Profile of a an up and comer Emma Burke

Winning basketball games isn’t the be all and end all for Mid West Academy of Sport (MWAS) scholarship holder Emma Burke – the thing that keeps her going is that she still enjoys playing, even when her team loses. And yet it doesn’t take long to identify her proudest achievement so far as “winning against metro at Nationals last year”.

 Emma explained that Basketball WA (BWA) sends two teams to each junior competition – metro and country. “Before you go away you get three scratch match games between the teams, and last year we lost all three by at least 20 points. At the Nationals we were in different pools, but met in the crossover, and in that game we beat them by 6 points.”

 For this down-to-earth country girl originally from Derby, now relocated with her family to a rural property near Dongara, there’s been little time to stop and reflect on her success to date. Emma’s life is extremely busy with balancing school, multiple sports (basketball, water polo, netball and surf life saving), basketball training and state trials, and travel to and from all these commitments.

Photo: Derby days with an interesting training partner; and great recovery methods!

 It seems that’s the way she likes it best though, with the fast pace of basketball being the aspect that makes it Emma’s favoured sport.

 “In basketball, you’re always on the move, there’s always something to do, so it doesn’t get boring.”

 As a result, you’ll often find Emma with a basketball in hand: whether training or playing in both junior and senior competitions in Geraldton, participating in BWAs State Performance Program (SPP), representing WA at the National Championships, or practising at home using the ring and backboard set up under the shade of the verandah.

 Emma went through the selection process and made the WA under 18s team for the Nationals held in April 2016. The process included sets of trials, shortlisting, a training camp in Mandurah and trips to Perth every second weekend.

 Previous trips away with the state teams have been great learning opportunities for Emma – not just in basketball skills, but in life skills as well. When on tour with the team under the auspices and guardianship of BWA, the players’ families have no role and limited contact, so becoming more independent is a necessity. Only 12 years old when she first went away with the under-14s team, Emma had to learn quickly to cope without her usual support network.

 Another valuable quality that Emma has developed is perseverance. Whether it’s about not getting the ball, losing games, or not getting on the court, the commitment to “just keep going, don’t give up” is one that is continually instilled in all the team.

 “At the 2015 Nationals, we were playing off for last and second last, and when we played metro teams we knew we’d struggle; but every game the whole team still came out and gave it our all.”

 Having been appointed vice-captain twice, Emma’s leadership and teamwork experience is spilling over into the school environment also: in 2015, she was chosen from among her year 10 peers at school to receive the Australian Defence Force’s Long Tan Leadership & Teamwork Award.

 Learning to mix, live and work with a group of strangers, who become team mates who then become new friends, has also been vital. With many familiar faces progressing through the junior levels alongside Emma, she enjoys the opportunity to compete with them each year. “It’s like spending a week away with friends.”

 Emma says there are both challenges and advantages to being based in the country whilst pursuing an elite sports pathway. Travel is by far the most challenging aspect, with not only regular trips to Perth for BWA commitments throughout the summer season, but also up to six 120km round trips a week from the family home to school, sports and training in Geraldton. To make the most of her time on all these journeys, Emma has become adept at doing homework on the go, and also at grabbing precious hours of sleep when needed.

 Late nights after training or games in Geraldton during basketball season are common, with a shortage of covered courts creating some unfriendly timetables.

 However, Emma takes this in her stride, with the support of her family, and instead is quick to acknowledge the advantages of being in the country. These include the opportunity to play in a senior team as well as juniors, a great sense of community and being surrounded by helpful people, and her scholarship program with the Mid West Academy of Sport. Having been part of the development program through BWA for three years now, and an Academy scholarship holder for the past two of those, she is able to clearly see the difference MWAS makes.

 “Before I was in the Academy, Basketball WA used to send me strength and conditioning info but without the gym, and someone to help - which all the metro kids were able to access if they were in the development program - with just a picture and a bit of paper, it was really hard.”

 Now Emma attends twice weekly strength and conditioning sessions through MWAS, with tailored programs and one on one support helping both her physical development and improvement, and injury management. On top of that there are targeted skills development sessions with local basketball coaches to help with agility, foot work speed and reaction times; plus nutrition guidance that makes her think more critically about what she eats, and group and individual sports psychology sessions.

2016 Highlight - Emma meets MWAS Athlete of the Year sponsor, Geelong defender Harry Taylor at the Cattery

 Together, it’s a package that is credited with giving Emma the ideal help in progressing along the elite pathway. Whilst acknowledging that in the future, reaching towards the next level will require a move to Perth in order to access more elite game practice opportunity and exposure to state basketball league women’s teams, Emma’s Mum Liz reports some reassuring advice that for now, Emma couldn’t be in a better position.

 “BWA’s High Performance Manager Brett Coxsedge says that at this stage of her development, Emma has more opportunity, and that through the MWAS program she is better catered for in terms of her individual development needs and one on one support here than if she lived in the metro area” said Liz.

 In the meantime, Emma is mapping out a series of basketball goals as she works through year 11 at high school and work towards university entrance. After representing WA country in the Under 18s National Championships in 2016 the goal is to repeat in 2017, another year with the State Performance Program and the Academy, and by the time she finishes high school she’ll be working to secure a place in the state under 20s - at which point there ceases to be two sides and she has to fight it out against players from the metro area for the right to represent WA.

 There are bound to be some challenges along the way, but with her positive approach, self-motivation to achieve her best and the fantastic support network behind her of family, the MWAS and local community, Emma Burke is sure to remain a name to watch for many years to come.