More than just cricket

The room is filled with cheer as a group of former participants return to The Way Youth Zone in Wolverhampton. Whilst they may have effectively graduated from this Street project, which caters for eight – 16 year olds, many now play at local cricket clubs in the area.

Meanwhile the session continues to support children in the heart of the city to not only play cricket, but also become leaders. Coach Tariq Ali rises to the challenge of inspiring young people to fulfill their potential. ‘For me, cricket is an excuse to get them together. When they’re together, that’s when the good happens.’

Watching the younger boys play, Tariq thinks back to when this group of alumni joined the project years ago and how it supported them in education, the workplace and at home. ‘A lot of them come a bit timid but by the time they’ve been around us for a few months, they’re all excited. They can have a laugh and feel the community. They’re not scared to ask questions anymore. I think one thing they understand here is they have a voice.’

Tariq is a role model, he does a lot of work within our mosque and community. With charity work over Christmas, he asked for volunteers so I volunteered and we dropped food off to people that had been nominated within the community as less fortunate. Tariq made me want to do that.

Sami Muhammad, 18

The success of the project is rooted in Tariq’s approach to coaching, which engages young people on a personal level and aims to empower them. ‘Especially with inner-city areas, it’s not a great place if you fall into the wrong crowd. What we offer is an alternative. We try to break barriers down very quickly, we’re all part of the same team. We have the game going, we ask them how their day’s been and it just gets them to open up. Everybody wants to do well and they’ve bought into what we do.’

As young people learn and grow through the sessions, the impact goes beyond cricket. Recently awarded an MBE for his work, Tariq sets a positive example for young people to help others and make a difference. ‘Since the cricket is free, the payback is in the community, whether that’s in the soup kitchen, in someone’s garden or the mosque. Some of the older kids help us coach. If there’s anything that needs doing, just call them up and they’re there.’

From the alumni that have spent years alongside Tariq to those who have just joined the project, there is a buzz around Tariq and his philosophy. ‘You’ve got to let kids be themselves, they’ve got to find their own feet. When they come here, they let their hair down, they find confidence and that’s only going to be good for their wellbeing.’

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