Fun, fundamentals and fair play
Educators putting short stuff on the short court.by Kerry Campbell
You’re not going to see any of these little guys and gals dunking anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t teach an NBA bad boy like Allen Iverson a thing or two about the game of basketball. You see, while they work on developing their lay-ups, passing and dribbling skills, grade school kids enrolled in a pair of youth basketball programs in Brandon are also learning important lessons about sportsmanship and fair play. Maybe if Iverson had spent a year or two in Stars Basketball or the Mini-Spartans, his rap sheet wouldn’t be quite so long, and his critics wouldn’t call him a ball hog.
Tom Price, an alumnus of the Brandon University Bobcats and teacher at King George school, operates Stars, a program for kids from grades one through six entering its fourth year in Brandon this year. It runs from November through March. Stars is a national program which was developed by Price’s fellow former Bobcat Mark Hogan. The program’s motto explains what it’s all about: “It is more important to be a good person than a good basketball player.”
“We want to make kids realize there’s fair play and sportsmanship involved while, hopefully, helping them to develop their fundamental skills,” says Price. “At the end of the session, if that kid leaves the gym feeling good about what they’ve accomplished in the last hour — that’s one of our main goals.”
With that in mind, Stars strips away the competitive focus of the game. No scores or standings are kept, although Price says the kids invariably keep a mental tally on baskets during their weekly, three-on-three, half-court scrimmages.
Keeping the emphasis off of the competitive aspect of the game keeps things fun for everybody and creates a more inclusive environment that encourages participation, according to Don Thomson. Thomson teaches at Neelin High School and served as coach of the Brandon University Bobcats women’s basketball team for eight years. Neelin’s month-long Mini-Spartans program picks up where Stars leaves off in April and fits nicely into the gap between the hockey and soccer seasons. The program includes both basketball and volleyball components.
“At times we service too much at the varsity level, the elite players, and we tend to overlook the grassroots,” Thomson says. “What we’re trying to do is just give the kids a chance to get in the gym, handle a ball and get a feel for the game.” “I think it’s the best way to teach athletics to young kids — keep it uncompetitive and enjoyable,” agrees Price. “And basketball lends itself to being picked up very quickly. All you need are some runners, some shorts and a shirt, and away you go.
” With obesity rates among Canadian children skyrocketing, it has become more important than ever to encourage young people to remain physically active. A study conducted by the University of Saskatchewan found that the proportion of overweight and obese children in Canada increased at an alarming rate between 1981 and 1996. During that period, the proportion of boys considered overweight tripled, from 11 per cent in 1981 to 33 per cent in 1996, while the proportion of overweight girls more than doubled, from 13 per cent to 27 per cent. Obesity rates rose at an even greater rate. Obesity rates among boys grew by five times, from two per cent to ten per cent. Among girls the rate grew similarly, from two per cent to nine per cent.
Price says that back when he used to teach Phys Ed, he saw that kids naturally wanted to keep physically active — “but they often don’t know what avenue to take. “The kids are willing to do things as long as they get some guidance. You channel them in a positive manner and make the sport as enjoyable as possible, and hopefully, they’ll develop a lifelong love of fitness that will help them out in later years.” Each week, kids spend about half of each Stars session working on fundamentals, and the other half scrimmaging. Price uses students from Brandon University to fill out his coaching staff.
Because the program coincides with hockey season, Price says Stars gives local kids an important alternative to our national pastime. Before Stars, he says, “there wasn’t an opportunity for kids who may not be involved with a hockey component to remain active over the winter. We’ve picked up a lot of kids who might have fallen through the cracks.” Mini Spartans differs slightly from Stars in that it builds toward a formal competitive aspect, although the emphasis remains on skill development, sportsmanship and participation. “It’s more important to teach sportsmanship and fair play with these kids. But if they can deal with competition in an instructive way, then we’re not only strengthening their basketball or volleyball skills, but also skills they’ll need to succeed later in life.” Thomson also values his program for the opportunity it affords Neelin’s student-athletes, who help him to coach the program. “It’s a win-win situation for everybody,” he explains. “We’re helping the young kids to hone their skills while allowing the older kids to develop their leadership skills.”
Both programs are looking forward to another successful season, with registrations expected to top 100 in Stars and in each component of the Mini-Spartans. As a parent of two kids who’ve enjoyed the programs, Wanda Jackson says the key is to keep things fun. Daughter Kelsey, now 14, was enrolled in Stars for two years. Son Aaron, 11, is entering his fourth year in Stars and has been involved with the Mini-Spartans in each of the two years that program has operated so far. "Our kids both have a real love of the game, and we wanted to teach them the fundamentals early,” says Jackson, whose husband Don wore the jerseys of the Bobcats and the University of Winnipeg Wesmen back in his playing days. “And they love it.
The hour goes by so fast. When you can get them there without a fight, you know they enjoy it.”
Kerry Campbell is a freelance writer based in Brandon. He served as editor of the monthly entertainment magazine On! Brandon for five years before moving to Virden to work as a reporter for the Virden Empire-Advance. He is a regular contributor to CBC Radio Noon. Email Kerry at Kerry Campbell
Photo by Frazer Studio of Photography.