WOMEN’S basketball has grown beyond all expectations in the last year.
It was something that was practically unimaginable to the chief architect who, while recovering from a painful ACL injury, worked up the idea of a welcoming, inclusive league.
Heather Watters was taken out of playing action by the injury in October 2021, sustained while competing for the women’s team in the men’s league.
‘I needed something to keep me sane and I was thinking about how to start a league and progress women’s basketball,’ she said.
At the time there were just eight women playing together in the men’s league.
Now there are 66 in the women’s league with plans to add a team each season.
The success is down not just to the structure, with coaches ensuring everyone has a place in the sides whether they are learning the sport or experienced players, but also to the fact that the cost barriers were largely removed thanks to support from her law firm, Bedell Cristin, and some government funding.
It is open to anyone from 13 upwards. One of the surprises has been the number of 30- and 40-year-olds who have become involved.
‘If you build it and you create an open, inclusive and generally welcoming environment, people will come and they will stay,’ Watters said.
‘I make sure that each team has a coach. We’re dealing with very different abilities, we need to make sure they are managed properly so those who are more experienced don’t just take over, so people aren’t afraid to ask questions.’
There have been a few dropouts as other sports such as football and netball begin their seasons, but being involved in different activities is something that is encouraged.
Watters is keen to create a positive environment, in contrast to what she has experienced with some other women’s sports.
It has appealed to a range of backgrounds, from those who used to play when they were children, to new mothers looking to get into sport and socialise.
‘It’s lovely to see each player progress and their confidence improve each week. When someone scores their first basket it’s amazing to see, it’s a very mentoring and encouraging environment for any level.’
It has also proven to be a platform for three players to step up into the Island Games squad, bringing increased competition at that level.
‘It was unexpected. People who had never played before but were naturally very capable.’
In Gibraltar 2019, it was a case of anyone who could make the trip would play, but for Guernsey 2023 there is much more depth – a squad of 12 with seven players who would not have tasted that level of competition before.
In the past, women’s basketball lacked the visibility and accessibility to grow.
‘It was very closed, difficult to extract information and no one seemed to be driving it. ‘
To build a successful offering has meant overcoming the naysayers who said it would never work because basketball was a minority sport.
‘I didn’t like this attitude: people were saying you can’t do this, can’t do that. The main reason was cost. I thought if you can eradicate the costs, what’s the reason not to do it?’
It did cause some sleepless nights.
‘I felt the pressure because work was sponsoring it. I really didn’t want to let them down, I knew I was building this from scratch. Thankfully it worked.’
To get a government grant meant drawing up projections for numbers and how it would be expanded.
If anything, she underplayed it.
‘I had wanted six teams, but I bottled it and went with five. With 66 we have too many players and I’ve had to turn people away, I felt so guilty. I didn’t underestimate it, I just got scared and didn’t want to let government down.’
The season runs from September to March with regular training.
The hope is not only to grow the number of teams, but also allow them to develop identities and established playing rosters – at the moment players are shuffled around to make the games as even as possible.
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