Wil Tattersall shares his experiences at the Basketball Australia Centre of Excellence as he reflects on his journey and lessons learned. The athletic swingman is set to embark on the next phase in career and shares some thoughts on making the most of opportunities and learning from coaches.
Initial challenges and experiences
“Before anything great is really achieved, your comfort zone must be disturbed.” (Ray Lewis, American football player)
In January 2019, I had the privilege to become a scholarship holder of Basketball Australia and join the Centre of Excellence (COE) after playing the entirety of my junior basketball career at Melbourne Tigers. My time at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) in the COE basketball program has been filled with exponential growth and development both on and off the basketball court. The challenging lows and the most joyful highs resulted in an incredible journey and life changing experience. Having such high-quality players competing at an elite level, day in and day out, under the eyes of exceptionally knowledgeable and experienced coaches is a privileged and perfect environment to improve and excel.
Not only is it a place where mistakes and continual attempts at success are encouraged, the program enables accelerated improvement of all aspects of your basketball attributes. I found through my time that when you individually demonstrate elite effort and discipline you simultaneously encourage and allow your teammates to do the same. This is at the heart of creating a culture of excellence.
Coming into the AIS program at the beginning of my final year of high school and leaving my family and friends, many of whom had been at the same school, Westbourne Grammar, with me for twelve years, was not an easy decision.
I found it especially hard to leave my mum and dad who had sacrificed so much for me throughout the years in order to get me to the position I am in and to be the person I am today; actions for which I will be forever grateful. However, in retrospect, it was the best decision of my life. My introduction to the COE took place during the 2018 team camp when I came up from Melbourne to meet the players and coaches and see firsthand what the COE was like.
Even though I was recovering from an ankle injury I quickly learnt that being truly uncomfortable and vulnerable is the most effective way to grow and working through these difficult times with teammates is the only way to build trust and meaningful relationships.
My first session at the camp created a memory I will not forget where at the end of a vigorous rowing competition, I threw up in front of all my teammates. I did not know what to do or say and remained stunned in silence before struggling through the last couple metres of the row. Instead of judging me, my teammates helped me clean myself up and from then on I knew the way to earn the respect of my teammates and coaches was to give my maximum effort and commitment to every aspect of development on and off the basketball court, just as I had done.
Adapting to life in Canberra
“Dedication sees dreams come true.” (Kobe Bryant)
The adaption to life in Canberra, including living at the AIS and being part of the COE, was not without obstacles. The isolation and change of schools were two significant areas with which I initially really struggled. Indeed, outside of basketball training, the nights and weekends were quite lonely; just wishing to be spending time in the comfort of my own home back in Melbourne with my friends and family.
However, as it became apparent that everyone at the AIS was going through similar challenges and all had the common goal of basketball improvement; I quickly began to bond and build friendships with my teammates. The change in style and structure of schooling also raised numerous difficulties, which saw me become disengaged with my learning, an area of my life in which I had always excelled.
However, I learnt that, as with all aspects of COE life, if you are struggling or uncertain you must speak up to someone trusted and work through problems with a clear mind. In doing so, I gained a better understanding of the style and requirements of my schooling circumstances and became connected with a tutor in order to stay on top of my studies and full-time basketball training. It became clear that in order to perform and improve on the basketball court, I needed to be the best version of myself off the court, taking care and applying myself to all jobs and opportunities:
“If you don’t start right, it’s very difficult to finish right.” [Adam Caporn, Head Coach COE]
Head coach Adam Caporn’s words have always resonated with me and it was with this attitude in mind that I was able to build up my resilience and grow as an overall person, which I believe enabled the improvement of my leadership skills. I found the confidence to lead by example and found my voice both on and off the court.
Canberra and the AIS
Originally, my first impressions of Canberra were of a boring, isolated, and mundane city. However, I learnt that when surrounded by genuine, interesting and unique people, you begin to discover the enjoyable intricacies of a city. Whilst school and basketball was where most of my time was spent at the AIS, the off-court experiences and fun times with my teammates will be ones I will never forget, as I began to discover Canberra and its people.
Some of my favourite memories with my teammates include days venturing into Canberra Civic, swimming in the Murrumbidgee River, the Canberra show, the noodle night market and simply having fun in our pods, rooms and driving around the city. As I began to settle into life at the AIS, my eyes opened to the truly incredible facilities and opportunities provided.
This was a place like nowhere else in the world.
Most notably, this consisted of access to courts at early hours of the morning and late into the night, state of the art recovery centres, doctors, physios, sports psychologists and dieticians on hand, not to mention the expertise of experienced professionals in the strength and conditioning and medical fields who work tirelessly to provide support and improve the holistic athlete and person.
Moreover, the AIS dining hall and high-performance room were an excellent and essential place to refuel calories lost from the days training. In particular, for myself, the access to such large volumes of nourishing food designed for high performing athletes with changing bodies, was extremely important for my development.
Basketball, competition and being a leader
“The gods will offer you chances. Know them. Take them.” (Charles Bukowski, American – German poet)
Outside of these extraordinary opportunities, the most special aspect of the COE was being in the position to compete against the best players in the country and the world every single day. Throughout time, my competitiveness grew immensely – to a point where I would do anything in my power to win in all parts of training and life.
My favourite trainings were the ones spent relentlessly competing and going at my opponents and other teams. Saturdays were the major time when we had this opportunity, where we would simply play and compete for the entire training, often wearing NBA gear or playing matches of COE vs NBA Academy, to add another layer of fun and competitiveness.
This continual competition was the perfect preparation for other events or matches; some highlights of which include having the opportunity to train with NBL teams, the 2019 Nike All Asia camp in China, exhibition games against college teams and the NBL1 competition. Indeed, one of the biggest highlights throughout my time at the COE was the participation in the inaugural NBL1 season. The chance to compete in a semi-professional league against grown men, many of whom had professional and collegiate experience throughout the world, was priceless and a tool which I used to compete, make mistakes and grow as an athlete and leader.
One significant thing that my time at the COE has taught me is that you get out what you put in. This consists of extra work on the court and in the classroom, the ability to listen to coaches and the understanding that results will not happen overnight and take long periods of meticulous training and goal setting.
It is this mindset which I believe can lead to any player achieving success regardless of natural physical talents or abilities. I look to take this mindset onto my next step when I head over to the University of California, Riverside, an opportunity about which I am extremely excited.
My experience at the AIS has been an incredible journey. I am forever grateful to all the people who have supported me, especially my family, friends and coaches. The COE has been a time in which I grew immensely, on and off the basketball court and made friendships that will last a lifetime.