“Quite Simply It’s Had A Transformational Effect On Young People’s Access To Cricket” – Head of Player Development Reflects On A Successful 2022

We sat down with Head of Player Development, Charlie Freeston, to discuss the opportunities provided to young people in 2022 courtesy of the new Hampshire Hawks City Academy – which integrated with the Lord’s Taverners Wicketz community programme – and in a year where a record number of girls were nominated for involvement in the Club’s Performance Pathway

What is the Hampshire Hawks City Academy and what has it set out to achieve?

The Hampshire Hawks City Academy was created in November 2021, with our partners Cantell School, and in collaboration with Hampshire Cricket Board and Lord’s Taverners Wicketz programme. The programme was established to help provide young people in inner-city and urban areas with the opportunity to access high quality cricket coaching and facilities.

Why is this provision so important?

Without a programme of this nature, young people in urban areas - such as Southampton – simply wouldn’t have access to high level cricket coaching and facilities. In providing this access, and doing so within the structured framework of the programme, young people from a range of different backgrounds – who otherwise wouldn’t have had the opportunity to play and train – are given the opportunity to realise their potential.

How has the Hampshire Hawks City Academy been brought to life?

Our initial focus was on Southampton – a city where there are no publicly available outdoor cricket nets – and via our partnership with Cantell School, Hampshire Cricket Board and Lord’s Taverners Wicketz programme we were able to provide access to facilities, equipment and coaching staff across the city. To ensure we could realise the potential of the programme we appointed a member of staff – and former professional cricketer – James Hibberd, to deliver the programme. New Balance Teamwear, an official partner of Hampshire Cricket, then kindly provided kit for participants in the Academy.

What has the programme achieved in its first year?

Quite simply, the Hampshire Hawks City Academy has had a transformational effect on young people’s access to cricket in Southampton.

The Academy integrated with existing participation programmes – most prominently the Lord’s Taverners Wicketz programme – and in 2022 alone these programmes gave 3,200 children and young people the opportunity to take part in regular sessions across 20 schools and seven community hubs in Southampton.

The Hampshire Hawks City Academy – with twelve players partaking in weekly coaching sessions and playing a number of competitive fixtures across the summer, including one on The Ageas Bowl’s main pitch – has helped a diverse group of young people, who previously had no access to organised cricket, go on to feature in club cricket and even progress into Hampshire Cricket’s established Performance Pathway which helps identify and nurture the professional players of the future.

Nine players from the Hampshire Hawks City Academy have made the step into the Club’s Performance Pathway and that’s one of the most pleasing elements of the programme in that it provides aspirational young people, who otherwise might have been lost to the game, the opportunity to make the most of their talent and passion for cricket.

The programme itself was nominated for and won the ‘Community Engagement Campaign of the Year’ award at the ECB’s 2022 Business of Cricket Awards and to be recognised amongst all the great work happening across the game reaffirms the significant impact the programme has had.

You mention the Club’s Performance Pathway; what is it and what opportunity does it offer for boys and girls across the county?

The Performance Pathway is essentially the Club’s talent identification programme for young people – all the way from U9s – that sits below the Club’s Academy sides and ensures the most talented young male and female cricketers in the county are given the opportunity to maximise their potential.

Our longstanding ambition is to increase the size and depth of our pathway and in 2022 over 2,100 boys and girls were trialled or given taster sessions with a record number of girls nominated for involvement in 2022’s pathway. At the same time, it’s important that we provide opportunity to a broad base of young people, with 50% of the young people trialled or featuring in taster sessions in 2022 being state-school educated and one in six of the young people we saw coming from ethnically-diverse backgrounds.

And in terms of progression from the Pathway into the professional set-up, 34 players from the Performance Pathway have been selected for the Hampshire Academy since 2019, with nine Academy graduates being offered professional contracts in the same period; while eleven graduates from the Southern Vipers Pathway have gone on to represent the Vipers since 2016 and most impressively, five Southern Vipers players featured for England sides in 2022 alone – 3 of whom have come through the Vipers Pathway.

How does the Club plan to build on this success in 2023?

2023 promises to be an exciting year for the Club in this space. A priority is to build on the success of the Hampshire Hawks City Academy, with the Club looking to establish the programme in other urban areas across the county while continuing to offer opportunities for a diverse group of young people in Southampton who otherwise might not be able to access such cricketing provision.

At the same time, we’re keen to offer even more boys and girls from all backgrounds with a passion for cricket the opportunity to join and be involved with programmes on our Performance Pathway, while providing a clear and structured route into our Academy and First XI sides.

Watch this space!

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