United we play

By Qi Xijia Source:Global Times Published: 2015-9-8 18:58:01

Though basketball is not the UK's most popular diversion compared with other traditional English sports, since arriving in Shanghai, where basketball thrives among Chinese youngsters, Matthew aged 9, Simon aged 12 and Sophia aged 15 have developed a fondness for shooting hoop.

Every weekend the three siblings, from a British expatriate family who moved to Shanghai four years ago, hit the basketball courts as part of the training offered to local and foreign youth by sports club Basketball Stars United.

"It is very difficult to find the balance between pushing a child to their limit but at the same time still having fun," said Piet Daenen, the siblings' father, who comes with them every weekend to watch their training from the side of the court. "They become very tired but they don't realize it and never give up."

Daenen credits the philosophy of the club's founder, Joel Jean-Baptiste, as an inspiration to the players and coaches. Baptiste is a former professional player for the NCAA's La Salle Explorers in Philadelphia, as well as European leagues. He moved to China in 2007 and opened the youth league in 2009.

"Ever since learning basketball my life changed. So I wanted to share my experience with the kids and inspire them through the game as well," Baptiste told the Global Times.

Core values

Baptiste says he sees himself as more of a life coach than a basketball coach. "In the end, I don't want them to become professional basketball players. I want them to become teammates."

The true purpose of the club according to the coach is to bring the children of Shanghai together and teach them values that they will carry on throughout their personal lives and careers.

The coach encourages the children to assert themselves individually and in a group setting. Self-confidence, teamwork, commitment, trust and accountability are the values repeated mantra-like during training.

Among these values, Baptiste said three most important that he personally learned from his career were hard work, passion and communication. He believes that through the game these values will be picked up by his young players. "It pays off. If you put your heart in something then everything goes well," said Baptiste.

The warm-up exercises at the start of their training are a perfect example of the embodiment of these values. For warm-ups, their trainers stand in a line and the players must attempt to cross that line without being touched.

When the players do not move in the same direction during these warm-ups they create holes in their ranks, making it easier for the opposing team to break through.

"Everything that we do is designed for them to develop an awareness of teamwork and communication," said Baptiste. "They will do these things without realizing they are doing it and it becomes something they grow up with."

Inspiring the less-fortunate

In addition to learning core values, Baptiste hopes to expose his young players to Shanghai's multiculturalism and global awareness. The children will have an opportunity to travel in and outside the city to play in games and tournaments against other youngsters from all backgrounds.

Basketball Stars United also works closely with migrant schools and charitable organizations, including children from a migrant community in Qingpu district, where Baptiste offers free training every week.

"The idea is to offer local kids the same opportunities that our more privileged players have. Our hope is to inspire the less-fortunate by enabling more communication in English and introducing them to the foreign community, while at the same time teaching humility to our more privileged students," said Baptiste.

Daenen agrees that it is a great way to bring schools and students together as it provides a chance for local and expatriate youth to make friends from around the world.

"What makes life so different is not how much money people have but how much opportunity they have," said Baptiste.

"If we can give them (migrant children) this opportunity it doesn't matter if they don't have big houses. For privileged students they will also understand that China is not just school, ayi and sports," he said.


Children from Basketball Stars United in training and shake hands with migrant children in a basketball game. Photos: Courtesy of BSU


Posted in: Metro Shanghai

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