No matter the situation, communication between coaches and their athletes is imperative for success.
Basketball Victoria’s High Performance Head Coaches are proving this through proactive coaching methods amidst lingering uncertainty surrounding basketball’s return to the courts.
As the largest participation sport in state, the effects of COVID-19 hit Basketball Victoria harder than most in March, when the organisation postponed all basketball competitions, activities and events until further notice.
For the basketball community, this announcement was an abrupt shock and was especially disconcerting for the elite athletes involved in Basketball Victoria’s High Performance pathways.
Not only did the virus force the cancelation of significant events including the Australian Junior Championships, international tours to Taiwan, Europe and USA, and a series of development camps; it created the greatest challenge a coach and athlete can face… disconnection.
For Basketball Victoria’s High Performance Head Coach Nathan Cooper-Brown, the wellbeing of his athletes and fellow coaches was the first thought on his mind when the COVID-19 postponements began to take place.
“We were devastated for our community when COVID-19 arose because we know what basketball means to them and we knew losing time with the thing they love would be really difficult,” explained Cooper-Brown.
“Our number one priority is always our players and coaches’ welfare, so the first step was to connect with them to make sure they knew things were going to be ok. Then the next crucial step was to provide both wellbeing and basketball support immediately.”
Basketball Victoria’s coaches banded together to provide the stability their athletes needed in a time of great disruption, stadium closures, the halting of association activities and the introduction of social distancing.
Targeting athletes in the State Development Program (SDP) and Victorian National Performance Program (VNPP), the team created a series of modules for their players to explore.
Between March and late April, the coaches produced 21 live Zoom sessions and have had more than 150 athletes tune in every session on average. The sessions emphasise mental skills training, strength and conditioning, recovery, and individual skill development.
Additionally, live cooking sessions on Sundays have invited parents and siblings to get involved and stay connected.
Players also received research projects to connect them to the modern game, helping with player comparisons and international trends. According to Cooper-Brown, finding the balance between caring and mentoring was pivotal.
“The quote ‘they don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care’ is a bedrock of good coaching, and in this time of uncertainty and disruption, it’s vital all coaches are showing their athletes how much they care about them as people before we even worry about the basketball court.
“Once that responsibility has been filled, then providing a distraction (masked as improvement) through a variety of virtual training options can reconnect athletes to their passion and provide a shred of normality.”
Darcy Jones is just one of the athletes who have benefited from the new online training approach. Now a VNPP athlete, Jones has progressed through the Basketball Victoria pathway which has taken him interstate and across Victoria to compete.
“This year was going to be a great year for me in terms of basketball, so I was disappointed when I heard we wouldn’t be able to properly play basketball for such a long time,” Jones explained. “The transition to online sessions has been great though, and I think that’s because of the amount of work that the High Performances coaches have put in.
“Even though we aren’t training on court, the coaches have probably been contacting us even more than usual, just checking in on us and seeing how we are going.”
Heading into May marked the start of another month in lockdown, with this, Cooper-Brown and the Basketball Victoria coaches launched a guest speaker program for their High Performance athletes to engage with them while state restrictions remain.
The program runs weekly via Zoom web sessions and provides athletes with information on areas of the pathway that they may not receive on a regular basis.
The inaugural session welcomed international athlete and Basketball Victoria alumni Josh Kunen. This was followed by a session with Australian basketballer Kristy Wallace, who spoke about overcoming adversity.
“One of the silver linings of the COVID-19 situation is being gifted time,” said Cooper-Brown. “We are providing the kids a guest speaker to talk about areas of the pathway in front them.
“We are incredibly grateful for these two outstanding young people for giving up their time, and not surprisingly, their presentations were met with a plethora of appreciation from athletes, coaches and parents that tuned in.”
Kunen, a Basketball Australia Centre of Excellence scholar, Country Victoria State representative and current scholarship holder at the University of San Francisco, spoke to over 150 athletes and coaches on his experiences as a student athlete in the session.
The positive response from Victorian athletes has allowed the High Performance coaches to continue with this inspiring initiative.
Most recently, the group organised for Australian Opals Captain and Lifeline Ambassador, Jenna O’Hea, and South East Melbourne Phoenix players, Adam Gibson and Mitch Creek, to participate and share some light on the reality of life as an athlete.
With restrictions lifting this week in Victoria, the hopes of many are beginning to rise regarding basketball’s return. To every basketball player, coach, parent, official and fan in the state, Cooper-Brown leaves you with this.
“Don’t overestimate what you can do in a year, and underestimate what you can do in a decade,” said Cooper-Brown. “Remember that everyone is going through this together, so find a routine and commitment to your craft that works for you during this time and remember that the basketball pathway is a long and winding one.
“Even with this big curve in the road there’s plenty of time left to achieve those dreams and, hopefully, we see everyone’s smiling faces back on floor soon.”