Our aim is at least £10,000 per year for every club

May 23, 2021

Exclusive: Abbi Aitken-Drummond Interview

Abbi Aitken-Drummond is Scotland’s second most capped female cricketer and served as captain of the women’s national team from 2011 to 2018. In an exclusive interview she takes GiveToLocal on a fascinating grassroots sport journey.

GiveToLocal: Can you recall your first experience of sport?

Abbi Aitken-Drummond: Sport has been a passion of mine since I can remember. I was fortunate enough to have parents who enjoyed their sport and enjoyed keeping fit - my mum enjoyed her racket sports, running and going to the gym and my dad, when not playing his football, would always have sport on the TV or be listening to it on the radio. It was always around me. I was also fortunate that I spent a lot of my childhood at my local sports centre as that was where my mum worked. Whatever hadn’t been booked - be it a vacant squash court, the 5-a-side indoor hall, a table tennis table etc. - would have my name on it! I was borrowing the equipment and would happily spend the evenings or weekends when my mum was on shift entertaining myself and running around. I have an older sister who hadn’t shown much of an interest in sports growing up so I’m sure that made my dad more determined to push me in that direction a little more - particularly with football. It was the first sport I got into. I remember dad took me shopping for my first pair of boots and much to his dismay, I picked a bright orange Diadora pair. Just dreadful!

GTL: As a child how much of a part did sport play in your life and what did you enjoy about it?

AAD: Sport played a huge part of my life as a child! Spending a lot of my time at the local sports centre certainly helped me become a better athlete in later life. I firmly believe time on task and improving things such as hand eye coordination, agility etc. can, and should, be nurtured from a young age by playing as many different sports as possible. I even recall during the six-week summer holidays, the sports centre would run a holiday sports camp for three hours each day through the week. I was there EVERY day at every session. You couldn’t keep me away! I just enjoyed being active and playing games. I was quite an energetic kid. And I think you could also say I had a competitive edge in me too! They were certainly the main reasons I enjoyed playing sports early on.

GTL: What sports did you play growing up, which were your favourites and why?

AAD: Football was the first sport I played competitively. I first joined Stonehaven Girls Under 13s when I was around nine. Unfortunately, there was no girls football offered in my hometown of Montrose at that time so it did involve a fair amount of travel for my mum - a couple of times a week for training and matches. I moved up the age groups through the Under 15s and Under 17s and eventually went on to play for the women’s side. The club had a great set up and attracted a lot of girls from the surrounding area for that reason. When I look back at my years there as a child, I realise just how important volunteers in sport are. Without the countless hours of coaching, managing, arranging fixtures etc. I would never have had some of the best experiences of my life and met team-mates who have remained friends for life.

GTL: If football was your passion what other sports did you enjoy?

AAD: When not running around a football pitch, I also spent a lot of time playing badminton or squash. My cousin Lisa is a year older than me and she’s now a professional squash player and ranked number one in Scotland - she was a decent competitor when we were kids! I also danced weekly from a very young age (around four) where I was taught numerous styles such as highland, tap and Irish. Dance was certainly a sport that helped develop my coordination from a young age. Not only did my multiple sports help develop different skills, I think it also helped me enjoy sports for longer. I do believe that if children are made to 'specialise' in a single sport from a younger age it's more likely that they'll experience burnout or lose interest altogether. So I'm glad I had a varied mix in the sports I played.

GTL: When did you start playing cricket and where?

AAD: My first experience of cricket was at primary school. I’d never really heard of the sport and it certainly wasn’t a sport familiar to my parents. Two local coaches attended our school weekly to run a block of cricket sessions with the aim of entering a team into a local ‘Kwik Cricket’ school competition. As a sports-mad kid, I was eager to give it a go and instantly loved it. The fact there were lots of elements to the game - throwing and catching, running fast, diving about to try and stop the ball, getting to whack a ball as hard and far as you could and the coordination challenge of trying to bowl a ball - was all so exciting for me. Needless to say I quickly fell in love with the challenge. Thankfully, too, the rules of the competition my school were entering required all teams to field at least one girl in their team. That was me. I’d ticked the box! Due to my competitive streak and ability to pick things up quickly, my team not only won the competition but I walked away with player of the tournament! I was sold. Cricket was my sport!

