The crowd erupted and it was all over, the final buzzer sounded and a man named Steve Nash stood on the court crying, as his teammate Sherman Hamilton comforted him. Canada's National Basketball Team had lost to France in the game that would have sent them to the semi-finals in the 2000 Sydney Olympics. It had been a long journey for this great athlete, a man who had made Canadians proud. Even though he was terribly upset and probably felt like he let his country down, he did not know how much his contributions meant to the sport of basketball in Canada. The team had not placed in the previous two years, but his leadership, precision passing and dead-eye shooting led Canada to a five win and two loss record; before they lost to the silver medal France team in the quarter finals. Canada's National Basketball Team has been trying to recapture some of this glory ever since.
Why doesn't Canada have a powerhouse Olympic basketball team?
With a population of almost 34 million we should be able to produce more talent than smaller, more successful countries like Latvia, Lithuania or Italy. These countries have had a pretty good showing at the last 3 Olympics. Canada hasn't been able to compete. After getting silver in the 1936 Olympics, Canada placed 8 more times; the last being the 2000 Olympics when they placed seventh. Canada Basketball has an answer, however. Three Canadians have been selected to play on the 2011 Nike Hoop Summit World Select Team and historic events like this show much promise. From what I have seen at the provincial level, through Ontario Basketball, is that they are working at building a program that will get Canada back into medal contention.
What is Ontario Basketball?
With an expected population growth of 36.6 % by July 1, 2036, Ontario will be relied on to produce more talented players who are ready for international play. “Ontario Basketball represents the province of Ontario's amateur basketball interests. The membership is made up of athletes, coaches, officials, members clubs, camps, local basketball organizations, groups, leagues and basketball supporters. As part of its mandate, Ontario Basketball is committed to working with the Toronto Raptors Basketball Club and NBA Canada to further promote and develop amateur basketball in the province.” (Ontario Basketball).
Basketball is the fastest growing sport in Canada and is booming in Ontario. “The 2010 Ontario Cup Provincial Championships had over 1,170 teams along with nearly 15,000 athletes and over 2,500 coaches.” (Ontario Basketball). The Ontario Basketball Association has put a plan in place to build on this. They have decided to push coaches to teach a certain play style and focus on player development. Soon, Ontario will be producing more basketball players that are ready to play at a higher level, are more versatile and have more refined skills.
My Time in the OBA
I have been a coach for nearly 10 years. I started with coaching house league basketball and the teams at my elementary school. Eventually, I got my level one and two and moved up to coaching at the competitive level in the Ontario Basketball Association. I recently started working on my level three Coaching Certificate, and attended a course this past summer hosted by Ontario Basketball representative Tom Gallivari. This allowed me to see what direction Ontario Basketball is headed in the near future. From my experience, and by talking to coaches and others league/club officials, I have found that: There is no program in elementary schools for kids before they join the club level at age 10; and OBA needs to implement their new player development model to all clubs and elementary schools – so everyone is teaching the same thing. It all starts with training our athletes properly when they are young and bringing them up through a solid program.
Why should we even teach young elementary students basketball?
Learning basketball can also prepare children for a future in any sport. There are countless ways that training for and playing on a basketball team can provide you with skills and athleticism for other sports. The footwork, strength, strategy, precision and hand-eye coordination that basketball demands creates a dynamic athlete. For example, soccer and basketball players share very similar footwork on defence; they also must both run long distances and know how to pace themselves. When you watch these NBA players soar to the net with monstrous dunks, sometimes cannot help but shake your head in amazement. For the entire game, they constantly push their bodies to the limit. Basketball prepares players to jump high; be smart; quick; have precise hand-eye coordination; and be strong/explosive. In order to pass, shoot, rebound and dunk while there are five opposing players holding you down requires these skills. There isn't another sport that demands less than two of these, but all sports require “spacing”.
Spacing, or how your players occupy the given space on the playing field/rink/court, is fundamental in all sports. In basketball, the regulation FIBA (International Basketball Federation) basketball court is only 15 by 28 metres, so learning the concept of spacing at a young age is important. The higher level you are at, the more of a chess game basketball becomes. Furthermore, the way that lacrosse players set-up and get openings, and/or the way soccer players cut to the net or fade out to open spots are all very similar to basketball.
