Three national level basketball players have come together to start an academy to initiate children as young as three into the game. Certified to coach by FIBA – International Basketball Federation, the governing body of the game – the Shooting Stars Academy, under the umbrella of the Oman Basketball Association, conducts sessions at The Sultan’s School.
Of the three, Nasra al Harthi is a former national player while Hiba al Naabi, the captain of the national side since 2010, is currently on a break. Shamsalduha al Khonji, who has been on the national team since last year, will play in the Sixth GCC Women’s Games in Kuwait in October.
Having gone through the difficult and often scant facilities available for basketball coaching for young girls in the country while staying motivated enough to play despite the lack of incentives, Nasra and Hiba saw the need for high quality training and such an academy. “We are passionate about the game, but there aren’t enough facilities for girls to start young. Most girls start playing seriously at 15 or 16 years, which is too late,” Hiba said.
Nasra and Hiba roped in Shamsalduha and started the academy earlier this year. A mechanical engineer who graduated from the University of Nottingham in the UK in 2017, Shamsalduha represented her university in the BUCS Basketball League. The British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS) basketball teams of universities and colleges in the UK compete in the league. Inducted into the national team in 2018, Shamsalduha has played the game since she was nine and represented Ahli Sidab Club.
According to Shamsalduha, there is a big gap into which most players fall into and disappear. “After school, we don’t continue playing. In school, sport is part of the curriculum. But then after school, you don’t have to play any sport. It’s not like girls leave school and go to university and carry on playing – that’s what I think is missing,” she said.
“Also the quality of training during school years when you learn new skills – it must inspire you enough to love the game for the rest of your life.”
Speaking of her own experience, Shamsalduha said she’s the only one from all of Al Sahwa School’s basketball team who is still playing. “We were 20 kids; I’m the only one who came out of school and carried on playing. I didn’t know anyone else who played until I got to see the national team and realised, ‘Oh! there are other girls who play.’”
In school, Shamsalduha said, she learnt only the basics. “Dribbling and shooting… it wasn’t very high quality. I wasn’t even sure if what I was doing was the correct thing.”
Her doubts were confirmed when she saw her university team. “I wasn’t at the right level. Everyone else was at a way higher level. The first year at university, I went to the lowest level team, but I was very determined to carry on playing and get better. Year after year, I got into the next level and that’s how I got into the actual team.
“And then when I came back to Oman, I saw the teams here. I saw that gap as well and realised that’s our problem. In the UK, even if you’re not into basketball, you’re into another sport, which helps you with coordination, athleticism… I think that is what we’re missing. That is what we’re trying to fill in with this academy. We’re aiming to inspire the kids from a very young age and help them gain skills.”
Held every Wednesday and Saturday from 5.15pm to 6.15pm, the academy coaches children in three age groups – Twinkle Stars (3-5 years), Sparkle Stars (6-9 years) and Bright Stars (10-13 years).