Sunday, 25 January 2015

Becky Hammon

A great article from the Washington Post on Becky Hammon's journey to the NBA

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Lauren Hill. A True Basketball Great

I hope by now, many ballers, sports fans, and generally everybody, has heard of the incredible achievements of College basketball star Lauren Hill. Click on the links for her story.
Heartfelt prayers for Lauren and her family.

Click Here

2nd article, Click Here

Monday, 15 December 2014

The Science of Sports Analytics

Philadelphia 76ers coach Brett Brown talks about how sports analytics shows him how the worst team in the NBA gets better. What is fascinating is I could never imagine football going this deep (do they even regularly keep stats on assists?) Here Coach Brown can tell his offense is working even though they lose the majority of their games.
Something quite obvious too from the video is that the Sixers, while at the bottom, are creating a system of play, and part of their rebuild will be to have team ball where the output is greater than the sum of the parts.... think San Antonio Spurs and you'd be right, remembering that Brett Brown was an Assistant Coach to Gregg Popovich prior to taking the Head Coaching role at Philly. The Sixers are already signing international players too in an echo of the Spurs masterplan.

"Good to great." An expression many of us could use in taking things we do from good enough, to spectacular.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Props to the lady ballers at Notre Dame

Further to my last post, I was pleased to see the whole diversity of the Notre Dame ladies college team made a statement, and the coaching staff and college supported them.
A lesson to the NBA...  If you're white and playing in a league which is 80 percent players from the African diaspora, you have a moral obligation to learn from your team mates' experiences, and then educate your own people.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014


I'll make this short. I'm in no place to write about the experiences of peoples of the African Diaspora anywhere in the world. The events in America brought about by police brutality, which many should be reminded are also not uncommon on this side of the Atlantic, and the lack of justice thereafter, has caused several African American athletes to show their support.

As someone who fights for true equality and recognises "white privilege" exists, it would be too easy to hope that more sportsmen and women would take up the cause. The problem is the world's expectation that it should be black athletes who should do the fighting. What those of the African Diaspora should or shouldn't choose to do as individuals, or collectively, I cannot speak for. What I can speak for is my absolute disgust that athletes of my pale complexion do not carry the same fight.

Are white sports men and women really so separated from their team mates, colleagues, and their "black friends" that they can only isolate issues of race as a black struggle. Oppression is not white sufferance, but its instigation is a flaw in white society that should be countered and objected to.

"In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." 
Martin Luther King Jr

This same struggle is seen on European football pitches whenever a racist crowd incident occurs... it's  always on the black players to stand up for themselves. When do their white team mates actually make a stand for them? Imagine if a David Beckham actually had some golden balls and said ENOUGH, and led their team off the pitch when one of their team mates has been racially abused.

Racism's hiding place is among the white liberals who claim they don't see colour, but then do nothing to take ownership of fighting evil in their society. And this makes them complicit.

"He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. 
He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it." 
Martin Luther King Jr

"Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate" 
2 Corinthians 6:17

Interview with Tamika Catchings

Back in 2011, I interviewed Tamika Catchings for Phenomenal Healthstyle, who I was writing for at the time. Since then, Tamika won Gold at the 2012 London Olympics, became WNBA Most Valuable Player, and won a WNBA Championship with the Indiana Fever.

Excusive Interview with Tamika Catchings

This week on Phenomenal Healthstyle, I have been blessed with the opportunity to interview one of the world’s top female athletes. Slam Magazine listed Tamika Catchings as one of the top 3 women basketball players in the world.  She is a two time Olympic Gold Medallist with Team USA, 2002 WNBA Rookie of the Year, 4 time WNBA Defensive Player of the Year, 7 time WNBA All Star and All Team WNBA.

When my daughter was 10 and early in her basketball journey, the world was full of male basketball icons and such posters adorned her bedroom walls. I really wanted female role models that she could relate to. I stumbled across an article on a young woman who had just won Rookie of The Year in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA).  The article described how Tamika Catchings had overcome many challenges in her life, not least through having severe loss of hearing, and how through basketball and sports her confidence and self-esteem grew. From becoming one of the greats on the basketball court, off it she began her foundation Catch The Stars to help disadvantaged youth and has received numerous accolades for her work with young people.

