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Trials, Tribulations & Triumphs - Cricket Development in a Developing Country

Tags:, , , ,   Posted on: May 11th, 2018

It has been nearly two and a half years since I started cricket development in Lima, Peru. A lot of people ask me, “How on earth did you get that gig?”, with an incredulous look on their face. To be honest, I sometimes forget that this whole journey started off with an email … that I never thought I’d get a response to.

Long story short: It was June of 2015, my last year of University, finishing a degree majoring in French and Spanish Studies. I was starting to panic a little bit. I needed a plan, I was finishing Uni and had no idea what was I going to do?

  • I didn’t want to do a Masters just yet.
  • I just wanted to travel, and actually get a chance to practice my Spanish.
  • I had always wanted to go to South America.

It was over a dinner with my family that my dad suggested I do some volunteer work there, doing something that I enjoyed. He suggested cricket.

I scoffed, “They don’t play cricket in South America!”.

But despite my sentiments, the notion planted a seed of curiosity in my mind. I decided to investigate.

To my surprise one of the first things that came up was the Cricket Peru website. I noticed as well that Cricket Argentina also had a page, but for some reason I was drawn to the Cricket Peru one first, and that’s when I sent out the email that would change the course of the next three years of my life.

I sent the email, turned off my computer, and went to sleep not thinking much more about it.

When I awoke, I found a long email thread of positive responses to my inquiry, more notably from Harry Hildebrand and Chris Hodgson, who I would later find out to be two of the historic pillars of Cricket Peru, as it was.

I will be honest, I wasn’t expecting a reply, and within a day I was being asked  if I was willing to go to live in Peru. All of a sudden I was having to make a decision to move countries?

In the end, all that matters is that after much deliberation, I took a chance, and said yes. By the end of my degree I had already bought a ticket to arrive in Lima the 5th of January, 2016.

Year 1: 2016

The first year was interesting. I was a young, naive 21-year-old who had never been to South America.
It was worlds away from my home in Australia. It was exciting, but evidently a big lifestyle change.

The first year of cricket development was almost like the initiation. I had to prove myself and show I was a making a difference. I was so excited and invested in the project, that I extended my stay for the whole year of 2016.

It was a whirlwind. I didn’t realize the extent to which you could live and breathe cricket until I entered the Cricket Development World in South America!

When you have so much ground to cover, and so little resources and money as an entity, you can never feel 100% satisfied.

It is one of the things that keeps you going, as you come home on a overfilled bus with your cheek resting on someone’s smelly underarm at 9pm, trying to keep the cricket bag wedged between your legs, so no one steals a plastic bat.

It is one of the things that keeps you going, when you get up at 6am in the morning to travel to a district that is surrounded by dust and decrepit buildings, to do some cricket demonstrations to a group of excited kids that have never seen the sport before.

There is always a district that you haven’t introduced it to. It can be quite overwhelming, and also a dangerous game to play in terms of sustainability for your own life and health.

Do you choose to run around as far as the eye can see, to cover the most ground? Or do you consolidate your work and advance in other ways?

It is an extremely hard dilemma, especially when you start to see hints of progress on a bigger scale.

I feel like my first year, I was running mainly on adrenaline.

I look back at the lengths I was going to to save money on transport costs, in any way possible, to try and further the goals of Cricket Peru. I used to ride my bike - with a huge cricket bag on my back - all the way up Avenida Arequipa to get there for an 8am class in Lince on a Saturday!

I had the advantage of my own drive keeping me going. And that helped me make the decision to come back for another year. I just couldn’t leave it. Who would be there to keep it all going? We were only just beginning!

Year 2: 2017

Passion can be a double-edged sword. I tend to throw myself headfirst into the things that I love, which can be good, but sometimes you can get blinded by your own goodwill. Sometimes you put other people, and objectives before your own health and happiness.

It was quite daunting in a way, because I realized how much work was needed for us to keep moving forward.

I realized we were just a speck in some ways, a speck of dust in the world of cricket.

I also had to take into consideration that I would be committing another year of my life to this cause.

Another year of my life that I would be earning just enough money to live and eat.
Another year of my life away from family and friends.

But I couldn’t bear to leave it now, it was as though I had found my purpose, and we were just starting to make some real advances.

It can be disconcerting to work on these seemingly minuscule projects. They seem so small when you compare it to development in countries such as Australia, and New Zealand, where cricket is a rite of passage.

I may start to sound corny, and a bit over the top when I talk about all of the values that cricket teaches, but it really is a positive influence on the lives of many; especially in this football-crazy world that can get a little heated, to put it lightly. [Although I should be careful with my words as an Australian after the most recent scandal]

  • Cricket really does strive to promote fairness and integrity in playing sport as well as in life.
  • You learn to work as a team and respect everyone’s strengths and weaknesses.
  • There is the spirit of the game that promotes a sense of family and community.
  • It is incredible to recognize the lengths of which people will go to play; you adapt to your surroundings.
  • It promotes creative thinking, especially here in Peru, where everything is subject to change.

