London Lions head coach Vince Macaulay hopes the British Basketball League club can help young people and communities reconnect as the nation looks to life after lockdown.
Grassroots sport is currently paused under coronavirus restrictions, but it is scheduled to begin again on March 29 as part of the Government’s roadmap for reopening society.
As well as continuing to stay in regular contact with the youngsters in their academy system, the Lions have looked to maintain a community outreach programme to help provide a focus for when sport can again play a central role.
The Lions have set up a series of both live and pre-recorded Zoom mentoring sessions, which see players and coaching staff focus on fitness, nutrition and mental health as well as integrating back into peer interaction and re-engaging with sport.
Research commissioned by the club during the pandemic found 35 per cent of people aged 18-24 currently feel displaced and outside of the norm, with these figures increasing to 38 per cent in the BAME community.
The ‘Getting Back to Your Team’ Zoom session focuses on the challenges around returning into peer and friendship groups, with players drawing from their own experiences to offer guidance on the best methods to feel part of a social group again.
Earlier this week, the club also launched a nationwide ‘Hooping Back to School Programme’ to help support the return to the classroom.
Once restrictions have eased, the Lions, whose home arena is the Copper Box in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, plan to make personal appearances again in schools around the community.
“Being able to engage online as a group and individually, looking forward for them to be able to have that mentor come and visit, that is something which can bridge the gap between now and when we are out (of lockdown),” Macaulay told the PA news agency.
“We are fortunate to be very diverse (in the club), people who have had different basketball experiences growing up as well as different international experiences.
“Someone like Justin Robinson, who grew up in Brixton, south London, spent his career in college (in the United States) being very successful, played several years in Europe at a very high level, to then come back and champion the development of the British player, that is a huge story.
“If I am a youngster, I can see that, see myself at the age of 12 or 13 in Brixton.
“All the kids have different issues and we try to match people together so we have the right person talking to them.”
Macaulay, 59, continued: “There are those who have been disconnected from the sport – and they might have already been in a bad place going into lockdown.
“Now, it is all about making connections with other people, talking about what you are going to do when you get out, the time to go and play football or basketball.
“We know with the way things ease that we won’t go straight to organised play, but we can say: ‘look on that first Saturday, let’s all meet at Bethnal Green on the two courts there and have a session’, to use it as something to focus on.”
As part of the second tranche of the Government’s £300million Sport Winter Survival Package, British Basketball League clubs – including Women’s British Basketball League clubs – will receive £2.5 million in grants and loans, with a £200,000 grant going to governing body Basketball England.
The Lions currently sit third in the BBL standings, and on Wednesday night travel to Glasgow Rocks for the second leg of their BBL Trophy semi-final, when they will look to defend a 90-66 advantage.
Macaulay feels such government support will have been “critical” to clubs, who have been playing on behind closed doors, as they look to remain at the heart of their community for the next generation.
“There are maybe those youngsters who now have an ‘on-line’ lifestyle, which could take something away from what the normal day looks like,” Macaulay said.
“So it is about having something to fill the void, and not talking about negative things which might be happening on the streets.
“It is important that we can hit the ground running so that there is no gap for those kind of things to step in.”