Beyond scoring baskets and winning games


By Brendan McWilliam


Audio: Begins with basketball ambience, crowd cheers as basketball plays in the background. Basketball ambience fades out, somber music comes in, overlaps three intro speakers.

Miranda Campbell: I honestly love everything about basketball, the team, the team dynamic and honestly, just the way the game is played, and how important it is to be to have teamwork on your team. And I think that, honestly, it just teaches you so many life skills that I will take for the rest of my life.

Vladimir Lukomski: It’s super important to create that atmosphere because especially, like, even us getting new players in, like new rookies, you want to make them feel at home, you want to make them feel like it’s easy on them. So, just being able to ease the transition from high school to the university level for new players or even new transfers because it’s a new city and they don’t know much around. So, I think building on that and making life easier on them is super important.

Alexa Sawchuk: Environment within a sport is the most important thing, especially at a young age. I think good environments in sports will lead to positive connections with it, and that will lead players to continue the sport. Same with if you have a new teammate: it’s really important to make them feel welcomed because that leads to confidence and them continuing to come out.

Audio: Quick pause. Music switch, more upbeat and friendly.

Brendan McWilliam: Basketball is considered one of the most popular sports in Canada. Like many sports, it focuses on the valuable skills of teamwork and collaboration among other things to play effectively. Beyond scoring baskets and winning games, many long-time basketball players recognize the importance of having a strong team foundation, one where every individual can be accepted as a key component of that team. It is through elements such as chemistry and team-building that basketball can encourage a sense of community and belonging within players young and old, and brand new to seasoned veterans. In the era of COVID-19, it is even more crucial that teammates maintain relationships with each other since interactions and playing time together is drastically reduced. Having this sense of belonging within a team, even more so now, will lead to better performance and better communication on the court, which will ultimately lead to a more enjoyable basketball experience. Wilfrid Laurier University has both a men’s and women’s varsity basketball teams. Players on these teams and their experiences of playing basketball from a young age to now will help share some insight on the importance of team communication, cooperation and an overall passion for helping teammates succeed, as well as the experience of being an athlete stuck in a pandemic.

To be a successful basketball player, you have to understand the dynamics of basketball and its demanding, but rewarding play style, one that differs from other team sports such as ice hockey or baseball. For reference, both men and women play 30 or more games in a season including tournaments, playoffs and exhibition games that usually start in late September/early October and finish at the end of February. Training would begin a month before, when players returned to school, and would coincide with how deep they go into the playoffs. In many situations, a first-line basketball player will be playing with that same line for at least half of the entire game, every game, for the entire season. This means that members must be considered team players, which are players that strive to work with their teammates to achieve a goal. Alexa Sawchuk and Jillian Condron describe what they believe is an effective team player.

Alexa Sawchuk: Being a team player is about caring about your team, your teammates. Focusing on the team itself, I think being a team player is also worrying about your success, but the success of your teammates as well, so doing everything that you can to help them succeed.

Jillian Condron: To be a team player, you need to be aware of the goals that everyone has collectively, and then making sure that your actions on the team and practice in games are in line with those goals. You’re helping everyone reach it as a unit rather than focusing on your own individual goals.

Audio: Basketball dribbling sound effect.

Brendan McWilliam: One of the things that these players have in common is that they were all, at one point, first-year students at a brand new school, which can be intimidating for many people. However, the choice they made to continue playing basketball helped them to become quickly acquainted with a new group of people, which was crucial in easing the transition in a stressful moment in their lives. Miranda Campbell and Dylann Mazzuchin talk about their experiences of being the new face on the team.

