Over the Olympic break I had the opportunity to travel back to Barrie, Ontario to speak and help coach at a Next Level Hoops boys camp and girls skills clinic. But before I get into that, let's travel back in time 13 years ago.
In 2003 I was a 12 year old 5'8 seventh grader who had a passion for art, swimming and rollerblading with my sister. However, my life would be forever altered when my friend Nikki Murphy (who I am still good friends with today) invited me to tryout for the Barrie Royals basketball team.
After three days of unintentionally yet consistently showing the coaches that I had never played this game, did not know the rules, and had no skill set whatsoever, I had no expectations of making the team. But to my surprise, my parents surprise, and i'm sure the surprise of all my future teammates that year, I made the roster. I'll never forget what coach Monique Kovacs and Keith Macey told my stunned parents: "I can't teach height, but I can teach basketball."
Fast forward 13 years later and thanks to a friend, two coaches who took a chance on me, and an incredible support system at home, I've been playing this sport ever since. I have developed a love for the game that the 12 year old me didn't even know existed. I have been, and still am, fortunate to play this sport at the highest level, and I truly am blessed to call basketball my profession!
So when I heard that Next Level Hoops was putting on a boys and girls camp and had extended me an invitation, I couldn't say no. Unfortunately, due to my schedule in the WNBA I would be unable to make the dates. I explained my situation, providing them with the dates I would be home, and they were more than willing to work with my timetable. As a compromise, they put on a mini 2 hour girls skills clinic right after their scheduled boys camp.
Being in the gym filled with young boys and girls who all shared the same love and joy for the game of basketball brought back so many wonderful memories. I remembered being their age and looking forward to going to various basketball camps to learn new skills and moves to help elevate my game.
Scott Seeley and his team of coaches created a great environment and atmosphere where kids were encouraged to make mistakes, push their limits and have fun at the same time. This is so important as too often kids are afraid to make a mistake in fear of looking silly or foolish. At Next Level Hoops, mistakes are applauded because it means that kids are playing beyond their comfort zone and testing their limits; that is where success is born.
Next Level hoops is comprised of coaches who are knowledgable of the game of basketball and incredibly friendly. They have all played at the next level (CIS, NCAA, or PRO) and have real life experiences and talents that they are eager to teach to the next generation of young basketball campers. They give clear instructions, demonstrate every drill and put together drills that mimic real game situations.
I also appreciated the fact that the coaches were pushing education. Yes, basketball is great but you can't take advantage of all basketball has to offer if your grades aren't up to par. The coaches at Next Level Hoops understand this and encourage kids to be student-athletes: student first athlete second.
At the end of the clinic I was blessed with the opportunity to talk with the young girls and boys. I was able to share my story that yes, a young girl from Barrie Ontario can be a professional basketball player. And that if you work hard for everything you want in life you can achieve it. This was another sentiment that the coaches continually expressed: the importance of hard work and getting in good quality reps. I explained that it won't always be a smooth ride to the top, that there will be failures and frustrations along the way, but that it will build character and toughness. I was able to tell these young boys and girls that if they believed in themselves, ALL their dreams were possible. Most importantly, I told them to have fun and take advantage of all the incredible opportunities basketball has to offer.
Being in that gym reminded me of when I was a young girl learning the game of basketball. I vividly remember trying so hard to complete a simple lay up. I put in countless reps trying to take the right steps with my feet while still being able to aim the basketball at the hoop. And I remember the continuous travels and missed shots. The frustration I felt from not being able to accomplish the task was unmistakable, but equally apparent was my determination to keep going until I got it right. And when I did finally master that simple lay-up, all I felt was utter joy and accomplishment! At the girls clinic there were a few girls who shared those same frustrations I once felt, but I'm certain the joy they will experience when they finally master the skill will make it all worth while!
I want to say a big THANK YOU to Next Level Hoops for bringing back such great memories, allowing me to give back by teaching and inspiring the next generation of future WNBA and NBA players, and for the passion they have to teach the game of basketball. I also want to say thank you to all the young girls and boys who were so coachable and determined to improve their game.
If you're in Barrie or surrounding areas and looking for a basketball camp, I highly suggest you check out Next Level Hoops where your child will learn useful basketball skills, be continuously challenged and encouraged, and, of course, have a lot of fun!
Lastly, shout out to the young and talented Barrie Royals girls that I met at the clinic, as well as the members of the girls Midland Mystics team!
Thanks for stopping by and God bless,