IF there is still any doubt about the value of running junior sides then it is wise to take a look at the health of Dumbleton.
Just six years ago this village club in the very far north of Gloucestershire was quietly meandering along with around 80 youth members and was running under-11s and under-13s.
Fast forward to 2019 and Dumbleton now have 250 juniors spread across 13 sides, including girls teams at under-11s, under-13s and under-15s.
It’s a remarkable transformation, further underlined by the fact that the club has gone from producing three players selected for county and district representative cricket to a quite stunning total of 58 this season.
Gloucestershire are the main beneficiaries with around 75 per cent of that number while the remaining 25 per cent, because of the club’s location, are involved across the border with Worcestershire.
It is Dumbleton, though, who are clearly feeling the most benefit with juniors filtering into the senior section to such a degree that a handful of under-17s have already featured this season for the first team who play in Tier Two of the West of England Premier League.
And Saturday numbers have increased so much that Dumbleton established a third XI in 2016 to ensure a smooth progression from the junior ranks for as many players as possible.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this success story is that junior coordinator Pete Boorman cheerfully admits that from day one there was never a big plan in place.
He said: “The only strategy we had was to start at the bottom and build from there, making small incremental improvements each year.
“You can’t fix the problem of not having any under-15s by going out and recruiting a squad of 14-year-olds.
“We had to take a long-term view and it had to have a strong base. We were one of the first clubs in the area to have an under-9s section, and attracting players early gave us a start. Six years on, those under 9s are now 14-15 years old and we have 30 of them still playing and we’re running two U15 teams.
“We were also focussed on providing good coaching to enable the kids to do as well as possible.”
With each year came a new team of under-9s with sides all moving up an age level and, behind the scenes, Pete making incremental improvements to ensure steady, forward progression.
Dumbleton decided to invest in their coaches by covering the cost of Level Two courses and also encouraging as much parental involvement as possible.
Pete added: “We’ve been able to add one or two Level 2 coaches each year so we’re now up to 13, which means most of our groups are now run by a Level 2 coach.”
“You obviously need people who are prepared to put in the time and make the commitment … but we’ve found that people like to be a part of something that has momentum and is moving forward.”
There is also a good infrastructure in place to support coaches. Pete said: “You can’t have one coach trying to look after 25 kids on his or her own.
“We like to have small groups, ideally of 8-10… it’s easier to manage and the quality of the coaching is significantly better.”
Girls cricket is a big priority at Dumbleton who took action after noticing that there was a big drop off in numbers aged 10 or 11 after lots of early enthusiasm.
Pete said: “We realised that once the boys were getting bigger and stronger then the girls weren’t enjoying playing together as much so we decided to go for separate training.
“In that first season we had one friendly match but it’s now grown to three girls’ league teams and in a couple of years I’m sure we will have two women’s hardball sides.
“Dani Gibson started here and is playing again for the Western Storm in the Kia Super League this summer, and it’s fantastic to see her and so many others doing well.
“Guy Stirling-Lee has down an amazing job of growing the girls and women section and it’s been a massive positive for the club because it now feels like a big family place to be and somewhere that is fully inclusive.”
Signing up for the ECB’s Clubmark award – proof that a club is sustainable, well run and provides a safe, rewarding and fulfilling environment for its members – was also important to the Dumbleton story.
Pete again: “I used that as a base and we were one of the first clubs to be accredited. I found it useful to ensure we were thinking about all the right things, and challenging ourselves to do things as well as possible.”
Pete then aimed to add two or three new features each year to Dumbleton’s offering to its juniors, ranging from introducing cricket camps during the holidays to two-to-one coaching sessions to further encourage individual development.
Winter training sessions, starting in January, are also an important part of the big picture, ensuring cricket is far from a three-month season for juniors, as are a supportive committee and ground staff, particularly when between 130 and 140 junior matches are scheduled over a hectic summer. The club has also built relationships with Broadway CC and Stanway CC who have been very supportive in hosting more than 40 games between them.
More recently, Dumbleton have become part of the popular All Stars programme with 40 youngsters aged from five-to-eight signed up this summer.
Pete said: “We’ve learned that there are no quick fixes and nothing will happen overnight – but all the little things will add up and make a big difference.”