Miranda Campbell: It’s honestly been amazing as a first year. Everyone’s so nice and so welcoming and warm, and it’s honestly made all the difference. University is very scary, obviously, coming into a new place, you’re by yourself. It’s like a whole new environment, a whole different lifestyle, and it really helps to have people that are, you know, are on your side and are comfortable with helping you out or reaching out and just letting you know that they’re there for you if you need any help. All the girls on my team, especially the older ones, have been exactly like that, and I honestly can’t ask for anything more. I think that’s super important. And honestly, like, for the rookies coming next year, I’ve reached out to all of them, because I know that it just makes all the difference, because they did the same for me.

Dylann Mazzuchin: Growing up, I’ve been on the same team my entire life. So I’ve always had a strong connection with those that I play with. But coming into a completely new team was somewhat intimidating for me since I had never met these girls before. But they’ve all been super welcoming to me, and I’m super grateful for that because it’s allowed me to kind of start breaking out of my shell. That’s only going to be helpful in the long run, both for my development as a player and as a person.

Audio: Fans chanting sound effect.

Brendan McWilliam: While it is important to build relationships with teammates on the court, it is equally as important to continue to build these relationships off the court. Knowing your teammates beyond their basketball skills is crucial for learning about them as a person, which can translate to better communication and more sincere relationships between them. Team-bonding activities, training sessions, and even just hanging out with other teammates are great ways to establish a stronger connection to them as people, which will also allow for a more genuine relationship on the court. Dylann Mazzuchin and Miranda Campbell stress the importance of the off-court relationship and how it leads to better team play.

Dylann Mazzuchin: I maintain really strong relationships with my teammates off the court. All throughout high school, my team have been my best friends. So, I mean, we’ve spent countless hours on road trips on the bus, and to make things easier, we all usually have the same interests. So, doing things like going to movies or going to the beach or whatever, going to parties. It’s been really easy to continue those friendships off the court.

Miranda Campbell: I know from my past experiences on teams, it makes so much of a difference if you guys hang out outside of the court, and it just makes your bond when you’re actually playing so much better. You get to know your teammates so much more, what they like, how they like to play, and it just honestly makes your team so much more successful, and it also makes it so much more fun when you win. But also, you’re able to discuss and communicate really well if you lose and what you need to change, and it just makes it so much more fun and so much more of a better experience if you have a connection with the people you’re playing with. So, I’m looking forward to doing that a lot more next year, and hopefully in the summer and getting to know the girls and creating better stronger relationships with them.

Audio: Team cheer sound effect.

Brendan McWilliam: Even though many of these players commit themselves to build strong relationships with each other, another thing they are aware of is that people are inherently different and grow up in different environments, which means that addressing them in a certain way can hinder a prospering relationship. Some people are more competitive than others, which may lead to outbursts from those players to others who maybe aren’t as competitive if something goes wrong in a game. Basketball, being the intense game that it is, can easily lead to stressful situations, but knowing how to handle yourself and speak to other players in a calm and collected manner during this time is vital. Vladimir Lukomski and Miranda Campbell talk about how criticism must be used in the right way.

Vladimir Lukomski: Not everybody can take criticism the same way. Some people will react differently if you come at them more harshly. And then with other people, you need to give them that hard talk for them to be able to understand. I usually try to always come in a positive aspect. For example, if guys had, like, a defensive assignment, “Hey, you got to rotate over either on my left side” because then that could mess up the next rotation afterward, and not in a way that I’m coming at a guy or yelling at them but in a positive, uplifting way. Even if a guy messes up, I’m like, “Hey, it’s OK, you know, next play, forget about that, we’ll just get it back.”

Miranda Campbell: I like to kind of do things my way, but in the last four years, especially, I’ve learned that a lot of people are a lot different than me, and I’ve learned that I have to communicate in different ways with different people in order to effectively reach them. Sometimes yelling at people will get to them, and I’ll get them pumped up. But sometimes, if you yell at someone, that will make them super upset, and they won’t be able to play or do anything. So, honestly, being able to understand and know the people that you’re around has been an extremely valuable skill that I’ve learned from basketball. And it is something that as a business student, I’ve been applying in my group projects, and I will apply in the workforce when I get there.

