Many athletes think of the social aspect of participating in sports as an added bonus, but when it comes to producing quality sport, bringing people together is a necessary measure.
Basketball Manitoba’s new strategic vision focuses on just this. As the organization plans for the future, it is broadening its strategy to include a number of basketball’s stakeholders with both direct and indirect ties to the sport. With different voices finally connecting, these actions are yielding a more united and informed climate for basketball in the province.
Basketball Manitoba holds strategic planning sessions every four to five years to discuss the state of basketball in the province and identify key issues with its members. In the past, members have included teams, leagues or associations that paid the organization fees for service, but for the November 2011 session, executive director Adam Wedlake decided the organization could use a more inclusive approach.
“We made sure our key membership associations were involved but also extended it beyond what we call ‘normal-paying members’” he says. “We sometimes wind up only listening to those who offer some kind membership value in return to us. (Inviting non-members) allowed us to get more voices at the table—ones that maybe, at times, we didn’t hear, chose not to hear or didn’t think were as valid. But it’s been critical.”
Some of the voices Basketball Manitoba hadn’t been hearing turned out to be important ones. As Wedlake, who has served as executive director since 2006, explains, bringing the school system into the planning process has been a key step toward better sport alignment.
“Basketball is traditionally a very school-historic sport, and that’s probably one of our biggest challenges: bridging the gap between clubs and non-school programs with the school system,” he says. “The vast majority of basketball is still played in the school system, whether junior high, middle school, or high school, and a lot of those people weren’t at our table (before). That was one of the big outcomes we got.”
Basketball Manitoba hopes better connecting the province’s basketball programs improves the development paths for players and clubs, but it isn’t stopping there. Its new approach even involves taking into consideration groups from outside the basketball community.
“(We go) beyond the traditional sport providers and get involved with other entities that involve children, whether it’s daycares or groups in the health sector that we can do a lot with,” says Wedlake. “We look at more, even bigger crossovers than just sport to sport or league to league. That’s the next phase: branching these concepts and discussions out of the normal fabric of their sporting communities.”
This new approach to strategic planning could be understood as a “holistic” way of looking at quality sport. Sport consultant Carolyn Trono says, “They have different teams, clubs, groups, voices all communicating with each other, hearing each other, and inviting each other. I would say it’s a very innovative way of doing it.”
The shift to a more collaborative planning process stems partly from Basketball Manitoba’s implementation of the Canadian Sport for Life Long-Term Athletic Development (LTAD) model. Because implementing LTAD requires understanding and effort from coaches, players and athletes at all stages of athletic development, more consultation is needed and a greater level of involvement follows suit. “LTAD is becoming more of a buzz term, and people are grasping that what that means is to get involved,” says Wedlake.
The organization’s approach to LTAD has revolved around coordination. Trono believes Basketball Manitoba and the Winnipeg Minor Basketball Association’s participation in each others’ strategic planning sessions has allowed them to support each other’s organizational priorities. This has led to better-aligned athlete-development planning, especially for athletes starting out in the early LTAD stages, she says.
The sessions produced a number of new initiatives, but none better represent the organization’s interconnectedness than its Super Coaches Clinics. In years past, the Basketball Manitoba’s four main university basketball partners held their own coaching clinics. They usually drew just over 50 attendees separately. Wedlake thought these clinics were fine but felt there were more effective ways of educating the province’s basketball coaches.
An amalgamation of the events took place. Basketball Manitoba now hosts one annual Super Coaches Clinic with all four universities. Having drawn 400 attendees in each of the four years since its launch, the clinic is a testament to inclusion, integration and LTAD implementation. To maximize attendance, Basketball Manitoba explored ways to make the event as accommodating as possible. First, it places the event on the same weekend Manitoba teachers are required to seek out professional development opportunities. For about 150 gym teachers and basketball coaches, the clinic offers a natural choice.
The remaining 250 coaches that attend every year come from the Winnipeg Minor Basketball Association. While coaches from this organization often had to pass up coaching clinics, which occur on weekends, for league games, which also occur on weekends, Basketball Manitoba and the Winnipeg Minor Basketball Association worked together in establishing a weekend on which no games would be played and on which all coaches could attend the clinic.
The change resulted not only in higher attendance, but also in a clinic at which coaches of different stages from different leagues, clubs and schools are all together—not competing, but connecting and learning the same coaching principles together.
The Super Coaches Clinic also appeals to aware coaches as an LTAD-based initiative. “The LTAD flavour of the clinic was a reduction in the games played in exchange for the education opportunity with no added costs,” Wedlake explains. “The Clinic brings together all coaches from the school and club systems to kick off the season with a high-level learning opportunity.”
Other development-based changes remain on the horizon for Basketball Manitoba. In fact, one of its LTAD-related training initiatives could reshape the sport entirely. The 3-on-3 half-court model was originally intended to give children in early development stages a better way to learn the game with lower hoops, smaller balls, more opportunities to shoot, more ball possession per player and more players on the court at a time (two games can occur simultaneously). But the cross-stage popularity of the sport has seen it branch off into its own game. Currently, the International Basketball Federation awaits word on whether the Olympic Committee will add 3-on-3 basketball as its own event in the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro.
Wedlake refers to 3-on-3 basketball as a “spinoff,” like beach volleyball is to volleyball. In terms of athlete development, he thinks it opens up more opportunities for players. Kids learning the game between the ages of five and seven may decide they prefer the 3-on-3 pace when they reach a competitive age. “It allows players to ask themselves, ‘Am I more of a 3-on-3 kind of player?’” he says.
All the while, the organization knows it cannot plan for the future without acknowledging the present. It launched its first app in January 2011. With scores, videos, streams, news, social media access and more, the app has been a hit, according to Wedlake. “It’s another mechanism we can use to communicate to those who are involved but also to those who are not involved and who are outside of the basketball community,” he says.
The explanation ties in nicely with the organization’s belief that a sporting organization that connects with as many people as possible is stronger than one that runs on exclusivity.