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Playing like a girl

27/7/17: This week we share a post written by one of our departing A2 pupils, Tilly C, on her experiences of playing cricket through the years. Tilly is currently playing for Hampshire Women's 1st XI squad.

The day I distinctly remember falling in love with cricket was on a family and friends camping holiday in Cornwall at the age of about nine. It was a holiday tradition to have a huge cricket game on the first night between the fathers and sons, but for once I was allowed to join in. I remember being passed the ball to bowl against the campsite superstar, who was the renowned cricketer in the school year above me. I felt it was a huge honour (at the time) to be able to bowl at him. It was like bowling against Kevin Peterson or AB de Villiers in my eyes, but my first ball I clean bowled him. Nobody could believe it, and I loved it! From that moment, I knew cricket was going to be my passion and the sport that I love to play. 

At St Katherine’s Primary School, playing from year 4 to 6 in both boys’ and girls’, softball and hardball teams, I was fortunate enough to have an extremely supportive Deputy Headteacher and cricket fanatic, Mr. Booth. He, alongside my father and grandfather, taught me the fundamentals of the game, which gave me a great starting point. The support they collectively gave me was massive; giving me belief that being the only girl on the team was a normality, my acceptance was never questioned. As a result, I was predominately friends with the boys in my team, who accepted me as an equal and still do today. With hindsight, I realise how important it is for all players to accept their team mates, irrelevant of gender, and that these barriers have to be broken. It is very clear to me now who the boys are that grew up playing cricket with me, or other girls, as they are far more accepting and supportive than those who have never experienced a girl in their own team before.  Unfortunately, I realised the hard way that being accepted like I had once been wouldn't always be the case. I was unaware that for me to be able to get to where I am today I would have to shed so many tears, bear frustrations and break barriers that certain people willingly and unwillingly put in my way. 

My dad is one of the main reasons I am still doing what I love today. Throughout the years of secondary school, I struggled to play the amount of cricket that I would have wanted to. I was repeatedly told, by both pupils and teachers, that cricket was only for boys and that I simply wasn't ‘tough enough’. But, thanks to my dad, I became heavily involved with Dorset Cricket, and was lucky enough to be given a lot of support from coaches who really pushed me in my early years, making my county women’s debut at the age of 12, and being the youngest female to score both a 50 and a century. In addition, they allowed me to train and be part of the boys’ teams, as it was more developed than the women’s, which again meant that I was able to push myself physically and mentally by training alongside the boys. 

I will forever be grateful for that Dorset experience, as I wouldn’t be where I am today without them. However, excelling at county level didn't stop the offensive comments that I would receive. I would often turn up to training where the boys would find it hilarious to have a competition between themselves to see who could hit me whilst bowling and make me cry first (or the most), which, as you can imagine, significantly knocked my confidence and I still suffer in some elements of my game today as a result of this ‘banter’. 

I understood fully that my passion was for a predominately male dominated game, so there would be challenges on the way, yet I never believed that these challenges would be planted by grown adults or, in certain cases, my own coaches. It was bad enough coming from your own peer group, but coming from adults, who should have been role models to me and been nothing but supportive towards my cricket and achievement, was at times almost too much of a psychological burden to bear. Having a grown man yell at you because you were a girl, or having a coach exclude you from a team on the basis of gender is something that I will not and will always refuse to grasp or accept. Yet what really upsets me is that even today some attitudes toward female sport have remained unchanged; even those of teachers and coaches, who we assume would be positively influencing the next generation. This worries me greatly as to how the attitudes of my generation and even my team mates may change because of these coaches’ personal problems and poor attitudes. I never want another girl to experience the barriers and issues I have had to face, playing like a girl is nothing but 100% positive and sport should be the ultimate level playing field. In my experience of being coached by many male coaches this simply isn’t always the case. 

Having carried several injuries and a nasty illness, which really set me back in my early teens, I remained determined to reach my dream of playing for England and this became a reality when I played for the England U16s in 2015. It reinforced that my hard work and dedication was worthwhile and only gave me more ammunition to prove the doubters wrong. With renewed vigour, I have missed out on parties and outings with friends, and have never been seen as the ‘girly girl’ due to the hours spent in the gym, doing rehab and prehab as well as building my strength, but also committing to extra training sessions to ensure that I was making the progress I wanted. 

I have felt, at times, that I have missed out on a lot in terms of my social life and I have worried that I would lose my friends over it. However, I realise that this was just merely a test for who my real friends are. Who will make plans around my training, and who will stick up for me against the horrible comments I receive. I am extremely lucky to have surrounded myself with some very true and encouraging friends who I have relied upon and who have really picked me up after an upset, or even stood up for me when I really needed it. This just illustrates how important your peer group must be, crucial especially when at school.  

I received sport scholarships for sixth form to Bryanston, Millfield and Canford and decided to take up the offer to come to Bryanston. I stand by my decision and can honestly say it is one of the best that I have ever made. The school facilities are out of this world and the extra help and support that you receive, in terms of pastoral care, has been phenomenal. My housemistress, Mrs Scott, has always been there to help with any problems that may arise, including enabling me to leave school for my training and matches but maintain my academic studies too. The coaching that I have received from both Mr. Morrises has been amazing. They've made every one of my sessions fun and enjoyable as well being very technical, so that I can improve as well as overcome many of my fears within my game. Mr. Chapman, the Head of Strength and Conditioning, has worked tremendously close with Clara (one of the school physiotherapists) to make sure that I am still able to play and train this year to the best that I can through the several reoccurring injuries that I have come up against. 

Following all of the setbacks I have faced, through negative and nasty comments about being a girl, and not being included in teams or training with the old-fashioned opinion that girls can’t do what boys can do, even within the school system, all those mentioned have reminded me of my love for the game and the reasons why I am playing. But all credit has to go to Mr F-D, the Director of Sport at Bryanston, for everything he has done these past two years as my tutor. Any small problem that may have arisen, any upset, through all the ups and downs, he has always found a way to fix it or, more importantly, helped me to find a way to fix it. He has been unbelievably supportive, never ignoring the smallest or largest achievements that I have made in the past year or so. I can truly say that he has made my time at Bryanston imperative for my cricketing career as well as for my personal development. I believe this sort of care could not be offered anywhere other than at Bryanston. Without the extra help from all the above, and others, I truly believe that the barriers, frustrations and negative comments would have beaten me and I wouldn’t be where I am now; playing for Hampshire alongside some of the greatest female cricketers in the world in Charlotte Edwards and Suzie Bates, going to Loughborough next year and still aspiring to become an England cricketer. 

I would encourage any aspiring female athletes to come to Bryanston. It was, and always will be one of the best decisions I have ever made. I would like to thank everyone who has been a part of my journey, for all that they have done for me in my past two years at school as they have reinforced my love for cricket and reminded me of my goals and targets for when I leave. Playing like a girl will never be a bad thing and the way to break the barriers for all other aspiring female sportswomen is just to keep smashing through them till nothing stands in your way.