Ffion Wynne speaks to Loughborough MCCU and Loughborough Lightning KSL Head Coach Salliann Briggs.
2016 has been a very impressive year for Salliann Briggs. Alongside her continued success in the role of Loughborough Women’s MCCU Head Coach, she was granted the same role for Loughborough Lightning in the first season of the Kia Super League (KSL). There were many doubts over Loughborough’s inclusion in the KSL – whether the sole university-based side would be able to compete against the top counties, or whether their lack of county stadium would affect their campaign regarding spectators and local support. However, under Briggs and Assistant Coach Lisa Keightley, England’s Georgia Elwiss captained the side to a place in the Finals Day, losing to Western Storm to narrowly miss out on a top two finish. More recently, following the revamp of the England Pathway, Briggs was appointed to yet another key role in the development of the women’s game in coaching the Academy squad.
Following this exciting summer for women’s cricket in England, it seems the future is looking even brighter, especially with the Women’s World Cup being played at home in 2017 and the prospect of the second Super League claiming more success than its breakthrough season. With all this ahead, it seemed that Briggs, as one of the leading coaches in the women’s game today, would provide the perfect insight into the upcoming plans.
2016 was certainly a big year for the women’s game. As you were heavily involved in the action of the KSL, how would you assess its first year on the whole?
I think the KSL definitely exceeded everyone’s expectations. For me personally, I didn’t actually have much awareness of the impact it would have, with it being a new competition. The only indicator for me was the amount of work that was put in from Loughborough in particular; the meetings and the build up seemed to go on forever. But I think the crowd sizes we had here definitely showed its success, because here at Loughborough we were expecting capacities of around 200-500 and yet we ended up with more than 500 each game. It’s definitely important, though, that we build on this after year one.
It was an incredible experience for all the girls but funnily enough, as coach, I didn’t capture it as my mind was on the game and therefore didn’t manage to experience the atmosphere as much. But now we know that Sky Sports want to be involved I think it’s definitely going to go from strength to strength.
There were concerns over Loughborough’s status as the only side without county support. Were you pleased with the match day experience that was provided at the university?
Yes definitely. When I did interviews prior to the KSL a lot of people asked me about it, but if you speak to them now or even our opponents, many say that it was the best match day experience they had. The downside to big stadiums sometimes is that the atmosphere can get lost, and we felt that when we played at away venues where they were trying to fill half a ground, you didn’t get the all-around atmosphere we had. We got so much positive feedback, and a lot of the girls really enjoyed it. The feedback I got from the girls playing here was that it was the first time they felt they were really ‘number one’, because often when they are linked to counties they’ve always felt pushed aside for the men. But here, whether it was a training session, in the gym or at the ground, they were given number one priority so I’m pretty confident we gave the best experience overall.
Before the tournament began, what was your target for the Lightning?
It was always to make Finals Day. We were pretty pleased that we got into that position, but there were some disappointing games along the way as well. Particularly Lancashire Thunder, as they finished bottom but on the day some of their players were excellent. It would’ve been nice to have a closer game against the Vipers as it was our last game before Finals Day, just for the players’ confidence, but we made it and played some great cricket throughout the competition. I was really pleased with how our county players rose to the occasion, they worked particularly hard during the build up to get themselves ready to perform under pressure. I think we put up a good fight, but I think the main thing we learnt was that in the space of only two weeks, you can’t afford many big mistakes. Of course we were disappointed not to make the final in itself, but in the first year we were definitely very pleased.
There are 6 KSL teams, compared to the 36 that play in the Women’s County Championships. Do you believe that this structure is able to prepare players effectively for the international stage?
Well to start we’re obviously targeting Twenty20, so if the better players are filtering through to the KSL teams then we are definitely making progress in that format and building significant bridges. As a whole I think we’ve still got a lot to look at within the counties, and how they can be more involved in that pathway of preparing players. It’ll be interesting to see how the 50-over contest progresses, and where the counties sit in that, but I think it is still a work in progress in how to involve them more – I’m not too clear on the landscape of how that’s going to happen yet.
