Thursday, 14 November 2013

Basketball for dummies: Training with the London Lions

The London Lions play the University of Iowa. Picture: LLDC

I think it's fair to say that, at 5ft 2ins, basketball is not the game for me. Still, here I am at the Copper Box, home to the London Lions, about to embark on a training session with the team.

Every player towers over me, so it's intimidating from the start. Added to that, while they wait for the session to officially start they warm up by shooting baskets, effortlessly sinking one after the other while I stand clutching my basketball like, well, a short, unathletic female surrounded by professional sportsmen.

Still, they make me feel welcome, and with some of the team members having grown up in London we chat about travel problems (what else?) and the surrounding area before assistant coach Nigel Lloyd calls the team to order, and instructs guard Perry Lawson to take everyone through a warm up. Kindly, Nigel asks Perry to keep it fairly simple for me. We go through a series of stretches and sprints, which flummox me for two reasons. Firstly, my legs are a lot shorter than everyone else's, so I compensate by skipping forward a few steps during each stretch to ensure I can stay level. Second, there are so many lines on the floor I never know which one I'm running to. By the end though, I'm getting the hang of things.

Once we've warmed up (I'm tired already), Nigel takes us through a series of drills, involving moving up and down the court while bouncing the ball, sometimes in twos, sometimes in threes, and trying to score at each end. Luckily for me, the Lions are a really down-to-earth group of guys who are happy to put up with my inadequacies, and nearly all of them take turns partnering with me. 

By the end of the 25 or so minutes we've been on the go, the team is ready to get to the more intense (more intense?!) portion of their training sessions. But not until I've managed to shoot a basket. The pressure is on, and I have visions of this going on forever, as I keep missing and they keep waiting, and the pressure getting worse and worse - like has been happening so far.

The London Lions play the University of Iowa. Picture: LLDC
So, while the team watches, I aim, I let of the basketball, and, plot twist, I score. Granted, everyone else has scored about 50 more than I have, but it feels really good, and in a sign of how lovely the team is, every one of them high fives me as I walk off the court to sit and watch the rest of the session on the sidelines.

What I want to do is fall down in a heap, but that would just be embarrassing, so instead I gingerly lower my already aching legs down and watch as these guys turn it up a notch.

The rest of the training session, clocking in at two hours in total, is intense. Nigel splits the team into two, and they battle against each other using a series of different manoevres. To my eyes, it all looks really complicated, but the guys are off the mark immediately at every call Nigel makes. After each exercise, the losing side has to do a set of push ups, before getting straight back up to start playing again.

I've seen the London Lions play before, and, along with the thousands of people in the crowd, cheered and whooped at every fancy move the team made. But it's only when watching them train that I realise how much practice goes into making those moves seem effortless.

When the session ends the guys head for their water bottles, sitting down to stretch out aching muscles. I have a quick word with a few of them, before heading out the door. After my 25 minutes training, I'm ready to lie down. The guys might be able to do that when they get home, but unlike me, they have to be back the next day to do it all over again.

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