This weekend Fred Grannum, a coaching colleague of mine, and I were invited up to Timmins, Ontario to a First Nations Tournament that was put on by the Aboriginal Sport & Wellness Council of Ontario. Fred and I were invited to do a skills clinic for the athletes and coaches during the tournament to help show the participants some new concepts and help to improve the skills of those who were interested in further development. It was an a very well run tournament with boys and girls teams participating in the event from all over Northern Ontario. Over the course of the weekend we watched many teams play in quite a few games some of which were very close and intense competitions.
Fred Grannum is an Assistant Coach with the Men’s U17 Provincial Team and he made an excellent point. He identified very quickly how keen the players were to learn, even though they were a bit shy at first, and also how little politics there were with the coaches that were willing to have us work with their players. Some coaches in our area can get very proprietary about their athletes. The athletes that came to the clinic were very open to learning and had a very keen focus on getting better. There were even a couple of coaches from Thunder Bay who participated in the clinic itself which added to the enjoyment of the session as they kept up with the group.
One of the things I picked up on was how much passion the teams played with. You could really see that every player was trying their best and also I quickly noticed that there was a very positive atmosphere in the gym. Sometimes in the Toronto area when you are watching games you can hear parents complaining about the calls the refs have made or getting upset with other things they see. I didn’t hear any parents treating the refs poorly throughout the whole weekend. I didn't witness any other complaining going on either. They were so encouraging and happy with being involved in the event.
Being from a small town myself I really enjoyed the experience of travelling up and experiencing Timmins as a whole. It definitely brought back memories of playing with former First Nations teammates as well as being in a town where people are so friendly and open to visitors. The tournament organizers from the Aboriginal Sport & Wellness Council of Ontario were such gracious hosts and really provided such a positive atmosphere for everyone involved to enjoy.
The level of dedication everyone showed to the sport is unparalleled to what I have seen to date. I know that teams from all over Canada have their fair share of travelling to get to games. Even further south in some Ontario teams travel a few hours to get to better competition. However, at this tournament one team traveled for 10 hours one way just to be part of the event. Another group of athletes travelled on ice roads which are made in the winter after the temperatures dip low enough for the water to freeze so that they can pack the snow and ice in order to drive their vehicles across the water. Waiting for this ice to form for the season is the only way some of these people can travel to events like this. Even the organizers themselves travelled many hours to get up for the event too. It was incredible!
During the clinic, the athletes were a bit timid at first to be coached by two people they didn’t know just yet but they quickly warmed up to us. It wasn’t too long before we could see them smiling and having fun. When we got into the games portion of the clinic we could see they were really trying to put the items into practice that they had just learned in previous drills. It was a true bright spot to be involved with such amazing people this weekend. It really put into practice one of my favourite Phil Jackson quotes where he said “Not only is there more to life than basketball, there’s a lot more to basketball than basketball.” This sentiment sums it up perfectly for me. What a great weekend!