Established in the summer of 2016, the Mersey Mavericks set out with a simple goal; to fill the void of basketball provision in the South of Liverpool. With Liverpool Basketball Club and Sefton Stars both based in the north of the city, the Mavericks set up home in a part of the Liverpool that faces a number of issues. Local wards have adult obesity levels north of 50%, and over 25% for 11-year-olds in the area. Low income families are also the norm, an environment where statistically more people are likely to smoke and less likely to exercise, play and stay in shape. The local area is in the top 10% more deprived nationally and the average household income is nearly 40% less than the national average. So how did the club manage to get off the ground?
“We are always very keen to continue to provide participation basketball,” said Kate Lewis, a volunteer with the club. “We feel an issue that many clubs find is that as soon as they have a core group, they move towards competition and the National League. We found not all young people want to do this, and we began to build the club with participation in mind.”
Steadily, the club grew it’s offering and brought a wide variety of players into the game. “Because of the geographical location we’re based in, we get a good representation from the community,” said Lewis. “Our numbers have built across all of the sessions, in the girl’s sessions we regularly have between 10-15 attend. With the Under 14s we can have up to 25! This has stunned us as we tried to start this up last year and we were getting 5-6 each week, we had to cancel it due to not meeting costs!”
Basketball England’s Satellite Club Programme has also played a key role in helping the club to attract players, reduce the barriers into the sport and provide casual sessions that meet the needs of those who want to play.
“We found it really positive in our sessions to establish a “pay and play” culture with no pressure. Our Satellite club funding has been invaluable in helping us establish those kinds of sessions, particularly in the older age groups,” explains Kate. “The Minis Mavericks (ages 6-11) sessions pay for themselves. The older groups were more challenging. Initially, and to be fair even during busy times like the exam periods, we have not been able to cover our own costs. As a new club, we also don’t have any reserves to fall back on yet. The Satellite Club funding has underwritten these sessions, meaning we don’t have to worry about fluctuations in attendance, and we’ve been able to buy additional balls and equipment as well.”
Examples of the great work within the club also began to flow. Not only was their set up growing, but the Mavericks were able to make a real and tangible impact in their local area. Here is one testimony from a local family who made the decision to join the club and the difference it has made to their lives:
“We have two children. Our daughter has a diagnosis of autism and has extreme anxiety in social groups. At school she hated PE and would never engage in team sports. Our son has developmental delay, learning difficulties and speech difficulties. Although they are both very physically active they have very low confidence in social peer groups and our son is also very reluctant to join team games such as football etc.
Our son expressed an interest in basketball, so we did an internet search and found out about Mavericks, so we decided to give it a try last October.
At first when there were so many kids and the noise of all the bouncing balls we thought our kids would be too scared to join in. We explained about our children’s difficulties and Mavericks were happy for us to support them in the session which meant grey old dad joining in with the kids training! The key moment was when one of the coaches made an effort to give our children some individual attention and work with them away from the main group. In this way he won their trust and made a connection with them which made them feel safe, welcomed and accepted. The coach helped to build their confidence, so they could gradually integrate with larger groups and team games. Within a couple of weeks, they were joining in with team games and really enjoying it!
Last weekend there was a girls’ tournament and our daughter was invited to come and watch with the option of maybe wearing the kit, sitting with the team or perhaps joining in but no pressure. After watching for a while she said she would have a go. I suggested to the coach that she go on as sub for the last 5 minutes, so it wasn't too much for her. I was amazed to see her joining in a serious competitive match and dribbling, passing and having a shot. This was a huge step forward for her given how self-conscious she is.
Joining the Mavericks has been a real blessing to us as a family. We are seeing real growth in confidence and social integration in our children. In the basketball they are joining games on an equal basis with their peers and overcoming their feelings of fear and inferiority. The practice times we have in our local park have also become an important part of our family life. The children need lots of exercise to help regulate their emotions and doing basketball practice is a good way of de-stressing and re-bonding. We are very grateful to the club’s coaches who have shown great sensitivity, care and patience towards our children and given them lots of praise and gentle encouragement to help them access the sport."
Looking forward, the Mavericks are hopeful that their club can continue to grow in the coming years. There are plans afoot to introduce a development as well as a talent arm to their current set up, but participation and the Satellite Club sessions will always be at the heart of what the club does. “Our next steps are to establish what the young people want from our sessions in the future. All our players have all had opportunities to play competitively in several friendlies, so they get a taste for what “proper” competition is like,” says Lewis. “If we have enough interest to enter a team, we will. However, we will still always make provision for those that don’t want that through “pay and pay” sessions made possible by Satellite Club funding.”