However, hand eye coordination and timing are probably the strongest skills basketball teaches its athletes. Practising dribbling the ball, shooting long jump shots, grabbing rebounds at the top of your jump and making/receiving pinpoint passes all give athletes coordination that can assist them in many sports.
What needs to be done?
Developing a basketball program in elementary schools in coordination with The Ontario Basketball Association, and one that starts developing at a younger age, before they start to play club, will not only provide a strong base for Canadian basketball, but will develop solid overall athletes. It all starts with the kids.
Consequently, a few years ago, I went to schools in Mississauga to promote a basketball program for Mississauga Basketball. The level of basketball was not what I had expected and my partner and I had to adjust our promotion to meet their skill level. Furthermore, I started coaching at the under 11 level. We had kids on our team who had never played before and did not know the rules, others had bad habits that they struggled to break. Teaching the game the same way consistently, through the school and provincial system, will also stop players from developing bad habits like dribbling with their head down or shooting from their chest. A coordinated effort between OBA and elementary schools can create a full program for our players to develop their game properly.
Teaching basketball to the younger ages in school does not need to involve anything complex. Little games or tricks to help kids remember the fundamentals will prove to be enough basic knowledge to start building a strong foundation. Something like teaching first grade kids the rules of the game and how to pass. For instance, shooting can be broken down into steps. Teaching kids how to “reach for the cookie jar” will help them learn/ remember the motion to properly shoot and to use their legs to power the shot. Using their feet and shoulders to aim would be the next step and so forth. A few years later, when they are more mature and physically stronger, they can learn more advanced shooting concepts like perfecting the follow through and the jump shot. Eventually, by the time they are ready to start playing competitive (Under 10), they will have some of the skills already down. Teaching skills in steps seems to be a common theme among coaches at the club level and should be adopted by elementary schools. I talked to a coach from the GTA who has been coaching for ten years, Coach “K” he told me to call him. “I usually teach in steps, a lot of steps. I break down a skill or play into drills before having them work on the final product. It helps the younger kids understand the game.” If Ontario Basketball’s system was in place to prepare young athletes at elementary schools, there would be a strong base of players for the OBA coaches to develop.
OBA’s Plan for the Future
I was at a tournament in the GTA on February 26th and had a chance to speak with one of the coaches of a Mississauga team, Coach Nick. He had recently attended the Coaching Level 2 course for OBA and we spoke about some of the ideas Ontario Basketball had to improve their program and their new direction. Over the squeaking of running shoes and loud cheers from the game, he told me how the course changed his coaching style. “Usually we would just send the tall guys to work on an inside game on one end and send the shorter guys to the other to work on the guard game. In games, our big guy would just stand under the net and the smaller guys would play the outside. I don't do that anymore.” It seems Ontario Basketball wants coaches to teach every player the skills to play every position, and this is the right way to build players. “We teach our big guys how to dribble and play on the wing now... Small guys how to play inside and rebound.” This is a case that Ontario Basketball's call for change has worked and it seems they are adopting a European style of play. “They focus on training all players to play on the wing and a lot of cuts to the basket... Something similar to the Italian Program of teaching basketball. Having your big guys spread the floor, that sort of thing.” This idea of training every player to be used in the offence is one I have always followed, and after taking the Level Three basketball Ontario course last summer, I have a strong understanding, of how to prepare my players so they can hopefully make it to the higher level (playing overseas or for national team) down the road. Hopefully other coaches get the message too.
However, It seems like coaches are catching on, and from what I have seen at tournaments across the GTA and have heard from other coaches, it looks like Ontario Basketball has a bright future.
With coordinated efforts between Ontario Basketball and elementary schools, we can look to develop the younger aged athletes in accordance to what Canada Basketball decides. Right now they are pushing a program that will look to train players in all aspects of the game. If both elementary schools and Ontario Basketball are running the same program it will pay off in the future. So far, at the provincial level, it seems to be working; and even though Canada has been out of the last two Olympics, they are still ranked 23 out of 217 countries in FIBA (International Basketball Federation) rankings. If they continue to develop a program that will have athletes ready for international play, they can only go up. Teaching basketball the right way from the ground up will more importantly create more highly developed Canadian athletes and give our youth a chance to maximize their potential – whether it be on a court, field or rink.