With a new focus on locally-produced talent, Simon Willis has one of the most important jobs at the club: High Performance Director. With Ashley Shaw, Adam Riley and Adam Ball already breaking into the first team, Simon tells us about bringing on the next generation.
What have you done since taking back over as Academy chief?
Since the start of the year, we have successfully chased a couple of goals. One was to get fitness levels to a higher level and the second was to make sure that they worked very hard on their aerobic fitness with Pete Kelly, our strength and conditioning coach. That’s now up there with international age-group standard. They’ve all performed outstandingly in a short period of time and started the season positively, whether in school, club or second team cricket. The subtle changes we have introduced are working and I’m enjoying it.
You must be pleased that so many youngsters have been getting a go in the first team?
It’s fantastic and the boys are in there on merit. People talk about the injuries we’ve had but the youngsters have gone in and performed. They put the work in, on and off the field, and for them to go in and do well in both championship and one-day cricket is very pleasing for all involved.
What have you changed?
When you inherit an Academy, it is always difficult because you want to put your stamp on it and make it as good as possible. The short-term goal was to write the strategy, “Rising to the Next Level”. It’s not revolutionary but it does raise awareness of what things are about and hopefully the young players have now got something to aspire to in the long-term.
How important is the Academy to Kent?
In my view, it is the most important role within the club. Smaller counties need a conveyor belt of talent coming through in order to keep moving forward.
I love working with cricketers, whether it be first-team or age group cricketers.
I’m involved in cricket and that is my passion. I enjoyed some great times with the first-team; winning cricket matches and trophies but my role has changed now and I’m giving everything to helping the youngsters develop and achieve. I really enjoy seeing guys go out on the park and do well. It’s nice to think that I’ve played a small part in their development.
What are the main challenges facing the Kent Academy?
I guess the biggest is finance. It is tough because we only have a small budget. We need to try and give them as much as we can on the small budget that we have to work with. The other major challenge, of today’s culture, is that lots of youngsters enjoy sitting on their couch and playing Xbox etc. We live in a less active society. With this in mind, we have to try and get players in good shape physically. Youngsters are under great pressure now. There are the outside pressures of schooling and they feel they need to be at the top of the tree in all walks of life.
My role is ever expanding. It’s about creating an environment and giving the players our full support. If they are talented, work hard and get the right backing then they have a better chance of succeeding. I got into coaching to help and support players and by improving their self-awareness they have that opportunity of taking their game to that next level.
You touched on finance, how can companies or individuals get involved and what will they get for their money?
We are looking for sponsorship for our new intake of players in September. Ideally we are looking for a main title sponsor for the Academy and then individual sponsors for the scholars that come onto the Academy. We are happy to work with companies/individuals to ensure they get exactly what they want/need for offering financial assistance. We can provide coverage on the Kent Cricket website, on the playing/training shirts, all Academy literature and match tickets too.
The possibilities are endless so please feel free to get in touch with me at the club if you feel you can help the next generation of talented young cricketers.
This article is an extract from the official Kent Cricket Friends Life t20 Tournament Guide. The fifty page guide contains all you need to know, including team by team previews, exclusive player interviews and special features. Pick up your copy for £3 including a free scorecard at any of the Spitfires’ home t20 matches or from the Kent Cricket shop.