Sevenoaks teacher Sarah Eversfield continues her series of interviews for Sevenoaks Sport & Wellbeing and this month interviews founding director of Invicta Cricket Coaching and Head of Cricket at Sevenoaks School, Dave Smith.
Dave Smith is an ECB Level 3 coach, he is passionate about developing technical cricket prowess alongside enjoyment of sport and making friends for life. He has recently founded a new venture, the Online Cricket Academy, and coaches in the Kent County Cricket pathway. He plays and coaches at Tunbridge Wells Cricket Club.
Was sport important in your childhood?
My main memories of primary school are sport – playing in the school football team when I was in Year 3, playing in the cricket team too, playing club football and district football. And I started playing club cricket when I was about seven or eight as well.
And what was it that you enjoyed about it at that stage?
I think just being active to start with. And then being quite physically fit and active anyway, I think I just worked out that I was quite kind of skilful and good at the things I was doing. With success comes more enjoyment, and then you get that hunger for it and you want to get better and just kind of keep climbing the ladder. So I was probably fairly driven from a sporting point of view from quite a young age.
Were you driven at school? Or was it only sport that really motivated you?
I was never terrible at school. But I think I’ve known from a very young age that I either wanted to play a sport professionally or coach sport professionally. I think that was really clear in my mind.
I can’t remember wanting to be anything else. I’ve always joked that I’ve never had a proper job in my life. I’ve always been a cricket coach. And I’ve always played sport.
It was at university that I realised that I kind of knew that it was going to be really tough to make it as a player and that I had to kind of go down other avenues and look at the coaching side in a lot more detail. But as soon as I was 16, I got my coaching qualifications in cricket, and didn’t really look back from there.
Is being a professional athlete a dream that you wish you had pursued or is that just something that wasn’t an option?
Being really honest, it wasn’t. I wasn’t that person. Although I actually probably had my best cricket year in my first year at university, I realised that either I was going to have to really make some sacrifices and work incredibly hard, harder I had ever realised before. Or I was going to have to change my ambition.
I started playing minor counties, cricket for Oxfordshire and had some of the best years cricket of my life playing for them. But I realised that unless I made those sacrifices, I wasn’t going to truly make it.
What were the sacrifices? And why didn’t you want to make them?
I get this question a lot from young people aspiring to be professionals. Obviously you have to be incredibly physically fit. Gone are the days where professional sport can involve going to the pub a few times a week, and having a laugh with your mates – it’s just so much more physically demanding now. And the mental side of your game’s got to be really strong. Skills-wise, every year, there’s just more and more that’s demanded of you.
So the sacrifices you have to make are not going out for that for that meal with your mates or not going for that night out. Spending that extra time training.
I still probably trained for one or two hours a day, including gym sessions and cricket sessions, but when you look at the best in the world and why they’re the best in the world, they have made those big sacrifices – they’ve trained for more than two hours a day, they’ve worked incredibly hard on their fitness, been incredibly clean with their diet, gone above and beyond.
But there’s a lot that you can get out of sport without being the best in the world. And, presumably, the majority of the people that you coach aren’t going to be the best in the world, but you still want them to absolutely love their sport. So how do you think you bring that to your coaching? How do you foster that love of cricket?
We go all the way from holiday courses, which are for someone who might not have ever played cricket, all the way to someone who is close to potentially being a professional cricketer. I think that has helped me a lot in terms of working out my coaching philosophy.
Cricket is for everyone, but you’ve got to grab them and get that interest from them. So I focus on making it really fun. I make the drills and sessions achievable, so that they can get a taste of success.
And then with that success becomes a bit more enjoyment, and then you get them hooked in and then they want to get better, and it’s a big rolling circle from there.
I also think I give a platform for kids to have fun with their mates and enjoy themselves, learning some new skills in a very relaxed way, in an environment where they feel like they can come and talk to you and ask you any questions that they want as well.
