Successful Sports, Age range: 10-plus, "Cricket" By Nigel Kelly 0 431 07438 0; "Swimming" By John Verrier 0 431 07437 2; "Tennis" By Keigh Reynolds 0 431 07439 9; "Athletics" By Tony Ward 0 431 07436 4. Heinemann, Pounds 8.50 each. Pack of 4 titles Pounds 32
Has video killed the sports book along with the radio star? Far from it on the evidence of this Heinemann series. Each book packs a laudable range of material into the similar pattern of its 32 pages, some of it outside the scope of the coaching video. The first, and longest, section covers equipment, skills and tactics, followed by chapters on rules, famous places and faces.
The language is "fit for purpose" throughout and commendably clear in explaining essential techniques. "You are less likely to misfield if you always expect the ball to come to you." A simple truth: for Tom Thumb or Botham, for the beach or Lord's. The style is never patronising or distorted by the irritating bonhomie of some commentator-coaches.
Clarity of presentation is fortified on every page by colour photographs: Steffi Graf, for example, demonstrates the wide stance and low, ready-to-spring position for returning serve. This kind of action "still" is most effective as a coaching aid as, ironically, television coverage increasingly recognises. The photographic selection is attentive to matters of gender, ethnicity, contemporaneity and age-range. Thus, in Athletics, we find the expected Colin Jackson and Junxia Wang, but alongside young people from the Run, Jump and Throw Club in Crawley.
Sport is for all, which includes the disabled. Reminders are not amiss, therefore, that hearing impairment can be disadvantageous at the start of races or that more swimming pools should tilt like ramps so that people in wheelchairs might enjoy them. Moreover, sporting pleasure is not confined to competitors. While computers keep the score in professional cricket, many spectators still record matches in their own scorebooks. Cricket contains lucid information, including diagrams, illustrating the scoring art.
Safety receives due emphasis, from protective equipment, to rules during throwing events, to the salutary observation that "the most important swimming skill to learn is when not to swim".
As sport becomes more professionalised and commercialised, it's agreeable to read encouragement for "having fun and not specialising too early", and for honesty in self-regulated games. I must lend the books to my regular golf opponent. Several photos endorse the fun, from a triumphant Roger Black to grinning young competitors shaking hands at the tennis net.
The lure of the back-page is captured through famous places and faces. Brian Lara's record innings, the Chinese women distance runners, and Qian Hong's butterfly seem as permanent and powerful as the double-handed backhand of Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario. Even if fashion is transitory (Agassi with long hair) his illustrating the return of serve is not. Successful principles of skill and behaviour are unchanging and this series tackles them surprisingly well.