Walk into any of Helping Hoops weekly sessions, and you would be forgiven if you thought it was simply a normal hour or two of basketball training. After all, the elements that make up a typical Helping Hoops program is no different than those that make up thousands of weekly basketball training sessions across Australia.
Stretching every body part, playing a warm-up game, running, dribbling, shooting and passing drills, practicing free throws and finishing the night off with a game are nothing new to any basketball player at any level.
However, there is a big difference between a Helping Hoops session and your typical weekly basketball training.
The coaches at Helping Hoops aren’t preparing their kids to win a game on the weekend. Nor are they training them to win championships or MVP awards. A much more important goal underlies every Helping Hoops session and that is helping thousands of disadvantaged and disabled children, not just on the court, but off it in their everyday lives.
Through the game of basketball, Helping Hoops has developed a core set of values that they focus on: building self-esteem, providing a sense of belonging and community, aiding social cohesion, instilling discipline, developing goal setting and leadership skills, and promoting a healthy and active lifestyle.
All of these can be achieved on the basketball court but they can also be taken off it and into the personalities and mindsets of the children who need them most. Fully entrenched into their sixth year, Helping Hoops began from a simple idea and has transformed into a social tool that thousands lean on every week.
The best, however, is yet to come.
Helping Hoops Executive Director Adam McKay has always had a nice side.
A burning, lifelong passion for the game of basketball evolved into a want to volunteer and help others. This allowed McKay to combine his two loves and create Helping Hoops.
“Initially, I wanted to get involved in something like Helping Hoops, to go and volunteer in a program like that,” McKay advised in speaking with The Pick and Roll.
“I just assumed there was something like that around, did some research, and found nothing. So, like any good thing, it had a demand. In late 2009 the idea came about and we officially started in May 2010. It was just a passion project that grew far beyond anyone’s initial ideas.”
While Helping Hoops has grown exponentially since day one, the original idea and concept of the organisation has remained the same.
— Helping Hoops (@helpinghoops) May 16, 2016
What originally began as a single, weekly program in 2010, Helping Hoops now runs eight sessions a week in Sunshine, Fitzroy, Broadmeadows, Dandenong, Croxton, Richmond, North Melbourne and their ‘Future’ program at Victoria University.
“It just organically grew,” McKay said.
“We did our one session a week and it was just something fun to do but we quickly learnt that there is actually a need for this kind of thing in the community. We did two [sessions], we went to three, we started to really get some more structure and some more systems and got some more great people on board. We now have a good system, a good structure and some amazing people.”
Success doesn’t come overnight and for six years, Helping Hoops has been building to where it is today. While it takes a commitment from the kids to participate in the program week by week, McKay and his team also had to find something to keep them going. The best thing about that motivation that feeds McKay to come back each week, is, well, he never quite knows what it’s going to be.
“There’s always something new,” shared McKay.
“There’s always something to be done. There’s always something we’re not doing as well as we could. There’s always a partnership we could have with someone that we haven’t even approached yet. When we are doing everything perfectly and we have exhausted all of our possible potential, then there won’t be more to do, and I’ll probably get a bit bored.”
Along with the unopened boxes that Helping Hoops keeps discovering, the individuals involved with the program is another key driver towards McKay’s constant ambition to the organisation.
“I’m really blessed that we are working with some amazing people,” further added McKay.
“Whether it’s coaches, volunteers, the kids, a committee, people in the back-end of things that are feeding the engine that keeps us going. It’s a really cool, positive place to work and it’s just about the people, and it’s a pleasure to come back each week.”
While Helping Hoops has already eclipsed original prospects, that doesn’t mean the organisation isn’t planning for the future. With the rate of disabled and underprivileged children constantly on the increase, Helping Hoops knows numerous Melbourne communities are in need for a program like theirs.
“I could name another 10 locations around Melbourne where there isn’t a Helping Hoops program, where there needs to be one, where there could be success from day one,” McKay enthused.
“We have had our strategic planning and we have done it the right way, which is good. We have some really good people on our committee that help with that sort of strategic approach. By the end of June 2017, we have marked having three more programs open in Melbourne.”
Always one with ambition, McKay toyed with the idea of launching Helping Hoops programs interstate, but for now the focus remains on building strong connections in Victoria.
