PeacePlayers International-Middle East was fortunate enough to bring in a special guest coach, Alex Harris of Evolution Basketball Training in Northern Virginia. Alex has been in the business or over 12 years and specializes in individual and small group training. The following post is a brief recap of his visit. Many thanks to the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs for making Alex’s trip possible.
Evolution Basketball Training, run by Alex Harris, is a basketball training organization that has been in operation for 12 years and has successfully sent over 150 of its athletes to play collegiate basketball. Evolution Basketball specializes in individual and small group training, focusing on the fundamentals of basketball. Harris has two facilities in Northern Virginia, and is in the process of building a third, out of which he and his staff train.
Much like PeacePlayers and the participants, Alex started with a simple dream in a fairly new area of business, as there are not many successful basketball training programs out there, and turned it into a reality. When PeacePlayers first began, not many organizations were toying with the idea of “sport for good” and “conflict resolution.” Building a blueprint and an organization around new and unique ideas can be very nerve racking. Both organizations show that with perseverance, a clear vision, and the right team, a vision cannot only flourish, but grow beyond your wildest dreams.
With such a unique basketball background, it seemed only right that Harris and PeacePlayers team up. Harris spent about one week visiting the Middle East site, where he learned more about the program and visited many interesting spots, such as the Old City of Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Northern Israel where he was able to understand a bit more of the history and background surrounding the conflict.
Although it was a short visit, Alex was able to experience many aspects of the PPI-ME program. He spent his first night at the site watching the Jerusalem professional women’s team play, while meeting different members of the All-Star team (a mixed team of Arab and Jewish girls that play together in the Israel Basketball Association’s youth league against teams in other cities) and having dinner with them. The next day, he made his way to a retreat held at Kibbutz Sdot Yam, where he was able to meet and work with members of the the Junior Leadership Development Program (LDP Jr.). During the retreat, Alex coached practices for the participants, spoke about leadership to the LDP Jr, and gave great pointers and advice to their youth mentors on how to be better coaches.
The first leg of the trip demonstrated the end result of many years of playing and working together; that Arabs and Jewish people, like our youth leaders, can live together and coexist. Harris saw the side that the media often doesn’t show. The focus of the second half of the visit shifted to the building blocks of how such relationships are accomplished. Alex got the chance to coach and meet some of the newer participants from both sides and learn more about their every day lives. Harris got to see how the Arab and Jewish kids usually attend separate schools and live in separate communities, unlike life in the United States.
Finally, Alex participated in a twinning (a joint activity where coaches bring an Arab and Jewish team together to do some fun drills) between the girls of Ein Rafa (an Arab school community of Jerusalem) and Ein Kerem (a Jewish community outside of Jerusalem) where the theme was teamwork. The twinning was led by a youth-mentor turned coach. He witnessed and remarked on how he could see the uncertainty and uneasiness of some of the participants at the beginning of the twinning but by the end they were all smiles and really enjoying themselves.