Shooting for better facilities

Basketball Scotland is taking stock and looking to build on its popularity in primary schools. This means shaking off its gym hall image and coaching more teachers, writes Roddy Mackenzie

The first national schools basketball development conference was held recently at Bell's Sports Centre in Perth.The one-day conference, which may become an annual event, focused on the way forward for the game in schools, looking at topics such as developing skills in the 5-14 age group, Higher Still and officiating.

The sport has a long established national schools competition and Basketball Scotland's youth commission boasts no fewer than 87 schools, some of which enter teams in several age groups.

Donna Finnie, full-time development officer for Edinburgh, presented a paper on primary school basketball.

"Mini basketball is very popular in schools. Almost every primary in Edinburgh now has a set of posts," she said.

"I have been looking at teaching basic skills for teachers, such as the lay-up, shooting skills and basic dribbling. It is one thing to read about these things in text books but I think teachers find it easier if they have a practical demonstration."

The conference also discussed teaching teachers officiating skills, both on the playing ground and at the officiating table. Miss Finnie pointed out that some teachers are not comfortable with taking on refereeing duties, but for the game to flourish it is as important to qualify officials as it is to bring on new playing talent.

Basketball Scotland is keen to nurture the game in primary schools. Tomorrow the National Primary Inter-Area Tournament will be held at Meadowbank, Edinburgh, and 14 regional squads will attend, including Aberdeen who have entered for the first time.

"In general, the game is healthy in primary schools," said Miss Finnie, "and you find in the areas that have organised clubs, like St Mirren in Paisley, that several primary schools feed into the club.

"We're very fortunate in the sport in that we have a lot of very good volunteers who take teams and devote a lot of time to working with young players. At Meadowbank every Friday, from 4pm-6pm, we have a Little Dribblers session for six-year-olds upwards and we usually have around 45 coming every week.

"Between six and nine years, we really only want players to work on their basic skills, before going on to play games from the age of nine onwards."

It is obvious from the number of baskets outside houses now that youngsters are taking the opportunity to play any time.

"I think a lot of young children see the game on television and want to give it a try," said Miss Finnie, "and these days it is not necessarily the instinctive reaction of every schoolchild in Scotland to kick a ball when you throw it to him.

"Basketball seems to be a fashion thing as well with teenagers and you see a growing number of children bouncing a basketball when you are out and about."

A major endeavour by Basketball Scotland over the past five years has been to install as many outdoor posts as possible in a bid to make the game a year-round sport. In the United States and most European countries, players can simply go to their local outdoor court and play bounce games. In Scotland, it used to be difficult to play basketball without going to the trouble of booking an indoor court and many felt this was a major drawback in getting the game to catch hold.

There was an ambitious plan to have 1,000 outdoor courts throughout Scotland by the end of the 2000-01 season with help from Sportscotland's National Lottery fund. It was designed to help introduce community development programmes for everyone, regardless of sex, ability, social or ethnic group, as well as to stimulate mass participation in the game and raise the level of excellence in Scotland. That target has not yet been met due to funding complications but there are signs that it will improve.

Miss Finnie (who learned to play basketball in the gym at St Augustine's High in Edinburgh) knows that for the game to thrive it has shake off its gym hall image. A trip to Lamar University in Texas highlighted Scotland's lack of top-class facilities. The training hall in Lamar had room for 3,000 spectators and the basketball court for matches could seat 10,000.

"It was a different world," Miss Finnie said. "But I don't necessarily think the children were more talented than any in Scotland. It's just that as soon as they start high school, they are training every day and they have the full sports science input with a weights and strengthening programme, so naturally they will be fitter and improve at a quicker rate.

"We are producing good players. Some have gone to America on scholarships but it would be nice to keep them here.

"There are basketball academies in England and there is talk of setting one up in Scotland. That would be a great boost for the game but I think we're still some way from that happening," she said. "Things are moving in the right direction. We now have full-time development officers in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dundee, though the ideal would be to have eight to 10 across the country."

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