Most professional sportspeople wish their careers could last forever; that they could exist like Peter Pan, be the exemption from the rule and play the sport they love forever. However, at some point reality kicks in and the thought of, ‘what next?’ can’t be ignored for any longer. A year ago the answer came knocking on my door in the form of the Royal Hospital School in Suffolk, and my journey in coaching within a school environment began.
It was an opportunity that was too good to pass up with the prospect of continuing to be involved in the sport I love, whilst having access to high-end facilities and living in a beautiful setting by the River Stour. Going back to school was, however, a little daunting! Academia was never my strong point; my passion at school was always sport and I was never without a cricket bat or football. I also treasure the friendships I made with teammates; memories of my school days are some of my fondest.
By setting up the Graham Napier Cricket Academy here at RHS, I am not only opening up the excellent facilities and coaching opportunities to pupils at the school but also to the wider community through outreach programmes and events outside of term time. My ambition is to promote cricket throughout Suffolk and the academy will be a hub for boys and girls of all ages and abilities.
Working and training with young people is great fun, they absorb everything you tell them and improvement happens quickly as they apply the coaching, so it’s very rewarding. My hope is that they benefit from the invaluable qualities that sport can provide such as discipline, hard work, determination and the ability to deal with disappointment. Cricket is a gentleman’s game played within written, and unwritten, rules. One day you might be the talk of the town as you scored 100, but the next you might be out for a duck; so it’s a great leveller, even for some of the best professional players.
My 20 years of professional cricket experience is a real advantage when working with the elite players here at the Royal Hospital School. No one ever professes to master the game, there is always something more to learn, but my background helps me to know how to make those all-important gains to polish the players to be the best they can. I can also show them the right direction and pass on my knowledge if they wish to pursue a professional career.
I have been running regular practices, early in the morning and after the school day, since September and way before the season starts. It is important that the teams hit the ground running, batsmen have hit plenty of balls and bowlers have to worked on lines and lengths. It looks like it’s going to be a good year for us. Girls’ cricket, in particular, is on the up which is a trajectory I want to continue. We have an exciting fixtures list for this upcoming season and we are recruiting strong sportswomen into the talent pipeline.
I would recommend making the leap into independent education coaching to any professional sportsperson. The facilities and pitches are phenomenal, there is an ambition and desire amongst the young people which makes them fall in love with the sport (as I did) and play to whatever level they choose to push themselves towards. The boarding community that I have become part of is friendly and welcoming and helps with the transition into a completely different environment. And although the terms are incredibly very busy, it’s true what they say about the holidays!
One final piece of advice I give as a coach, and player, is to practise. Enjoy the process of practising and challenging yourself, as if you only ever do the easy drills you’ll never improve or strive to make yourself better.