Her story as a woman and as a ball player touched my daughter and me, so I did something I don’t tend to do…. I sent an email care of her pro-team the Indiana Fever, just to say what it meant to have such a positive role model in a sport that my daughter could relate to, not least because my daughter has a sibling with autism, which meant she too grew up knowing “difference”.

To my surprise I got a warm response from Tamika, and we have maintained email contact ever since. In 2004, I took my daughter to Spain, where the Women’s Team USA were in a pre-Olympic tournament. There we met Tamika and had a chance to chat basketball and watch the team train (hard!). The experience left an indelible image on us both of the humbleness and strength of women whose passion is not only basketball, but in knowing that they are trail blazing a path for girls and women to follow them in a man’s world.

You will know from my previous articles that passion means a lot to me. In basketball, I’ve never seen passion more than in women who play for the love of the game on a fraction of what men earn. And I’ve never seen it more on the court than in Tamika Catchings.

Sloetry: Tamika, a warm welcome to Phenomenal Healthstyle. I have to know, can I claim this to be the first UK interview you’ve done, and have you ever been to the UK?

Tamika: Thanks so much! I’m really excited to be doing this interview with you. I have been to the UK before, but this is my first UK interview  : )

Sloetry: We’re looking forward to seeing you at the London Olympics next year, unless of course you end up playing against Team GB!! This will be your third visit to Olympic competition, each time with a very different mix of players around you, and you will really be an established veteran presence. What excites you about the talent and youth of Team USA and how that will appear on the world stage?

Tamika: Lord willing I will have the opportunity to join Team USA in the London Olympics next year. The thing that excites me the most about this team is the weapons that each player has. The players on this team are young and so it will be awesome to watch them grow up, like we have, on this level and establish a name for the next group of Olympians. I love how the torch is carried from generation to generation and we all kind of intertwine together to mix the young with the old but keep the tradition alive.

Sloetry: The WNBA now has women joining the league that have grown up with the league as an aspiration from when they were very young. Girls now have access to female basketball stars on TV, and they can emulate their play and grow. As they enter the league, there seems a continuous improvement in the standard of women’s basketball. For veteran players like yourself, who are still regarded as the very best in the league, how have you managed to constantly elevate your game to remain at the top?

Tamika: For me, the desire to be the best “Tamika Catchings” that I can be is how I have elevated my game. It’s cool to see the ladies coming in being so inspired by a league that started 15 years ago. They have had role models to come up behind and they are coming in full force. I love the ones that work hard and are like sponges open to listening and learning everything they possibly can to elevate their own games for the team’s sake.

Sloetry: How important is nutrition and a healthy diet to fitness and sport?

Tamika: Nutrition and a healthy diet are really important to fitness and sport. I’m not going to say that I am the most nutritious person, but the night before games and especially game days are really important to me as far as what I eat. One analogy that was given to me about the food we put into our bodies is the gas that we put in a luxury vehicle. If we put the cheapest gas in a luxury vehicle over time it may ruin the engine. It’s the same thing with our bodies. If we put a lot of junk food, candy and stuff with high fat in our bodies, over time our bodies will change and obesity may be the result of our earlier actions.

Sloetry: Many people reading this won’t appreciate what the formation of the WNBA 15 years ago meant to women basketball players. I read several biographies of players who prior to this had to play overseas or leave the game all together as there was little opportunity to make money at home. You and many players still travel abroad to play outside of the WNBA season. It sounds like it used to be a very nomadic experience. Do you think that is still the case and how do you cope with the pressures of being away from family and loved ones for so much of the year?

Tamika: I’m definitely a homebody and enjoy being with my family. So, going overseas tends to be hard for me because I feel like I’m missing out on my nephews and niece’s lives. However, playing overseas is an opportunity I feel like players should experience at some point in their lives. It is an opportunity to travel the world and experience different cultures that you used to read about in history class. Plus, you get paid to travel and see the world while you’re at it. 

Sloetry: As someone who has been encouraged to play sports in their youth and follow your passion, what advice would you give parents of young girls, or boys for that matter, who are concerned that playing sports to realise their passions and potential, may have a detrimental effect on their academic studies?

