In his latest blog, national fisheries and angling manager John Ellis explores the value of junior angling teams, for sport and for youth development. After a decline in numbers over the last few decades, John believes it’s time for a revival, starting with this year’s junior championships.
The importance of teams in life
Speak to any great business leader and they will confirm that rarely, if ever, can the skill of one individual match the collective input of a co-operative team all working together as equals towards well-defined goals. Humans are social animals: our evolutionary history developed around groups and tribes.
As the world becomes ever more complex, the need for co-operation and collaboration is even more vital. It's true for families, for companies, for whole economies and for the long-term sustainable future of the planet. To make progress in your career, you'll need to be a team player.
And as we grow and learn and reach a certain vintage, we look back with immense fondness at the teams we were once part of, especially sporting teams.
The most popular sports are team sports
Statistically most young people prefer playing their chosen sports as part of a team. Consider the biggest participant sports in the UK: football, cricket, the two rugby codes, netball and rowing. Tennis and golf competitions are often enjoyed playing in pairs too.
Fishing offers the potential for the best of both worlds. Going fishing on your own is nice and easy. If you want to take part in football or cricket, it's not so easy to get involved on your own.
Where we in the angling world might have gone awry is to collectively fail to provide enough opportunities for those children whose sporting preference is being part of a team.
Cricket versus fishing
My second favourite summer sport was always cricket, and I became an unspectacular blocker for the Cholmondeley second team. Sir Geoffrey would have been proud. These days there are an estimated 900,000 regular cricketers, a few more than the number of active freshwater anglers.
It's hard to play cricket if you're not in a team. Think of how much better being part of a fishing team is compared to cricket. The batting team has 9 out of 11 of its members sat down in the pavilion for half the game, and if you're unlucky enough to be out first ball, that's it until next week, assuming the captain picks you again. There can only ever be one bowler doing the business at a time. If you're fielding out on the boundary, you might never get to see the ball.
But in a fishing team you compete from start to finish. Your weight or points always matter. Even in the last five minutes you can land a match-winning fish and go from zero to hero in one fell swoop.
Football versus fishing
Ever wondered how fishing is doing compared to the number one participant sport, football? According to the Football Association's report into the state of the game in 2015, there were 27,369 small-sided junior teams, 23,998 mini soccer teams, 33,4165 youth male teams and 3,596 youth female teams.
I think it's fair to say that fishing still has more than a little work to do to reach the same level of participation as the current national game.
Junior teams in fishing: the glory years
The decline of opportunities for youngsters to get involved in junior teams is a relatively recent phenomenon. Growing up in the 1970s in North Shropshire, that most rural and sparsely populated of the English shires, we at Grindley Brook held regular junior matches. Those who were keen to take the next step up the ladder went on to represent Wyche Anglers at junior national level.
As recently as 1990, 50 teams of 12 anglers took part in the National Federation of Anglers Cadet, Junior & Intermediate National. Let's Fish! coaches Simon Mottram and Chris Harvey made their debuts that year. Alas, the number of participants had declined from 600 to just eight teams of six anglers by 2019, representing a far bigger drop in junior teams than has been seen in any other sport.
Creating and developing teams is hard work for Let's Fish! coaches. It involves significant, sustained effort from the whole of the angling club's coaching team. Most young first-timers will need several development sessions to make sure that they're good and ready to fish alone, and can do the basics, such as feeding and unhooking fish. However, the more work coaches put in, the more quickly they'll see improvements in their individual team members.
The sport needs to grow its volunteer base of coaches. Anything really worthwhile in life rarely comes easily and the reward of seeing your young team proudly lining up on the bank is always worth it in the end.
To help coaches up and down the land with training and preparing their junior anglers, we've recently produced a new series of instructional videos for those youngsters who know the basics and are ready to move on.
A new team opportunity
For the first time ever, we've introduced a teams competition into the two younger age categories of the cadet, junior and youth championships. It's a great way for participants to represent their school, angling club, tackle shop, scout or guide group, or community group.
To make it easy to take part, we've kept the number of team members needed very manageable, at just three.
Anyone who wants to be part of a team must first register to participate individually, in their appropriate age category.
Fishing for England
We've been working with Tackle Guru's Matt Godfrey, the three-time world junior champion and member of the 2019 Angling Trust Division One National-winning team, Barnsley DAA. We're delighted to announce that, subject to conditions on age and country of residence, the top ten finishers in the 2020 junior championship will be offered a place on the Angling Trust's 2021 Guru Talent Pathway, from which England's international team is chosen.
How long will it be before a youngster who started off their fishing career at a Let's Fish! taster session ends up fishing for England or Wales?