Credit: Elio Castoria, FIBA

Basketball’s world governing body, FIBA, has partnered with TASS to offer current and former professionals a unique opportunity to look at a career beyond the court.

Stef Collins has been there, done that and got the T-shirt. And she can pair that T-shirt with more than 130 Great Britain caps following a stellar basketball career that has taken in the London 2012 Olympics and numerous domestic finals with Cardiff Met Archers.

Now player-coach with the top-flight Welsh club, the 34-year-old has one eye on the future – a future that suddenly seems far less uncertain thanks to a new initiative aimed at preparing players for life after basketball.

“One of the biggest challenges basketball players face is adapting to a life that doesn’t create the same buzz, adrenaline rush and competitive challenge of playing in games,” said Collins.

“A rigorous routine and methodology have been ingrained in basketball players from an early age and that can make things very challenging as they try to explore a different outlet.

“For many players who go straight into the workplace the daily Monday-Friday schedule can be daunting in terms of working normal office hours.

“However, most basketball players who have succeeded at an elite level are already well equipped with the mental skills needed to cope with demands placed on them. And they have developed basic life skills in the team environment.

“The real challenge is away from the court in building that knowledge and understanding of how to put that into practice and shift their focus.”

That’s where the Certificate in Talented Athlete Lifestyle Support (TALS) comes in. The qualification is being offered to former – and soon-to-be-retired – professional basketball players by TASS and the European arm of the sport’s world governing body, FIBA.

Its aim is twofold – to retain the expertise and skills of elite players and train those players to use that experience to advise and inspire the next generation of hoops heroes.

TASS is building a global reputation as a provider of dual career support. It already supports more than 400 UK-based athletes in full-time education and FIBA spotted an opportunity to work alongside the organisation in order to deliver a groundbreaking programme to a group of international stars.

Kamil Novak, the FIBA Executive Director Europe and former Czech international star, echoed Collins’ sentiments. He said: “Planning a career following retirement as a professional athlete can be a daunting prospect across most sports. Basketball is no exception and we are delighted to have found the right partner to offer this exciting initiative.”

Collins joined fellow London Olympian Andrew Sullivan and more than 40 professional basketball players in Prague earlier this summer as the TALS programme got underway.

The star-studded group moved on to Newcastle’s Northumbria University a week later for another round of presentations and seminars and will reconvene in Slovenia and Hungary next summer to complete the practical elements of a wide-reaching course.

“The TALS programme gives us, as players, opportunities off the court that we maybe hadn’t considered before,” said Sullivan, who announced his retirement from Leicester Riders earlier this summer after leading the East Midlanders a domestic treble.

“It’s a bit different for British players but I would imagine that if you came through the system in a top European country – and you’ve been playing at a high level for many years – in some instances you may have finished your education at high school.

“TALS gives players the chance to get back into education and realise their academic potential through the sport they love. There are athletes involved who have been to high school and benefitted from a great university education in the States and – they are the ones who may be looking at a Masters and beyond.”

Players working towards their TALS certificate are expected to complete eight assignments during a two-year period. A combination of written and practical tasks will ready those involved for a career working with young athletes and, it is hoped, convince fellow professionals that it is possible to use the sport they love as the foundation for a career beyond the court.

Credit: Elio Castoria, FIBA

“When we delivered the first session in Prague, the knowledge and expertise in the room was unbelievable,” said Jack Grundy, TASS National Lead for Athlete Support and Education.

“There were NBA champions and Olympic captains with players from across the world. They looked at what we were saying in the context of internal politics within their country and a unique sporting landscape. That in itself was fascinating. The role of an athlete mentor doesn’t exist in many countries – for some of the guys the idea itself was a whole new ballgame.

“The importance of the role came up. Many of the players stressed how useful TALS would have been to them midway through their career – the skills they are learning now could have been invaluable to them prior to retirement in terms of laying a foundation for a career after basketball. Many of them admitted that they would have liked to have worked on a Plan B much earlier.”

Belgian Anne Wauters, who plays for Los Angeles Sparks in the WNBA, is one of the many European players encouraged by FIBA to embrace TALS. She said: “I am in the autumn of my playing career and am preparing a new chapter of my professional career.

“It is hard to let go of something you have been doing pretty much your whole life and you are so passionate about. This new project gives me the opportunity to stay involved in sports in a different role and try to make – particularly women’s – basketball more professional.”

It is hoped a second group of basketball players will enrol on the TALS course in 2018 with interest in the scheme soaring. Guy Taylor, TASS National Director, said: “We are excited about our partnership with FIBA and the support we are offering more than 40 world class athletes as they look towards their future careers.

“Our TALS course will provide the athletes with the necessary skills they will need to guide future stars across the world and ensure they can make the most of the opportunities available to them.”