It has been a joy and privilege to serve the youth of Kazakhstan for ten years as a basketball coach and sport development consultant. While I’m encouraged by the potential of the young people I’ve worked with, I see areas which need a lot of work regarding the system in place. As an American basketball coach of fifteen years, I would like to offer my input and suggestions of how Kazakhstan basketball ought to be developed. This plan and approach not only applies to basketball, but also to other sports as well as other areas of youth work.
The future of a nation is its young people. Today’s student athletes are tomorrow’s educators, coaches, artists, businessmen, and government leaders. Sport offers these kids the opportunity to learn the essential qualities and values of hard work, dedication, teamwork, self-discipline, and abiding by rules. These qualities are essential for the success of an individual, but also for the success of family, community and nation. Sport allows the opportunity for young people to gain confidence in order to accept the greater challenges of life ahead. In short, sport is an outstanding instrument to build and shape character of young people and a nation.
Education is the key to the success of the young people and of the nation of Kazakhstan. Today’s students of Kazakhstan have the potential to become tomorrow’s world leaders in the introduction of new technologies, goods, and services in global markets. This mandate can only be accomplished through hard work, dedication, and excellence in academic preparation.
Studies have demonstrated that extra-curricular activities such as interscholastic and intercollegiate sport programs are an extremely valuable asset to the educational process. They provide an outstanding channel for the energies of students and generate greater enthusiasm in the learning process. This results in a more outstanding environment for the educational, social, and moral development of young people. Participation in school sport programs improves academic performance and develops leadership skills. The discipline taught through sport helps prepare young leaders. Sport is a vital component of the educational process.
Understanding the value of extracurricular activities, American schools and universities have developed sport programs within the schools. Indeed sport in America is developed primarily through the public and private schools. In the states, the focus of sports is on education. Student athletes have very strict expectations required of them in order to be able to participate in school sports. They must maintain acceptable grades in order to play, as well as engage in appropriate behavior on and off the court.
School sport programs also provide a venue to rally around the youth of the community. At school games, gymnasiums are packed with cheering parents, students, and people from the community. School girls serve as cheerleaders and musically talented students comprise the school pep band. The atmosphere is electrifying. School sport teams have their own colors and mascots. The community rallies around the school team, as it reflects something of the community character. These are the kids of that community. This civic pride helps make strong communities. Strong communities are what make for a strong nation.
The purpose of sport is about helping young people to achieve their dreams, gain confidence, and helping them to enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be young. For those players who work hard, they can earn the opportunity to play for a university team and receive a full grant to study and prepare for their futures.
The system in America is about helping make true the dreams of young people. From this grassroots infrastructure of community leagues, school leagues, and university leagues develops the future players, coaches, and fans. For those students who excel in the university league (NCAA), they may earn the opportunity to go on to play professionally in the NBA.
Most university players however finish their university education and go on to work in their area of study. The university system allows kids the opportunity to prepare for their futures academically while continuing to develop in basketball. Education is the main focus of the NCAA. Two outstanding examples of players who understand the value of education are Tim Duncan from the San Antonio Spurs and Michael Jordon. Duncan refused an NBA offer after his third year of university, instead choosing to first finish his education as an engineer. Michael Jordon did leave early, but completed his university education, attending classes at the University of North Carolina during the summers of his first couple years in the NBA.
Because of this strong emphasis on education, those who direct school and university leagues in America are primarily educators who enjoy sports as well as working with young people. They have no personal financial interest in the system. There are strict laws and protocols in place to prevent any conflicts of interest.
If I were to be given the mandate to develop basketball, I would recommend the following strategy. First, in order to protect against any conflict of interest and potential for corruption, I would select leadership which has no personal financial interest and stake in basketball. The role of the Basketball Federation ought to be concerned with the overall development of basketball and to provide fair and equal representation of all club teams. I believe the Federation should supervise the Kazakhstan national teams and professional leagues. However school and university leagues should be managed directly under the schools themselves. City governments and independent organizations would be most ideal for managing community recreational leagues.
Everyone wins in this scenario. The kids are happy because they have the opportunity to play the sport they have always wanted to play. And the clubs will be happy because while only a few of these kids will later play professional, many more will be future coaches, referees, administrators, and fans of basketball. If everyone has the opportunity to play when they are young, gyms will be packed with fans fifteen years from now. This will create the demand to build the facilities for basketball at all levels, and will create a market for potential sponsors, which will in turn benefit professional club interests.
