Grassroots sport coaches continue to play a key role in helping guide children towards fulfilling their potential, according to London Lions player and Uganda international Jonathan Komagum.
Research commissioned by the Lions, the capital’s only professional basketball team, revealed 28 per cent of people from ethnic minority groups felt the most valuable figure growing up for their development was a community figure outside of friends and family.
Part of the study, which was conducted across a nationally representative cohort, compliant with the British Polling Council, of 2,074 respondents, also showed 18 per cent of people said a positive role model outside of their close-knit family influenced them to not engage in a life of crime or activities which would not serve their future.
Komagum grew up as part of a single-parent family in Kidbrooke, south east London.
Looking back, the 24-year-old accepts he was a “bad” and “angry” child before being “saved” by basketball after joining a local club in Peckham.
From those tough beginnings, Komagum feels he found a sense of structure and discipline, which helped sharpen his academic focus to later enrol at the City of London Academy in Southwark before securing a basketball scholarship to the United States.
“Growing up I was a bad kid and used to get in trouble a lot at school, when I started playing basketball at 14, from there on I had to change who I was,” Komagum told the PA news agency.
“I had a coach at Peckham Pride where I played and learned the importance of discipline, accountability and structure.
“Just having a male figure who I could look up to, guide me towards being a better man, not just a better basketball player, was something I needed at the time.
“It helped me to be able to play at a higher level, then going on to (College) in America and now with the London Lions.”
Komagum recalled: “It was just little things like making sure I was on time for training, because if I was not on time, I was not going to play.
“It just provided me with that structure which made me be accountable for myself and my own actions.
“My coach really helped me with that. He told me that one day he was not going to be there and that I was going to have to hold myself, to police my own self.
“By doing the discipline every day and building those habits in my youth, it allowed me to go on to America and to take care of myself, which allowed me to perform at a high level.
“Basketball saved me, because I was a bad child. I used to get excluded from school and get in trouble, I was angry.
“It made me take school seriously because I knew to go to America, I would have to have good grades.
“Taking away basketball was something I did not want to happen, so that made me focused on trying to stay driven.”
During October 2022, the Lions helped create a unique community basketball court in Tower Hamlets, aiming to provide a vibrant and free space for children to play while the club also hosted a series of coaching sessions.
“I wish it was something I had when I was a kid,” said 6ft 9in centre Komagum, who signed for the 2022/23 season after a spell at Sacramento State Hornets and has represented Uganda in FIBA’s World Cup qualifiers.
“What the Lions are doing is great, being able to run the camps with the players close and us being someone who the kids can look up to in a positive light and see that one day they can hopefully get to a higher level.”