• Tom Giles

Holistic development in basketball

Updated: Apr 13


Preface by Coach Janx...

Having coached some great players and people over the years I would say that Tom Giles is one of my favorite former players. Embracing the game of basketball as a tool for personal, holistic development, and as a skilled 7 footer he was able to play at high levels too, be it for South Australia at U20s, Premier League for the Eastern Mavericks, the Australian Basketball Academy based out of Melbourne, US High School basketball with Lincoln High School or spending time on NBL training squads with the Adelaide 36ers and Newcastle Falcons.

I am proud of Tom and the values, work ethic and his want to put back into the community. I would like think that for Tom, like former junior team mate Daniel Carlin (article here: Focussing on what counts in the game – some lessons from the journey so far), the sport played a big part where they developed their holistic values, traits and skills. Most articles athletes that write here demonstrate holistic, character and values development, which is one of the things that I think basketball does so well and Tom speaks of the virtues of this too. Some examples of these ideas from other articles include:

PICTURED: Tom play for the SA state team in U20s with a range of athletes that would go onto the collegiate ranks,coached by Brad Davidson, currently Assistant Coach at University of South Dakota.

For Featured Athletes and others in the college system, one of the important things athletes need to focus on in their college journey is their holistic development. Things won't always be perfect, the guys and girls will be extremely challenged, and will be under extreme pressure on the court and in the classroom at times. Embracing the tough times as a growth opportunity should be key benefit of the college pathway and the challenge and hurdles you overcome makes the whole process fun. Embracing challenge and adversity often goes to the core of why certain athletes select their programs. Those that are brave, risk takers often embracing a tougher college program option that many "unqualified outsiders" suggest will see them fail, in actual fact will often see them ultimately succeed. But for this success to come to fruition they have to be brave, they have to be resilient and they have to work incredibly hard. Those that don't have these traits should choose the easier path, more acceptable to "unqualified outsiders". Those that have not necessarily being "successful" (aka achieving their personal best) in the sport and/or life because they were not brave, risk takers and willing to put in the work will be often be casting their own negativity onto athletes that are.

Today, Tom seems to be involved in many grassroots basketball initiatives be it the Baptist Basketball Tournaments, Hoops 4 Life program or Coaching Ivor Burge Basketball.

In this article Tom takes his many varied basketball experiences and insights from elite levels through to working with those marginalised, at risk in the community, and provides examples and insights on his views on how and why basketball can be the best opportunity for any individual's holistic development. He provides insights he gained from Phil Smyth and Rodney Billups (D1 Head Coach at University of Denver) and how he tries to install values in the young people he works with in basketball, holistic skills and capabilities such as:

  • building an uplifting environment,

  • developing good relationships,

  • being a positive influence with your peers and community, and more

Over to Tom...

Gaining perspective

PICTURED: Country South Australia wheat silos Tom speaks of.

If anyone has ever driven to the country town of Balaklava, you’ll understand there is not a lot to look at. The scenic highlight is a grain silo about two minutes before you get into town and other than that, there’s not much to see. I know this because this is a drive I have been taking almost each week over the last year. I’ve been through a lot of podcasts as you can imagine. The reason I make this trip is to coach a group of students from Balaklava High School through my work at Hoops 4 Life. Over a normal working week, I coach at Smithfield twice, Hackham, Victor Harbor, Cavan and, as mentioned, Balaklava. Fortunately, these long drives from my house near the city give me a great deal of time to plan my sessions. Planning a Hoops 4 Life session is quite different to planning a district or high-performance session. The main thing that is going through my head on the way to a session is: how can I use basketball today to improve the quality of these kid’s lives? A lot of the kids I work with are from traumatic backgrounds; some are incarcerated; some are forced into the program because the school has given up on suspending them; and some are incredible athletes from loving family backgrounds. There is one school that I go into from a suburb with a horrible reputation for crime. My mission in this school has absolutely nothing to do with basketball. Instead, the year 7 students have bought in with me to do all we can to change the public’s perspective of where they live. I always knew that basketball can bring more to one’s life than purely what is experienced on the court, but I never realised the magnitude of this statement before my experiences with Hoops 4 Life.

PICTURED: Tom working for Hoops4Life pictured with Premier Steven Marshall, management and participants.

Life-long relationships

PICTURED: In the High School days with Abraham Lincoln High School in the United States.