Coach Steve Bacash may be Helping Hoops’ newest coach, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t got a vast understanding of the values that underpin the organisation. Like McKay, Bacash’s initial willingness to get involved with Helping Hoops stemmed from a passion that is necessary to get the full potential out of the kids.
“I researched basketball charities and Helping Hoops came up, and that was four years ago,” Bacash shared.
“I’ve been a volunteer for four years and there was an opportunity that came up where we needed a coach, and I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to coach. I put myself in the firing line and I did okay and six months later, they offered me the job.”
We're always working together and trying to plan our next move. Helping Hoops Croxton today. pic.twitter.com/FZhEFOeb1x
— Helping Hoops (@helpinghoops) May 18, 2016
A common theme comes to fruition whenever you speak to people involved with Helping Hoops. While a love of basketball is shared, the preparedness and desire to come back to Helping Hoops each week goes well beyond the sport.
“I love the game of basketball but it’s not just about basketball,” Bacash explained.
“It’s about community. You get to know these kids on a personal level and on a basketball level. I consider myself a community coach, rather than a basketball coach. This is family now.”
A certain sense of care and compassion needs to be taken in coaching the kids, but that doesn’t mean Bacash lets them off easily. In a recent North Melbourne session, Bacash didn’t hesitate sending one of the children to the bench for five minutes when he wasn’t listening. There is a delicate balance here that Helping Hoops coaches need to manage. They cannot put down the children, but they also need to teach them discipline and a sense of accountability for their actions.
At the onset of every Helping Hoops session, the children are reminded not to speak when the coach is and to always follow instructions. The kids don’t always do this and are subsequently pulled up on it, but Bacash believes it is for the greater good.
“You feel like you’re apart of their growth,” added Bacash.
“That growth doesn’t stop after one week, it happens each and every week. Because it is happening each and every week, you know you’re making an impact, it isn’t a one time thing.”
As aforementioned, Helping Hoops is looking to expand their borders, and Bacash echoes that sentiment.
“I want a sustainable, growing Helping Hoops,” Bacash stated.
“We would like to develop some more Helping Hoops people, so we can spread this all over Melbourne.”
As a charity, Helping Hoops relies on donations to keep swimming along a suddenly smooth tide. However, that tide didn’t always make for a nice swim, and McKay knew something had to be done, but a fundraising dinner or function didn’t fit the Helping Hoops mould. Instead, McKay wanted something that combines all of Helping Hoops values into one, eventful, fundraising weekend.
Enter, the 24-Hour Charity Shootout.
“The first ever 24-Hour Charity Shootout was in 2012, actually came out of a cash crisis,” McKay shared.
“We had a momentary cash flow crisis and we said, bugger, we got to be creative here and come up with something a little off the wall.”
Just a year into the shootout, Helping Hoops was fortunate enough to be joined by NBA All-Star Kyrie Irving, and his father Drederick at the event.
“In 2013, we were lucky enough to have Kyrie come down and his Dad, Drederick,” McKay further added.
“They got Helping Hoops straight away. Some people get it, some people take a little while, but they were just like, we know what you guys are doing. We didn’t publicise at all, kept it pretty low key, and it was cool. We were able to have an intimate, half an hour, 45 minutes, with Kyrie at the shootout and the photos and videos live on. They didn’t need to be there and the fact they choose to swing past was huge.”
At last year’s shootout, Helping Hoops raised an astonishing $61,415.53 to help keep their programs free for the children. As with everything with Helping Hoops though, they’re hoping the 2016 edition will be bigger and better than ever.
To get involved in the 2016 24-Hour Charity Shootout, go to helpinghoops.com.au/24
Helping Hoops wouldn’t be anything with its kids. Correspondingly, the kids wouldn’t have gained an array of life skills, if it weren’t for Helping Hoops. This mutual connection drives Helping Hoops to continue to deliver their sessions, even if it is in trying conditions, like the Richmond program often deals with.
“This is all about empowering them [the kids] and giving them confidence with who they are,” Bacash explained.
“Putting them in the right direction, rather than the wrong direction, and making them aware of their impact in their community, good or bad.”
While the children may not see the lessons Helping Hoops is teaching them at the moment, as they progress into their adult and teenage lives, the values learnt at Helping Hoops will become more prominent. At the moment though, they aren’t even focused on that.
When I asked Paris, a Helping Hoops Broadmeadows participant, what his favourite thing about Helping Hoops is, he had a simple answer.
And that’s all that truly matters.