game.

With evidence suggesting the sport has slipped to something approaching irrelevance in the eyes of children (research suggest pictures of wrestlers are more recognisable to children than England's captains and that only 2 percent of children between the ages of 7 and 12 rate cricket as their favourite sport), the ECB hope that the All Stars Cricket scheme will inspire around 50,000 new cricket lovers in its first year.

The nationwide initiative, which is based upon the Milo Cricket scheme pioneered in Australia, is aimed at children between the ages of five and eight. Parents will be required to pay £40 per child (the ECB are understood to be exploring the possibility of providing financial aid for families in need) for which the children will receive a rucksack full of kit and eight weeks of introductory sessions at a local cricket club starting in May. Clubs will receive £5 for every child that signs up and will be encouraged to run summer camps in the school holidays as part of ensuring a lifelong involvement in the game. The ECB hope around 1,500 clubs will sign up to All Stars in its first year with each club attracting at least 30 children.

If all that sounds familiar - and many clubs do already run such admirable schemes - the emphasis of All Stars will be more towards enjoyment ("competition without exclusion," as the ECB call it) than some comparable courses. There will be no hard ball or full-size pitches, for example, with bean bags used instead of balls for some, with progress badges awarded as skills such as 'catching' or 'hitting' are achieved. Instead of coaches, 'activators' will run the sessions and children will receive emails from England players congratulating them on their progress. As other commitments allow, there will also be personal appearances by England players as the ECB build on research underlining the value of "heroes" in inspiring a new generation of cricket lovers.

But it's the method that the ECB will use to reach this new generation of potential players and supporters that differentiates this programme. Determined to reach beyond cricket's normal audience, the ECB plan to invest heavily in advertising - the scheme will, for example, be pushed on popular radio stations around the time of the school run - while they also hope to agree partnerships with various lifestyle publishers and websites such as Mumsnet. They are also expected to announce a celebrity ambassador - likely to be a woman with young children - in the coming weeks. Research has convinced the ECB that it is, in general, mothers who make most of the decisions over which hobbies children of such ages.

The project is part of the ECB's wider 'Cricket Unleashed' programme, which aims to re-establish the sport's relevance to all sections of society. In the longer term, they hope their new-team T20 competition - which looks likely to be partially broadcast free to air - will play a leading role in the expansion, but with little cricket currently broadcast free to air (there are some clips and highlights on-line and on TV), they are investing heavily in the department run by Matt Dwyer, the ECB's director of participation and growth, who now has around 80 development officers around the country. Dwyer was also heavily involved in the Milo programme that has run successfully in Australia.

Dwyer's team will aim to work closely with the County Boards in driving growth in four key areas: kids, clubs, communities and casual cricket. With staff based in regional locations as well as at Lord's, the team will be backed by increased investment in marketing and digital support to strengthen connections with county cricket boards, clubs, leagues, volunteers, coaches and officials.

The All Stars scheme is not without its critics. Some have expressed concern at the failure of a pay-as-you-go option (thereby reducing the impact of the one-off outlay for parents), some at the negative impact on clubs already running such projects, and others on the failure to deal with the substantial problem of teenagers dropping out of the game. There is an issue, too, with volunteer disillusionment and weariness. The ECB state that a few teething troubles are inevitable and the project can be tweaked as it develops. They also say they are working on plans to combat the drop-out issue.

But whatever other faults may be levelled at the ECB, they have acknowledged the game has a serious problem in England and Wales and they are investing heavily in trying to find a solution. Whether that can be done without a serious realignment of the broadcasting landscape - a key factor in Australia's success with the Big Bash - is debatable.

Clubs or individuals who wish to be involved can sign up here

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • cricfan30019954 on February 12, 2017, 7:56 GMT

    Putting cricket back on freeview tv and getting the game played in junior amd comprehensive schools has got to be an enormous help in putting cricket back in young peoples sporting lives.simple ?

  • cricketsoracle on February 11, 2017, 12:05 GMT

    The drive to get more people into the game is to be applauded. However, this could cause a major financial challenge for those clubs who already have large programmes of activity for these age groups. By our calculations, based on as last year's numbers, my own club could lose as much £10k a year - income that we cannot afford to lose. It will be interesting to see whether ECB tries to force this on all clubs. Contacts in Australia tell me that several larger clubs there, having participated for a few years, are now contemplating withdrawing as the economics do not make sense.

  • pwcricket on February 11, 2017, 8:23 GMT

    Our club has been running something similar to this for over 20 years, with up 60 kids turning up on Sunday mornings paying £3 a time, a senior lead coach and coaching done by a bunch of our 14,15,16 year olds. We then have a summer camp in the school holidays which is equally well attended. Works a treat. It's all pre our formal age group cricket, which starts at U9. The difficult parts are retention on transition to hardball at 10; ensuring the team manager is team focused rather than just all about his son; retaining players as they become teenagers and other interests inevitably arise, such as tennis, athletics and girls; drop out of players at 16 as exams come in and they never return to cricket. We also benefit from running four Saturday league sides and a Sunday friendly side which can accommodate the better and keener 13 and over players, which helps a lot.

  •   cricfan69564930 on February 11, 2017, 1:30 GMT

    I would like to see survey results from players who dropped out at teenage level..seems to me that hard ball cricket could have an under-estimated impact as a reason to stop playing...

  • Orangetable on February 10, 2017, 23:20 GMT

    So finally all the rubbish about how many kids are playing cricket has given way to the realisation that it has absolutely no following in large swathes of the country. As a High school teacher in a " bog standard comprehensive " cricket has no following at all amongst young people, I have yet to see a single conversation about cricket in my time as a teacher, and not a single cricketer is known to your average kid and the results of this terrible neglect will start to show through in the next decade.

  • baghels.a on February 10, 2017, 18:33 GMT

    @KEEPCALMANDSLAPTHEUMPIRE: Almost all of Live Premiership Football in England is on Pay TV for over two decades now barring a highlight package on BBC so what explains the booming popularity of EPL whose TV rights fetch 5 billion Euros for a 3 year period compared to 250 million Euros which ECB gets for the corresponding period ...TV money is just one aspect of it .......

  • Dave on February 10, 2017, 18:16 GMT

    "Clubs will receive £5 for every child that signs up and will be encouraged to run summer camps in the school holidays as part of ensuring a lifelong involvement in the game." - so it's getting even more like football then. Those at the top of the game reap increasing amounts of cash whilst the grassroots is left to the hands of volunteers. So if cricket playing adults are meant to volunteer, when do they have to play the game? Most clubs I know in my area have severely reduced or eradicated Sunday friendly fixturesm and youth section demands are one reason behind it. At the same time, the ECB won't dare mess with the broadcast rights. To my mind, age group cricket has been largely rubbish. When I was a kid, there were 3rd and 4xl XI league teams and that's how I came up. Now some of those sides have all these age groups but struggle to field two XIs on a Saturday. Ain't difficult to understand why.

  • keepcalmandslaptheumpire on February 10, 2017, 14:15 GMT

    This is a good initiative and having helped run Milo cricket in Australia it's good and well. But the fact is they need to televise it on free to air television. Only 2 percent putting cricket as their favourite sport and guarantee most of the children would have an idea what cricket was. Much the same with kids in South Africa and pretty much anywhere bar the subcontinent where they're cricket mad and Australia where we put a bat in the hands of a toddler from an early age. If they see games all the time on television as kids they'll grow to love it regardless but when the exposure is so low in the first place you won't have that many kids. Fortunately for England though this doesn't seem to be an issue as their private school system is viciously competitive.

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