Craig Salmon talks to Preston cricket coach Zahoor Ahmed, who was named the Chance to Shine Coach of the Year for 2017
Preston cricket coach Zahoor Ahmed has a dream of one day nurturing a future England star.
But more importantly for the 52-year-old, he hopes that every child that works under his influence benefits from his expertise and guidance – not just in the sport, but life itself.
Ahmed coaches children from all walks of life at his Saturday morning cricket sessions at Moor Street School, in Preston.
It is a project he has run for many years and this year he decided to hang up his playing spikes for good to concentrate solely on coaching.
His dedication to improving children – both on and off the pitch – recently saw him recognised by the Chance to Shine initiative, which spreads the power of cricket.
A charity project, Chance to Shine has been working since 2005 to reverse the decline of cricket in state schools.
By providing coaching in schools and extra-curricular opportunities, the charity has reached more than 3.5 million young people, 46% of whom are girls, in over 14,000 states schools across the country.
At its annual awards night this year, it voted Ahmed as the Coach of the Year.
Honoured and privileged to receive such an honour, Ahmed admitted his greatest privilege is seeing his pupils grow as cricketers and people. “I love to improve a youngster’s technique but also I like to work with their personality as well,” Ahmed said.
“I like to try to help them and build their personalities for the future to become good individuals.
“So even if they do walk away from cricket, they will still be good people, good citizens of the world.
“I try to motivate them to become good human beings.”
Ahmed goes about his work in a respectful way and in turn expects the same standards during his sessions.
“Obviously when the children are attending my sessions, they are young, they are growing up,” he said.
“I might notice that they are messing about or calling each other names.
“When I see that I will stop them there and then and explain to them that these sessions are fun-based.
“I tell them that they have come to learn the game of cricket, enjoy themselves and to be good people.
“I will point out examples of international stars, who may have stepped out of line and tell them that is not good behaviour.
“I suppose a good example this year is that of Ben Stokes.
“But I have between 25 and 30 kids coming down to my sessions on Saturday mornings.
“It’s through the winter and the summer.”
Ahmed began his cricket career as a youngster at Dutton Forshaw Cricket Club – and remembers a young Andrew Flintoff growing up in the club’s junior sides.
He later went on to star with bat and ball for Lancashire and England – and Ahmed would love to see someone out of his sessions do the same.
“It is my goal one day to have hopefully somebody who I have coached from a young age to make it to the top and play for England,” he said.
“I am very passionate about cricket and helping children. “Being a cricket coach means everything to me.
“I gave up playing so I could fully concentrate on my coaching career.
“I had to make a decision as to whether I should play or help the children on a Saturday morning, but I chose to coach so that they could come along and enjoy their cricket.”
Ahmed, who attended Archbishop Temple School, first began playing cricket at a very young age, before going on to star in the Northern League and Moore and Smalley Palace Shield.
“I have been playing cricket since the age of 10,” he said.
“I have played club cricket all my life.
“I played at Dutton Forshaw as a kid.
“I played there from Under-11s, through the age groups right through to Under-17s.
“After that I then moved to St Annes for a few years.
“I have played all my cricket in the Northern League and the Palace Shield also.
“I was an all-rounder when I used to play. I have opened the batting and I was a fast bowler.
“I always dreamed of becoming a professional player, but I didn’t quite make it.
“I got up to the level of the Northern League which is a pretty good standard.
“After I played at St Annes, I came to Preston and then moved on to Chorley.”
On winning the Chance to Shine Coach of the Year award, Ahmed added: “For myself and my family, myfriends, colleagues – they were all so very happy for me.
“It’s very good to be appreciated and makes it all worthwhile.”