Hoops Help Youth

Australia is a nation proud of its sporting culture, a nation where sport is celebrated and athletes are both idolised and revered. For young people in particular, sport is often a significant part of growing up in Australia.

Sport is a vehicle in which kids can learn and grow, not only as individuals but together as a group. The sports field is somewhere in which you can develop leadership skills as well as motor skills and coordination. The reality, however, is that for many young people growing up in Australia, there is not always a level playing field. The same opportunities and options in sport, due to varying different circumstances, are often not available to everyone. There are, however, programs out there working to address this issue.

Helping Hoops, in operation since 2010, is a non-profit charity organisation that provides disadvantaged kids in Melbourne, Australia, with a program in which they can play basketball in a relaxed and friendly environment.

The program is a free participation based, inclusive non-profit based clinic. It is not about the pursuit of a championship but rather providing kids with somewhere they can learn skills for both on and off the court. Helping Hoops is a platform in which kids who might be unable to participate in other situations are given a chance to play basketball.

The philosophy of Helping Hoops is not about “making teams, winning trophies, or creating the next Michael Jordan” but rather “using basketball in a way that helps kids off the court.”

The programs is run in gyms, parks and housing estates in Melbourne suburbs such as Sunshine, Fitzroy, Croydon, Broadmeadows, Richmond, Collingwood and North Melbourne. The participants are provided with a high level clinic with a chance to learn the game and improve their skills on the court. The clinics now run as regularly as every day of the week

Helping Hoops, however, is about more than what happens on the basketball court. The program aims to make a change in the community, with a strong emphasis is on life skills, delivered through the vehicle of basketball.

The organisation works with young groups in Melbourne who are in need, from those with a disability, to those from refugee backgrounds, low socio-economic backgrounds and others with special needs.

Adam McKay, the executive director and co-founder of Helping Hoops said “We focus on making sure that kids who normally wouldn't normally have a chance to participate in sports and recreation do get those opportunities.”

“We are more about instilling social outcomes by using the sport, for example confidence building, social cohesion, leadership as well as embracing a healthy and active lifestyle… life skills don’t stop when helping hoops stops, we are not limited to the basketball court.”

Helping Hoops in action in Richmond

Helping Hoops coach Steve Bacash has been with the organisation since 2012, when he first started working as a volunteer at their program in Fitzroy.

“Basketball is the tool for kids in low socio-economic areas to come to together to develop leadership and participate amongst their community to grow into themselves, open themselves up to possibilities that may not have been possible in their current living situation.” Steve says.

Unlike many other sports in which facilities and equipment can be hard to come by, the game of basketball lends itself well to this type of set-up. “Basketball is not an expensive game, all you need is a ball and a hoop, helping hoops provides them for free and most people can participate.” Steve said.

As opposed to sports such as tennis, swimming, golf and others, the kids are able to take what they have learnt and practice their basketball skills due to the accessibility of the game. There are no expensive facilities, booking, registration or membership fees required, just a ball and a hoop.

“Its something anyone can do no matter if you've got a kid with down syndrome who is very low functioning right up to a 6 ft 6 kid who is dunking the ball, no matter the group, the level, the ability, the disability, you can tailor the game to suit everyone’s needs” Adam said.

Basketball is also a worldwide game, played indoor and outdoor in all corners of the globe. From North America, to Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East to Australia you will find kids and adults, male and female, hooping all year round.

Whilst it doesn't have the same profile of other sports in Australia, namely AFL, cricket and soccer, the game remains one of the highest youth participatory sports in Australia. While it might not receive the same attention as these other sports, there is a basketball court at practically every school in the state of Victoria.

Adam McKay believes that the state of basketball in Australia has never been stronger, “any gym, any court, any time is busy, participation in basketball is huge, I challenge the data or anyone to say that basketball is not the most participated sport in Australia, its open to everyone of all ability, male, female, I think the health of the game at the participation level is fine.”

Over the past couple of years the charity has organised events such as the 24 hour Charity Shootout, the 2015 Helping Hoops North Melbourne Tournament and even hosted NBA legend Dennis Rodman in the Melbourne leg of his Australian tour.

In the long term, Helping Hoops are looking to expand not only to other areas around Melbourne and consolidate their operation, but to run programs in other states and cities around the country. They are already working with groups in Sydney.

Right now the organisation is working hard to consolidate their model. As stated by Andrew, however, the ideal position for Helping Hoops in the next 3 to 5 years would be a national program, working with kids all over the country.

In the current media landscape it is important to highlight and expose those affecting a positive change in the community. Stories of this nature can often be overlooked and that is why they need to be exposed to the public.

By Victor McMillan

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