All of the things I learned in sport are still relevant to my everyday life today and that’s why I’m so passionate when it comes to sport for development.
Program Ambassador, Jr. NBA
The interview with Marlon Piedrahita was conducted via a typed conversation. Editing changes were made to make it easier to read while maintaining the voice of the interview.
Tell us about your role as a Program Ambassador for the Jr. NBA. What does a typical day look like for you?
I have been working as a Program Ambassador within NBA Canada/Canada Basketball for 3 years now and it’s truly been such an awesome experience. My job ultimately entails identifying and recruiting clubs/organizations for the program and telling them why Jr. NBA is a benefit for their organization.
I get to meet a lot of sport development individuals across Ontario looking to enhance the basketball experience in their community. There is a lot of relationship building, research and numerous interactions.
I am one of two Jr. NBA Ambassadors in Ontario and we answer all questions/inquiries about the program from families and organizations in the province. High-volume of calls and emails begin during the start of the winter, fall, spring and summer seasons as organizations prepare for their seasons.
Part of my role is being a Learning Facilitator for the NCCP Fundamentals Community Coach workshop in order to train Jr. NBA coaches. The course includes explanations of child-centred coaching, ethical decision making, modified games approach, Long Term Athlete Development Model, safety, age-appropriate practice planning and skill development.
This year, we were able to attract over 7,000 youth across 80 clubs in Ontario over the course of this year!
Do you believe sport is a tool for development? How have you seen this be utilized during your career and how can other organizations implement this into their practices?
Without a doubt.
The question I always ask my coaches is: Why did you participate in sport?
Everyone may have different reasons. Reasons range from wanting to have fun, to be with friends, to learn new skills, to be active, to interact/meet new people.
For most children, being active and being with their friends means having fun. If you were to ask a child that question, the majority of the time they’ll say “it’s fun”.
When children are involved in sports, they learn things they would not learn anywhere else. We all know the important lessons that can be gained through participation in sports: building confidence, perseverance, goal-setting, teamwork, responsibility, and dedication.
I know for me, it helped me understand responsibility, punctuality, interacting with my teammates, interacting with coaches.
All of the things I learned in sport are still relevant to my everyday life today and that’s why I’m so passionate when it comes to sport for development. I’ve had the opportunity to be involved with many organizations who have trusted me in putting this into practice, specifically with Ontario Basketball and Jays Care, and I have seen the joy and the impact that sport can have on a child. It provides kids with an opportunity to just laugh and engage with other youth.
What are some tools that you use to identify and develop new partnership opportunities for the program?
I wouldn’t say I use specific tools, however, it does come down to research. Researching is huge in terms of identifying clubs/organizations/locations that we’d like to tap into.
Everyone knows that basketball is growing here in Canada and it is just as important for us to look for organizations outside of the basketball community than to stay within. That means instead of keeping our focus on basketball-specific clubs, we asked the question: what other streams can we tap into? What other organizations are out there that don’t necessarily only tap into basketball?
We do our best in trying to identify those clubs to then take a deeper dive into that organization and create a list as to why their organization would benefit from Jr. NBA.
The way we approach our conversations is by listening to our leads explain what their organization stands for and what they are looking to achieve. From there, we then let them know how the Jr. NBA Program benefits their organization. It’s important to be prepared before going into your meetings and that’s all done through research!
One of the goals in your role is to engage students, encouraging an interest in basketball. What strategies do you use to ensure Canadian youth are getting and staying involved with the sport?
Our goal is ultimately to get as many kids as possible playing the game in our province. As you know, the Jr. NBA is a turnkey program, providing hosts/organizations with a full curriculum, participant materials and coach training required to deliver the program.
A big part for the success of this program falls on the coaches that each organization chooses to run it! I think with anything, coaches are integral to the success with anything and we really stress that in our NCCP FUNdamentals Community Coach Course.
Children in this program are unknowingly dependant on coaches to build and maintain a positive sports environment. They will continue to have fun if their leadership is directed at valuing each of them. Coaches in our program are facilitating to kids during a very important time in their lives and they have the opportunity to make a great impact so that they can continue playing and having fun!
Understand the context in which you are coaching by knowing who you are coaching and why they are participating. Once you understand your group and their motivation, that will be your first step in becoming an excellent coach and it brings success to your program. In some cases, this will be the first time some of the kids in our program have a coach, therefore it is the Coach’s job to make it a memorable experience for them in order to come back and continue!
How do you evaluate the success of a program? What have you done to ensure each club benefits from the partnership?
We measure the program based on various factors; the number of kids who participate each year; the number of coaches trained, how involved each organization is, whether organizations are running a program each season and whether their class numbers growing. We always look to continue to improve the Jr. NBA Program and we always take the opportunity to solicit feedback from our coordinators across the province.
As I’ve mentioned previously, they have a big part in the success of this program and it is key to get as much information as possible from them so that we can improve on the in’s and out’s of the program.
The importance of our relationships with our clubs is an integral part of our job. We must show a great aptitude in understanding the needs of our clients and communicate effectively with them on an on-going basis, providing timely support and great customer service. Each organization is unique in their own so it’s important for us to listen, show care, create trust and rapport.
What is the most impactful situation that you have had in your role to really make a difference to others?
There have been many memorable situations and events that really stand out to me where it has allowed me to take a step back and tell myself that “I’m making a difference”.
Throughout my time here, I have lead numerous events running programming across the province and the best feeling is the feeling when the athletes that I’ve had the chance to run community programming for, recognize me out in public and greet me. That shows that I was able to create a positive experience and memory and that is what it’s all about; creating those memories for them to want to continue sport for life!
I put a lot of pride in what I do and make sure I lead by example. If an organization has invited me out to their Jr. NBA session or an event, I’ll make sure to be all in!
What advice can you offer young sports professionals who are interested in a similar position?
I remember when I was in school, I kept telling myself, “this is going to be tough to break in”. I would always hear from professors and guest speakers about how important it is to network and make connections and I would hate it because I was never that type of person in school. I was very closed and didn’t like talking to people. It was hard for me and it was a skill I did not have.
I know it’s so cliché and young professionals have heard it many times, but it is so important to network and put yourself out there. It took me a while to comprehend that, but I did it. I had to be comfortable at being uncomfortable; that’s the only way I learned. And when I had those internships or opportunities, I worked hard and tried to learn as much as I could.
The sports industry is a grind but you must make sure to always put your best foot forward, be recognized, and make yourself memorable. Be prepared when you have that coffee chat with a professional in the industry. Be curious and be ready to sacrifice! You attract good if you are an overall good person.
I did 5 unpaid internships before landing my first job and it was hard. It definitely wasn’t easy, but in each of those experiences, there were different key learnings that I took from them.
I sit here today and I would have never imagined to associate myself with the people and companies that I’ve worked with. It is still surreal to me, but I am so grateful. Never give up because your turn will come soon if you really want it.
Hayley's Final Thoughts
If there’s one thing Marlon’s passionate about, it’s sport for development! Throughout his sports career, Marlon has worked in various jobs that promote sports and recreation to children. Sport can have an enormous impact on a child and Marlon is more than happy to introduce them to their first interaction with sports. We want future generations to grow up happy and healthy, and sport has the power to do it. With Marlon’s help, kids across Ontario are being introduced to basketball — this not only develops young athletes but also promotes the growth of basketball in Canada. Thanks to Marlon and programs like the Jr. NBA, basketball is on the rise!