Josh Bannan is an athlete at the Basketball Australia Centre of Excellence and has represented his country at the Under 17 level. An outstanding student and emerging basketball athlete, Josh shares some reflections from how he and his CoE team-mates have managed this enforced break from basketball.
The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in a period in which the future is clouded with uncertainty. The lives of everyone have been affected in some manner.
Our basketball environment is no different, with FIBA, the international governing body, announcing the suspension of all international competition. On a domestic setting, as of the 14th of March, Basketball Australia encouraged the indefinite suspension of all competitions until further notice.
Basketball worldwide has come to a grinding halt.
Due to the growing risk of an outbreak in the Australian Institute of Sport, all athletes from our program at Basketball Australia’s Centre of Excellence returned home to isolate themselves with no definite date of return.
With many uncertainties regarding the recommencement of basketball competitions, it is a difficult time for our program. At home, resources are scarce, far more limited than what we have come to take for granted in the AIS environment.
We have quickly transitioned from an environment where we have court and gym access everyday, along with world class coaching, recovery facilities and physio treatment, to our home environment where few athletes have access to a basketball stadium and some athletes are even without a ring. There is limited access to gym facilities to continue our strength and conditioning training and gone is the access to the physiology department. Direct contact with our coaches is no longer readily available.
The circumstances are truly bizarre, but we must find a way to continue.
As an outsider looking in, some may wonder how do we continue? How, in this time of separation, can we prevent any form of diminishment in skill and team culture?
The answer is, we aren’t looking to prevent deterioration in skills. We aren’t concerned with stagnation or decline. Our only concern is continued growth, continued progression and continued movement on the path toward success.
Ex-Navy SEAL and now motivational speaker Jocko Willink refers to a concept in which you are either “building or decaying” in the pursuit of something. Whilst this is applicable to all elements in life, it rings especially true during this period where there is a lack of structure and shape to our days. If we are not consistently practicing and “building” on our habits, skills and culture, they will inevitably be decaying. Therefore, in order for us to return as improved basketballers individually and as a group, in order for us to keep building, we must continue our routines and strive to develop and further our skills.
It would be easy for us to feel despondent in such a troubling time, but from my perspective, as a challenge presents itself, so too does an opportunity.
Everyone globally has been presented with this challenge and those who approach it with the highest level of self discipline and motivation, those who are willing to sacrifice and endeavour to improve, will be the ones to succeed when basketball undoubtedly returns.
We are fortunate as a group to still have access to support services to develop and refine the off-court elements that make elite athletes. We are always trying to establish a competitive advantage and this time gives us the perfect opportunity to explore a variety of tools to help aid in performance.
Whilst others may be taking a break, we will keep striving and pushing.
Implementing nutritional and psychological strategies into our routine will help us become more rounded, better prepared athletes – and ready us for the rigours of the professional basketball world and help us develop the necessary independence to support ourselves once we graduate from the program.
Our coaches are also encouraging us to engage in academic pursuits. We are empowered to explore some of the world’s greatest minds and most successful people through our quote of the week, where we are challenged to research what makes these people successful. Studying their successes enables us to construct our own philosophy and thoughts around the path to success on and off the basketball court. Being a balanced individual is crucial in athletic performance and will give us greater freedom in life beyond basketball.
In terms of strength and conditioning, our central focus is on getting stronger and fitter. Some of the best athletes and physical specimens in the world were forged in conditions far harsher than the ones we find ourselves in now. Our lack of access to gym equipment for a few months is merely a minor setback.
We cannot allow this limitation to inhibit our attempts to improve physically.
A couple of weeks ago, we had a week themed ‘Hell Week’, where we were encouraged to perform monster conditioning sessions, pushing ourselves beyond our limits. These sessions are not only beneficial for our conditioning training, but they also provide a mental challenge. Through supporting each other’s extreme efforts, the team’s camaraderie continues to grow.
Ultimately, the concept of togetherness is paramount for our group, and has been a big focus for us. We are often reminded that we can achieve more as a group than any one of us can achieve individually. By uniting, we are driven by the motivation to help not only oneself, but the guy next to us, thereby forging a powerful connection and a bond that is fundamental in driving us to work harder and do more. Continuing to get stronger and fitter will be essential in allowing us to seamlessly transition back into training when we return to the AIS.
In terms of basketball skill development, there are still sufficient resources to stimulate improvement. All it takes is a ball and a flat surface to work on ball-handling and a wall to work on shooting or passing. Each week, we have a skill-related emphasis where we are encouraged to work on a particular skill based element of the game. Examples include: shooting technique, ball-handling and defensive slides. Our skill work is independently adjusted depending on the player’s needs and areas of improvement. This caters for particular aspects of our game that are addressed in our weekly Individual Performance Planning (IPP) meetings.
The current break from scheduled games and training has been a perfect time for me to reflect on some of the events which have led me to where I am now…
My basketball journey began a little over a decade ago playing Under 8’s for Bulleen Boomers. From there, I progressed to representative basketball, first at Bulleen, then at Blackburn Vikings. Many a holiday was spent doing skills camps either with my local club or through Basketball Victoria clinics. Over time, I progressed to representing Vic Metro at the Southern Cross Challenge (SCC) and the East Coast Challenge (ECC), before finally cracking a Victorian State Team at top age Under 18. Not long after, I was selected in the Australian Under 17 team and gained a scholarship to Basketball Australia’s Centre of Excellence in Canberra.
Yet, there have been no shortage of disappointments in my basketball playing journey, whether that be missing out on team selections or missing games due to injury. I was constantly challenged, both emotionally and physically, but all of those hardships, despite being crushing at the time, were character building and helped me to become more resilient, and motivated me to keep working in pursuit of my goals.
Of course, this journey would not have been possible without the support of great people: my parents, coaches, team managers, administrators and countless others. They are the ones who made it possible for me to participate in this great sport. For this I will be forever grateful.
Upon graduating from the COE, I’ll be heading off to play college basketball with the University of Montana. In light of what’s going on around the world, there is uncertainty as to when this will occur, hence, remaining resilient and continuing to be disciplined in my practice is crucial.
For our program, we cannot predict what the future will hold, but we can influence its outcome by how we approach this time. If my journey has taught me anything, it is that we have the skills, resources and discipline necessary to overcome the challenges brought about by the current pandemic – we need only look within ourselves to find it.
Words by Josh Bannan, images courtesy Floyd Mallon and Basketball Victoria