Mentorship basketball program bouncing back with virtual training sessions

·3 min read
Participants of Africa Centre's basketball program take part in a virtual training session to help players work on their conditioning. The program has been on hold since the fall. (Africa Centre/Zoom - image credit)
Participants of Africa Centre's basketball program take part in a virtual training session to help players work on their conditioning. The program has been on hold since the fall. (Africa Centre/Zoom - image credit)

Last week, about 15 teens donned their workout gear, headed to their bedrooms or basements, and then logged in to join a virtual physical training session, with some younger siblings occasionally jumping in to join the fun.

It's not how organizers of Africa Centre's basketball program planned on restarting its practices — but it's better than nothing at all.

"That's what we have and we just have to make good use of what we have," said Tawa Nzekwu, an Africa Centre mentorship co-ordinator.

If the teens and organizers had the choice, they'd rather be bouncing basketballs and working on their passes, but that's not ideal in homes and apartments.

Last summer and fall, the program operated outdoors with a cap on participants before pausing around November. Organizers received a demand for it to start back up in some form in the new year, so now it's focusing on conditioning.

"I do know some of the kids personally, because we live in the same community, and I kept hearing questions from parents," said Sam Assembe, coach of the program. "'When are we getting back when gyms are open? Is there anything we can do? The kids are restless.'"

Since the online sessions started up in mid-February, the teens have joined their instructor, who leads from a studio with a soundtrack of dance music playing in the background.

Many of the teens have participated in every session, with some of the keeners even logging on early to get ready for the workout.

"I admire their consistency," said Nzekwu. "It's not easy going to the gym, but these kids are just doing it online and they keep showing up every week."

Dedication, routine and punctuality stand out in this program, which is about more than just basketball.

It started as a crime prevention tool a few years ago and has developed to include a focus on mentorship.

When they could practice at gyms and outdoor courts, the sessions offered opportunities to check in with the players and find out how they were doing.

The emphasis to develop as a player is as important as developing as a person and staying on top of school work.

"It's more like providing that safe space," said Nzekwu. "Still providing the safe space for youth free skill development, and also looking to where they have a coach as a role model and also other peers as role models."

In March 2020, Chris Bellard takes part in Africa Centre's basketball practice at the Clareview Recreation Centre.
In March 2020, Chris Bellard takes part in Africa Centre's basketball practice at the Clareview Recreation Centre.(Travis McEwan/CBC)

Even though the pandemic has put the basketball sessions on hold, Assembe said there's been a lot of interest in the free program over the past year.

"As we go back to the gym, there will be a lot of kids coming out," he said.

The group eventually wants to return to holding sessions in the Clareview Recreation Centre, which is a community hub that is close to many of the families who use the basketball program.

But for now, organizers are hoping for warmer weather, fewer COVID-19 cases and loosened restrictions so that they return to safely running outdoor dribbling drills.

"We hope that the restrictions keep getting lifted and that we are able to go back to full activity as soon as possible," Assembe said.