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NELP: The initiative that's changing the game
A deeper look at The Australian Basketball Player's Association and Indigenous Basketball Australia's incredible initiative for young Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander hoopers.
Over recent times we have seen great growth and positive movement when it comes to basketball within Indigenous communities in Australia.
With Boomers superstar Patty Mills leading from the front, greater opportunities within the game have become available for young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Earlier this year the Australian Basketball Player’s Association (ABPA) and Indigenous Basketball Australia (IBA) announced the beginning of a new initiative, NELP.
The National Emerging Leaders Program (NELP) links young Indigenous hoopers with a mentor playing at the top level in Australian basketball. Its goal is for these young athletes to be provided with guidance, support and inspiration, while the mentors are able to develop leadership skills and give back to the community.
Melody Cooper, the Head of Multicultural & Community for the ABPA, conceptualised the idea thanks to a spark from the Opals.
Melody was kind enough to give me an insight into this program, its impact, and what lies in its future.
What is NELP?
From a macro standpoint, NELP is a mentoring initiative, but how does it work on a finer level?
“IBA consists of 8 regions, a boy and girl from each region is selected to participate in the program for 12 months if they are top age and up to 24 months if they are younger,” Melody Cooper explained.
“Once selected they are paired with a mentor to commence their sessions over zoom. Mentees are invited to a game to watch their mentor if they can make it.”
The selection choices are made based on leadership qualities shown during participation in the Indigenous Community Basketball League. And it results in the opportunity to build an incredible relationship with the likes of Abby Cubillo, Cayla George, Nate Jawai or Chris Goulding.
“The aim of each session is to build a rapport between the mentor and mentee and craft a goal for each pillar - family and community, education, health and basketball,” Cooper said.
The goal of providing young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island athletes with dedicated support and guidance is something that has also drawn support from outside the APBA and IBA.
The initiative has the backing of the Aboriginal Health and Medical Research Council of NSW, which is led by CEO Robert Skeen and his team. They will provide both cultural advice as well as immersion opportunities for the program’s mentors.
How did it start?
As mentioned earlier, Melody Cooper conceptualised the initiative thanks to a spark from the best female hoopers in the country.
“Opals players had expressed their desire to give back to the basketball community and we wanted to help bring that to life in a meaningful way,” explained Cooper.
That spark was enough to build on and with the consultation, guidance and backing of Indigenous Basketball Australia, NELP was born.
“It was imperative to have IBAs backing to execute the program appropriately which the team has supported,” said Cooper
“Tyson Demos Head of Operations at IBA and our ABPA Indigenous Player Engagement Manager has played a critical role to execute the program with me.
“Being able to offer this opportunity or reciprocity for our mentors has been a valuable addition to ABPA and after months of work it is wonderful to see the smiles on kids’ faces and our mentors to share in this experience.”
Who are the mentors?
Those selected for the NELP initiative can consider themselves very lucky because the quality of mentors is impressive.
From the WNBL Abby Cubillo, Aimie Rocci, Cayla George, Keely Froling, Kelsey Griffin, Saraid Taylor and Tess Madgen are all taking part.
While from the NBL Andrew Ogilvy, Chris Goulding, Hyrum Harris, Jack McVeigh, Jack Salt, Jordan Ngatai, Keanu Pinder, Kevin White, Kyle Adnam, Mitch McCarron, Nate Jawai, Scott Machado, Shaun Bruce, Sunday Dech and Tamuri Wigness have put their hands up.
Originally NELP was only going to include Opals as mentors, however as the idea began to develop, the picture got bigger.
“From our discussions and research we started crafting NELP which was initially intended for the Opals and we decided to broaden the scope to include WNBL, NBL & the Boomers,” Melody Cooper said.
So with such an exciting and promising beginning to the program, the natural question is, what does the future look like?
Promising and inspiring is the simple answer, but Melody Cooper gave greater insight into what’s on the horizon for NELP.
“The evolution of NELP is to hopefully embed this program within the national teams for some of the players to mentor an athlete each when they represent the Opals or Boomers,” she said.
“We have been approached to explore further partnerships where our NELP program can potentially be extended across other cohorts.”
If the list first list of mentors is anything to go by, the buy-in from the elite basketball players in Australia is going to be massive, which truly is the key to the future of the program.
“A number of the mentors have expressed they wished a program like this was in existence at their (mentees) age,” explained Cooper.
NELP is still in its infancy, but it’s clear it looks destined to have a positive impact in Indigenous Australian communities.
The combined dedication and knowledge of the Australian Basketball Player’s Association and Indigenous Basketball Australia has seen a positive foundation put in place and great engagement from our elite level hoopers.
It’s programs like these that help make basketball a pathway for young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids and also helps them grow skills they can utilise outside of the game.
Hopefully in the future NELP can expand to include more kids and athletes, so the impact and reach can be felt right across the country.