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Fair play in children's basketball

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This is the open letter I have presented to Basketball NSW in response to a previous email regarding imposed court time, after my eleven-year old's representative season: I already have followed protocol and spoke firstly with the coach concerned on two occasions. On the first occasion, I approached the coach in private after the game. I told her my son Riley was distressed and asked her what he could do better to have more court time. She said he "needs to listen" and that he needed "to work on his defense". For a child who has difficulty making eye contact due to his Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), which I discussed with her in the beginning, it would appear as though he wasn't listening. She also said "He knows he has to earn his court time, I've told him this." She then complained to the manager that I was another parent trying to get him more court time and that she didn't have time to give him "special attention". On the second occasion, I spoke with her on the phone a fortnight after the last game and she dismissed my claims that she was in any breach of code and said "When was that dated? It's not a code for Representative Basketball. Look, you wanted me to include Riley and I included him. You knew he wasn't up to standard. If you want something done about it then you'll have to go over my head, as I stand by my decision." This made me question in my head that if my son was "not up to standard" why was he then selected onto a representative team, and why was he not brought up to standard by effective coaching? Also, I ask how can a player improve when not given any time on the court? I also spoke with the team manager, who voiced her concerns to the association president. These concerns also included how the coach spoke to the children, including after one game in which she told the children she was "disgusted" and that it was "horrible", that she had "no words" and wanted them all to "come back to me tomorrow and each one of you say what you did wrong". I spoke with the president who was very approachable and he said that while he sympathized, "Unfortunately there is nothing that can be done for your son as it is after the fact, and also because she has not actually breached anything in the code. So she can't really be counseled as such." I asked him at the very least could he speak with her about it and he said "yes".
The coach concerned, who is a long respected and well-known coach in the association and representative teams, is on the board of directors for our association. Unfortunately, the board is not unbiased and is therefore not suitable to approach in this situation.
My son is eleven years old and was the only player to sit the bench the entire representative season with an average of 3 minutes per game (mostly happening in only one or two quarters) while all other players received extensive court time. The only two games which saw him have more court time were either when the team was either far ahead or far behind in points. Several parents expressed disapproval to the coach in two of the games. One parent suggested she was in breach of the code, so the coach checked with an official to make sure that only applied to the Under 12's, ensuring she would not need to have him take the court. His last game saw him take the court for 30 seconds in the third quarter before he was pulled off again. He was not spoken to or given any explanation. That was his only court time the entire game. Thirty seconds. The manager kindly sat with him and tried to encourage him. His brother tried to speak with him at half time to encourage him and the coach told him to get away from him as he "needs to be with his teammates". Riley is a fully paid player and attended all training sessions. He was also selected onto the team. I heartbreakingly watched his self-esteem and confidence decline with each game, leaving him lost and withdrawn on the court. He was left feeling excluded and embarrassed, which is even worse for a child with ASD who already struggles to feel like he "fits in" among his peers. His treatment was unnecessary and at the very least, cruel. After our second and third series of games away, Riley would cry after the game while in the car, saying "I shouldn't even be wearing the stupid uniform. She won't even give me a chance to see what I can do. I feel bad having you spend all this money on Rep and hotels and driving me around when I'm not even playing." No child should be made to feel like that. He does not wish to attend the presentation or team photos and does not want to participate in representative basketball again. On a positive note, his local team of which he is a very active player just won the grand finals. His coach is outstanding and inclusive, as are the majority of the coaches in the association. I must also mention that on a whole, our association is well run and very inclusive of other children of all abilities and needs. Nonetheless, that does not condone this situation nor should it not be taken seriously. Unfortunately, this is not the first time this has happened and I have witnessed and have been approached by several parents telling me of minute amounts of court time given to young players in representative basketball. Many of these times involve families traveling great distances for anywhere from two to four minutes of game time. There are codes for parents and players to follow, which are upheld with sanctions in place should there be a breach. Coaches seem to have only guidelines which are not policed and when these guidelines for fairness are not followed, no one is held accountable. I understand that coaches are human and that they volunteer their time. This particular coach is also a valuable coach who I believe has a lot to offer, but quite possibly needs retraining in her methods and should have been counseled for her unethical treatment of my son. The rule for imposed court time should not stop at Under 12's. There are children in the Under 14's who are eleven. I have a fourteen-year old in the Under 16's. These children are at a vulnerable age, yet there is nothing in place to protect them from exclusion, which ultimately constitutes abuse and therefore falls under the Zero Tolerance Policy for Basketball NSW. Coaches are protected, but our children are not. If we were to see a parent or teacher speak to a child like some coaches speak to children, it would be not be tolerated. Parents and children are expected to put faith and trust in their coaches and association, but there is nothing put in place to hold coaches to a standard in these "gray area" situations. The President was correct, nothing can be done for Riley, he can only move forward. He is still affected by it, however, under the care of an excellent and supportive coach, he is regaining his confidence. I, however, do not wish to see this happen to other children, regardless of whether or not they have special needs. I appreciate your position that Basketball NSW is unable to intervene on matters of court time. I, however, wish to see a change in policy regarding imposed court time including Under 14's and Under 16's. I also wish to see the Basketball NSW- Coaches Etiquette:

Every team member should play in each half of every game & should play a worthwhile number of minutes. Australian Junior Championships (U16, 18, 20) interstate competition) are exempt from this.

become code and no longer a guideline or suggestion. I respectfully ask Basketball NSW to consider changing the mentioned regulations in the interest of inclusiveness, fair play, and upholding the belief that children are children and should be allowed to play for their benefit, not ours. I am prepared to provide signatures in support of this via public petition in order to ultimately help create a more inclusive sporting environment in representative basketball.

Thank you for your time,

Janice Saunders 

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