A coach with heart

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Hussain Hanif is recognised as Cricket Victoria Coach of the Year for his work with all abilities cricket

Earlier this year, Indian Link brought you the story of the premiership-winning Yarraville Club Cricket Club (YCCC), the only all-abilities cricket club in Melbourne’s western suburbs and one of six members of Australia’s first all abilities cricket association, the Melbourne All Abilities Cricket Association.

On the back of an incredibly successful debut season, during which the YCCC team remained undefeated, the accolades have kept flowing, with YCCC coach Hussain Hanif recently announced as the Cricket Victoria Coach of the Year.

Cricket Victoria Coach of the Year.Indian Link

Hussain hopes that the prestigious award, which will see him attend an Australian cricket team training session during the 2016-17 season, will help bring more even awareness to all abilities cricket.

“It’s great just to be recognised with all abilities cricket,” Hussain says. “There are growth areas in women’s cricket and all abilities cricket that Cricket Victoria really wants to touch on and now, people are more inclined to ask me what all abilities cricket is about and how it works.”

In Hussain’s case, the award is somewhat of a misnomer. “It’s not just a coaching job. The key to working with people with disabilities is understanding them. If you don’t understand the person and you haven’t spent time with them, then you don’t understand how they’re going to play,” he explains. “The players have got to understand and have a comfort zone with you. You sort of become a carer. It’s not a drop off service, but it’s about creating an environment where they can feel comfortable and they can trust you. At the end of the day, what I’ve done at YCCC – anyone can use my model and do it.”

However, Hussain acknowledges that having the right people and right leaders has been key to the club’s success, and pays particular tribute to volunteer Lorraine Woodman. “Lorraine is a brilliant person to have around [the club]. She’s got 25 years of experience dealing with disabilities and carers. It would have been very difficult if I had to run it myself, but some clubs have to do that because they don’t have the volunteer base that we do, and it is quite a difficult challenge.”

Cricket Victoria Coach of the Year.Indian Link
Hussain with Lorraine Woodman

Hussain’s journey has not come without its challenges. Driving an hour each way to club training on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, he also drives the team van to away games on Saturdays, while driving to all abilities competitions on Sundays. Hussain admits that while it is strenuous work to lose so much time travelling, let alone coaching and balancing a full-time job (all while raising two young children with his wife), it has been a rewarding experience.

Reflecting on his experiences growing up in Auckland, which he labels “one of the most multicultural cities in the world”, Hussain’s simple but effective coaching philosophy becomes clear: inclusivity.

“Growing up, we would have teammates from all kinds of backgrounds – Indian, Sri Lankan, Samoan, Fijian – and it was always about creating an inclusive environment, where everyone feels comfortable and part of a team,” Hussain says.

“In all abilities cricket, that’s what you need. A lot of the players have intellectual problems or experience mental issues, and you have to make them feel welcome. The joy of seeing people out there and playing cricket, whether you win or lose, the main thing is that they’re out there enjoying it.”

Cricket Victoria Coach of the Year.Indian Link
Hussain with Yarraville Club Cricket Club’s number one ticket holder, Charlie Bezzina

Having already been selected as the coach of the Victoria Vikings Melbourne Renegades team – the state’s representative cricket team for players with a disability – Hussain has his sights set on the next level.

“The key thing is to try and aim higher. There’s always an opportunity to try and aim for the Australian coaching job. Little things like [the award] can lead up to that, and hopefully it knocks on some doors. If it doesn’t, there’s always chances next year or the year after that. As a coach, I just want to keep on learning. With this award, I get the opportunity to coach with Cricket Australia coaches and just learn and keep on learning and have the ability to try and fight for that [Australian] coaching spot.”

To Hussain, the Cricket Victoria Coach of the Year award is not only a personal launching pad, but a pathway to more opportunities for his players. “Right now we’ve got a large number of participants – around 50 to 60 – but we can only field two teams due to the need to match low functioning players with low functioning players, and high functioning players with high functioning players. If we can get more sides up and running around Victoria and around Australia, that will help more people get involved [at the right level of ability],” Hussain explains. “Hopefully this also creates more of a pathway for the Yarraville players to be selected in Victorian sides for indoor or outdoor cricket.”

Cricket Victoria Coach of the Year.Indian Link
Hussain with the Australian All Abilities/Melbourne Renegades All Abilities captain, Gavin Hicks with the Big Bash All Abilities Cup

In the lead-up to the next cricket season, during which high-profile cricketers from India’s national women’s team will play in the Women’s Big Bash League for the first time, Hussain has his sights set on getting more women involved in the game as well. Drawing inspiration from gilli-danda, the amateur sport played with two sticks that is believed to be the origin of cricket, softball and baseball, Hussain hopes to reverse the trend that sees female involvement in male cricket games reduced to standing behind a counter and serving food, or not being present at all.

“Many South Asian cricket clubs never invite women to their cricket games, and often the older women in those communities are not getting any fitness or social interaction because their lives can be secluded. I’ve seen first-hand that some older Indian women may not be comfortable going to the gym. But, if it’s ten women doing one activity and someone running it, they’d be involved,” says Hussain.

“I want to use cricket as a vehicle, so we can get them playing sport. You can modify cricket to suit the players – it can be a shorter game, you can bowl underarm, or you don’t have to have running between the wickets. Hopefully it takes off!”

In an era of professionalism in sport, there is no doubt that Australia is fortunate to have individuals like Hussain flying the flag for the more marginalised sections of cricket-playing society – and we’re excited to see what comes next.