Little Ballers - Jo Davie setting youngsters on path to basketball success

Hundreds of children in the North East of England are getting hooked on basketball through Little Ballers – the UK’s first basketball specific play programme for children aged six months to seven-plus years.

The brainchild of Jo Davie, a specialist PE teacher of 17 years based in Durham, Little Ballers uses basketball to develop the fundamental movement skills and a myriad of other life skills, such as numeracy, literacy, creativity and musicality, of young children.

Jo Davie (middle) is the founder of Little Ballers

Opening eyes

Currently, Little Ballers, which was initially funded out of the Davie family purse, runs five age-group classes: Baby Ballers (six months+), Mini Ballers (18 months to three years), Little Ballers (three to four years) and Junior Ballers (four to seven years), and more recently a session for seven-plus years.

Davie, who is married to Lee Davie, the head coach of the Durham Palatinates in the Women’s British Basketball League (WBBL), says the concept came about after their daughter Betsy was born.

Whilst looking at other toddler play/sports programmes, eg ‘Rugbytots’ and ‘Little Kickers’, Davie thought that with her teaching experience coupled with Lee’s basketball expertise they could start their own thing and fill a void in the market for parents – basketball aficionados or not – to take their children to an early years basketball themed session that was fun and built confidence.

Its popularity amongst parents and children alike has seen Davie extend the number of classes and age groups available several times, including recently implementing a new class for seven to nine-year-olds, as well as running before and after school clubs in a variety of schools across the North East four times a week. She also has an idea around starting a junior basketball club for the players who have now outgrown Little Ballers.

Raised the profile of women’s professional basketball

For husband Lee, Davie says he has been using the core movement structures taught in the programme with some of his senior players.

“It has heightened his awareness in the importance of physical literacy at all levels throughout the player pathway," said the 38-year-old.

"The focus on physical literacy has also allowed him to better develop technical skills in his players, as well help them return to training post injury.”

“And it’s not just the professionals. When I go into schools [to teach], there are children that are twice/three times the age of my Little Ballers, and they can't even dribble a basketball. In terms of the movement skills that you can develop from a young age, I think the earlier the start, it's going to open doors for further progression within basketball.”

Additionally, Davie says Little Ballers has raised the profile of women’s professional basketball too, with many families buying tickets to watch and support the Palatinates – the effect of the game has even captivated their daughter, Betsy.

“The girls who come to watch are in absolute awe of [the Palatinates] players,” .

“They want to [grow up to] be these basketball players because they just think they're brilliant. And I do believe that influence has happened because they have been able to understand basketball at such a young age [through Little Ballers].

“[Betsy] loves it. She wants a basketball vest for her birthday and says things like ‘I'm going to play for dad's team one day’. We always said to her there’s no pressure to go down the basketball route, but she’s really good and hopefully she will continue. You never know she might end up playing professionally.”

Making a difference

For two years running, Little Ballers was named by What’s On 4 Kids UK National Children’s Activities Awards as a finalist in the most loved sports or physical activity franchises or independent business category.

But as a full-time mum, basketball coach, and teacher, Davie says the programme is in danger of becoming unmanageable, which is why she is really focused on growing the business.

“We've just become a franchisable company and the idea is to get as many franchises across the UK as possible. And we’re already in the process of selling franchises in Hull and Newcastle.

“I just think, if I can teach over a hundred children basketball every week out of Durham, imagine if there were more Little Ballers around the country.

“I created this whole programme from scratch, and the children are getting so much out of it; so much enjoyment. To know you're making a difference and you've got children that probably would have never played basketball, now actually playing basketball, it's just so rewarding.”