The stars of today’s NBA and WNBA were once the stars of the future. Each player took his or her own unique path to elite status, but each one will tell you that talent is just part of the recipe. Most professional players went through their childhood with countless hours of training and practice and plenty of support.
These days, as technology and social media continue to take up a larger part of children’s lives, it is imperative to find new ways to connect with kids and provide support and access to training. Trying to peel kids away from making TikTok videos may seem like a daunting task, but the allure of getting tailored content from their heroes could maybe do the trick.
The Jr. NBA, the league’s global youth basketball program for boys and girls that teaches the fundamental skills and core values of the game such as teamwork, respect, determination and community, has taken steps to give children access to learning tools from some of the NBA and WNBA’s brightest stars. The global pandemic certainly was a trying time for many, but it allowed a light to be shined on deficiencies found in some communities regarding access to resources.
The Jr. NBA launched a remote learning curriculum that was developed during the 2019-20 season that garnered 210M views, providing youth players and fans in 118 countries ways to learn the game during pandemic. NBA Senior Vice President, Head of Youth Development David Krichavsky reflected on how things have changed.
“The pandemic gave us an increased recognition that access to our sport wasn’t equal across communities, and it forced us to redouble our efforts to make sure that all people, all communities have access to the game of basketball.”
The program’s success has to led to a hybrid strategy where kids will have access to loads of content on the Jr. NBA’s website as well as new in-person events and initiatives. The virtual resources also expand to Jr. NBA’s social channels (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram), providing an interactive experience where kids can enjoy learning in a community atmosphere.
The Jr. NBA is celebrating the 7th annual Jr. NBA week, and this year there are three new initiatives designed to give youth more access to quality coaching and resources. The initiatives this year focus on Coach Training, Her Time To Play and School-Based Programming.
In partnership with Laureus Sport for Good USA, an organization committed to improving the lives of young people through sports, the Jr. NBA aims to have over 10,000 youth coaches successfully complete a SEL (social and emotional learning) online training program over the next year – offering the tools necessary to provide a well-rounded foundation for kids. Youth coaches can find many more resources on the Jr. NBA website as well as the Jr. NBA Coach app available on mobile phones. Krichavsky stressed the importance of training youth both on and off the court.
“This particular curriculum is focused on developing athletes off the court. So leadership, empathy and the various social and emotional skills, how to develop into a complete person, in addition to a skilled basketball player who knows the fundamentals of the game.”
Her Time To Play, which launched in 2018, is also finding new ways to provide lanes for girls of all ages to pursue their basketball dreams. Along with various new live events, the Her Time To Play website offers many interactive programs as well as digital toolkits for girls interested in becoming a player or coach.
The interactive hub has plenty of information for children, coaches and parents, making critical resources available to many who may have not been exposed to basketball or just crave more content.
This year’s partnership with Girls Leadership, a leadership development nonprofit organization that teaches girls to exercise the power of their voice, will provide over 20,000 girls access to basketball clinics, life skills sessions and online learning. Krichavsky points out that the WNBA Finals will provide a platform for Her Time To Play to gain notoriety.
“We’re going to culminate it in conjunction with the WNBA Finals with two events, each focused on the markets where the WNBA finalists are from, working with girls and coaches in their community, as well as players and coaches from the WNBA team.”
The Jr. NBA has identified schools as a place where providing more resources can go a long way. This year the Jr. NBA plans to offer enhanced programming to over 3000 schools across the country. The importance of mental health is highlighted through the Jr. NBA Next Level Mentality program, a digital content series where kids can learn more about the
mind-body connection from professional mental performance coaches and players from the NBA and WNBA. Children can connect with their heroes and learn all about the mental aspect of basketball and how it relates to living a healthy life.
This year’s Jr. NBA Week will offer kids the opportunity to get out and play with many hybrid experiences. All 30 NBA teams will host a series of virtual or in-person youth basketball events and programs for players, parents, coaches and referees in their communities in accordance with local public health guidelines.
Laureus Sport for Good has also partnered with the Jr. NBA to host an outdoor basketball clinic at Brooklyn Bridge Park in New York for youth from three local community organizations: PeacePlayers, Riverside Hawks and Kids in the Game. The clinic will feature on-court skill development and life skills sessions that will allow participants to reflect on their youth basketball experience and ways to make the game more accessible.
One of the biggest events affected by the pandemic has been the Jr. NBA Global Championship, which has been canceled the past two years but is set to return in 2022. The youth basketball tournament is for the top 13- and 14-year-old boys and girls from around the world. 16 regional champions (eight U.S. teams and eight international teams) compete in on-court competition and participate in life skills programming at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando.
The goal will always be to get kids away from screens and onto the court and getting active, but video games, social media and other forms of technology will continue to be part of kids’ lives. The Jr. NBA is continuing to find ways to make learning fun and give today’s youth access to their favorite stars.