By Richard Damms, Academy Coach
The winter months are a crucial time for a young cricketer who has been identified as one with potential by Yorkshire.
We start off by looking at the county age-group sides, so a lot of these lads have represented the county at say under 10s.
We really start to get involved at under 14s and 15s, trying to identify those players who we believe have the best chance of progressing. We do that in conjunction with Jim Love and the age-group coaches at the end of their summer season.
Firstly, we have a look at what we need as a county. So, for example, if there’s a perceived shortage of seam bowlers coming in the next four of five years, we might then invest heavily in that area.
The first entry point for us would be the Emerging Players’ Programme, an initial six month programme that they sign at the beginning of October until the beginning of March.
The reason for that is to protect both the club and the individual. The player might think ‘This is not for me’ or the club might feel they won’t make it at this stage.
After that, they can progress to a summer Scholarship. That runs from the beginning of April until the end of September.
In and amongst that, they’re all then fighting for an Academy spot. They work through the EPP, then the Scholarship and into Academy.
After that, it’s senior Academy, junior professional and staff contracts.
Originally, it would have been Yorkshire schools where we’d have found the players, but now we do it through the county age-group structure that we’ve got. It goes from clubs and schools into districts and regional sides and into county age-group sides. That’s where we get interested really.
There’s lot of volunteers, lots of cricket played and lots of really good stuff with quality coaches going on right around the county. People aren’t shy in telling us when there’s a good player emerging. But, ultimately, there’s a pathway right through from schools to first-class cricket with Yorkshire.
It’s a big thing. There’s lots of clubs and young cricketers, so the trick is to cast our net as wide as we can.
Then we create opportunities to practice and play games so that we can get an informed decision as to who we think might go forward.
There is an element of guesswork.
Somebody can be outstanding at 16, but they haven’t got any better by the time they’re 19.
You also get late developers too, so that’s why we’ve got teams from under 10s right through to the 19s, plus our Academy league side on a Saturday and then second XI cricket.
All we’re trying to do is to provide as much opportunity as we can, and it’s down to them to put their name in lights.
All of these lads who we identify, and are at the different levels mentioned, get exactly the same opportunities in the winter programme. We don’t differentiate between any of the levels.
They all get one to ones, group coaching, strength and conditioning programmes, lifestyle support with Matthew Wood from the PCA, a bi-annual overseas trip that we started last year, a trip to the national performance centre at Loughborough for two days, which we’re going on in three weeks’ time.
It is a very strong programme.
We start back in November because we have less contact than the professional staff.
Some of the cricket has started, but it is mainly a big block of fitness at the moment.
The cricket is taken care of in the one-to-ones.
On a Monday and Thursday, everybody is entitled to one hour per week.
We allocate a slot that they request, we fit it around them with school work and travelling time, and they get that from November until April when the season starts. That’s as well as the group sessions on Wednesday and Saturday mornings.
A lot of the stuff we do in the winter is helping them to develop techniques we know will be robust and stand up under pressure as they work through.
For instance, if somebody isn’t great off the back foot, it might be because they haven’t faced any quick bowling before they were 17 and are about to be exposed to that. So we will spend time with them trying to deal with that before it actually happens.
It’s about trying to prepare them for what’s going to come – not just with the cricket but when the contracts come…stuff like the media day.
It’s about trying to mirror what professionals do and making sure nothing is a surprise.
We talk a lot about the values and traditions, the history of the Academy. It’s explained to them, but I think it’s something they’re well aware of anyway.
They work hard to be involved, but they have to work even harder to stay in because there’s others pushing behind them.
Obviously, Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow are the real superstar products of this system, so it has got a real tradition of producing quality cricketers. We’re custodians of that.
We give a lot, but we expect a lot in terms of commitment and professionalism.
We spoke to the lads who have progressed onto the Academy this time and talked about leadership and the example set by those who have moved up from the Academy.
We’re challenging those in the full Academy to be role models for the younger group in the EPP.
We’re expecting lads like George Hill or Dom Leech, who have been selected for England’s Young Lions squad, to set the standard. Rather than just drive that, we want a self-policing organisation.
In terms of success, it was a fantastic performance by that group of under 17s to win their title and a decent summer of cricket in the leagues. But the main thing was that we pushed two or three to the second team and they did really well.
Hopefully they can push on even more and, as far as their development goes, start to push the first-team lads.
You’ve got to be better than legends like Tim Bresnan, Adam Lyth, better than Tom Kohler-Cadmore, better than Jonny Bairstow or Joe Root, otherwise they play.
While winning a comp was brilliant, it’s still about development and trying to find the one or two gems that are going to play and give our members so much pleasure.