You do how many hours? – For free?
You missed what? – And you don’t get paid?
You drove all the way where? – In a minibus?
Their incredulity rises along with their tone and need I mention the morphing of their faces into utter disbelief. They don’t get it right?!
Having heard these questions all too frequently, my reactions towards them have evolved each time they have been asked. In the beginning, by beginning I’m talking about running around a dingy leisure centre in my mum’s spare kit and a pair of canvas Converse (trendy at the time – I swear), these questions simply caused confusion in my little mind. “Well this is what my family does isn’t it? It’s normal to miss all these events and spend every waking hour on a bus, on a bench, on a basketball court.”
That was before I had invested so much of MY time. Now it’s MY time, MY hours and with that came a more resentful attitude towards these ‘ridiculous’ comments. Frustration, as these condescending, ignorant queries undermined the time and effort I gave to this wonderful game. As if this was just a hobby, a fun little pastime that I’d picked up along the way. Just a game, just dribbling a ball around; not many people play anyway do they?
Years down the line, the frustration is diluted by the sheer number of instances on which I’ve encountered such comments. Having been met with, “Can’t you just miss it this week?” countless times on my journey with the this beautiful game, I’ve grown to sometimes ignore and often tolerate this misunderstanding of my passion. Water off a duck’s back I believe is the term – This is the most liberating angle I’ve matured into and it is one of sheer gratefulness. Because you know what, having such a strong passion for something that it would seem an unhealthy obsession to ‘the outside’ world, adds a dimension to my life that ‘they’ couldn’t possibly understand. But they’re not in ‘our world right?’
– My name is Siobhán Prior, and I’m a basketballaholic.
If you are also a member of ‘Basketballers Anonymous England’, then you’ve been lucky enough to be on the end of these comments too. It feels good to be in this club doesn’t it? To be in this together.
And this is where my critical analysis of ‘us’, as a group of addicts of this amazing game begins. Please notice that I say ‘us’. Throughout this piece, understand that it is not my intention to point fingers. It is my goal to lead ‘us’ down a path of self-reflection in order to better meet this new opportunity head on, with complete clarity and hopefully willing co-operation.
So with that, here comes the main topic of my writing – the main plea.
“Let’s get along.”
An age old request. “A naive one”, I imagine lots of you are muttering at the computer screen. “Come on Shev, you’ve been around long enough to know that this is a problem that can’t be solved.” – Why not? It’s in our control. Our recovery is in our own hands.
If you’re wondering what the problem is I’m referring to then you are already blessed. The problem I refer to, fellow basketball junkies, buries itself in misplaced passion. A detour down a twisting road of an addict’s seemingly inevitable selfish devotion, that leads us to a place where our true and once clear goals become blurred and sometimes completely obscured. Being involved in this sport in our country, we often find ourselves in survival mode. This personal situation of survival is the trigger that sends us down this path of self devotion. It is when our addiction rears its ugly, reptilian head as the desperate need to preserve one’s programme over our once so clear need to preserve one’s players.
One’s programme: The local structures of basketball we build in order to serve the purpose of our one true aim.
One’s players: Our one true aim.
In this sense then, my addiction, because I include myself in all conversation, can present itself in the bottle green of the NW on my chest. Nottingham Wildcats – one’s programme.
The programme was built in order to service the young females and later players of Nottingham – one’s players.
Our club, like so many of yours, is deliberately located in an inner city area of Nottingham. So here begins the representation of the true goals we all had before that cloud of ‘survival’ descended. What we all have in common is the craving to provide young people with a platform to succeed, not just in basketball but in life. I know this is true from the many conversations I have had around our sport’s community. We want to help. We want to better the chances of the next generation, particularly the generation of kids who lack the confidence to dream big because it just isn’t expected of them. For those, whom when they dare to dream, are shot down by a stern and sour tasting dose of ‘reality’. But we know that there is an alternative reality for these young people and we all believe that sport is a fantastic medium through which to achieve this reality. We believe it because it was true for us. It works. It’s proven.
The passion of the basketball community in England towards this goal and the subsequent goal of the betterment of the game in our nation, is apparent in the dedication of so many of us who volunteer endless hours in our beloved programmes. The programmes, set up locally, by us, are a necessary structure in order to enable our young people and young players to succeed. But the structure is fragmented – insufficient – and all too often, unsustainable.
There are a number of reasons why this is the case – why our structures are failing to attain the potential our sport has in this country. They are the reasons we spend hours of our days discussing:
The list could go on and sometimes seems insurmountable. Before I begin my follow up point it is important for me to stress that I am in agreement with the desperate need for quality in each area listed.
But this list above. We need to be ready to receive it.
Basketball in our local structures needs to thrive with the cooperation of each programme within it. We need to tame the reptilian side of our brain. The side that tells us that protecting our territory is key. That the survival of our individual programme is key.
What is key, is that we have transparency between programmes. We don’t fear the other but look to it for advice and constructive competition that protects and enhances our young people and players. Creating symbiotic relationships within our area that can harmoniously work together to achieve our one true goal. Because that one true goal is there, timidly cowering behind the rigid frame of our sometimes reptilian mindsets. We can support each other to breath life and confidence into our aim to put the player first. Put the person first. What do they need to improve, to move forward? How can we support the journey and the growth of the player and in doing so the journey and the growth of the game in this country? That way we all grow. Not only do we survive but we thrive together and create something special in the process.
You see it starts with us, it always has. The British Development Model roadshow has shown us that we are being listened to and valued. The structures and their sustainability at a local level need to be and will be addressed because that is where the pathway begins. Having the courage and foresight to start from the ground up is the first step. What we have to do now is accept our role within the bigger structure, find our value within the system and work together within it for the betterment of our players and the game.
Part 2 of this piece will explicitly discuss a local structure I believe would work for us as a country and will be released on Saturday 11th March at 9am. Hope you look forward to reading my ideas for solutions.