One of the main philosophies I try to develop in all teams I coach is building a positive environment. As a player, there were some days that I may have had a rough day at school or been feeling a bit flat, but I would always be excited to get to training that night. I loved basketball and still do, but I loved the relationships I built with my teammates more. My under 18s division one team at Centrals was far from successful in terms of wins and losses but in all honesty, I could not care any less about that today. I played on that team almost ten years ago, yet I am still friends with many of the guys I played with and we often reflect on and off the court hang outs we had. Following that season, I was fortunate enough to travel to Denver, Colorado and play for a high school there. This team had a similar chemistry, which I fully realised when I travelled back for a visit last December. Many of my teammates made time from their careers and lives to drive me around, introduce me to other coaches and one even let me run a coaching session at the Colorado Academy where he works. Playing in Denver was an amazing experience for me, I was able to experience playing in front of thousands of people, tv cameras, radio announcers and even a tournament in Vegas. However, as a holistic experience to me, the on-court experiences did not have as much impact on my character as the relational side of the experience. This is something I desire to bring to the kids I coach; that no matter what is happening in their worlds, (most of which is far beyond anything I went through in my upbringing) A Hoops 4 Life training session will always be an uplifting environment. I hope that in five or ten years-time, when students have forgotten how many scrimmages they won or how many three-pointers they made in seven minutes, they will still remember the relationships they made and see the results of their hard work.

Life skills for success

PICTURED: Tom with one of his mentors in 36er, NBL and Aussie Boomers great, Phil Smyth, Steve Breheny and the Australian Basketball Academy team during their tour to the Philippines.

On one of my drives to Balaklava, I had a great chat to one of my previous coaches and mentors, Phil Smyth. I wanted to find out from him exactly what he looked for in the character of a player when he was recruiting them, either to the AIS, Adelaide 36ers or the Australian team. The answers were based on being coachable, self-motivated and a good influence on others. I asked the same question to the head coach of Denver University (thanks to Janx for the intro to the program), Rodney Billups, in December last year and he gave me the exact same answers. Among others, these are three traits that I try my hardest to instil in each player I coach. Maybe one percent of the students I coach will make it to a high-performance program (NCAA, NBL, Premier League), but 100% of them can attempt to apply these skills in whatever environment they find themselves in following the training session. I challenge them to be as coachable as they can be for their teachers; to get themselves motivated to do their homework and to influence others around them to make good life decisions. Many students I encounter are not great at motivating themselves to do anything, on or off the court, but fortunately basketball is an incredible tool to build this life skill. I have seen numerous coaches who are fantastic external motivators which is great, but it can leave some athletes reliant on external motivation sources. Phil (Smyth) was an incredible coach at developing internal motivation. I only had him yell at my team one time in about three years, which was one of the best grillings I ever received. Outside of that moment though, he coached in a way that players could develop their own method of motivation, so when our time with Phil ended, we did not necessarily need him to get ourselves up and about ready to work. Being a positive influence has been something I have always strived for as a player, coach and person. As a player, I always felt like people would see me in a particular program and say to themselves that I had only made it that far because of my height. This bothered me so much that I not only forced myself to work as hard as possible, but I also wanted to take other people with me to that next level of work ethic. And so, I challenge my students in the same way;

Can you influence your friend to stay out of detention this week?

Can you influence your sibling to stay away from illegal substances this week?

Can you influence someone who’s not paying attention in class to listen for ten minutes instead of ten seconds?

PICTURED: Tom and Rodney Billups (Head Coach at University of Denver and Chauncy's brother) during Tom's time visiting the program.

Evidential learning

When parents ask me why their child should play basketball, I like to give them this illustration. Imagine you are introducing honey to someone who has never tasted it before, and you have to prove to them that it is sweet. You can tell them how sweet it is and what it tastes like and you can show them the nutrition label and all the other evidence which suggests it is indeed very sweet. But there is nothing that will convince this person better than actually tasting the honey for themselves. Thus is the case when it comes to basketball for your child. You can read this article as a parent and see that there are many holistic benefits to playing basketball; health, fitness, career pathways, discipline and relationships among others. But there is no better evidence for the holistic advantages of the sport than to actually get involved and taste exactly how sweet the game can be for you.

PICTURED: Tom addressing his team no doubt preach the values he mentions here of building an uplifting environment, good relationships, being a positive influence with your peers and community, and more


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