Geelong director of women's cricket Sarah Pike believes an increase in active female coaches in the state to 1000 by 2028 as part of a long-term Cricket Victoria strategic roadmap will have lasting impacts on participation rates.
The prominent Hamilton-raised women's cricket administrator says the recently released roadmap, which identifies a bold six-year strategy to increase girls' participation by 100 per cent across club and Woolworths Cricket Blast to 30,000, is a positive step forward.
"I think the six years is a really good thing because it needs to be done properly and it'll take time," she told The Standard.
"If we get this right and we haven't seen the key actions yet but if we get that right, it'll do some amazing things for cricket."
She said introducing and supporting more female coaches to join grassroots clubs was perhaps the most critical element in the success of the strategy.
Warrnambool's Steph Townsend - head coach of Nirranda in the WDCA and a development coach at Geelong - Dunkeld's Jess Field, a Monivae College Cricket Academy mentor and Camperdown's Grace Lee, who is coaching the Western Waves' under 15 girls team, are some of the region's most prominent female coaches.
"Female coaches are absolutely vital in growing the game so I think it's really good actually," Pike said of the heavy focus on developing female coaches.
"We are very fortunate we've got some really amazing females involved (in the south-west program), but we need to have that focus on community cricket and getting more females coaching at that grassroots level.
"That's going to help support getting more girls involved, staying in the game and will propel the growth if we get more role models in the sport at that base level.
"It's certainly a key component (to female participation) - whether girls don't get involved because they have to play with the boys side or it's intimidating for men coaching, especially for young girls, but if we've got engaging females that the girls are comfortable around that will help support it.
"In women's cricket, it's rare to see female coaches at the grassroots level. If we can flip it on its head a bit, it'll encourage girls to get involved."
The strategy - primarily targeting girls aged five to 12 - aims to focus on strengthening the footprint at a community level and opening up further playing and coaching opportunities in Premier and elite cricket by providing the best possible facilities and making the game gender equitable.
Currently, there are 2300 Female Blast participants, a ratio of one team to one club for those with female teams and 248 girls' teams in under 10 and under 15 cricket. There are 447 teams from under 16s to senior cricket, with a total of 332 clubs fielding a women or girls team.
It is hoped by targeting girls at grassroots level it will then eventually create a fully integrated Premier cricket competition, to be a net exporter of state contracted players and set the standard with its high performance program to filter towards the national, state and WBBL teams.
We need to get some really great females into the program and someone these girls can look up to. It's going to bring girls into the game and more importantly keep them engaged.- Sarah Pike
Pike said the passion and growth in women's and girls' cricket in the far south-west - primarily within Warrnambool and Hamilton - was obvious but work still needed to be done to make cricket an attractive option for girls.
In the WDCA, there are two dedicated junior girls grades and a senior grade, while in the HDCA there is a junior girls and senior grades.
"Right across our region, out in the south-west, there is a lot of growth there but there's so many other sports we're competing against as well," she said.
"Growing up, that sport you choose when you're in primary school, that becomes the sport you play and you play it right through - focusing on that age group, we can bring them into cricket and show them how fun it is.
"We need to get some really great females into the program and someone these girls can look up to. It's going to bring girls into the game and more importantly keep them engaged."
With almost two dozen players on Geelong's women's Premier cricket list from either the Warrnambool or Hamilton districts, Pike said executing the strategy properly was an exciting opportunity for the Premier club as it expands.
"There's some fantastic girls playing cricket in the south-west and a lot of talented players pop out of those areas," she said.
"But if we can keep providing opportunities with this plan, get them loving the sport early, from a Geelong club perspective we want to provide an opportunity to help them advance their cricket as far as they want to."
Australian netball legend and former national captain Sharelle McMahon - now head of female cricket at Cricket Victoria - said the strategy was pivotal in ensuring the future of the game was secure.
"The opportunity here is significant if we get it right," she said.
"Cricket is a truly global game and we're taking a holistic approach to ensure we can deliver consistency and appeal in our programs now and into the future."
Cricket Victoria's six-year strategic roadmap for women's and girls cricket can be found at cricketvictoria.com.au
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