Jonny Bairstow: My teachers allowed me to pursue sport

The England Cricket World Cup hero explains how his teachers helped him to juggle sporting commitments and academic work

Jonny Bairstow has been a key player in England's bid to win the 2019 Cricket World Cup

With me playing so much sport, obviously in the teachers’ room there was harmony to be made. 

I went to a normal state school, until I was 11. Then I went to St Peter’s School, York, after that – it’s a private school. It gave me opportunities to be able to do lots of different subjects, and to play my sports alongside my education. 

I was playing Leeds United football, up to under-15s. I was on the A-team and first-team rugby at school, and first-team hockey and cricket. That was on top of my commitments externally: I played cricket for Yorkshire. Cricket’s not just 60 minutes or 90 minutes, so I was away for whole days.

Mike Johnson was my PE teacher all the way through. He took me for cricket; he took me for rugby. He was my link between Yorkshire cricket and school. When Yorkshire said: “We want Jonny to be doing this,” he made it happen. 

He said: “Jonny will get this work done, but it may be half a day late. Will you give him an extra hour or two hours?”

'One teacher I didn't want to cross'

Having that crossover with my academic teachers was rather a big help. Paddy Stephen was a biology teacher, as well as taking rugby. He also made sure that everything wasn’t getting on top of me. 

If I was struggling, he was the one I would go to. He understood how my brain worked. I think it’s important to have one teacher who understands how you work. How to articulate things in different ways for different individuals. For example, I wasn’t very good at paragraphs. I would have to read something a few times to take it in. But I could look at a diagram and get it. 

Paddy dropped me from the under-16s rugby team, and I’ve never forgiven him for it. He thought someone else was better. But he wasn’t; he was crap. Paddy’s apologised: his "experimental stage", I think he called it. 

He was straight down the line and honest, but at the same time jokey. He was the kind of teacher who was very relaxed and jokey. But, if you crossed him, he was really on it. I didn’t cross him, for that reason. There were people I didn’t want to cross, and he was one of them. 

'I was always thinking about sport'

I only did three A levels for two years. Realistically, I wasn’t able to do four. So I did three, instead of dropping one after my lower-sixth year. 

Also, I had to be clever about the subjects I chose for GCSE. For example, history: there’s a lot of reading, and it’s very, very time-consuming. I didn’t do it. 

I wasn’t dumb, but I wasn’t necessarily the most academic, either. I was always thinking about sport, and being outside. Sitting in the library for three hours wasn’t my ideal afternoon. 

There was one chemistry teacher who went around the class, when I was 15, and said to everyone: “What do you want to do?” 

Everyone said: “I want to be a banker or a lawyer.” 

I said: “A sportsman.” 

He said: “You may as well give up. It’s never going to happen.” 

He was very old-school. When I made the England team, he messaged me and said: “Well, I got that wrong.” When I do well, he still messages me, saying, “Yes, I still got that wrong.”

Paddy and Mike still message me as well, all the time. They say, “Well done,” and see how things are going. Just stay in contact. 

Jonny Bairstow supports Yorkshire Tea's work with grassroots cricket charity, Chance to Shine. Yorkshire Tea believes that grassroots cricket makes a proper difference in inspiring the next generation, after a recent study revealed that playing grassroots sport can help children spend less time on screens (60 per cent), improve their confidence (51 per cent), improve their behaviour (22 per cent). For more information, visit www.yorkshiretea.co.uk/cricket

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