Some critics still question the sustainability of the introduction of professionalism in the England setup, and that the team’s results haven’t reflected the true benefits over the past few years. What are your thoughts on this criticism?
I can’t say I’ve taken too kindly to that belief, mainly because I’ve been in and around the England environment and the one thing they truly are is professional, they work hard and they’re all immensely passionate about learning and striving to be better. I think that’s definitely an unfair judgment. It’s certainly been a bit of a transition recently with some changes to the squad, but ultimately if you look at their past few series they’ve won every single one. Yes, they haven’t won as convincingly as they have done in the past, but this time is about building for the future and making sure that the perfect squad is in place for the World Cup next year.
Australia have recently begun live streaming of their state matches, which has been considered a great step forward. Do you think this would be successful if it was introduced to England’s County Championship games?
I think we need to work from the top first here in England, so obviously we’ll be broadcasting a lot more KSL games now but they won’t all be covered, and I really think these should be streamed live moving forward. The thing with streaming games is that you want a good representation of what you’re selling, so it’s definitely important that we get the domestic structure right in order to show what talent we’ve got coming through. When we do start streaming it’s important that the feedback we gain from viewers is positive, therefore the types of games we stream are important. Like you’ve already mentioned, being put in the spotlight puts you in line for quite a lot of criticism, so I think the KSL needs to be given time to develop and grow before we begin streaming other competitions.
The Academy pathway has recently been restructured, alongside your appointment as the Head Coach of the Academy. Can you explain the purpose of these changes?
The main thing is that we wanted to make sure that the wording and the way it looks shows a clear progression between the pathways. There aren’t too many changes to be honest as I’m still looking after the same programme as before, but we’re just trying to show from a development and performance element that our programmes work together. We mainly aligned the titles to emphasise how both Stanny’s [John Stanworth – Head Coach of the Senior Academy] programme and the one I lead will be working much closer than previous years, which I think is important to help players to transition through the pathway. The Senior Management team introduced the idea, and it works really well between us at the moment.
Do you see the development of female coaches as an integral part of improving the women’s game?
Yes! Definitely. It’s always a difficult one for me because we are still in a male dominated sport, and it’s something I’m quite passionate about. We still need to keep in mind, though, that if there are female coaches that want to progress, they still need to be at the right level and have the right skills, but on the other hand we also need create opportunities for female coaches to develop. It’s quite exciting as there is quite a lot of work going into it, like the female coaching conferences that the ECB started last year, which were a huge success. It’s one of those things that I am always willing to put myself forward to help in any way that I can.
What are your aims and aspirations in the next few years as a leading coach in the game?
Personally I just want to keep developing myself as a performance level coach. I’ve worked as a development coach both at Loughborough University and with England for some time now and like anyone, I want to coach at the highest level. I’ve been really lucky to be given the chance to go out to Perth, so I’ll be going for the back end of the Women’s Big Bash League, which will continue my development and expand my coaching experiences. Loughborough as an organisation have always supported me when a good opportunity has come along, and I’m grateful they’re allowing me to seize this one. The experience will be invaluable. I’m also still committed to working as the Lightning Head Coach ensuring that the players have the right structure and environment in place for them to grow. For me, it’s not just about aiming for the trophy at the end of it, but mostly making sure the players are able to fulfil their potential and go as far as they can within the game.
If you could change one thing in women’s cricket today, what would it be?
The easy answer would be for people to see women’s cricket for what it really is, and that we get more resources to actually go out there and show the world that we can be an incredibly exciting sport that engages a significant number of followers. We definitely do have a lot of work to do around that though. It also does frustrate me when we always get compared to the men, I don’t think that should ever happen, I want the women’s game to be considered in its own right – deservedly so. I guess it will take its time, and hopefully this will come in the next few years or so, but I’m definitely impressed with the example that New South Wales are setting by investing in their state players by becoming professional, so if the English cricket world could get on board with that then we’ll be making some impressive strides forward.