An innovative St Albans basketball coach has won the latest Maltings Community Hero Award for 2017.
Jon Thorne, 52, coaches the St Albans Lions basketball club at Westminster Lodge. One of his sessions is called Spectrum Basketball – especially for autistic people.
He teaches the game in a way that is inclusive and builds confidence – there is only one rule: be kind.
This means it does not matter if anyone breaks the rules, more competent players do not intimidate beginners, and score is not kept.
After the game, Jon will explain which rules were forgotten, and this way the players’ basketball skills slowly develop.
He said he was pleased to get the award, but was “not used to it”: “I have to say, because it’s normally all about the players doing well – it’s normally got nothing to do with me, it’s a bit weird.”
Jon believes sport can bring communities together if it is inclusive: “If one kid can’t coordinate running and bouncing the ball and scoring, is it fair they can’t play basketball?
“There’s a whole bunch of kids on the autism spectrum who don’t get taught sport because the coaches go to teach ability. They can’t join mainstream basketball clubs because they can’t follow the coach’s instructions well enough.”
The flexible rules technique works well for autistic people, but is beneficial for everyone – he also teaches a community basketball class, open to anybody, and a teenage basketball session for under 18s, as part of St Albans Lions.
It creates more agile players, Jon argues, and the classes attract complete beginners through to semi-professional players. The old method of coaching is “not wrong because it makes the players very good technically, very quickly”, but encourages rigidity which can be easily predicted in a competitive game, Jon says.
He has just set up a local league team from the St Albans Lions and is looking for sponsors – for more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org
As the winner of this month’s entries, Jon received £100 to spend in any of The Maltings shops and is entered into the Herts Advertiser Community Awards finals next month.