Now, you can get all the USA Cricket updates via Facebook. Also follow us on Twitter via @dreamcricket
By Venu Palaparthi
Earlier in September, USACA announced its strategic plan for the 2014-2016 period. In a letter accompanying the strategy document titled "Planning for a Bright Future," USACA President Gladstone Dainty called the plan "cricket's roadmap for the next three years."
Dainty also wrote in the note that the plan addresses the 'areas of most need' - increase the number of young children playing cricket, including and involving more young girls and women in development programs and regular weekly competition, improving talented player pathways and regional competition structures, increasing coach and umpire accreditation numbers, establishing more quality cricket facilities, provide strong, transparent and world's best practice leadership.
The plan also articulates the organization's mission, which is "To Develop, implement and refine first class experiences for all cricket participants throughout USA.
On the whole, this is a good roadmap document and setting measurable targets must be commended. However, it should not come as a surprise to our readers that this is not the first such plan or vision document from USACA. In fact, during Dainty's tenure as President, we have seen three strategy plans (in 2002, 2006 and 2013), a vision document (2008) and Don Lockerbie's 2009 three-point plan.
As Cricinfo's Deb Das presciently wrote in 2004, "It is not clear that the USACA even knows how to proceed on a national basis with such goals." In January 2006, when USACA published the Strategic Development Plan for 2006-2007 (picture at right), it was once again Das who wrote: "a five-year track record of failure is not easy to overlook, and there will be skeptics and cynics who will be comparing the past with the present and asking some very hard questions."
This time is no different. For evidence, look at the most important goal that USACA has set itself in the 2014-2016 plan - "50,000 people will play cricket in the USA by 2017." Now, take a look at the 2002-2006 plan dated January 17, 2002. That plan spoke of increasing the number of cricketers to 50,000 by 2006. Ten years later, that goal has not shifted a bit.
Even if we are to give USACA credit for refocusing on the 50,000 metric after a ten year hiatus, USACA should clarify what that number denotes. Nearly all US sports publish at least three types of counts - casual players (those that play the regulation version of the game at least once a year), core participants (those that play at least 13 times a year) and registered participants (those active players that are members of registered clubs and leagues).
As access to cricket has improved, the number of recreational cricketers in the USA has grown dramatically in recent years. In DreamCricket's estimate, the total number of cricketers that play some form of cricket now stands at over 250,000 (USACA put that number at 200,000 in 2010). USACA has struggled to convert that baseline number into core participation and paid membership. US Lacrosse, which had roughly 62,000 registered players at the start of the millennium, grew that count to 400,000 registered members by 2011. Lacrosse's core participation stood at 800,000 and total participation at 1.5 million by 2011 end.
To reach more people, it needs to collaborate with the leagues and clubs that are toiling at the grassroots. "Many Americans are committed to ensuring that the sport succeeds in the USA and we intend to harness this enthusiasm," Dainty wrote in his note accompanying the plan without specifying how USACA plans to do that. A good starting point would be to put cricketing interests ahead of political interests of the ruling class. Until USACA figures that out, the holding pattern will continue despite cricket's immense potential.
"We are ready to break out," Don Lockerbie, USACA's former CEO told The New York Times in 2010. What we have seen since 2010 is not a break out but a comprehensive breakdown. The euphoria of the 2010 period when commercial deals were signed and Destination USA got immediate traction has waned - all that is now a distant memory.
As of 2013, the much touted commercial deals are not exactly filling USACA's coffers and paid membership has suffered due to USACA's decision to disqualify 32 leagues under the guise of a compliance review. Leagues saw it as a politically motivated decision and many still sit on the sidelines even as confidence in USACA has continued to ebb.
As far as I can tell, no attempts are being made to build bridges. Instead, we have seen more posturing and further bad blood. Nowhere is it more evident than in schools and junior cricket. The 2002 plan and the 2013 plan both make a strong case for schools cricket - "Schools cricket program and PE teachers training program" and "Junior cricket leagues and coaching programs" (2002). "Establish US cricket curriculum for elementary and middle schools" and "Establish Junior Cricket Clubs in high take up regions" (2013).
This is an area where US Youth Cricket Association (USYCA) has made significant progress, enjoys tremendous goodwill, and has an army of committed grassroots volunteers. Time was when relations between USYCA and USACA were warm, if not harmonious. Some USACA board members even made personal donations to USYCA in recognition of its efforts. Over the last three years, that relationship has turned into a confrontation instead of collaboration.
USACA's objectives listed under 'Sustainable Pathways' are reasonable goals. In the 2002 plan, USACA spoke of its aim to "certify 2000 umpires, 2000 coaches, [and] at least 150 advanced certified coaches" by 2006. Perhaps wiser from that experience, the 2014-2016 plan is less specific and only talks of standardized approaches and accreditations schemes. With ICC's backing and with Andy Pick's hiring as USACA's High Performance Manager based in Florida, USACA should be able to check those boxes off easily.
I am equally optimistic about the goals USACA has set for itself in the area of communications. Darren Beazley is a seasoned professional and, with him as CEO, USACA has already made some strides in this area. Beazley's Partnerships newsletters have been effective in communicating what has been going on within his sphere of influence. USACA's website too is much improved and its social media presence is not the embarrassment it once was.
I am more of a realist when it comes to USACA's objectives that involve money, such as 'Establishing Club Assistance Fund,' 'National Facilities Fund,' 'Establish Cricket Futures Fund,' etc. Those are noble but lofty goals for an organization that reported assets of $369K and liabilities of $2.2 Million at the end of 2011. [USACA sought an extension until November 15, 2013 for the 2012 tax filing.]
[Strategy Plan illustration courtesy of USACA.org; 2006 plan picture from WayBack Machine.]