31 May 2024

The impact of team sports on today’s youth

AQ had the privilege of sponsoring Spartans Basketball Academy, the leading basketball academy for boys and girls in Kingston and Epsom, for the boys’ tour to Chicago, USA in March 2024.

Spartans Basketball Academy is a fun and ‘All Inclusive’ Basketball Academy in Kingston upon Thames, Merton, Richmond, Epsom and Elmbridge, Surrey providing an outstanding sporting outlet for girls and boys of ALL abilities in School Years 1-13.

We believe in supporting people and organisations to build a better society. We know the value that sport brings to young people’s lives, building a sense of community and belonging and providing valuable life skills. We are proud to do our part to make an impact on these young lives, and sponsoring this tour is one practical way we can do so.

We spoke with Wayne Martin, Founder, Managing Director, and U16s coach, about Spartans’ ethos: “we teach and empower children to conduct themselves with dignity and integrity, to persevere through adversity and compete with pride while developing a commitment to teamwork, our Academy, and their community” and the importance of team sport in the lives of young people, not only for their mental health but the way it will support them in growing into well-rounded adults.

1. The rates of child mental health continue to rise post pandemic. According to NHS England’s most recent data in 2022, 18% of children aged 7 to 16 years and 22% of young people aged 17 to 24 years had a probable mental disorder. With increased virtual learning and social media do you think children are leaving their homes less and less to socialise and play sport? Sport and in particular team sports are a positive way to support a young person’s confidence and socialisation skills. How do you see this in your work with young people?

As a basketball coach I’m fortunate that I get to see children engaged in sport on a daily and weekly basis. However, I’m aware that inactivity in children is becoming more of an issue with the influence and impact of social media on children playing a major role. We know that excessive use of social media can contribute to anxiety, depression, inadequacy, feelings of isolation, lack of confidence etc, and through sport we are engaging children to counter this and create positive and real connections. Humans are social creatures, and team sport is a fantastic outlet to boost confidence, socialisation skills and mental health and we see the benefits of regular participation in sport in abundance at Spartans, which also translates into home/school life, and academic achievements. Through basketball, children feel a sense of inclusion, friendships are formed, leadership skills are developed and kids are happier which is fantastic to see!

2. It’s well known that physical exercise has a positive impact on mental health, but team sports can also teach many valuable life skills such as sportsmanship, how to deal with losing, working together as a team, and having a goal to work towards. How do you work to instil these skills in your players, and where have you seen the most positive change?

Team sports are fantastic on so many levels and teach invaluable lessons and skills, especially at a young age; team sports reflect life! You face difficulties and experience success, failure, euphoria and challenges. At Spartans, we strive to instil in all of our players that if you show up and demonstrate resilience, motivation, courage, teamwork and positivity that you can achieve anything.

Our Surrey CVL U14s Team, as an example, lost 9/10 games last season. The losses led to players not wanting to turn up to their weekly training and losing motivation. As Head Coach, it was incredibly important for me to keep their heads up as a team, keep them motivated and positive and to reiterate that sport reflects life – you win some and you lose some but you never ever give up. You may not win all games, but you battle through it and work as a team, even if it means supporting from the bench – positivity and encouragement is everything! This then becomes a part of who they are as individuals and they take that into everyday life. After losing 9 of their 10 games, that team then went on to win the Surrey Championships against a team who had won all 13 games this season – a fantastic achievement! Showing up for each other and showing incredible resilience is all part of positive change.

3. Regardless of age, many people find it difficult to discuss their mental health struggles – but it is especially common in boys and young men. Why do you think it is important for boys and young men to find camaraderie and a safe, supportive space within their sports teams?

Destigmatising mental health struggles, especially amongst boys and young men, because of the culturally ingrained association with weakness or a lack of masculinity is a worldwide issue. The wonderful thing about boys and young men who are part of a sports team is that it provides an opportunity and environment to connect and bond over a shared love of sport, which builds personal trust and unity – they become a family all working together towards the same goal. Being part of such a safe and supportive space allows them to be themselves, to feel confident and accepted which leads to conversations and expressions that they may not feel confident to have elsewhere. A sense of security and acceptance allows for optimal development and growth in their core years, and at Spartans, we work extremely hard to build individual confidence and encouragement and offer praise through basketball.

4. You’ve led 10 successful Spartans Basketball team tours to the US over the years. What were the highlights of April’s Chicago tour?

Ahh there were so many highlights; this tour was pretty special! It was an unforgettable experience and I feel emotional thinking back on it, to be honest. As a club, to be able to provide an opportunity for our players who have shown phenomenal commitment and achievements on and off the court is incredibly special, and travelling to the U.S. to play competitively as a team is what every player dreams of. The Anderson Quigley kit and basketball boots that we surprised all of the players with before flying out to Chicago was UNREAL! To see their faces and the appreciation they showed was amazing – tearjerker! The confidence and pride they had walking through the airport knowing they were going to play basketball in the U.S. representing Spartans and Anderson Quigley, and that they looked the part, was awesome – I was like a proud dad of them all!!

The games in the U.S. were incredible – fast paced, high level, fiercely competitive and our players learnt so much about the standard of U.S. basketball and how they can apply their learnings to improve their own game and skill back home. Inspiration was everywhere and our players soaked it all up and the experience gave them an even greater sense of camaraderie and aspiration.

Training at 167 Green which is one of the most breathtaking basketball courts in the world on the 17th floor of a Chicago Skyscraper overlooking the city was a sight and experience the players will NEVER forget! The biggest highlight of all though, was seeing the players bond and build their friendships on a daily basis – whether it be on the basketball court, at the hotel, in restaurants, at the malls etc, and I feel honoured to have been part of that and their future basketball journeys.

5. What do you think the players learned from the trip and how will this help both their basketball skills and their life skills?

The level of basketball in the U.S. is very different to here in the UK, and every single player will have taken away a number of learnings and comparisons of U.S. players and game experiences from the tour – fitness levels, ball handling, physicality, the expansivity of the U.S. basketball culture and their unwavering passion for the game, which will all have a positive impact on our young players. Some boys have come back as completely different players – huge confidence boosts, pushing themselves at training and perfecting their shots which is amazing and I admire the switch in their attitudes and application of all they learnt in the U.S. In terms of life skills, time management and organisation, or a shocking lack of, was learnt by all players!! But the tour allowed them to be themselves and independent, they learnt to be adaptable and they learnt that if they work hard at everything they apply themselves to they can do amazing things in life. The boys really showed up and supported each other and had so much fun! I’m proud of their maturity, their work ethic and their drive and I will remember it forever.

6. Taking 18 boys across the Atlantic for 10 days takes a lot of planning, energy and determination. Why is it important to you that this is part of the Spartans Basketball Academy offering?

Life is all about opportunities; they can define us, empower us and change us! I was very fortunate as a child to go abroad for Track and Field. I’ve never forgotten to this day the fun I had, the friendships I made, the experiences I gained away from home and most importantly, how hard I needed to work to achieve my goals. My work ethic was made during those trips and it’s something I try to instil in all my players. At Spartans, we are more than basketball, our involvement in young lives goes beyond the basketball court and it’s all out there for the next generation to explore and succeed at, and if we can provide opportunities for our young players to grow, achieve, dream and be part of something bigger, we’re all for it!