Brendan McWilliam: One important thing to mention is that within team sports, it’s not necessarily the team with the most skill that wins all the games. It’s the teams who utilize their relationships with other members to persevere through difficult challenges who will often see more wins than losses. However, it isn’t a guaranteed thing, sometimes there will be moments of success, like for Dylann Mazzuchin.

Dylann Mazzuchin: For my first two seasons of high school basketball, my team won OFSAA bronze medals. So, that was really exciting just kind of seeing how all of our hard work throughout the season played out. We also decided to join this pretty elite league called the OSBA, the Ontario Scholastic Basketball Association, and we played in that for two years. So, just kind of recognizing that we had such great potential was pretty cool and I don’t think that we could have done that if we weren’t such a close group of girls.

Brendan McWilliam: And sometimes moments of defeat, like for Miranda Campbell.

Miranda Campbell: In Grade 10, I was on my school basketball team, and we had this one girl on our team who was really good at basketball. But she left our school to go to a prep school, and she was a huge part of our team. Our team was pretty good without her because we had some good players. We were at OFSAA, and we started losing our games. We literally hadn’t lost the whole season because she was such a strong part of our team. It was a big moment because I remember I was in Grade 10 on the senior team and I had to step up as a leader and tell everyone, you know what, it’s OK, we got this, and just encourage everyone. And it was honestly a really big team-bonding experience, it made us so much closer as a team having to go through challenges and we ended up not doing that bad. But we could have obviously done better if she was there. But that wasn’t really the point, it was more that we persevered and got through challenges together, which made our bonds a lot stronger.

Brendan McWilliam: But it’s good to recognize that the strength of a team is often dictated by the relationships between players, and while it may not end up as constant victories, at the end of the day, it will be what fosters a strong sense of community within basketball players.

We can even see the building of relationships beyond the scope of university basketball teams and explore youth sports within the Japanese-American community. In her article from the Ethnic and Racial Studies journal, author Christina Chin studied the role that co-ethnic youth basketball leagues in California have on third and fourth-generation Japanese-American youth, and the effect they have in constructing and preserving ethnic community and social networks. The author of this article followed eight different basketball teams, ranging in age from third grade to 12th grade and consisting of boys’ teams and girls’ teams. She observed the experiences and the interactions of the players, coaches, families and fans throughout weekend practices, games and tournaments of the junior and senior seasons. Additionally, she also conducted 64 open-ended interviews with league members to gain a further understanding of player’s opinions and experiences. The results found that later-generation Japanese-Americans often turned to these co-ethnic sports leagues as a solution to diminish racial and ethnic marginalization within social lines in their suburban neighbourhoods. As with most athletes in virtually all sports, participants in these leagues learned basic fundamental basketball skills such as teamwork, perseverance and determination, but they, along with their families, also experienced greater exposure to co-ethnics and better opportunities to create social ties.

Audio: Final buzzer and fans cheer sound effect.

Brendan McWilliam: At the end of the day, the sense of affiliation that comes from being part of such a tight-knit team is a key component of basketball. It’s valuable to reflect on the things that make basketball, among other team sports, more than just a game, but an entire community that builds and develops relationships within individuals that create a strong sense of belonging and satisfaction.

Miranda Campbell: It always became more like we’re a family, and I know that people say that about sports, but it honestly is just a different type of friendship. When I’m thinking about the people I’m friends with now and the different connections I have from school and from basketball, just from other settings, the basketball friendships are always the strongest, and I think that’s because you’re literally going through challenges together, and it just makes your bond so much deeper. I think that even in university, it’s going to be even more of a stronger connection because you’re actually by yourself and you’re living with them, and you’re going on the road with them all the time, and you guys are hanging out and you’re out practising like five days a week. I think that that is what makes the university experience so different, and I’m really excited to experience that because that just seems like a super awesome way to develop relationships.

Audio: Music fades out.