GTL: Do you often wonder what might have happened had those cricket coaches not come into your school?

AAD: Just as I mentioned earlier about the importance of volunteers in sport, looking back, this also highlights the importance of providing opportunities to children. Without the cricket coaches coming to my school, the chances of me getting involved with cricket were slim to none in my opinion. Opportunities create opportunities and it’s so important for children to give new things a try. But the chance for them to try new things has to be offered first!

GTL: Was there a coach (or volunteer) who made a significant impression on you as a young cricketer?

AAD: There were a few! Grant Hutchison and Sherad Mehta in particular were the two local coaches who first introduced me to cricket. They’re both still involved with a couple of local cricket clubs back in my home region which is great and they deserve huge credit for their hard work in terms of keeping local cricket going. So I’ll forever be thankful for their work at that time. They allowed me to find the sport and consequently invited me to the junior cricket sessions at Montrose CC where I was then introduced to hard ball cricket for the first time. Again, volunteers in grassroots sport were crucial in terms of providing me with a platform to then further develop in the sport.

GTL: Off the pitch how important was the wider grassroots sport community?

AAD: It’s a huge part of grassroots sport. Support from local businesses was so important in allowing me to continue to play both my cricket and football. As a kid you didn’t really pay too much attention to the local tradesman or the butcher’s logo that appeared on your football strip! You smiled for the camera for the local journalist and your granny would cut the photo out the local paper that same weekend! But if it hadn’t been for those local businesses purchasing our strips, donating our equipment and helping with our minibus hire for travel it would only leave two options - children’s grassroots sport becomes unaffordable for families or grassroots sport in general ceases to exist.

GTL: Is fundraising still key to keeping grassroots sport alive?

AAD: Fundraising was a huge part of my grassroots sport experience. I’ve certainly done my fair share of bag packing at local supermarkets and getting involved in sponsored walks, bingo nights and ceilidhs. I’ve taken many a footie scratch card home to sell squares to friends and family (heading straight to Granda in the hope that he buys the lot of course!). And as much as being told as a kid that you’ve not got a match at the weekend - instead you're heading to the supermarket to pack people’s bags – was THE worst thing, it was definitely a humbling experience. You bond with your team-mates and friends off the pitch and it’s a good lesson in working hard for something in order to enjoy it. That’s never a bad thing, in my book, for young kids to learn!

GTL: GiveToLocal is committed to helping teams raise additional funds and easing the burden on volunteers and club officials - how much of a difference could that make to grassroots cricket clubs in Scotland?

AAD: I’m sure it’s an all too familiar story across all grassroots sport at the moment but the impact of COVID-19 across the 2020 season has led to an extremely difficult time for everyone. I think I’d be burying my head in the sand if I didn’t also admit that club cricket was experiencing financial difficulty even before COVID-19 hit. In my opinion, the clubs that seem to thrive are the ones that have the most active and diverse committees - the majority of whom will be volunteers. Cricket clubs in Scotland who are finding ways to rent their facilities throughout the year to a variety of local community groups (e.g. children’s nursery groups, fitness groups, function and event hire etc), looking to increase their membership numbers by actively promoting and recruiting their youth and women’s memberships and who create a welcoming environment for their existing members and their families to come along and join in with club activities seem to be the ones thriving in today's world. But it’s certainly easier said than done and this is not a direct criticism of any clubs that are struggling at the moment. GiveToLocal’s commitment to help raise additional funds to ease the burden of volunteers in sport would make a massive difference to a lot of cricket clubs in Scotland. No doubt about it! Not all clubs are blessed with facilities suitable for external rental agreements or able to rely on volunteers who have the time to push a membership recruitment drive. These are the clubs that would benefit greatly with financial assistance in order to secure a sustainable future.

GTL: Aside from the skills you need to play the game of cricket, what has being involved in the game taught you?

