A life in cricket: Sophie Luff

To mark International Women’s Day, we sat down and spoke with one of the most recognisable people in women’s cricket in Somerset.

Sophie Luff is captain of Somerset Women, played a leading role for Western Storm in all four years of the KIA Super League, has been signed to play for Welsh Fire in the Inaugural Women’s Hundred, is a Community Coach for Somerset Cricket Board, is the Somerset Women and Girls Performance Head Coach and was recently named School’s Coach of the Year by Chance to Shine.

Few people therefore are better qualified to talk about the women’s game in the County than her, so that’s exactly what we did!

Let’s start at the beginning. When did Sophie’s love of the game begin?

“I’ve loved the game for as long as I can remember,” she said. “I used to go along and watch my dad play every Saturday when I was young. My younger brother Jack and I would sometimes get a little bit bored on the sidelines, so we’d spend endless hours with a bat and ball in our hands. We were always throwing a ball to each other in the garden. I guess it all started from there.

“I started taking it more seriously when I was in middle school. I was very lucky because one of our teachers, Mr Waterfield, was very keen to get me involved in the cricket team. When I was about nine years old, I started playing away from school at Weston-Super-Mare CC. I was always playing with and against boys, and I captained the Hugh Sexey school team. We were very successful, and I loved playing there. It was a similar story in club cricket too. There was always that leadership element, which I loved, and the boys never batted an eyelid in terms of me being skipper. Sometimes the opposition would say things about us having a girl in the team until I got some runs and showed them that I was more than capable of holding my own.

“I was always interested in cricket. I was involved in the County setup when I was about 12 and Taunton had just been designated as the Home of Women’s Cricket by the ECB. All the England girls like Charlotte Edwards and Holly Colvin were down here and I had my photo taken with them all. I was thinking that it was incredible and that this is where I wanted to be. I’ve still got all those photos at home! I used to love coming down and watching Marcus Trescothick as well.”

Sophie’s drive and passion for the game inevitably meant that she would eventually want to do more than just play recreationally at the weekends.

“Anyone who knows me knows that I’m very competitive and that I want to keep on improving all the time,” she said. “When I was involved in the County system at a young age, I realised that I was performing pretty well, and that cricket could be an option moving forward. I was interested to see how far I could take it.

“My love of the game made me strive to try and get to where I wanted to be. I have to thank my parents who gave endless amounts of time and spent a lot of money on petrol to help me get to where I wanted to be. I genuinely can’t thank them enough for what they’ve done for me. The opportunities were there but without their support I wouldn’t have been able to take them.”

Good performances for Somerset eventually resulted in Sophie gaining a place on the England Academy. How did it feel to get international recognition?

“It was brilliant,” she said. “It was where I wanted to be, and it gave me the opportunity to be amongst players who were also striving for the same goals. It enabled me to work with some great coaches and it was a great programme to be a part of.”

It was at this point that Sophie needed to make a decision. Could cricket be a viable career option as university loomed? As she explains, her pursuit of excellence meant that the sport was very much at the forefront of her thinking as she entered higher education.

“As I got older, I knew that I wanted to go to Cardiff Met University. I’d heard great things about it, and I was aware that there was an MCCU scheme. I managed to get involved in that by constantly asking questions. I felt that there was an opportunity there for me to get involved and I think that’s where I took my game to the next level. I became very interested in strength and conditioning and was always in the gym. I hadn’t really done that sort of thing before I went to university.

“I was on the England Academy at the time and I felt that I needed a performance programme to assist me whilst I wasn’t up at Loughborough with the Academy. Luckily Mark O’Leary was the Head Coach there at the time and he was great. He took myself and Carla Rudd on and that’s when I really started training hard and in the right way.

“After university is when it became really challenging. I came out of university and I wasn’t making a living out of travelling up to Loughborough with the Academy and just playing the game. I knew quite quickly that I needed to find some source of income in order to make a living whilst still playing county cricket.

