With the premature end to the basketball season two months ago, and normal sporting activities yet to resume, you’d be forgiven for thinking that clubs might be struggling – but that’s not the case for West Suffolk’s only Clubmark basketball club – Bury St. Edmunds Bulldogs.
“It’s true that the off-season started a little earlier than we’d have liked – and looks set to continue for a bit longer, too” said Head Coach Arron MacDonald “But our volunteers have continued to engage with our members and the wider community, and we’ve seen demand increase significantly for people wanting to play basketball next season – but I never expected the playing interest to go up quite so significantly.”
Having had only 17 remaining players across the entire club three seasons ago, the club had over 100 players registered last season, and have seen the expressions of interest to play next year exceed that significantly, with the expectation that this number will only increase when children return to schools and the season nears. The club's volunteer base has grown exponentially over the past three years as well, with the re-structured committee and high level of coaching, member welfare and management, drawing praise during the Bulldogs' Clubmark assessment.
With Coaches Arron MacDonald and Joanna Brawn having been recognised as East Region’s Coach of the Year and Most Inspiring Female, respectively, in their 2020 awards, and both moving forwards for consideration for the national awards, the club has gained increased exposure to the wider basketball community during the pandemic, but Coach MacDonald doesn’t think this is the sole cause of the greater demand for basketball around West Suffolk:
"Gaining the recognition that Jo and I received was humbling and wonderful, but there’s been so many factors through this crisis which have played a part in helping us to grow. ‘The Last Dance’ trending on Netflix has drawn more eyes to our sport, and when they find us, they find a club who’ve continued to keep their members engaged and active despite the absence of in-person coaching.”
The club has run skills-based dribble and trick shot challenges - as well as sharing Lead 'Em Up's Leadership and Strength & Conditioning programmes.
Heyley Rigby raised over £100 for the club with a Zoom club quiz – rewarding the winners with prizes;
We've run a club shop competition and will shortly share the new designs heading into the club shop; We’ve launched an alumni programme and offered a free webinar with a renowned American college coach, with further webinars planned across the club. The club’s also in the process of on-boarding nine new coaches across their age groups and have seen success in partnering with more local organisations.
The club will shortly roll-out basketball skills and drills via social media, and interactive training sessions with junior teams via the Zoom Platform, too, as our dedicated volunteers continue to make use of the technology we've invested in.
With agreements having been reached with The Playground for team-building days, Bury Physio for Physiotherapy Services, The Coffee House for Meal Prep and the appointment of The Hub’s Rob Lancaster as the Lead Strength & Conditioning Coach for the programme, the club continues to do all they can to offer the very best for the members, and to work with local organisations for the mutual benefit and growth of the club and the sponsor organisation.
"Honestly, if anyone had said we'd be in a position to have brought on-board a strength & conditioning coach with Rob's passion and expertise, I'd have been shocked - but to have also given our members access to meal prep (and a discount at a fantastic local coffee house), physio services and team building activities in that same window?
It's huge for us - and it shows we're going in the right direction. The next thing for us is finding a self-drive minibus provider for game days - which has proven tough so far - and a couple more sponsors for all of these new teams."
"It's been a really busy off-season so far, and we're so grateful for our members and their friends and families for continuing to support us, and being the best advocates for our club we could ever hope to have. We're also indebted to our volunteers for the work they've done, and astounded at the organisations and people who've chosen to work with us, though, in both cases, we need more!
We'll continue to look for opportunities to grow, and we'd ask anyone out there who's looking to support or join a local club to reach out - the more we grow, the more volunteers and support we need!"