Chris Gayle was fortunate enough as a young man to grow up close to Lucas Cricket Club, where he spent hours playing the game, honing the skills that set him on course to become an international icon.
Having put in the hours of practice on the way to the top, Gayle now makes sure to give plenty back through the Chris Gayle Foundation and his academies.
Young boys with a passion for the game are being given opportunities to develop both their cricket and their life skills in London, England, and Kingston, Jamaica.
The London academy was launched in 2013, and the Kingston academy followed in 2014.
“I’m very pleased with how things have been going with both academies,” Gayle says.
“The development and progression of all of the young people, on and off the field has been truly remarkable.
“I hope that I can continue to help these young people develop not only with their cricket but most importantly their life choices.”
1. Respecting Others
2. Setting Goals
3. Making Good Choices
4. Working Hard
5. Looking After Your Health
6. Understanding The Consequences Of Your Actions
Gayle’s ‘Big Six’ principles guide everything the academies do and the teams in London and Kingston work closely with their local communities, with Gayle’s final line above about life choices being more important than the cricket underlining their work.
Radcliffe Haynes, who oversees the Kingston academy, explains: “At the moment we have a head coach who meets with the guys Wednesday after school. Some of them are in school, and we offer support to them to keep them in school.
“We have some teachers from the University of the West Indies who assist them with their maths, English language and computer skills. We also work with them on public speaking, mannerisms, interviews, and social graces as well as a programme with them on the history of West Indian cricket.
“On Saturdays, they meet a little bit earlier and are given mostly cricket drills, and if we have guests to come and meet them, they will come in.”
Although they are thousands of miles apart, the academies structures, programmes and goals are identical.
And in 2014, the two academies came together for the first time when the UK team, led by London academy director Donovan Miller, headed out to Jamaica. The Jamaican academy even beat their UK counterparts in one match, but the cricket was, perhaps, of secondary importance.
“The boys from the UK academy came here and it helped the local boys understand that they are not alone, that there is another academy in the UK,” Haynes recalls.
“For our boys to see them as part of the academy, using the same programmes, doing the same things, that gives them extra motivation.
“To interact with them the last time they were here, and to play cricket with them, was hugely important.
“The UK boys coming over was a huge blessing, to eat with them, travel with them, play cricket with them and share life experiences with them. It was amazing.”
The Kingston academy is fortunate to have a base where Haynes and his team work and train with the boys, demand to be part of the Academy constantly exceeds the number of places – around 20 - available and Haynes says he is looking into getting girls involved in the future.
However, there are still challenges for him and his team to deal with on a day-to-day basis.
“One of the challenges is that the boys in Jamaica are from different parts of the island and they have to travel. To get them from their communities to us can be difficult and we have to provide financial help for them.
“Some of the boys play for different clubs on Saturdays so sometimes we have as many as six or seven of them who are playing for their own team which takes them away from us.”
But Haynes thinks he has the solution.
“We have asked the Jamaican Cricket Board to allow us to take part in a competition called the Minor Cup, so Chris Gayle Academy would enter a team and play against all the different clubs in and around Kingston.
“We want to enter a team for ourselves and we are working towards that; it would enable the boys to play formally and consistently which would help them greatly.”
On the face of it, the idea makes perfect sense. It would also give the academy and the Chris Gayle Foundation some welcome exposure and mirror the way the UK academy has a full fixture list each summer.
Over to you, Jamaica Cricket Association, as Haynes reveals he is eagerly awaiting their response to his request.
Haynes eloquently sums up just why the Chris Gayle Academy has become such a valuable part of the global cricket community.
“We are all really committed to the Academy - like Donovan and Chris, it is something we are very passionate about.
“Chris is extremely passionate about giving back and helping these boys.
“We all feel we have a duty to make sure we create something that lasts. It's a wonderful initiative.”
© Cricket World 2016