COVID-19: Who will get left behind as a result of this sporting hiatus?

Who will get left behind as a result of this sporting hiatus?

That’s the question that has plagued my research pursuits over the last few weeks.

For me and my PhD, the message to halt all sporting events came 4 hours too soon. That’s all I needed to complete one of the rare projects focused entirely on giving local female cricketers the chance to feel valued and invest in their learning. We were one test away from discovering if tailored, representative training sessions can improve the way amateur and sub-elite athletes think about and play the game of cricket.

In a place where head coaches for women’s teams are as hard to spot as the Easter bunny, it would have provided crucial insight into how we can support our female cricketers, and give them the opportunity to develop their talents at any stage of their playing journey. We’ll get there.

On the other hand, my online interviews regarding professionalism in women’s sport have taken off, but the line of questioning always takes a turn. There’s no way we could have known that we would be here right now, but all the dedicated administrators, coaches and players I’ve spoken to are not thinking about that.

They’re already looking towards the future, and how we can provide a structure that will support women and diverse communities in sport. Beneath the hope, the extensive planning and opportunity-taking, there is a subtle sense of fear. A gentle scent in the wind that wafts past but nobody wants to acknowledge.

The track record for investment in women’s sport is slowly fueling the notion that in this time of crisis, it is women’s sport that will be left behind, low on the priority list when things begin to return to ‘normal’.

It’s so hard to know what normal will ever look like again. If the reported changes in pollution are anything to go by, maybe there is a need for our ‘normal’ state to change for the better, but it’s hard to see a pandemic as an opportunity. It shouldn’t be, but it’s a damn good wake up call at the very least.

I hope that normal means access to positive experiences. That’s what keeps us in sport. We know very well about the health and social benefits of sport but at the end of the day, it is likely that a negative experience will overpower those benefits.

For some people, negative experiences are just part of playing the sport, something you become desensitized to. It could be using your own money to buy cricket balls every week and never getting reimbursed, just so your team can play on the weekend. It could be driving to the other side of town just to find a team that is welcoming, supportive and understanding.

It could be getting changed in your car, because there are no changerooms or it’s better than having to sit across from a urinal to have the team talk before a game. It could be watching youtube videos and listening to podcasts to learn something new, because you have to captain, coach, and administrate the side you’re playing in.

Access and investment. This is what it comes down to at the end of the day. Maybe now is the time as a sporting club to take a step back and reflect on the experiences of your members. Maybe it’s a good time to construct a survey, asking them emotional questions like the biggest highlight of their previous season, what they miss the most about the club or team right now, and if they feel like they have the opportunity to learn or get better. Do they feel supported, forgotten, overlooked, welcome. You’ll never know if you don’t ask.

And if you’re not sure how to approach this process, or what to do if the answers come flowing through and it appears you need some extra coach education to provide a better experience, I promise I’m here for you.

Author: Alex Lascu is a passionate young coach who is completing her PhD in talent development for women’s cricket. Her work specialises in helping other coaches create positive learning environments which promote holistic growth and ongoing development. If you visit one of her sessions, there is always a lot of laughter, even more questions, and plenty of exploration.