British basketball’s youth is plentiful – but many believe it needs the support to flourish

The British Basketball League continues to thrive amid a new TV deal and investments from star NBA players, but what about basketball’s grass roots? 

Nearly 1.2 million children play basketball on a weekly basis, according to the latest information from Sport England – roughly 12% of the UK’s youth population.

These figures suggest that the roots are faring well, and that basketball in Britain is thriving on all levels.

But some within the industry fear this interest could fade, if these youngsters aren’t provided opportunities later in life.

Vince Macaulay, former head coach of the Manchester Giants, said: “I think the British Basketball League needs to show support for grass roots basketball, it needs to provide opportunities for pathways for youngsters.

“And as they approach college basketball, further education basketball, university basketball, how are those pathways able to provide a better link with the BBL teams that allows those players both male and female to play at the highest possible level?

“It’s around the profile, it’s around the ability to provide opportunities for youngsters to think that this could be a job for me in the future which is obviously what rugby and football do so well and that’s why they recruit the kids a lot earlier and retain the kids a lot more.”

Vince Macaulay

In 2011 the then Milton Keynes Lions found themselves soon to be homeless as their arena owners opted out of extending their contract.

But this proved to be a blessing in disguise for the organisation with the Olympics looming and no existing team in the capital.

So they moved. 

“Having a British Basketball League without a single team in London was never going to work,” said Macaulay, who oversaw the Lions move.

Before the Olympics the BBL suffered some tougher times through the loss of the Manchester Giants club and the collapse of ITV Digital costing them greatly. 

However, since this the Mancunian team made a comeback, a record viewership of 14,700 was set at the 2015 playoff finals and the Miami based investment firm 777 media bought 45.5% of the league shares – with an massive investment of £7m also being provided.

Figures from Statista showed that from a pool of 88,000 children an impressive average of 13.3% were involved in basketball activities from 2017 to 2021, but there are concerns that interest may be lost due to poor facilities.

“I think facilities is clearly an issue,” said Macaulay, 62, who’s had a lifetime association with British Basketball.

“If I go to Sheffield and I want to find the ice hockey team I kind of know where they are, they’re going to be in the ice rink, if I go to Bristol and I’m looking for the basketball club they could be anywhere.”

He is not alone.

James Abbott, an avid basketball fan from Darwen, said: “A lot of the courts that I’ve played on are pretty worn down. Whereas you look at football pitches for instance they’re brand new 3G astro pitches.”

And Charlton Reid, Chairman of amateur basketball club Horwich Locos, said: “I think some of the biggest barriers for growth in my opinion are mostly facilities, facilities and then funding is something that comes up quite often. 

“If a kid looks at the BBL and wants to play, let’s say here where I am in Horwich there’s no courts, there’s nothing around.”

They’d have to jump on a 30 minute bus ride to Queens Park in Bolton, which itself is a multi-games area meaning there isn’t a guarantee you can play ball, and ‘the quality of it isn’t that great either – so that puts you off too.’

“I go down there once in a while but I don’t like playing there. I think it’s terrible, but that’s all I’ve got,” said Reid.

Charlton Reid

The Locos were established in 2012, and stand today as a fantastic example of how local basketball clubs can provide opportunities to athletes and fans alike. 

Despite being based on the outskirts of Bolton, they work for people all throughout the Greater Manchester area, and the club has seen massive growth in the previous three years, even ‘almost having to think about turning people away’.

Reid said: “We focus on participation, getting kids active, getting people active – I feel like our position as a club is just not only to get people playing but to also spread this game.

“I thank all the coaches, players and volunteers we’ve had over the years.

“We promote the game – we let people know when there’s games on Sky for example or if there’s a tournament happening, we talk to other clubs as well ‘let us know what’s going on, are you running a camp, are you running a course?’

“We’ll tell everyone about it, we’re not trying to just keep people to ourselves, we’re trying to get people to enjoy the game of basketball.”

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