Czech children take up cricket

Thu, Aug 30, 2007 4:34 PM

Known unofficially as Australia's favorite pastime, cricket is virtually off the radar in the Czech Republic and Central Europe. However, many youngsters are now learning a thing or two about that sport - in more ways than one - with a little help from the Czech Cricket Union and a passionate Aussie coach.

Although it's mainly Prague-based kids with Australian and British heritage that are involved, the amount of youngsters interested in cricket is on the rise. Now in its third year, the Czech Junior Cricket Club has been offering training in the sport for adolescents between 8 and 13 and is made up of 30 percent native players, the highest number in three years.

Located just outside the city limits, the popular Eurosummer Camp featured an Australian theme this summer, complete with cricket training for participants in two sessions this month. In addition, the Prague British School will soon offer a 10-week after-school course focused on the sport.

For Czech kids, cricket not only gives them a chance to hone competitive skills but also allows them to practice their English in a nonclassroom setting. Finally, players learn firsthand about a staple of Australian and British culture, says Scott Page, the team's coach and a native of Bega, Australia.

"If you're in Australia or England and it's the summertime, the sports pages are all focusing on cricket," says Page, who will also coach the Eurosummer Camp and Prague British School programs."Cricket is the second most popular sport in the world after football. It's the first time most of these kids are being exposed to the game, and they seem to just love it."

Although it's only been around for a relatively short time, the junior national team has definitely made its mark. Governed by the Czech Cricket Union and formed with players from the junior club, the team recently participated in tournaments in both Munich and Vienna, where it placed third out of six competing teams from Austria, Germany and Switzerland. In addition, the team nabbed awards for Best Female Player and Best Bowler.

The junior national team recently caught the attention of UK Ambassador Linda Duffield, an avid cricket fan who has praised the team and Page's coaching skills.

With the number of British and Australian expats living in Prague, most Czech kids are first exposed to cricket through television and media, Page says. Although the casual observer may mistake cricket as being closely related to baseball, they actually rely on highly different skills.

"With cricket, there are many more options for any given situation," Page says."In many ways, there's a lot more technicality involved. But the main thing for the juniors is to get more Czech kids playing cricket, and to have fun."

The Czech Junior Cricket Club is especially unique in that boys and girls play together on the same teams. By participating in cricket matches, kids learn a lot more than just competitive athletics. Each game is an individual lesson that encourages teamwork, compromise and, most of all, self-confidence, Page says.

"Kids themselves are always keen to participate in a social setting," Page says."In addition to athletic skills, these players are also learning a lot of life skills. Of course, there are the talented ‘stars,' but all of the players here are part of a team. Just because you're really good doesn't mean that you're going to be the only one to have a go."

Page has high hopes for the future of both the junior club and national team. He'd like to establish more afternoon cricket programs in schools throughout the city. This fall, the goal is to find a suitable home base for the junior national team. Currently, the players practice every second Sunday at Obora Hvìzda Park near Vypich in Prague 6. Right now the cricket union is considering developing a location at a tennis center near Olšanské námìstí in Prague into a proper cricket training area that can also host touring competitions, Page says.

"At the moment there's not a proper training area for the team," he says. "A lot of kids are learning to play, but, unless we travel, there's not a lot of competition."

When it comes to coaching youngsters in his favorite sport, Page does acknowledge a minor problem that may eventually arise.

"I've seen some really great players," he says with a chuckle."I just hope that I don't coach any of them who may eventually play for England and then beat Australia."

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