For Mental Health Awareness Week 9-15 May, Owen shares his thoughts on how his work in basketball and coaching helped him through the grieving process after losing his father in 2021.
My dad was the perfect role model in terms of being a genuine, decent man, who put his family first. Whilst he was into football and played Sunday league well into his forties, he was always very encouraging and supportive of my love for basketball and my career in the sport.
When you are going through grief it is easy to withdraw into yourself, be absorbed by your pain and hide from the world. I was fortunate that through my basketball work, whether at Basketball England, my website or my club, I was able to find happiness and fulfilment again in my day-to-day life.
I set up Shrewsbury Basketball Development Club in 2014, after playing locally for years, as I’d seen two groups of players who didn’t have a suitable basketball environment for their needs.
I had seen lots of beginners come to pick-up runs, look lost without any instruction, and never come back. I had also seen experienced players, who could no longer commit to league basketball, come to the same runs and look frustrated with the lack of structure. For me, if someone wants to play the sport I love, I want them to find a place where they can enjoy it. I hate the idea of someone falling out of love with the sport or having a bad first experience because they only have one option of where to play.
So, I came up with this concept of a club where both groups of players could enjoy basketball. The regular weekly sessions are focused on the beginners’ development, with myself and the experienced players sharing our knowledge. Then we have occasional local games where the experienced players get to compete without the commitment of league basketball, and the beginners understand they will have to earn their minutes.
Because it is a development club, you spend a lot of time taking players aside to break the game down for them to help them improve. Through those exchanges you build relationships and friendships and that was something that really helped me get through my dad’s death; having positive interactions and helping people, which in turn, helped me.
When I let my players know about my dad and how much the club had helped me, suddenly people started revealing the stuff they had gone through over the years and how the club had benefitted their mental health too. I never intended for the club to have a mental health focus, it just happened organically.
One of our players, Dave Powell, who works as a journalist at the Liverpool Echo, opened up about his mental health on social media in order to help others going through the same thing.
It only takes one person to speak up, and as soon as someone does people are supportive and willing to be open about their own mental health experiences. It has made me more conscious of looking for signs in other people, regardless of how well I know them or how ‘good’ or ‘fine’ they say they are.
When I think of my journey in basketball, all I think of is gratitude. The experiences I have had through the sport have played a huge part in making me who I am. In a team sport you learn that your voice and actions not only impact whether your team wins or loses, but can inspire and lift your teammates. I am quite self-aware and know that my most dominant characteristic is empathy, so I’ve always had that awareness of the mood of my teammates whether on or off the court.
Looking ahead, I am going to continue to emphasise mental health at the club and maintain the friendly, supportive culture we’ve built. I would like to link up with local health organisations and flag the club as a positive place that people can come to if they are struggling.
Find out more about Mental Health Awareness Week by hitting the button below.
Basketball has the power to change lives. The #GameTime campaign will aim to raise awareness of the positive impact that our sport can have on people no matter who they are or where they are from.
Basketball England aims to engage one million people in basketball via the Commonwealth Games 2022, 3x3 and more.
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...regardless of age, gender or background, across every part of the basketball family, it's #GameTime!