Tamika: I believe that playing sports teaches us so much about life overall. The combination of sports and academics allows us another tool to work on prioritizing our lives and learning how to give the best effort in both. I am so thankful that my parents put me in sports when I was younger because it definitely has helped with my self-confidence and my presentation for who I am. I don’t know what type of person I would be if I had not opted to continue to play sports throughout my childhood years.

Sloetry: What are your ambitions for your Catch The Stars Foundation once you retire from basketball and do you have ambitions to extend that overseas?

Tamika: My ambition for CTSF is for it to still be standing strong even beyond my playing years. I am really passionate about helping kids and providing opportunities for others so I hope to keep my vision alive. I definitely would like to expand my foundation overseas. We have hosted 2 basketball clinics in South Korea and 1 in Poland while I played there a few years back. My goal is to continue growing and go wherever I am welcomed : )

Sloetry: How do you see sport as a positive influence for children and young adults, and particularly for girls, and how can we increase girls participation in sports?

Tamika: Sports is a positive influence for children and young adults because of the outlet it provides for them to be focused on fitness and maintaining their bodies. When we look at girls in particular, the pregnancy rate amongst girls who play sports over those who do not is significantly lower. A young girl participating in sports tends to have higher self-esteem, learns how to work with other people and can be more goals oriented as they have a goal to focus on. I believe that with all of the positive aspects that come from playing sports, we can show girls how much fun sports can be and that can be a way to reel them in. When you have fun participating in something you enjoy, it tends to become something that you would like to continue doing.

Sloetry: As a father of two daughters, I get very puzzled by how femininity is portrayed in the media, certainly in the UK at least. Strength and fitness or the aspects of beauty represented by female athleticism seem very overlooked here, and without a dominant female presence in UK sports there seems little to counter balance the publicity afforded to, shall we say “low weight” celebrities in the media. Do you think the WNBA has a role to play in redefining what is perceived as feminine or even feminine beauty, and do you think it has made a difference to how young girls might see themselves?

Tamika: I believe that there are quite a few WNBA players who can, have and are redefining feminine beauty and that will play a role in how young girls see themselves. I think that so much can be perceived from a woman that is able to excel at a certain level and maintains her beauty along with strength and fitness. I know for me I used to be real self-conscious when it came to my arms and how cut they are. But, after receiving so many compliments on how strong I look while still maintaining my beauty, it has become a “special” part of me.

Sloetry: We both share a love of good poetry, and I hope you get the opportunity to sample the strong London spoken word scene next year or in future visits to the UK. Writing poetry is often an outlet for people. Basketball seems to have been that outlet for you. Does poetry have a therapeutic influence in your life and is that as a writer, reader or both?

Tamika: Great question!! Poetry is a therapeutic influence both as a writer and reader for me. While I haven’t written as often as I would have liked, it still is an outlet that I revert too when I have a lot going on and just need to unload my mind. From the reader aspect, sometimes it’s so cool how we can read the poems and it can take your mind to so many different places. I love the fact that there’s a connection from the words and our lives no matter who we are.

Sloetry: Assuming much of your travel is basketball related, are there places you would like to visit when you retire from the sport?

Tamika: Right now on my bucket list is Africa. I have heard so many wonderful things about the continent and would love to experience it myself.

Sloetry: For those who don’t follow women’s basketball in the UK, what message would you give them for the 2012 Olympics and why watching women’s basketball will be a good thing for them to do?

Tamika: I believe that the 2012 Olympics are going to be amazing and that overall you are going to see some great competition through all of the sports. I would say that coming to a women’s basketball game would be a great thing for people to experience because it truly is the women’s game at the highest level. You have so many people that would love to represent their country on this platform so it is the best of the best players from each respective country and it is a celebration that expands through all cultural barriers.

Sloetry: Tamika, many thanks for taking time out of your busy season schedule to share your thoughts with us.

Tamika: Thank you. I wish that one day I could meet each one of you. But, since that’s a little unrealistic, I hope that you will come and support women’s basketball next year in the 2012 Olympics. It is going to be a great time and we are grateful for the opportunity to be the stage that the whole world will be watching. If you would like to learn more about me you can go to my website and/or my Catch the Stars Foundation website at I look forward to hearing from you. Best wishes and God Bless!!

