Sports are a popular metaphor for life. There are the highs and lows of victory and defeat. There are long nights spent in practice, trying to improve efficiency, control, and skill. And of course, there is the discipline and appreciation for what you do – traits that lead to greater success and accomplishment elsewhere in life. It makes sense, then, that providing youth with access to a healthy sports environment can lead directly to a better life and more opportunities.
That connection is what Regina’s Hooplife is all about. Launched in 2017 out of a series of part-time basketball camps by college friends Andrew Gottselig and Habib Habib, the organization provides a place for the city’s young people to come together, support each other, and develop crucial skills in a safe environment. It didn’t take long to realize that what had ostensibly begun as a basketball camp was becoming an important fixture in the community – especially their Sunday night workshop, The Lab, which was created specifically to instill confidence and support in the kids before tackling another week of school.
“There is a real lack of facilities and opportunities [in Regina],” says Habib. “We saw a gap and we went for it. We felt it was our duty to give back to our young people, through our love of basketball.” Andrew agrees, shining a light on what he senses is the true value of their program. “The Lab provides a positive, interactive, and engaging experience, where kids can play basketball, be kids, make lasting friendships, and feel seen and heard.”
Understanding the importance of what they could achieve, the two founders applied for a partnership with Youth + Us in order to expand what they could offer. With that increased financial support, which enabled the hiring of more coaches with increased capabilities, their growing influence on the community’s youth is nothing short of incredible.
Lilly Hardy and Gabrielle Kaban are two teenagers who live and breathe basketball. As neighbours, they have spent much of their free time over the years sinking baskets in the driveway, but it wasn’t until they joined a Hooplife girls’ camp that they saw the true potential of the organization and the effect it could have on their game and their attitude. Soon they were attending the Sunday night Lab sessions and making Hooplife a regular part of their schedule.
“I’ve done other summer camps through my life, but with Hooplife, I wanted to get there early and stay late. I didn’t want it to end,” says Lilly. Gabrielle echoes the sentiment. “You want to give them your everything, because they’re giving their everything to make you better. To have a good relationship with a coach really makes a difference…you know they want you to improve, so it just makes you feel better overall.”
Those authentic relationships underline the fundamental value of Hooplife – it is a place where kids learn to manage their emotional intelligence, harness their potential, and lay the foundation of a flourishing future. This is especially crucial for teenagers, whose emotions and legitimate feelings are often brushed off or minimized. “I’m not afraid to make mistakes here, because people are there to help you grow and improve – not only the physical skills, but also on the mental side,” says Lilly. “In a sport, I feel more stable and productive. You get confidence and learn how to not give up, which transfers over to everything else – and when you’re not doing your best, there’s always room for improvement.”
Both girls stress that the existence of this safe place for themselves and their peers has an immeasurably positive impact on their life. Talking not only about Andrew and Habib, but to organizations like Youth + Us that make Hooplife possible, they are enthusiastic in their support. “You may not realize it, but the impact you have on athletes our age is huge. It might not always be expressed out loud, but it’s there,” Gabrielle explains. She goes on to point out the ripple effects Hooplife has. “[I’ve learned] to always treat people with kindness – even in school, in life. You don’t know what people are going through, but you can help people just by being kind.”
Lilly reinforces the idea of acceptance and understanding. “I’m so appreciative of it all…I honestly don’t know where I’d be without it. This is one of the most accepting places I’ve ever been. Everyone has great potential, with a focus on people and friendships just as much as the sport, and that’s what really lasts in life.”
Now, with a more accepting environment filled with female role models, encouragement, and support, the girls are ready to step up and take even more chances. “If I see anything that’s male-dominated, now I’ll take the chance – because I did this, so I can do that,” Lilly says, with Gabrielle in full agreement. Able to start every week with genuine confidence, surrounded by endless inspiration and motivation, they are grateful to be just two of the many youths in Regina that have benefited from the organization and the support of Youth + Us. In a follow-up article, we’ll meet two more who dive even further into the positive aura that Hooplife and its founders have created.