London Lions captain Shanice Beckford-Norton believes the continued growth of the Women’s British Basketball League can help to inspire the next generation seeking to make an impact in leadership roles within the sport.
Research commissioned by the Lions revealed that 39 per cent of those surveyed from ethnic minorities feel progressing in a sport, either at player or management level, is not attractive as there are no role models for them to look up to.
Part of the study, which was across a nationally representative cohort of 2,090 respondents, also showed 47 per cent of people from ethnic minorities would consider new sports if they felt their culture was represented within them.
Beckford-Norton was named the MVP in last season’s WBBL play-off final triumph and helped the Lions go on to advance through to the second-round group stage of the 2021/2022 FIBA EuroCup.
The 24-year-old actively fronts community programmes which she hopes help demonstrate just what can be achieved in the sport, no matter your ethnic background.
“I ran a camp last summer and made it a point to have black female coaches at the camp, so those kids who may not see enough people like them in those leading positions can see that they can get involved as well,” Beckford-Norton told the PA news agency.
“Having female coaches in general is a huge part – and we are doing a much better job in getting them involved in the game.
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“You have Lauren Milligan now coaching at Oaklands (Wolves), her taking up that role was huge. She knows how important it is that young girls have a female to look up to.
“With the WBBL, the growth it has made now, with teams, and also the WEABL (Women’s Elite Academy Basketball League) clubs, all over the country, there is definitely lots of opportunities.
“But I would say a message to any young players – don’t be afraid to reach out to someone like myself, my team-mates or the coaches.
“Just to ask questions, to find out how you can be a better player and soak up all of the information which is given to them.”
The Lions lifted the WBBL Cup for the first time in January, before then successfully defending the Betty Codona WBBL Trophy with an impressive victory over rivals Sevenoaks Suns last month in Glasgow.
Beckford-Norton, whose team are top of the current WBBL championship standings after a perfect record from 19 games, believes increased exposure to the women’s game is also key to future growth.
“There are layers to it, which start at the funding, getting into schools and getting kids involved,” she said.
“At the higher level, it is about promoting, marketing and actually making sure that people can watch the sports on TV or YouTube – I have had kids come up to me and say: ‘oh, yeah I watched your team on TV’.
“We are able to show kids what you can do when you dedicate yourself to something, especially like basketball.”
It is estimated around 1.3million people in the UK people play basketball on a regular basis, with approximately one-third focused in the London area.
The sport, though, has historically not received as much central funding as others.
Beckford-Norton hopes the additional work which is now being put in at grassroots level can help lessen the divide over the long term.
“You have Basketball England and their ‘Project Swish’ campaign, which has had a huge impact on how many kids are able to get out to the parks,” she said.
“I have had parents come up to say: ‘it is great to see these nets go up so the kids can all play basketball’.”