AAD: So many things! I’m a huge believer in the lessons sport can teach you. It sets you up for many things in life, be it social skills or transferable skills that will benefit you in your chosen career. Cricket, specifically, is a great sport that allowed me to travel the world and visit many countries that probably wouldn't have been on my 'holiday' destinations of choice! I'm so grateful that from a young age I've been able to travel and be exposed to different cultures and ways of life and not all good - it really helped me to understand the world we live in and appreciate how fortunate my childhood has been. I also had the privilege of captaining Scotland for seven years. I was only 18 at the time of beginning my reign so that is probably up there with one of life’s biggest and fastest learning curves! Through that experience I learnt to understand how to get the best out of people, how to motivate others, how to support others, understand the importance of good communication, experience having difficult conversations with people and ultimately work on my leadership skills. All of that has helped me in adult life!

GTL: At what point did you realise that you had the potential to represent your country?

AAD: It all happened really fast to be honest and I was very young when the opportunity first came about. I was 14 when I first started training with the national team and consequently the same age when I played my first international match. Back then the numbers in the women’s 'pathway' - and I use that term very lightly - were so low that it was really a case of if you were female and happened to find the game of cricket then you'd be involved in some way, shape or form. In Cricket Scotland's defence, the women's team was only established in 2000 and my involvement came about in 2004, so the system hadn't really had a chance to develop. Twenty years on and the female game in Scotland has gone from strength to strength. We're now pushing for a top 10 world ranking, have a genuine pathway in place with an A team, Performance Academy, Under 17s and Under 15s team all sitting under the national women's team and some of our senior players are starting to pick up professional retainers in England. And hopefully, in the not too distant future, we'll be in a position to centrally contract our women's national players as, at present, we're all amateurs and have full time jobs away from the game. That would be the next step in my opinion and I'd love to still be a part of the set up when it happens.

GTL: How difficult has 2020 been for you personally and for Scotland Cricket?

AAD: It's been a very challenging time. Personally, I struggled finding a purpose and genuine goal to keep me motivated to get the training in each week as our fixture calendars were pretty much wiped! I'm also a full-time employee for Cricket Scotland in the role of Events Executive so I'm always just as invested in the organisation and its successes off the field as much as I am on. Cricket Scotland had to make the difficult decision to furlough the majority of its staff over the summer and so a summer where I wasn't playing - or helping to arrange - cricket was very strange! However, I have to say that taking a step back from the game hasn't been all doom and gloom and probably has done a lot of good for me too.

GTL: Did you manage to play any cricket this summer?

AAD: Thanks to Cricket Scotland working closely with the Scottish Government and sportscotland - and issuing brilliant guidance for return to play for clubs as the COVID-19 situation in Scotland started to improve - I did manage to get some games in with my local club Carlton Cricket Club in Edinburgh. I'm repeating myself again here but the volunteers we have - and the brilliant committee in place at the club - were so good in ensuring members managed to train safely and also get some intra and inter club games under our belts. I'm very lucky to be at the club I am and I'm sure I speak on behalf of all the members when I thank those in the voluntary positions for their efforts in such a difficult and unknown year!

GTL: What plans are in place for the next few months and heading into next summer?

AAD: It's a little unknown at the moment. I know Gus Mackay (CEO at Cricket Scotland) and the senior management team at CS have worked tirelessly all summer. They’re putting potential plans in place for what the winter in Scotland may look like and also working on a potential fixture calendar for our representative and club sides next year. But it’s a very challenging time to firm up any sort of plans. We've tried to make the most of a sunshine filled September but the move to indoor training remains up in the air. Ever changing travel restrictions are also presenting a few hurdles. So whatever lies ahead over the next few months we'll certainly have to get creative when it comes to our training.

GTL: Where can girls and women keen to play cricket in Scotland find out more about the opportunities available?

AAD: The first port of call would be visiting www.cricketscotland.com where you can find out more information on girls’ and women's cricket in Scotland. I've talked a bit about how the female game in Scotland has developed so much already since I've been involved. And still being a part of things now I'm only excited for what the future holds. If any girls and women out there are tempted to get involved then there has never been a better time. We have numerous formats on offer - a fun fitness programme called CricHIIT that’s more about keeping fit than playing cricket, women’s softball and lots of other alternatives. It’s not all about wearing whites and playing for a full day anymore - there's something for everyone, all ages and abilities!