Some coaches are very prescriptive, and have a dictatorship relationship rather than an engaging, positive, two-way relationship. I believe coaches need to actually engage with an individual and invest in that person, rather than just coaching everyone as the same person.
Why cricket? You’re a good footballer, you played lots of sports growing up. What was it that about cricket that captured your imagination and that you think captures the imagination of the kids that you coach?
It’s quite a technical game. It’s a team game that is played by individuals, and there’s so many different elements to it – teamwork, the mental side, the technical side, the tactical side.
Maybe it looks boring from the outside sometimes, but you get a bit deeper into it, and you understand a bit more about it and it’s fascinating. There are so many things to engage with, learn and try and develop. I try to get everyone I coach to feel like that too!
How was Invicta Cricket Coaching born?
I had grown up playing cricket with Mike Barber; we played in the Kent age groups together. He’s from Sevenoaks and I’m from the Ramsgate area. We both found ourselves working for another cricket coaching company and we were kind of running all the things in this area for them. And we thought we could probably do it ourselves.
We set up our own business and we broke away. It was not an easy decision to make and is one we don’t regret, but we’re older now and have realised we could have handled it a little bit differently.
Why is this area of Kent such a great area to work in?
It’s an incredibly strong sporting area, if you look at all the clubs that are involved, whether it’s hockey, football, rugby, cricket, there are so many strong clubs with big junior sections. There are great schools, private and state, with great sporting programmes.
It’s just a great place to be and learn how to play sport.
You and Mike were pretty young when you both started your company. How has it been growing into your roles now?
A positive step has been getting other people involved and Mike and I just focusing on the coaching and the planning. We’re cricket coaches, not admin or business people.
We were very lucky to have someone invest in the company three years ago, who has a very strong business and admin background. And that has transformed Invicta onto another level. We also now have someone who runs our admin as well. We’ve built a structure where we can concentrate on what we’re good at and other people can can deal with the background stuff.
What is your favourite part of the job? What is what gets you up in the morning very early to coach?
I’m Head of Cricket and I want to make Sevenoaks School the best cricket school in this area. So getting up in the morning is easy for me, because I’ve got 10 kids to work with every morning that I want to make better cricketers.
I want to make cricket in this area as strong as it can possibly be.
We do that by constant interaction with kids and trying to improve kids’ cricket – not just their cricket actually but their life in general. I think that’s my favourite part of the job – having a genuine impact on the whole person, not just their cricket.
What does cricket bring to a child’s development, other than being good at cricket? Are there lots of life skills too?
I think there’s so many characteristics and attributes that cricket can really help you with: working in a team, being disciplined, thinking about the game, being physically fit, being adaptable and flexible with your tactics and approach. Captain wise, you’ve got to be a good leader, you’ve got to set the example.
What makes a good coach who can achieve all that?
I’ve just done my ECB Level 3. And I think the big thing that came out of that course for me wasn’t necessarily the skills or the knowledge, it was the real importance of getting to know that person that you’re coaching.
In a group environment, we can get an understanding of what makes each child tick, working out how each kid learns, and what makes them what makes them improve best.
You’ve got to invest that time in that in that group of players or that individual to work that out. And then adapt your style of coaching; you can’t just always coach every kid the same way.
So, that has really become even more apparent for me in the last sort of year or so. I think I’ve always sort of known that anyway and tried to do that, but I think it’s just reinforced it in my head.
Can you help anyone to improve a lot if they want to work hard?
Absolutely. I think it is all about how hard you work. Even when you look at professional cricketers, there are some who are very, very limited in terms of their talent, but they have just got grit or incredible mental strength, or they know their own game plan so well, that they can still perform really well.
Sometimes I’ll have kids on holiday courses who are not that interested in cricket and just want a laugh, and then you’ve got someone of the same age who loves cricket, and is an absolute cricket nerd, and you have to coach them both together.
