One less obvious role for Grounds and Natural Turf Improvement Programme regional pitch advisor Darren Symonds – and one that he has been undertaking beneath the radar – is the part he plays in the Young Leaders in Cricket programme.
Initiated by a group of volunteers in Bromley, Kent, the programme is endorsed by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) and is designed to provide opportunities for young people between the ages of 14 and 16 to acquire skills and competency in leadership. This will then allow them to volunteer within the community of their cricket clubs and/or schools. It has been active in Bexley, Bromley, Greenwich and Lewisham, and other parts of the country such as the Medway Towns, Sussex and Buckinghamshire, as well as pilot schemes in Surrey and Bedfordshire.
The programme includes modules on first aid, coaching, scoring and umpiring, as well as on groundsmanship. At the end of the programme, the participants receive a certificate acknowledging their achievements, and this is usually presented as part of a ceremony at a highprofile venue, which in the past has included The Oval.
For the past two years or so, Darren has been involved in presenting the programme’s groundsmanship module, which lasts about two hours. “Presenting in the region of 25 sessions so far at different venues, around 350 youngsters have been made aware of what groundsmanship is all about,” says Darren.
Explaining that each session presents a “relatively easy-to-digest” insight into the basics of groundsmanship, including soil sampling and an outline of weeds, pests and diseases, Darren highlights how the sessions are usually split into a short (30 minutes) classroom presentation with the remainder out on the cricket pitch, plus a tour of the host ground’s machinery and equipment stores.
“One important aspect of the module is to relate how the cricket groundsman’s actions translate into how the square (and pitch) performs and, indeed, also how these preparations of the pitch can be ‘matched’ to how the players want the square to perform.”
He adds: “While many of the youngsters probably start the module thinking ‘This is going to be boring; we’re only going to hear and learn about cutting grass’, I can honestly say that the sessions have been very well received, with the majority of the participants leaving with a refreshed and totally different view of the role of the groundsman.”