Regarding developing basketball, there are several areas which need to be developed. We must develop a school league, university league, community recreational leagues, and seminars for coaches and players, and build good quality outdoor basketball courts throughout the cities. This type of grass roots development will produce the future players, coaches, fans, and create the interest and market for professional basketball development.
The spirit of school, university, and recreational sport programs should be an instrument to provide fair and friendly athletic competition to young people, in order to provide an atmosphere conducive to the social, academic, and athletic development of the student athlete. Such a system should be built upon the values of honesty, integrity, abiding by the rules, fair play, and protecting the interests of young people.
Strict academics standards must be the priority for student athletes participating in school and university leagues. Participation should be limited only to those who are genuinely students attending fulltime at the educational institutions they are representing. Student athletes must maintain acceptable academic standards and the highest standards of conduct in order to be eligible for participation. In short, the highest value must be the students education and to protect the best interest and well being of the student athlete.
Perhaps the most important component in basketball development is the development of public outdoor basketball courts and public park facilities. This is truly where players are developed in the states, as young players get on the court and learn to play with older and much better players.
Parks and Recreation Divisions of city governments are responsible for the development of community parks, maintenance of grounds and facilities, and the organizing of community sport programs. Youth and adult leagues are typically offered in basketball, baseball, softball, soccer, American football, and volleyball. In addition to city leagues, other leagues are organized by various community organizations such as Kiwanis, Rotary Clubs, Young Men’s Christian Associations (YMCA), Boys Clubs, Girls Clubs, schools, and churches for the benefit of kids and the community.
In such leagues, there is a strong component of volunteerism. Many parents or caring individuals donate time in the spirit of giving something back to the kids and the community. Typically, participants pay a small fee to enter the leagues, which provides the referees and trophies for the first place team. Parents often serve as volunteer coaches for these leagues. These community based leagues provide children with healthy outlets for their energies. This consequently improves the community morale, and reduces juvenile crime and substance abuse as young people are occupied with healthy activities for their energies.
I personally played eleven years in organized little league baseball. The league was a community effort. A church donated their extensive land to be used for the building of four fields. A man who owned a fence company donated the fencing and construction of the fields. A farmer regularly prepared the fields for play. All administrators and coaches were parents who volunteered their time and energies to help the kids. My father coached me for two seasons. It was a wonderful project which helped many kids stay clear from trouble and invest their energies into something positive.
Additionally public parks may offer volleyball courts, football fields, walking trails, running tracks, areas for walking pets, playgrounds for children, small fishing ponds, bicycle tracks, skateboarding parks, ice skating rinks during the winter, picnic areas, and outdoor amphitheatres for community concerts. The city park becomes an ideal location for families to spend time together to relax after a hard days work. This also fosters community interaction which fosters close knit communities. This results in greater civic pride, community responsibility, and promotes civic volunteerism.
Developing community recreational leagues must be a team effort. City governments must recognize the social, civic, and economic value of establishing good public parks and sport infrastructures and facilities, and help to organize community recreational sports leagues. In the West, city governments realize the importance recreation plays in the economic development of a city. Cities must offer an attractive and desirable place to live in order to attract high caliber professionals, new businesses, and investment into their community. Young professionals seek to live in good communities where they may raise their families. They seek safe streets, healthy environments, good schools, and good recreational outlets for their children.
We must understand that our primary role is that of educators of the youth of Kazakhstan. We must begin to take seriously the awesome responsibility we bear in working with young people. We serve as role models and the values which we model they will take with them into each of their respective professions in life. In academic, social, and sport development, the principles of honesty, integrity, and hard work must guide our efforts in order to lay a good foundation for the future of the nation. This is indeed a sacred responsibility.
Finally, successful basketball development will require the entire community to come together and to help make this a reality. City governments must step up and do their part by providing and maintaining free and open to the public sport facilities. Federations and professional teams must do their part to help any way possible. School and university administrators must be willing to help by providing gyms, equipment, and overall support to school and university leagues. Parents and other caring adults within the community must be willing to step forward and volunteer time to assist with administration, coaching, and refereeing school and community leagues. Parents also need to support their children by coming to watch games and encouraging them by cheering them on. The confidence they gain today through sport will echo throughout their lives.
We must work together to give the young people a hope and an opportunity to fulfill their dreams on the playing field, the classroom, and in life. We must protect the best interests of the young people and model to them the values of honesty, hard work, and abiding by the rules. Then we model to them the highest virtue of character and key to success, that it is in giving ourselves away that we find the true meaning and purpose for life. Then we can with clear conscience know that we have truly done all we could to help guide the young people and to serve our nation. God bless Kazakhstan and its young people!
Published in Exclusive Magazine, Kazakhstan.