I often get asked what brings me back to Africa. I’ve been coaching men’s basketball on and off in Africa since 2008, predominantly in Zambia but also as a guest coach in South Africa, Namibia and Kenya. The simple answer is the immense talent I see here on the continent. Initially this talent was shackled by an inability to accept a more international style of play, as the “run and gun” style of play was deeply entrenched in courts across Africa. However the younger generation now realises the need to play a more structured game in order to compete with other players and teams in Africa and on the world stage. This younger generation yearns not merely to play the game but also to better understand the game. These players tend to be more coachable, better decision makers and have better fundamental skills.
What is holding back this talent? I believe that Federations and Associations in many African countries have failed to adequately administer the sport, especially with regards to coach development. If coaches are unable to attend development clinics, become better qualified and exposed to new techniques and coaching methods, how are players supposed to improve? It all starts with the coaches. I also believe that coaches need to take charge of their personal development, either by doing their own research or by reaching out to other coaches. In Australia the coaching community, although highly competitive, is very happy to exchange ideas. Coaches often attend each other’s’ training sessions and coaches are open to learning from each other. I find in many of the African countries I have been fortunate enough to visit, coaches guard their knowledge and are not open to helping develop each other. The sport can only improve when the coaches improve. We are all working towards the same goal.
Another major challenge holding back talent is the attitude of and attitude towards, female players.
Coming from Australia where I have been both an athlete and a coach, we take our sport very seriously. We are just as competitive and serious about the game as our male counterparts. Generally speaking, I rarely find girls or women consistently attending team practices, training outside of team sessions, working in the gym, watching videos to get better or going the extra mile for the game. I as a coach find it very difficult to work with players who do not respect the game as I do, or take it as seriously. I believe that this attitude may also be a reflection of the lack of opportunities given to female ballers here, which again includes access to good coaches. I believe that in order to develop the talent of female players there must be a shift in the mindset and attitude of all stakeholders- Federations/Associations, coaches, trainers and players.
The future of African basketball is bright. Young players and teams are incorporating more concepts and systems into their games and as a result I expect the standard of play to increase dramatically in the next few years. I feel very privileged to be able to contribute to the development of the game here and I look forward to witnessing the revolution of basketball on the continent.
Coach Liz Mills is an Australian basketball coach. She has a Master’s degree in Coaching and a Bachelor’s Degree in Sport Science and Sports Management. She has coached for over ten years and has worked with junior and senior male and female teams in Australia, Europe and Africa. Coach Mills has won two national men’s championship titles in Zambia with Heroes Play United (2011/2012) and Mater Magic (2015/2016) and has coached Zambian men’s teams at CUCSA, FASU and FIBA Africa Zone VI Club Championships.