‘Hello. Everyone’s so tall. And I’m not.’
That’s how I introduced myself to coach Peter at LondonThunder. He laughed and told me that wasn’t true – but everyone, including Peter, seemed to be tall from where I was standing. And I was wearing the wrong clothes – leggings instead of basketball shorts. I felt how I used to when I was last to be picked to play netball.
Peter told me to join the warm-up, led by one of the group, before he called us together to run through the session. As we gathered together I realised it wasn’t just height that was different about this group – everyone else was young, young enough to be my children or grandchildren. I took a breath.
Kat and I were the two new faces so Peter asked us to introduce ourselves to the group. Kat explained she’d recently moved to London and was looking for a team to play with regularly again. I started to explain Freyathlon but someone (Hello Esther!) already knew about me and my escapades. Introductions completed, we started a conditioning session.
‘Because they’re under 16, it’s important they learn how to move properly and strengthen their knees,’ Peter told me. I wondered how my older knees would take to a strength and conditioning session.
We hopped, we jumped, we lunged, we planked, we pressed, we crunched.
Most of it went well but my jumps left something to be desired. The trainer asked us to take six jumps, and my six jumps covered the same distance that most of the group covered in two jumps. And I was pretty sure jumping was a big part of basketball.
Kat and I chatted: she told me she’d started playing basketball at 15, had been playing for 10 years, most recently in Newcastle and Northumbria, and was looking forward to playing regularly with a team in London.
Peter led me, Kat and the U16 girls to one court and set us a few drills: shooting, passing and shooting, blocking and shooting, dribbling.
After watching me attempt a few hoops, Peter told me to keep my wrist loose and flick the ball upwards towards the net rather than throwing it. His tip worked and I managed to shoot a few hoops which took everyone by surprise – me included.
When it was my turn to dribble the ball, Peter kindly let me use only one ball and told me to make contact with my fingerpads not the flat of my hand. It worked. High on the success I rashly decided to try two balls on my next turn. It didn’t work. And I went back to single-ball dribbling.
Before we played a game, Peter wanted to make sure we knew each other’s names. He called us into a group and asked us to repeat our names. Then he threw a ball into the group and told us to call out the name of the woman we wanted to pass the ball to. It went well.
So Peter introduced a second, third, and fourth ball. It gradually went less well.
People had started arriving for the next session so Peter divided us into two teams to play scrimmage across one court. Everyone else knew exactly what they were doing: calling, passing, shooting. I ran around trying to remember who was on which team and trying to get in the way of anyone I thought wasn’t on my team. As a tactic I can’t recommend it.
I didn’t manage to take the ball from anyone but I did touch the ball a couple of times then quickly lost it. Whenever I was tackled and lost the ball, one of my team called out: ‘That’s mean.’
But I smiled. I was pleased no one was making special concessions for the novice player.
I loved playing with this team. So much energy, support, fun. Exactly what I enjoy about being active.
If I were under 16 I’d be making a beeline to practice with them every week. If you’re under 16 or know someone who is, you could do worse than check out your local basketball team.
Basketball. 2 February 2016
The Thunderdome, Bermondsey
TeamFreya: Ardianna, Bayode, Brienna, Kat, Danielle, Esther, Ella-Pearl, Satta, Yasmin
Cost: membership details