Interview with Tom McNab

Just after the London Olympics, I interviewed Tom McNab, Olympic coach, novelist and playwright. The interview was for Phenomenal Healthstyle, and captured a pivotal point in the transition back from Olympic euphoria, to business as usual.

Sloetry: With the London Olympics in mind, what does the word “legacy” mean to you?

Tom: I hate the word. It’s used by politicians as a buzz word, but it’s never really defined. It’s what we call in Scotland “blethers” (editors note - an internet guided translation: foolish talk/nonsense!!) I was on a regional bid committee and I brought up with Seb Coe 2 years before the bid, how could we differentiate ourselves from the French bid. Like us, they could put on a good games, build a fantastic stadium and regenerate perhaps a part of Paris. While I’m not saying I was the first to ever mention it, I suggested to Seb Coe that we could increase sports participation. It’s never been done before in the Olympics, and that could be a key difference in our bid. That concept was picked up by Seb and was expanded upon. That may or may not have been a deciding factor, but we did win the bid.

Legacy means…leaving something behind. That’s all it means. But legacy could be good, bad or indifferent. It could be anything. Legacy can work in different tiers: What’s the legacy in top level sport. What’s the legacy for the East end of London, it’s regeneration. What’s a better way for people who are already participating in sport (not at elite level) to have a better experience. What is the impact on the way the world sees London and the UK and tourism.

The Barcelona Olympics in 1992 was seen as successful, and the Spanish were successful in competition which carried over to Atlanta ’96 but petered out after that, and are probably down to their pre-1980’s levels now, so no long term legacy there.  The Atlanta games had very little legacy and are not widely viewed as successful. The 2000 Sydney games was great for Australia but the stadium was in receivership a year later and there was no increase in tourism for Australia (partially due to 9/11 a year later). Athens 2004 simply added to Greek debt. So there are various levels of legacy or otherwise, but not a great track record for those holding the games.

I think we’ve done better in London than any other games has done and possibly could do in the future.

As for increasing participation…that won’t happen. We perhaps promised something that we couldn’t deliver. Seeing elite athletes at the Olympics won’t make an inactive youngster like sport. The reason they’re inactive is because they don’t/didn’t like sport at school and the way it’s presented to them. Studies show up to the age of 12, children are pretty enthusiastic about sport. At Secondary School that changes. They may not like how they look, they may not make the teams or there’s a bigger guy playing. They feel inferior. The PE teacher is probably good at sport and doesn’t have a lot of time for them too and focuses on those who are good at sport and doesn’t know how to include everyone. In fact Physical Education has been a failure in terms of including those who don’t like sport or exercise. It’s great at dealing with those who are already gifted.

Sloetry: The Olympics has been and gone. The media is back to the X Factor and Premier League football. Is there a demand for an Olympic Legacy?

Tom: There’s no demand for it anymore. It’s forgotten and politicians briefly used it in party conferences and moved on. People have moved on. It’s a very short term society with short attention spans. Everyone is onto the next thing. Not a blame thing, but that’s the nature of modern society.

Sloetry: How much should the legacy be about Team GB’s success, and how much is about social change in terms of participation and fitness?

Tom: It will make a big impact for Team GB and we’ll retain the funding for high level sport and it will keep us going for Rio and beyond. I think we’ll not tail off like other countries do after hosting. We’ve probably got the best performance programme in the world through UK Sport.
Social change and participation not so much.

Sloetry: How important is funding in achieving a legacy? How far can we go on a limited budget with volunteers in sports?

