Sports clubs can play a vital role in breaking down barriers for vulnerable young people to help develop their life skills on and off the court, according to Plymouth City Patriots coach Paul James.
The 59-year-old recently celebrated his 500th victory as a head coach in the British Basketball League when the Patriots inflicted a first defeat of the season on runaway championship leaders London Lions.
As well as his continued focus at the elite level, James also helps the club run sessions in the community, offering free coaching for young and vulnerable children.
The Patriots are part of a programme which is being delivered locally and supported by nationwide sport for development charity StreetGames, in partnership with the Plymouth Drake Foundation’s children in poverty initiative.
💷 40% of young people surveyed named ‘mine and my family’s finances / the cost of living’ as a top concern. pic.twitter.com/dKhXmITumn
— StreetGames (@StreetGames) September 27, 2023
The community organisation projects are designed to help steer young people away from crime and into positive activities aimed at teaching teamwork, resilience and discipline.
James’ professional playing career started as a 17-year-old at his hometown club Leicester then with Bracknell before moving into coaching, which eventually led to a spell in charge of England men’s senior national team.
While some of the youngsters within the Patriots’ community programmes may also have aspirations to get to the top of the sport, James believes just giving someone the chance to develop themselves within a team environment could prove the biggest lasting impact.
“We have got a lot of people playing who ordinarily would not have had an opportunity to play basketball, let alone sport,” James told the PA news agency.
“I look at these kids who are walking around now who have good friendships and a lot of confidence, they are starting to understand teamwork. It is something that they have never really had before.
📊🤯 The NUMBERS behind Paul James’s 500 Championship wins are CRAZY!
— British Basketball League (@britishbasketm) November 6, 2023
“A lot of kids have barriers that they face to accessing sport, because they can’t afford it, so StreetGames have a ‘doorstep fund’, which allows us to offer free places for children at our basketball camps.
“It is a chance for them to come out and gives them an opportunity to play basketball, something they normally wouldn’t have an opportunity to do, so we are very proud to partner with StreetGames to be able to offer this to vulnerable kids.”
James feels playing sports can only help provide a positive outlet for youngsters to grow, both physically and also for their own mental health.
“I think it was different back then (when I started out) – you could be outside playing whatever sport all day, every day,” James said.
“That is not the case now and I certainly see that in some of the children that we are working with. I think a lot of that is down to not having access to sports or access to do things.
“But I feel that it is not just about coaching, it is about life skills.
“Yes basketball is there, it is a facility to get people off the street and get them involved in sport – but it is about your mental health and actually being a good person, treating people how you want to be treated.
“There is an important part for us coaches to play in just general life skills and advising kids of the way to be, how to handle yourself.
“It is definitely more than just having an hour session coaching – it is spending time with them, asking ‘how are you feeling today? How is school doing?’
“It is asking all those questions, just really trying to help and guide them, give them confidence to be able to speak out and just talk about how they are feeling.”
On the court, James is hoping the Patriots, currently a couple of points behind eighth place, can build some momentum to make a late run for the end-of-season play-offs.
“We have got a really good group of guys and are working exceptionally hard. It is just trying to find that consistency,” he said.
“Our aim for the season is to make the play-offs if we can, so we have still got time to do that.”