By Avi Bhatt
Mr Chris Harrison is one of Hampton School’s longest-serving cricket coaches and has been coaching and playing the game for many years. During this time he has played cricket amongst some of the greats, and has overseen the cricketing journey of hundreds of young players. He works as a coach for several local clubs, and at School runs coaching sessions for all ages and gives one-on-one lessons to help with specific techniques.
When he was a child, Mr Harrison was interested in nearly every sport, from football to cricket to tennis. He describes himself in this period as “sports-mad”, and he was sure that whatever he did when he grew up would be linked to sport. After joining Lytham St Anne’s High School, near Blackpool, he realised that he was better at cricket than the other sports he played. At this time he tried everything the game had to offer – bowling, batting, wicket-keeping, and even attempting to play left-handed – which helped to not only develop the way he played but also brought him closer to the sport. He played in the Lancashire Schools System and with St Anne’s Cricket Club, which happened to be the same club that the great Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff played at. They spent a lot of time playing alongside each other at a very high standard of cricket.
In his late teens, Mr Harrison’s talent earned him a scholarship to Worcester University, made possible by Worcestershire Cricket Club, where he had the opportunity to take his cricket to the next level by travelling the world, playing the sport wherever he went. This included tours to Asia, South Africa, and Australia, where he had the opportunity to live in the city of Perth for six months. Mr Harrison describes these moments as an “amazing experience,” which allowed him to explore the world but still nurture his love of cricket. When his time at Worcestershire University ended, he did not leave with a professional cricket contract, but still wanted to keep playing cricket.
He decided to try for the Lancashire 2nd XI, playing with the side for a brief period of time. By now, he had shared a cricket pitch with and against many memorable players including batsman Mark Chilton and England’s Marcus Trescothick. Although he was still enjoying himself, it was during this period that he opted to look into other career options alongside cricket. Reflecting on this time, Mr.Harrison says that he realised more and more that, although he was very good at cricket, in the elite environment he played in “other people were better,” which means they were given places in higher teams.
In 2000, Mr Harrison came to London as a sports teacher at Shrewsbury House School in Surbiton, whilst still playing cricket himself for enjoyment. After gaining some coaching experience, he came up with the idea to create a cricket coaching business, the obvious career choice in his opinion with his playing career slowly coming to an end. He approached Hampton School in 2005 with a plan aimed at enhancing Hanworth Road’s cricketing offerings, and the School was keen to work with him. What was particularly innovative was his use of video analysis, a new idea at the time to record specific techniques to improve on them.
Soon he began coaching pupils of all ages and gradually expanded his business over the years to cover much of Surrey, Middlesex, and South West London. He has been coaching ever since, and has seen hundreds of players develop their skills and progress in the game. These include the likes of players that have represented England at some stage in their career, such as Zafar Ansari, Toby Roland-Jones, and, more recently, Blake Cullen. When talking about these people, one thing comes to Mr. Harrison’s mind – they knew how to balance their cricket careers with other factors in their lives, such as school and socialising. He takes particular satisfaction from being able to watch the hard work that players put in to become better at the game, whilst also enjoying playing it: “to play a sport you do not need to be the best,” he says, “but you need to be focused on the sport, and dedicated to learning. This is the only way to improve.”
Although becoming a coach was not his original plan, Mr Harrison says that it has shown him much more about cricket and sport in general than he could ever have imagined. As a coach, being able to guide players in their journey towards becoming better and seeing the hard work is rewarding, not only for themselves, but himself too. He says that he likes coaching because it allows you to see people of all abilities benefitting from sports: “sport has given me everything from friendships to a career, and coaching allows me to give that to others.”
His advice to anyone reading this who does not currently play cricket, or for that matter any sports, is that they should just give it a go. “Hampton has such great sporting culture so there is no reason not to try it just for fun. Come to your year’s net session and see what it’s like.” For those who are looking for a way to get better at a sport, he recommends to “focus on the sport and put in the hard work to get better,” whilst also listening “to the advice that your coaches give you.”
Personally, I feel very fortunate that a cricket coach of such a high level works at Hampton School and I am certain that many others in the School (and others that have now left Hampton) can say the same. Mr Harrison may not have had a very long cricketing career, but he has thrived in the coaching world and has honed the cricketing skills of many along the way.