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Nurrunga Chats to Basketball Coach, Mr Matthew Johnston

Mr Matthew Johnston in the Brother Lacey Gymnasium

Mr Matthew Johnston in the Brother Lacey Gymnasium

Our highly credentialled and respected Basketball coach Mr Johnston is enjoying his sixth year at Waverley. With 56 Basketball teams in our College, we’re fortunate to have a coach on staff with Mr Johnston’s depth of experience. This week he took time out from his schedule to share his life experiences with Nurrunga.

Mr Johnston, can you talk about what initially drew you to work with students at Waverley, both in the Junior School classroom and also on the court?

“Since arriving, I believe the kids have shown to be; driven, loyal, and down to earth. They’re difficult at times (like all kids), however, when under pressure they generally have the fortitude to get themself together and tough things out – which is what I love about them.

I’ve been in various roles now in the College – I started in a Learning Support role in the Senior School, then was a classroom teacher in the Junior School, and now I’m a PE teacher in the Junior School and a coach in both campuses. Inevitably, it comes back to enjoying the people that I work with and the kids that I teach and coach.”

1st Basketball v Knox

Are you surprised by the popularity of Basketball at Waverley? Would you say that it’s also the most popular summer sport, in terms of participation, in private schools?

 “I am not surprised per se, basketball has been named NSW’s number one school sport this year, and is rising globally. It has much to do with the NBA’s advertising schemes and the accessibility of different leagues’ streaming platforms. The game itself is exciting, fun, entertaining and regardless of one’s talent, anyone can have fun playing it.

Unfortunately we as a state have not kept up with demand, in terms of facilities. This is the challenge for us here at Waverley – to continue to provide basketball to those students who want it, but doing so whilst giving all students adequate training environments that promote physical activity, personal development and basketball development.”

1st Basketball v Knox

You’ve coached state and representative Basketball teams in New South Wales and Queensland and you’re the current coach of the Sydney University Men’s team – what are your most vivid memories from these coaching experiences?

“My memories are always camaraderie based. Whether it’s a player of whom I got along with, a coaching staff that I worked really well with, or a team which put their egos aside and played for each other. Any significant memory is based on camaraderie. I’ve had really successful campaigns and some not so successful campaigns, and my memories are never based on the result, but based on what camaraderie that team and the players had.

This is a big thing that I am trying to impress upon our players here. Coaches don’t call you to ask how a player dribbles, or shoots or defends. They ask what type of person they are. Do they get along with teammates? Do they come to do extras? Do they present as a coachable player and person? I think young kids (and coaches to a certain extent) striving for bigger things forget that – and can often neglect that part of team sport.

My fondest moments now are when I walk into a stadium across the country and somebody comes up to me and says “hello.” They now may be playing professionally, just for fun or not at all, however, they aren’t talking to me because of what I taught them back when, they’re coming over because we obviously shared good camaraderie whilst our paths were interlocked.”

1st Basketball v Aloysius'

You’ve also worked for Basketball Australia on their development camps, and been a development coach for an NBL team. Can you share your learnings from these developmental experiences?

“I learnt that if you want to be a professional, you have to treat your body like an asset. Development is stunted when you’re injured and you’re losing time to your opponents. That means eating, hydrating, sleeping, and doing pre-habilitation workouts. Any player who spends a long time in a professional setting is doing these things.

Being good at something is also reasonably arduous. I walked into Townsville and Australian Development Camps thinking that I was going to see a bunch of revolutionary content, but really, it was just the same stuff done with a higher level of commitment, focus and intensity. Another thing that kids everywhere just don’t want to recognise!”

1st Basketball v Barker

Which basketballers have most inspired you?

“I am always interested in the stories of coaches that seem to come from similar foundations as me. There are a lot of coaches who start as a teacher, before making the move into higher levels of basketball. Following along with their stories and successes helps me to maintain my persistence, should I ever want to move into another career.

In the meantime, I attempt to not remove my purpose in what I do each day here at Waverley – drive all players to be independent, good communicators and respectful and hard working people.”

1st Basketball v Cranbrook

Your daughter was born around two years ago and your second daughter was born in February. Has being a father changed you?

“It’s changed a lot of things. I don’t know if it is anything that I can put my finger on, but I know I am dealing with things differently. Perspectively, I have different feelings and reactions to situations. I find myself adjusting my priorities and balancing my work, family and hobbies differently.

I aim to teach my daughters to be the same person I ask my students and players to be. Right now, it involves repeating the phrase, “Can I please have…” many times over the course of the day with my two year old. Presumably, the task will become more and more intricate with its own challenges as they continue to grow up.”

1st Basketball v Cranbrook

What do you do to unwind? Do you turn to sport?

I love camping. I have always loved it, but since having my family, my love has grown even more. Living in the moment, spending quality time with those you love. My eldest daughter’s growth as a person is more noticeable during a week of camping than when she is in regular day-to-day life. I get a really big kick out of that.

But I do love watching basketball. College basketball and Euro League basketball mainly. I will also support the San Antonio Spurs when they’re playing the way Coach Pop likes them playing.”

1st Basketball v Aloysius'

Final thoughts?

“In terms of my vision and purpose, Basketball has always been a vehicle for me to build values and build strength of character – the things that set people up for success in life. My hope is that these basketballers will be successful beyond school and go on to bigger and better things – and these things may not necessarily be basketball. There’s no short cuts, no quick solutions, it’s all about developing foundations.

My partnership with Convenor Anthony Gibbs has developed through Basketball and we hold similar values about what school and Basketball should be. He loves the game. His administrative and organisational strengths and my strengths in skill development are magic in combination, and we evolve our processes each year because we want Basketball to keep getting better for our players.”