“I was involved with the Academy for another year but then I was released. It was really tough when I was deselected from the Academy. I lost that regular training opportunity and the things that went with it. That was a real challenge for me.”

Sophie wasn’t about to let this disappointment prevent her from achieving her dream, as she explained.

“I just asked lots of people for their help,” she said. “John Stanworth, who was the Academy Head Coach who let me go, was great. He still assisted me in terms of trying to get someone to work with me. I know for a fact that he asked a lot of questions of Steve Snell (SCCC Academy Director). Steve was absolutely brilliant with me. He gave up his time to assist me on a weekly basis, which he really didn’t need to do.”

It was at about this time that Sophie became involved with Somerset Cricket Board.

“About six months after university I was lucky enough to be approached by them about a Community Coach role that was coming up. It was only a four-month contract, but I was really keen to get involved in anything that I could. Coaching was certainly something that appealed to me and working with Chance to Shine was a great experience for me. It seemed to go quite well because the Cricket Board kept me on and I’m still one of their Community Coaches now.”

It was at this time that the ECB announced that they would be launching a new women’s T20 competition called the KIA Super League. When the squads were announced, Sophie was named as a member of Western Storm.

“The KSL really gave me the opportunity to perform in front of the right people,” she explained. “That was a brilliant experience. The four years of the KSL changed so much and certainly changed my opinion regarding my own game and what I can offer as a player. Credit has to go to the people behind the scenes here in the South West like Lisa Pagett (General Manager) and Trevor Griffin (Head Coach) for how successful Western Storm became. The team ethos on the pitch was fantastic. The majority of the players had a connection to the South West and that obviously helped. It was a great team to be a part of.

“The two wins in the KSL are definitely the highlight of my career. I’d never experienced anything like that before. To be out there in the middle with Stafanie [Taylor] and Fran [Wilson] when we won it the first time was amazing. To finish the KSL in style by winning the last final and going out with a bang was fantastic too.”

2020 will see the introduction of The Hundred and Sophie will be lining up alongside Australian superstar Meg Lanning for Welsh Fire.

How important will The Hundred be for the women’s game?

“I think it’s going to be very beneficial,” Sophie said. “You’ve only got to look at the growth of the women’s game over the last few years to see how far it’s come, and I think The Hundred will take it to another level. We’re going to be playing games in Taunton and Bristol and the fact that we’ve got local South West players involved at Welsh Fire is going to be really important when it comes to attracting people to come and watch us.

“The fact that the prize money for The Hundred will be shared equally between men and women is a huge step in the right direction. It just shows how much investment the ECB are putting into the women’s game and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be equal prize money.”

2019 was a big year for Sophie. She was part of the title winning Western Storm squad in the KSL and she captained Somerset to the ECB T20 Division Two title. Given all her domestic success, does she still have aspirations of playing for England?

“Absolutely,” she said. “I’m only 26 and I feel like I still have a lot to offer as a player. Every time I step out on to the pitch, I want to be making match winning performances. We’ll see what happens. All I can do is keep enjoying it and giving it my all. I’m always working hard on my game and the fact that I’m still learning so much about my own game is exciting for me.

“Having said that, I’m realistic. I might not make it to where I eventually want to be, but coaching is something that I’m really passionate about, both in a performance role and at a community level. I’m really proud of the Chance to Shine award that I won last year and it’s great to be recognised for the work that you do every day. The impact that you can have on young children who are perhaps experiencing the game for the first time is really special.”

Finally, what is the best thing about the women’s game at the moment?

“Cricket is a viable career option for young girls now. They can look up to the likes of Heather Knight and Anya Shrubsole who are making a living out of the game. It’s important to remember all the players who have gone before who have paved the way for that professionalism. The women’s game has been on a fantastic journey and hopefully it will continue to evolve over the next few years. It’s exciting to think about where the game might eventually get to.”

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