How bursaries can help coaches from diverse backgrounds take the next step
Former England fast bowler Dean Headley (pictured above) is one of many ambitious coaches to benefit from the ECB’s bursary scheme aimed at diversifying coaching at all levels and giving opportunities to under-represented groups.
Headley, who played 15 Tests in the late 1990s, has been head of cricket at Stamford Endowed Schools in Lincolnshire for the past decade. A bursary has enabled him to pursue a Level 4 coaching qualification, the highest in the game that potentially unlocks the door to some of the top jobs in the professional game. The scheme, which launched in 2020, made awards to 10 Black coaches last year and also awarded funding to the National Asian Cricket Council for the development of coaches of South Asian origin.
Competition for the bursaries was fierce. “There were three interviews, questioning myself and my philosophy – it was a stringent process,” explains Headley, who has unrivalled cricketing pedigree. His grandfather George Headley was the first great Black batsman to emerge from the Caribbean; his father Ron also played for West Indies and in the county game.
One of the barriers to entry to the elite coaching programmes has been the academic nature of the course, putting off someone like Headley who did not go to university. “Ten years ago, I would never have thought of trying Level 4,” he says.
But the shift away from academia and the embracing of blended (online) learning has had the dual effect of increasing accessibility and reducing cost. Previously, even to take a Level 2 coaching course could take six to eight months with up to five days spent away from home and a cost of £300-£700. Now it’s £150 for two days online plus two days face to face.
Another barrier to entry that has been removed is the requirement of being nominated by a county in order to progress to the Level 3 qualification. Now anyone who has passed Level 2 can apply.
“The business model had to change and we no longer subsidise everyone at elite level,” explains John Neal, the ECB’s head of coach development. “We target support and we’ve been able to provide bursaries to those who need them most even in times of austere budgets.” A major focus for Neal is increasing the number of female coaches and those with a disability.
In 2017, only around 6% of qualified coaches were from an ethnic minority. On the most recent Specialist (Level 4) course, courses, 28% were from an ethnic minority background and 21% on the Advanced (Level 3) course. Bursaries have now been introduced for the introductory levels (Levels 1 and 2) and applications have surged at all levels despite the pandemic.
Both Neal and Headley are wary of anything that appears to be tokenistic. “In the past, talking to coaches from an ethnic minority background, they thought ‘what's the point’ but there is a point now,” says Neal. “Opportunity but without positive discrimination because then it’s tokenism.”
Headley, who grew up in Stourbridge in the West Midlands, adds: “My own experience is not that of many black and minority ethnic people who have grown up in cities. I'm a firm believer that you pick the best person for the job although how we get to that best person might need to looking at.”
In their 2020 pursuit of a new head coach, Warwickshire adopted American football’s Rooney Rule, that seeks to redress racial imbalance in coaching staff by ensuring that every hiring process contains at least one candidate from a minority background. The ECB has also embraced the Rooney Rule for all performance pathway appointments.
Headley is open about his ambitions but phlegmatic too. “I want to work in professional cricket but, as I say to the kids I coach, at the end of the day the sport has to pick you,” he says. “I'm 51 years of age, I'd like to think that a chance wouldn't be taken away from me because of the colour of my skin. If somebody says I'm not good enough to be there, and that’s OK by me.”
But whatever the level or the role, there’s no doubting Headley’s passion to inspire. In pre-Covid times. he organised a screening at his school in Stamford of Fire in Babylon, the acclaimed documentary about the all-conquering West Indies teams of the 70s and 80s with their elite battery of fast bowlers.
“We had 400-500 people there,” he says, “and the next day, we went out onto the fields and used a shortened pitch and a soft ball. Suddenly, there were five slips in and a short leg. The kids absolutely loved it – it’s all about enthusing people to look at our game in a different way. We have to offer the format of the game that suits the environment where young people want to play it.”