Martin Gleeson could not have picked a tougher time to start his innings with Shoalhaven cricket.
Martin was recently appointed Cricket NSW’s Area Manager for Southern NSW and ACT and trying to help fix the current issues facing the sport locally is one of his first things he has to face.
Falling numbers in seniors, player dissatisfaction, no under 16s competition and volunteers feeling the strain are just some of the issues facing local cricket.
The South Coast Register’s Damian McGill, as a follow on with his five part series of stories looking into local cricket, recently spoke to the new area manager.
In good news of local cricket we will be getting in injection of support.
The new structure
Martin’s position is not new but it does have a new title.
Three or four years ago, Cricket Australia sat down with all the states and territories to benchmark jobs in community cricket.
“They found everyone was doing similar stuff across the country but they all had different titles, different structures and working in different environments. This created lots of duplication, as you would imagine, and so there has been a national benching process put in place,” he said.
The new process, as of February 1, is now in place in NSW.
This means there will be eight area managers across the state and Martin is one of those.
He will be based in Canberra and will be doing a fair bit of travelling to the Shoalhaven.
Underneath the area managers will be around 36 cricket managers.
The Shoalhaven, from February 11, will have brand new cricket manager.
A measure of a good coach, at a junior cricket level, is not about if they are winning games or premierships - it’s about how many of your kids come back next yearMartin Gleeson
Meanwhile, how will the area manager help Shoalhaven cricket?
“First things first from an outsider coming is getting to know the landscape,” he said.
To get to know about cricket in the Shoalhaven, he attended a junior association meeting recently and on Monday evening attended a senior association meeting.
Martin, at the junior meeting, listened as they talked about the formats.
“It was really good and a bit of an introduction for me,” he said.
Looking into the juniors
The Shoalhaven’s lack in an under 16s competition is a major concern for everyone involved with local cricket.
“I am a big believer in player pathways and that does not mean at an elite level it means pathways within a club,” he said.
“That means that any kid who turns up at the club aged five to six-years, enrols in the cricket blast program and can see a pathway through to senior cricket.”
With no under 16s in the Shoalhaven competition a lack of a pathway is currently facing the under 14s players.
Martin said not having an under 16s division was a concern.
“I suppose we are no different to any other sport as that 14 to 18 age group, in particular, is really difficult to be able to maintain the interest of kids and to be able to maintain their enthusiasm of the game,” he said.
“As a sport, we need to keep evolving and being able to offer formats and structures for those kids so they want to say in the game.”
He said some of the junior formats that have been adopted over the years are ‘starting to show fruit’ when it came to player numbers.
Looking into player retention
Martin expected to be asked a few questions in regards to player retention at Monday’s meeting.
He said there was probably an immediate need to do some work locally as well as looking into the long term plans for the sport.
The area manager knows there is no simple solution to fix the issues with Shoalhaven cricket but is committed to doing what he can to help.
Monday’s meeting was about introducing Shoalhaven cricket officials to the new structure which also includes a new participation officer from next week and a club officer.
“There is a significant investment being made at the moment,” he said.
“To give a prime example, if we had sat here 15 months ago, there were 39 people in community cricket across cricket NSW in full-time employment and as of February 18 there will be 86.
“They are all community cricket people – not head office staff – and they will be out in the field.
“There is a real significant investment going on to provide resources to community cricket and more importantly, resources to in regional areas for community cricket.”
More roles to help cricket
A participation officer and a club officer have also been appointed to help local cricket, along with the cricket manager and Martin (area manager).
The cricket manager will be solely based in the Shoalhaven and the participation office will work across both the Shoalhaven and Illawarra
The participation officer will work in schools which will be their main focus.
The club officer will be based in Canberra who will work across various regions
The role of the club officer will be to offer compliance support in areas like child safety, MyCricket training, administrative tasks and governance matters.
“This role will very much be a consultancy role around how a club runs off the field,” Martin said.
Light at the end of the tunnel
His advice to unhappy cricketers would to be to ‘hang in there’.
“It’s an interesting discussion because cricket at a national level, putting aside the Australian team performance, but in terms of TV rights, viewership and attendance to games, for want of a better terms, at an elite level cricket is thriving and never been stronger,” he said.
“At a participation level, it has never been stronger but in regional areas some of the issues that have been identified here are not dissimilar to other places.
“However, it’s at a community level around senior level sport, getting people to commit every week, getting volunteers to do the work that is required to run their club and the constant work with school to keep the flow of players coming through that is an ongoing challenge.”
He believes Cricket NSW is committed to helping the sport.
“This the single biggest investment in community cricket that there has ever been in terms of going from point A to B,” he said.
Martin wants people to get involved.
“If there is people with ideas and suggestions that they think will continue to grow the game, then get in touch with us,” he said.
Getting out and about
Martin said he and the other community cricket staff are keen to be available and prepared to spend time with the clubs.
“We want to be accessible, visible and we want to be available,” he said
“There is no magic bullet or a simple solution to most things and in some way community sport is undergoing a change because there's a lot more things for kids to do.
“We want to provide more support for volunteers, more support to club coaches, particularly at a junior level, so they are able to run high quality programs.”
Winning is not the main focus
Martin knows teams love to win but he said other things were more important.
“A measure of a good coach, at a junior cricket level, is not about if they are winning games or premierships – it’s about how many of your kids come back next year,” he said.
“It’s about your retention and so we have to educate the coaches, so they realise their job is not to win a flag because then you have only got one team out of a whole competition that is successful every year, which is ridiculous.
“However, your success is keeping kids engaged, giving them a chance to bat and bowl, improve, have fun and stay in the game.
“That is what junior cricket and what the junior format is about and we are starting to see some of the fruits of that now.”
He wants every club that runs a junior team to run a junior blast program.
Martin is keen to hear what the clubs think about not having an under 16s and get their views.
“Maybe this might mean we put together some sort of review or a working party and something we spend a bit of time consulting with the different stakeholders to work out what the best plan of attack might be,” he said.
Runs on the board
Martin comes into the role with a pretty impressive background.
The new area manager has been involved in cricket, in a few different capacities, for 20 years.
He started with Cricket Victoria as a regional manager, spent two years with the ICC, based in Melbourne, working in development around East Asia and the Pacific.
He spent four years with Cricket Australia working in coaching development and education.
Martin then spent time in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh with the International Development Program.
“It was quite a fascinating experience learning about their cricket structures and also being able to assist with some of their coaching education programs,” Martin said.
He also spent three years in India with a company, working with a couple of entrepreneurs to deliver coaching programs in schools in India and he ended up running the organisation.
He came back to Australia in 2013 and spent the last five year in Victoria with the AFL, running a commission in game development and league operations/association and governance works.
Martin loves his sport.
“I suppose like a lot of people from my generation I grew up playing cricket in summer and footy in winter,” he said
He also played a bit of league cricket in England and did some coaching.
‘It’s great to be back involved with cricket,” he said.
Read More: Part three concerns over a lack of juniors
Read More: Part four cricket clubs face various issues