Caption: Katrina working with children at Jasper Williams High School.
By LAURA MACINTOSH
Earlier this year we were privileged enough to receive a visit from former White Ferns World Champion player, Katrina Keenan, who recently returned to the helm of New Zealand’s Women’s Cricket, this time as a coach. Katrina graciously took a break from her holiday in the Mamanuca’s with her family to share her love and knowledge of the game at a grassroots level in Fiji. We also had the opportunity to have a chat with her about her cricket journey…
Although generally considered a mainstream sport in New Zealand alongside popular favourites such as rugby and netball, for girls, cricket is still not a widely accepted option. In hindsight however, Katrina says she was lucky that her father always loved having a daughter who played cricket.
“That support and encouragement made a huge difference,” Katrina recalled.
She remembers first playing the game in primary school, and credits her positive experience there to her passion for grassroots cricket today.
“All of those ‘first’ cricket experiences were so cool!” Katrina exclaimed. “Attending coaching sessions and festival days…meeting some (of my) cricket idols, getting my first bat…”
Even at the tender age of a primary school student, Katrina says she knew she wanted to play cricket for New Zealand one day.
“I practiced most days and was always happy to train in order to get better,” she said. “I was very involved in the game in my home province of Canterbury, attending coaching courses, helping out at clinics, and progressing through the age-group structure. I quickly saw that there could be a pathway as a player and/or coach in the game, so this was a great motivator.”
As a player, Katrina’s persistence and hard work paid off, as not only did she reach the ultimate heights of the sport she loved in New Zealand, but also in the world. In 2000 she was a member of the White Ferns team who took out the World Cup, a moment Katrina unsurprisingly regards as her greatest playing experience ever.
After retiring from the dizzying heights of reaching the ultimate pinnacle of her sport as a player, Katrina began to further her career in cricket, this time as a coach.
“I started coaching cricket from a very young age,” Katrina said. “I was always motivated to go on coaching courses and attend clinics and seminars so that I could learn as much as possible about the game. Getting involved initially at the grass roots level meant I was able to be part of the delivery of cricket to schools, which was really exciting.”
Katrina then had her first experience working in the International Cricket Council’s East-Asia Pacific Development Programme, as coach of the Japan Women’s Team.
“The have the most incredible work ethic and attitude to learning,” Katrina said of the Japanese women.
After a series of stints coaching at both local and international level – including at the helm of the White Ferns – Katrina is now working on establishing her own skills and drills development program targeting core skill development in primary- and intermediate-school aged students. As she currently delivers such programs in three primary schools in her hometown of Christchurch, her trip to Fiji came at an opportune time to see what the talent was like in a similar setting on a different Pacific island.
“It was a fantastic experience for me,” Katrina said of her time spent in Fiji learning about the nation’s cricket culture. “It was a very well organized visit with an opportunity to work with both children and adult players. I absolutely loved working with the children in the schools – there was so much natural talent… To then have the opportunity to work with the local women’s team really capped off a great day. It is a great feeling as a coach to share your knowledge with people who are really receptive and keen to learn.”
Despite only being able to spend a limited amount of time with Cricket Fiji’s staff, learning about the current status of the game in Fiji, Katrina said she was impressed with the current programs in place on the ground, and the capacity of the local staff that are employed to deliver them. Reiterating her passion for growing cricket from a grassroots level up, Katrina stated that she saw a strong focus on development as the immediate way forward for Fijian cricket.
“Despite it only being a short visit, I see the immediate future as two-fold,” Katrina explained. “One, (the) development of the game and increasing participation at the junior level, and two, developing pathways and opportunities for high performance cricketers. The depth of natural talent that I saw at the schools was staggering, (therefore) following up (with) playing opportunities and talent identification of athletes becomes crucial.”
So why is cricket such a great game to get involved in at a grassroots level? Well in Katrina’s words, it’s not just a great game for the whole family to be involved with, but also provides a fantastic range of career opportunities for not just boys, but also girls.
“For girls particularly I think it is a great team sport,” Katrina added. “There are some fantastic opportunities to play, travel and carve a career path in the game internationally as a female cricketer.”
This is why for Katrina, although her career as a player has come to an end, she is passionate about spreading the game she loves not only in New Zealand, but throughout the neighbouring Fiji Islands as well.
“I love the game,” Katrina said simply. “It has been a life long commitment (for me) and I want to share my skills and experience with people who also have a desire to learn and succeed in the game.”