Over the last decade, the interest in basketball in Scotland has grown rapidly.
A constant increase in participation numbers has been maintained as the sport continues to reach new supporters, but Declan McGinley, Membership Development Officer at Basketball Scotland, believes that becoming the number two sport in the country is firmly within their sights.
“Why can’t we overtake rugby? We had 4,500 at a pro-game this season. If we’re beating Edinburgh Rugby attendance wise, then why can’t we take steps to improve ahead of them?”
The stranglehold of football in Scotland continues to reign supreme in terms of popularity, but McGinley is determined for the sport not to rest on its laurels.
The work going on at grassroots level to get youngsters involved in the fast-paced game has seen Basketball Scotland now boast 28 regional development league weekends across Scotland, comprising of 114 teams in total.
“Our under 10s and 12s age groups have seen a rise in people playing the game, but not competitively.
“It shouldn’t be about winning games. As long as they’re enjoying it and developing the right skill-sets then it doesn’t matter what the score is. So we’ve seen a massive rise in participation rates, especially in our regional leagues.
“Also, a big part of what we’re trying to do is tell kids that they don’t have to play only one sport. We’re delighted if kids are away playing football or rugby, because it’s increasing their hand-eye coordination and they’re getting quicker and fitter.”
Statistics provided by Basketball Scotland show that this growth can easily be put down to club success, including the Glasgow Rocks. There are now eleven teams representing Scotland at international level, with a total of 1,024 games having been played in 2016/17 alone.
Another sign of the continued growth is the rise in Masters’ Basketball. The introduction of Walking Basketball saw an increase in participants who strived to play more competitively, and this has led to a big rise in participation figures for those aged between 50 and 60.
“With Walking Basketball we had a couple of clubs take it on, but they found that people didn’t want to walk. The guys coming in to play were actually too fit, so therefore we’ve seen a growth in Masters Basketball instead.
“We now have three new clubs in Scotland that are Masters clubs, and we’ll have a couple of players playing for GB Masters in the next couple of years.”
The organisation has discussed the idea of making basketball in the country ‘world-class’ in the last couple of years. However, confusion has reigned in Basketball Scotland over what was meant by this.
“This is something we’ve recently come back and revisited with the board. We’re trying to re-word that strapline.
“The vision people were seeing was that we would be competing regionally and internationally to a world-class level. However, as an organisation, we meant that if we can make everything we can do world-class, then it would revitalise the game here.
“I believe we’re getting closer to that. We have more representatives at GB level than ever before and we’ve had the GB Captain competing at EuroBasket.
“As well as that, we’ve brought on a professional franchise and we’ve had our first professional female side in Scotland. So we’ve come close, but it remains a long-term goal.”
Despite being a distance behind its target of being a world-class sport in Scotland, you only need to look back to a decade ago to see the strides the sport has made.
Stats show that the overall digital reach of the sport is projected at 5.7million, exceeding the population of the country.
“We had just under 2,000 people playing competitively under five years ago, whereas now we have over 8,000. It doesn’t sound like a huge jump but in comparison to other sports that are actually in decline, we’re doing extremely well.”
McGinley believes the progress is a down to continued investment.
“We’re able to sustain our funding whilst others are getting theirs cut. We just got confirmation in June that we’re getting cashback funding again, and we’re now looking to target deprived areas. Kids in these areas don’t have an opportunity to play sport, and we’re looking to provide them with that.
“SportScotland still fund us, and we’ve recently had a £250,000 boost. We’ve just had our senior men confirmed to compete at the Commonwealth Games in Australia next year. They’ve been drawn in the same group as England, and you would hope people would tune in to that.”
He is keen, however, to ensure that there is realism in the expectations surrounding the increasingly popular sport.
“People just assume when we get investment it’s to create something big. Not necessarily. It could be to get an extra staff member on board or to invest more in the coaching side of the game.
“So, whilst the growth is a good thing, it has to be gradual because it’s difficult when it’s growing so fast and we get too stretched.
“However, I’d rather the game grew and we were stretched than it didn’t grow at all.”
By David Walton