The Positive Impact of Cricket
All Abilities Cricket Program for Children and Young Adults
The Valley District Cricket Club’s (VDCC) All Abilities Program is coming into its 5th year. With the goal of providing opportunities for children and young adults with an intellectual disability to learn and play cricket, it continues to grow each year.
The program was developed by Karen (Kaz) Willis and Clinton Kempnich “George”, who has over 30+ years in special needs teaching. The idea came out of a conversation Kaz had with a mum at a cricket game who told Kaz about how much her younger child wanted to try cricket, but due to his autism there were no opportunities available for him. As Kaz has a son on the spectrum herself, and involved with VDCC as a family, it really hit home to Kaz that she was right – there really wasn’t anything out there for these children.
While many leaps have been taken towards inclusive sports, there is still a long way to go. Latest ABS figures show that only 1 in 5 children with a disability participate in sport and get to experience the physical, emotional, and social benefits that sports can offer. Barriers such as inaccessible facilities, limited specialised coaching, and a lack of inclusive programs often hinder their participation. This not only deprives them of the joys of physical activity but can also extend to a sense of exclusion and isolation.
Kaz’s whole family absolutely love cricket – her husband and two teenage boys all play at Valleys. While Kaz doesn’t play, she has coordinated the Club’s Cricket Blast programs and volunteered in the Club’s junior’s space for over 10 years. Her youngest son was diagnosed with autism in primary school and while he was high functioning in many areas, he struggled with socialisation and emotion regulation. This sometimes meant that he didn’t want to participate in team sports because the environment didn’t have what he needed to be able to enjoy the experience. He felt “different”, and this tended to make his social anxiety worse. But over the years of playing cricket at Valleys he found his “place”. He has had great mentors and other players who have supported him and understood that he processes things differently. At the end of the day, he has great cricketing skills and is now playing 6th grade men’s Premier cricket. He is also one of the coaches now for the All Abilities program and he absolutely loves it!
Of all the benefits that this program brings to the participants, the one that really stands out is that the participants love being part of a team environment.
“Many of the parents have expressed to me that when their child puts on their Valleys training shirt they are so excited, because for many of them it’s the first time they have been in a team or belonged to a club”, said Kaz.
Kaz continued, “The next best thing is the relationships the participants build with the coaches. Usually on week 1 of the program they are tentative in their interactions, but by week 4 they literally jump out of the car and run to see their coach. It’s just so heart-warming to see them enjoying themselves and trying so hard to improve their skills”.
The Club Chairman, Grant Mitchell has said on many occasions, that the All Abilities Program is the best thing that Valleys District Cricket Club has ever done – and it really is. For the participants, for the parents, for the coaches – and for Kaz.
The program is not just about playing cricket; it’s about embracing abilities, nurturing potential, and fostering inclusivity.
To register – scan the QR code below:
Follow the program on Facebook (VDCC All Abilities Cricket Program) or Instagram @All_Abilities_Cricket
Photo credits: Colin Bushell Photography