Tom: Funding is critical. Without the lottery, UK Sport could not have done what it did. But how the funding is applied is key. At top level it’s been excellent through UK Sport ensuring excellence has been funded.
Where we have problems is that Local Authorities are not required to fund sports. The Government could have made sport a statutory requirement at Local Authority level, but instead it’s at the bottom of the agenda, particularly at a time like now with pressure on funding.
And there are different levels of participation here. We have Physical Activity, but the government confuses this with sport. Me deciding to go for a jog is not sport. If I choose to be a 5k runner, that is. On one hand there’s health related fitness activity... it’s not organised, you just go out and do it. Other may pay to go to health clubs but it’s personal fitness and lifestyle decisions, not sport. Then there’s joining a club at casual levels and higher still at competitive levels (once a week social sport or dedicated athletes). The government lump all these levels together.
Once the Local Authority funding contracts in size we are dependent on volunteers. The voluntary sports sector tends to feed into the elite sports, but it can be chaotic. A club may not have enough knowledge or resources to deal with sudden demand…. some will, some won’t, but it’s hit and miss. A club is only as good as the coaches within it. Just because someone volunteers, doesn’t mean they have the right knowledge to impart. For example, where is anyone going to find local knowledge and facilities for sports like handball or volleyball. With athletics, some of the field sports are very specialised and need specialist coaching.
Funding the voluntary sector won’t change things in itself. It will simply make it easier for them to do what they already do. The question is if you fund it, how do you make it better quality. Not that there aren’t good and knowledgeable volunteers around, there are. But it’s just not the experience everywhere. You’re dependent on what’s near to you and how good it is. Governing bodies aren’t really able to change this. They can look after the elite but not get really in depth at local club level.

Sloetry: If we need further government funding, what’s the return for the country?

Tom: It’s hard to estimate. But we can’t measure this in sports participation. If we’re talking of a return in health, then we’re talking about diet and fitness not simply sport. Diet is more critical than sport in dealing with say obesity. Health clubs have been a huge success story in encouraging people to be fit. But they’re fine for middle income earners and above. What I would like to see is the private sector tasked by the government to improve health and fitness levels for lower income groups. Get them to present plans to the government for lower income groups to engage in activity. Then there would be a benefit in return for health.

Sloetry: Do you think certain sports are over saturated in the media at the expense of others?

Tom: Public interest is reflected in the coverage. I think the public overall leads the media and not the other way round, so we’re seeing what the majority of the public want to see. There are of course channels on the fringes that cater for more specialist sports.

Sloetry: How can women/girls be encouraged into sports and do we need better coverage of female sports as part of this process?

Tom: Seeing someone like Jess Ennis will mainly motivate other female athletes. The girls who take up sport are already gifted. Female drop off in sport is staggering in the teens, so it comes back to Physical Education having to be better for those who are not gifted. I would love to see a fitness suite in every school in Britain. Not a gym will wall bars etc. A fitness base approach with music and TV’s to get kids in. It could pay for itself if the public could use it afterwards, but it would still require something like lottery funding to help administer it.

Sloetry: What generic skills translate across different sports.

Tom: The biggest thing is passion. That translates across all sports. You generate your interest in sports coaching through curiosity and passion.

Sloetry: As someone who is involved in the arts and sports, which skills cross over both disciplines. 

Tom: Passion and a relentless desire to improve. A writer constantly redrafts their work. You have to have a relentless dissatisfaction with what you are doing and seek to improve it.  Plays are a big team thing with actors, directors, technicians and people putting on the show. If I could start over, I would come back into arts and not sports. Sport would be for fun.

Sloetry: Sport is often referred to as the great equaliser, in terms of breaking down barriers. In the real world, is it superficial and simply on the playing field, or can it reach into society and make real change at a social level.

Tom: In one sense Jessie Owen didn’t change anything. He returned to the USA with a ticker tape reception but that night had to go back into his hotel through the kitchen entrance. Sport is a great piece of social glue. It brings people together but it’s what happens in society that matters. Where Mandela was clever, he used rugby as a social change agent by realising it was a way into white South African hearts.

However, on a social level, I do think the Paralympics has seen a change in terms of peoples attitudes to disability… yet at the same time the government is cutting benefits, so how much social change has there really been?
What the Paralympics can do is inspire on a personal level - make people look at themselves and realise what they can achieve. It put things into perspective. Most of what I’ve written has never been published. Of every 10 articles I write, 2 might be published. But that’s fine. The muscle of your writing is developed by your continued writing. You’re not failing because you haven’t made it, you’re failing because you haven’t tried.

The Olympics transferred sport into a spiritual experience for many people not just by what happened on the field, but by what’s happened around it… the way people treated each other and talked on the tube, the volunteers etc.  People came out of their cocoon. Even if they go back into it, it’s good that people came out for a while. The British public came out of themselves as happens from time to time, and their capacity surprised themselves.