I really think you can make it fun for the kid who doesn’t really want to be there and you can still make them like cricket, by making that session really fun. And then the kid that is taking it really seriously, you can take them to one side, maybe we’ll do that little bit extra in the lunch break or something.
So it’s just about the coach being adaptable and thinking how they can benefit as many people as possible.
Why do you think you’ve got a good rapport with children?
I think I’m a very, very laid-back person. I don’t take anything too seriously, don’t take myself too seriously. And I just think if you invest that time in someone, and you show that you are willing to listen to them, and you’re willing to improve them, then you automatically just get that buy-in from the kid. And if you can get that buy-in from that from that person you’re coaching or that group of kids, they’ll do anything for you. If you tell them to do something, they’ll do it. I think it is about winning them over, essentially. And you’ve just got to work out how to do that with any given player or group.
How has COVID-19 affected you?
It’s been it’s been pretty tough from a coaching point of view. In the first lockdown in March 2020, we had eight weeks when we couldn’t coach and everyone was in national lockdown. We did our best in that time.
We sent out links to videos and little hand-eye coordination drills that kids could do at home, created our own videos, cracked on and tried to offer as much to our kids as possible. We did Zoom webinars, we did masterclasses with some professionals.
Then we came up with the idea to launch the Online Cricket Academy, which could be a whole lot bigger on a worldwide level than Invicta.
We tried to do as much as possible for our for our Area kids and for our database of people that we work with. We sent all the information out to the clubs, and they sent it out to their kids.
We had an amazing second half of the summer. I think the work that we did in that lockdown, coaching kids and keeping them engaged meant we were fully booked with 1-1s and had loads of people on our summer courses.
There’s no doubt that we’ve lost out on a lot of income due to COVID. But maybe it’s helped us to improve what we’re doing and keep evolving.
At the end of the day, we’re trying to keep our kids engaged. We’re still doing Zoom calls in this lockdown, and are doing three fitness sessions a week online – with 70 kids tuning in sometimes!
What do you think are the most exciting future developments at the moment in cricket?
I think it’s an interesting time; everyone has looked at the online resources that they can offer. As that content evolves it will make good quality coaching available at a distance, so that’s very exciting.
The other interesting thing is different formats of cricket developing.
Women’s cricket is very exciting and developing. In the next two or three years, I think women’s cricket is going to keep developing and growing – it just needs its funding to grow to match that. It’s different to the men’s game in terms of power, but it’s incredibly skilful. And the technique is exactly the same. I just think we’ve got to work out how to bring that across to viewers and get everyone watching it.
Do you see coaching girls as an important part of what you do?
Absolutely. I recently took on a new role coaching girls at Tunbridge Wells.
What interested me with that role is that girls’ cricket has a big drop-off rate. At the moment there is a group of girls in Kent that could be absolutely phenomenal cricketers, and I want to have as much impact as possible in keeping them in the game and keeping them playing.
I think it’s exciting for girls at the moment now the ECB has introduced a further 40 professional female cricketers that are now getting paid underneath the England players. I think it’s an exciting time to be a good women’s cricketer or be a young women’s cricketer who wants to get as good as they can be. There are now actual opportunities to make a living out of playing women’s cricket.
I hope that in in 5-10 years’ time, I’ve got some players that I’ve developed over their childhood that are now professional cricketers – and I certainly hope that some of them are women.
Do you want your own daughter to play?
I’ve not pushed her to really do anything. If she if she comes to me and wants to keep doing it, then then we’ll do it. And otherwise she’ll do it in her own time and play as many sports as she can for as long as she can. I think is that is the big message that I would try and instil in her.
Why is that – sport for life – such an important message?
I think the networks and friends and memories you make from playing sport are just invaluable. It’s incredibly good for your mental health.
Those networks will result in great fun and friendships but also just having that support when you need it.
You can listen to the full interview between Sarah and Dave by searching for Full of Fire on all major podcast platforms.