Just yesterday, I had planned a special coaching class for two of our Peruvian trainers. We got to the ground and there were footballers playing on the concrete square that we had been scheduled to train on.
1 young 23-year-old gringa, trying to kick off 24 testosterone-charged men, a recipe for disaster.

I let that fight go, and proceeded to set up on a small area of grass outside the pitch, until we were told that, we could not play on the grass, either.

Ok, so this is becoming a little more difficult, but nothing new.

The security guy proceeds to inform us that we can use a small rectangular area of the gravel path to play on. I didn’t think they thought we would succeed, but we did. We used what we had available, and created a session that worked around our constraints.

It really is taken for granted, the unlimited, free access to ovals and cricket nets, that we have in other parts of the world. I grew up living next to a park and an oval with cricket nets that anyone could use.
I went there with my dad and my sister all the time. I had that privilege, and didn’t realize that it is not so easy to come by in other parts of the world.

The people we coach have to make do with playing on synthetic turf, gravel, or in worst case scenario, concrete, which doesn’t really inspire you to go and dive for that ‘specky’ of a catch. Playing on grass is a luxury.

I have been here long enough now to be able to start to reflect on the life that I have created doing this job. There have been many moments of doubt, of exhaustion, of just being really emotionally tired to be honest. That is how I felt when I decided to leave last year towards the end of 2017.

A big part of me just wanted to go home. I was over it all. I didn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, and I felt like it wasn’t worth it anymore.
Did the ridiculous hours and effort that I had put in count for anything?
I know hard work is meant to pay off, but where do you draw the line?
When does hard work, morph into taking yourself for granted? Giving too much of yourself, for no return.
It is hard to see things in perspective when you’re in the thick of it all.

So, after much tribulation, I took the decision to leave Peru in October of last year, after the Junior and Senior South American Cricket Championships, for some much-needed soul-searching in Colombia.
It had been a long two years, and I needed some space to try and figure out what I really wanted.
I think that is the way it goes with most relationships really, be it with people or your job!

I was out. I had no obligations.
I returned home.
I felt relief, but also a little deflated.
You put your heart and soul into something for so long, and then suddenly it is not your purpose anymore. You feel a little lost. You wonder if it was worth it.

It had been hinted that there might be an opportunity for me to come back and progress further in the job. To continue working for Cricket Peru in South America.

There was a part of me that felt like it could be a good idea. To return home in one sense.

But there was a part of me that thought it could be a mistake. I knew I could not return to the same situation that I had been in before. I needed to value the work I had done, and value my own worth, with respect to what I deserved.

In the end, an opportunity did come up that I was happy to accept. It still wasn’t going to make me a millionaire, but it at least gave me some direction in my career, and ultimately is allowing me to continue doing something that I really am passionate about.

Year 3: 2018

This kind of work isn’t about waiting for the big pay-off. It is about passion and dedication, and wanting to spread the love of cricket to adults and children alike.

It is quite possible that the development we do may only ever reach 1/1,000th of the popularity it has in Australia or the West Indies, and we have to be okay with that.

It is a tough game in all senses, but regardless of the progress that has happened, or that will happen in the future, the positive thing is that there is a framework and community that supports growth, on whatever scale it may be.

Everyone’s measure of success is different.

It may be getting 30 kids to a class on a Tuesday night.
It may be seeing a group of kids that have never played before, laughing gleefully as they hit the stumps for the first time after 50 attempts.
It may be seeing one of your students advance to the point where they can now competently teach others.

I am sure there are a lot of other volunteers in Cricket, or other Sports Development in similar situations.
The effort that goes in, does not always result in big numbers, and it does not always result in a sustainable pathway straight away.
The truth is, it takes a lot of time and energy. It relies on a lot of trial and error, in the attempt to create a pathway for a whole country, relying on merely a handful of people, mostly volunteers, to help you achieve this.

This is the simple truth of it all. It does present significant challenges.

But as I begin my third year here in Peru as Head of National Cricket Development, I can tell you that things are starting to change. We are making progress, and the hard work will pay off.
It gives me hope for cricket all over the world, as well as hope for myself, in my own personal pathway.

So, I will keep striving forward.
I might make some mistakes, and I might need some help along the way, but I am only human, and I am here to learn.
I am a strong woman.
I am capable, and I have faith in my abilities.

I feel privileged to be where I am, and do be able to implement positive change through my job, and I am grateful that I had some space, to be able to come back now with a renewed sense of appreciation of what we have achieved here in Peru in the past years.

I am back, and ready get this show on the road.

Sam Hickman
Head of National Cricket Development
Cricket Peru

16th April, 2018

To read more about Sam’s experiences in Peru, have a look at her blog here.