‘We went to a Mexican restaurant and the meal sizes were three times the size of ones back home’: moving abroad to play sport at a young age

BY ERIC LANJE AND DOM BLEAKLEY

There are not many people willing to pack their bags and move abroad alone at a young age. Overtime spoke to two basketball players who did exactly that in search of better opportunities.


Simon Birgander, 22, is from Sweden where basketball is almost non-existent. He moved to Spain where he now plays in the top division of basketball, the Liga ACB

Overtime (OT): You moved to Spain at a young age, how was the feeling before you left?

Simon Birgander (SB): The feeling before was very special. I was very nervous before moving without friends, family and everything. But it was also a feeling of having a big opportunity to succeed and doing what you love for living, if you do it well. In the worst case scenario, there was always the option to move home in case it didn’t work and if it went well, the journey just continued.

OT: Your first club in Spain was CB Clavijo and now you play for Club Joventut Badalona. How has your experience of the move been?

SB: The move was quite special, because CB Clavijo is in a town called Logrono that is very small. The club isn’t big either and they don’t play in the first league. Badalona isn’t a big city but is very close to Barcelona. So you travel in there a lot and the league is much harder, it’s the highest league, much more money, many more fans, much more everything and harder pressure.

OT: What did you think was going to be the most challenging aspect before you left?

SB: I believed it would be the loneliness. You were supposed to befriend new people that didn’t speak your language, I had to speak English all the time or sometimes Spanish. Now, I can speak Spanish fluently but in the beginning I couldn’t.

There weren’t many in Logrono that could speak English unfortunately, as it is a small town. But I met a guy that had very good English, so it became that I hung out a lot with him so that I wouldn’t feel the loneliness. He and his family took care of me.

OT: What do you believe most youngsters suffer the most from when being alone abroad?

SB: I think that many suffer from the loneliness and when something bad happens they give up and think that everything is going to go downwards, instead of keep fighting and trying to make the best out of the situation.

Of course, it will always go up and down in hills and tops. But, ultimately, the most important thing is always to look forward and you can’t do anything more than that.

OT: Have you ever felt that there are traps out there? That people want to take advantage of you?

SB: There are of course people that want to take advantage of you. But I haven’t felt it that much, but I know others that have felt it. I stick a lot to the circle of people that I have confidence in and that I can speak to. I don’t spend time with people who only view me as a person who only plays basketball. I want them to see me as the person that I am and not solely a basketball player.

OT: Unfortunately last season ended with a knee injury for you. How do you deal with severe injuries mentally as a young player?

SB: It takes a lot mentally. But luckily I injured my knee and in the same summer the club wanted to re-sign me. So I didn’t have the pressure to recover as soon as possible. But you have to think it is better to get the injury now rather then at 36, which then can be career ending. Now it’s all about working past this and let time take it’s time and come back stronger.


Mollie Taylor is 21 but at the age of 15, with funding for basketball in England minimal, she moved to the United States of America in search of better opportunities

OT: How old were you when you moved to the USA?

Molly Taylor (MT): I was 15 when I first moved over here. My coach at the time put the idea across to me and my family [to move to USA] after I made the England U16 team.

OT: Do you think the level of development in America allows you to go over there and play to a higher standard at 15 than if you were to develop over here?

MT: Yes, definitely. Because at that time I had made the national team and all of the development teams in England at that point was the highest point you could get to at that age. Whereas, in America, they have so many different levels to play at and there’s obviously a lot more players that play the game of basketball, so you just find a lot more competition.

OT: Which college/university first recruited you, and have you transferred throughout your time over there?

MT: I was recruited to come to Loyola which is where I’m at now. I know a lot of people that have come from England to play, and the majority of people that I know transfer after a year or two because they are unhappy with the situation as not many people can come out and visit the campus.

It may be that the academics are too vigorous or the school environment is too rural or too busy. A lot of people don’t know what they’re getting themselves into when they come.

OT: Were there any clear differences/adaptations you remember when you initially moved, whether it be in basketball or general living?

MT: Sometimes people would make fun of my accent and [perceived] British things I would do. I’d never been to America before moving to high school at 15 so it was all very new. But my first memory which is really vivid was when my high school coach picked me up in his car and we were driving on the highway and I noticed everything was so much bigger, the cars were bigger, the roads were bigger.

We went to a Mexican restaurant and the meal sizes were three times the size of ones back home. It was very overwhelming but it was also exciting that everything was new. I feel like there are so many differences, even the things we say and phrases we use are completely different. In my first few years I’d always get mocked for saying jumper and trousers and things like that.

OT: You’ve represented GB/England at different age groups throughout your career, were there any clear differences you noticed between the coaches within GB/England set-ups to your coaches in America?

MT: The biggest difference is that at Loyola, or at any college, the coaches have to take into account everyone on the team and all their needs more so than when you’re playing at the national level as when you’re playing at national level it’s typically for a shorter amount of time.

It’d just be over one summer or a few training camps here and there, but because the funding we have in England is so poor, it meant we couldn’t train together for very long before the European championships. That meant that the coaches were coaching you based on your ability and not so much on you as a person.

Whereas, in a college setting over here, you’re with the team a lot of the time so who you are as a person needs to be taken into account much more than it did when you’re only with a team for one summer. The coaching staff know so much more about you, it’s a much more personal experience than playing for the national team.

OT: So you’d say the coaches take care of you more over in America?

MT: Yeah, I feel like they have to. For example, if someone was overwhelmed with school work and they’ve not slept enough, the coaches are going to notice that in how you’re playing.

There’s so many resources available to help that person with that issue, it’s basically all these different people working together to help one individual. Whereas, in England, it’s ‘you’re a player’, ‘you’re a coach’, the coach coaches the player and that’s about it. After it’s said and done, no one really speaks again.

OT: Were the majority of your teammates American?

MT: The majority were from America. I was the only Brit and there was another girl from Portugal. She and I were the only internationals. We had lots of people from different religious and socio-economic backgrounds that meant that our team was very diverse and there were lots of different opinions and backgrounds. It made things fun and interesting.

OT: From your subjective experiences and the people you know, do you think there can be or will be anything done to improve the level of development of basketball within England?

MT: I think that we’ve struggled in the past because we haven’t necessarily had successful players come out of the England pathway. But, in recent years, we’ve had players playing at the highest level in America and at prestigious universities.

Also, with the GB women’s team doing so well at the Commonwealth Games we’re proving slowly that we should be more eligible for funding and more money put into programs especially since there’s so many young people that are interested in the game.

I think it’s really a matter of time before the government and people who are providing different sports with money can recognise that it’s an area for development and it’s a game which is worth investing in. I guess it’s only a matter of time but it’s taking a lot longer than it should be taking.

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