How MOJO is up-leveling youth basketball across an entire continent
| 5 min read
When Neil Gray first joined Basketball Australia, the national governing body for the sport, he had modernization on his mind.
His first task was to put coach accreditation online, “so people could learn from the comfort of home at their own pace,” Gray explains. This was January 2022, well into the Covid pandemic. The online coaching format found its footing right away, with 15 new coaches signing up every single day.
“We found a real bubble there that was hungry for content, hungry to learn more, to provide a better product for their players on the court,” says Gray. He immediately began looking for new ways to keep those coaches engaged.
Some 7,500 miles across the Pacific Ocean, in Los Angeles, MOJO was in the midst of its first full season of youth basketball, having launched the sport with the help of youth development experts at the NBA and WNBA the October prior.
As both organizations embarked on new chapters, a chance meeting brought them together in the fall of 2022.
“We were looking at different ways to provide coaches with resources of similar quality and ethos to the coach accreditation,” says Gray. “It needed to be convenient to them, be accessible to them and be engaging.”
And with the MOJO app, he found just that.
As the community coach and volunteer development manager for Basketball Australia, Gray oversees 75% of the accredited coaches in Australia — close to 149,000 coaches at all levels — as well as 48,000 other volunteers in the sport. It’s a vast, fast-growing cohort, in a sport that has shown exciting growth over the last decade.
For many young athletes in Australia, their first on-court taste of basketball comes through Aussie Hoops, the nationwide introductory program for all basketball players aged 5 to 10. Nearly 300 participating centers across Australia run Aussie Hoops, which “serves as an introduction to a lifetime of involvement in the game” of basketball. The 20+ year-old program was re-launched in 2022.
From an Aussie Hoops or other community-based grassroots program, kids who want to stick with the game join a local club or association, which gets them to the first level of 5v5 junior basketball, or they can play in school.
The growth of youth basketball at this, the grassroots level, has been impressive — and steady. In the first term of this year alone, Aussie Hoops participation grew more than 20 percent, according to Basketball Australia CEO Matt Scriven.
“With that growth brings a need to onboard a lot more people into understanding what basketball is,” says Gray.
Over the course of several conversations over the winter of 2022, Basketball Australia and MOJO emerged with a plan to use the MOJO platform to elevate the youth basketball experience across all provinces and territories — starting with Aussie Hoops.
For Aussie Hoops coaches, MOJO and Basketball Australia would create a cohesive, age- and developmentally-appropriate custom curriculum for all players. For Aussie Hoops families, the MOJO app would provide a simplified team management and communication tool. For Aussie Hoops players, MOJO would make sure that practices were full of fun and effective games that built real basketball skills.
And in many ways, Basketball Australia planned to use the MOJO app to help grow awareness of the sport among kids and parents across the entire country.
“Some kids, all they have is the basketball they get when they sign up,” explains Gray. “Parents are the drivers, but maybe basketball is a foreign sport to them. We still want them to positively influence their children’s basketball development.”
Another key provision of the MOJO-Basketball Australia partnership is the 12,000+ accredited youth coaches who power programs, clubs and leagues beyond Aussie Hoops.
“For the accredited coaches, MOJO is a resource to better create trainings, have a better understanding of the skills and drills to use instead of sticking just to what they know,” says Gray. “We’re really keen to continue to deliver the fun and inclusive and high-intensity content so that coaches can step out of the car, with 5 minutes before training, when they’re at a loose end, and they don’t just run a scrimmage because they can’t think of a game. They get something that can challenge the players mentally and physically and leave the session as a better player, with a greater understanding of the skills of basketball.”
What makes the nascent partnership — still measured in weeks and months, at this point — work well is the shared vision of using the power of fun to grow the game among the young people — as well as coaches.
“With MOJO’s player-focused curriculum, innovative technology, and intuitive platform it will bring new expertise, elevate the program, and help draw more entry-level coaches into the sport,” says Scriven.
But the most important, perhaps, is the relationships that are built, player by player, team by team, and season by season.
“We just want to continue to provide the resources to people who are passionate about coaching basketball in the community,” says Gray. “If we can do that, that is the best way to retain people in the sport. We want to upscale the people who are passionate, provide opportunities to them, and create a lasting relationship.”