Professors Build Cultural Awareness Through Basketball in India

Posted: August 2, 2010 at 1:02 am, Last Updated: August 2, 2010 at 8:00 am

By Jennifer Edgerly

Mason men's basketball assistant coach Chris Caputo explains techniques to visiting Indian coaches and administrators. Creative Services photo

Sports serve many functions in our lives. They teach discipline, communication and teamwork; they also bring neighbors and communities together. Sports can even promote awareness and understanding of diverse cultures in foreign countries.

Through a grant awarded by SportsUnited, a division of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Mason professors of sport management Bob Baker and Craig Esherick have been working to encourage cross-cultural understanding through the sport of basketball.

“The fact that the State Department has a program to use sport on an international cultural exchange and development basis is recognition of sport as a cultural connection,” says Baker, who also directs Mason’s Center for Sport Management. “Our intent was to take the best practices of basketball leadership in the United States to India.”

With partner J.D. Walsh, a basketball coach and founder of the J.D. Walsh Basketball School, Baker and Esherick visited India twice in the past year to hold coaching clinics and youth basketball camps.

During the clinics, the trio taught Indian youth fundamental basketball skills while simultaneously exposing them to American culture through the basketball experience. Indian coaches were also taught various instruction methods, and coaches and administrators learned how to run and market successful basketball leagues and clinics in India.

“Basketball has become wildly popular all over the globe,” says Esherick, who was an assistant coach and scout for the 1988 U.S. Olympic men’s basketball team. “We have a chance to help popularize basketball in a country that has not yet wrapped its arms around this sport. Our trips provided a great opportunity to exchange ideas about coaching all sports, as well as to discuss best practices in sport management.”

Professors Robert Baker and Craig Esherick discuss their project prior to their most recent visit to India.

For a few lucky participants, the program didn’t end there. In cooperation with the Basketball Federation of India, Baker and Esherick identified 12 coaches and administrators from different parts of India and invited them to participate in a coaching academy at Mason’s Fairfax Campus for 10 days this summer.

“Being able to bring a group of coaches and administrators to campus really allows us an opportunity to expose them to the breadth of the American sports system,” says Baker. “We were able to spend some quality time with them; not just talking about basketball, but also about leadership, practice planning and how to organize and manage programs while working with a wide variety of people.”

While in Virginia, the group of coaches and administrators stayed in campus residence halls and worked on basketball fundamentals with Chris Caputo, assistant coach for the Mason’s men’s basketball team.

The visitors also engaged in classroom discussions with professors within the School of Recreation, Health and Tourism. Some of the topics they discussed were nutrition and injury prevention; conditioning and exercise science; and leadership and sport psychology.

The discussions helped group members study and prepare for the American Sport Education Program (ASEP) certification tests in Coaching Principles and Sport First Aid. Baker explains that this is the largest certification program for coaches in the United States and that obtaining ASEP coaching certification sets a standard for coaches in India.

Being able to "get into the heads of the players" is what Shiba Maggon, assistant coach for India's Women's Junior National Team, wants to learn. Creative Serivces photo

“Their successful completion of the coaching academy at Mason documents their preparation in coaching philosophy, psychology, physiology, pedagogy, management, sport first aid and more,” says Baker.

“Therefore, expectations will be high. They are expected to be leaders, helping their coaching colleagues through clinics, helping India’s players through camps and helping advance basketball throughout India while simultaneously promoting cross-cultural understanding.”

To top off their visit to the area, group members toured various local sporting facilities, including a behind-the-scenes look at the Verizon Center, and took in a Washington Nationals’ baseball game.

While the certifications are important, Shiba Maggon, assistant coach for India’s Women’s Junior National Team, notes that the most important thing she plans to take back with her from the trip is the right attitude.

“We know most of the plays and drills they are going over, but the way you teach and the way you communicate, that’s the most important thing,” says Maggon.

“You need to get into the heads of the players, and that’s what I’m trying to learn. When they communicate with us, they make things so easy for everyone to learn. That’s one problem area for us. We haven’t been able to really convey our message to the players, and unless they get it, they cannot perform.”

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