Through thorns to sport. How basketball changed the life values of orphans

LADA Charitable Foundation won the "Stronger with CSS. Sport for Development" Competition with the Cheburiada 3*3 project. We spoke to Natalia Samoilovskaya, the project's volunteer coordinator, and Inna Solyanova, the responsible volunteer, nine months later. The organizers shared the project's implementation, accomplishments, and future plans.

The project is designed to popularize basketball in eight children’s institutions by organizing regular training, friendly basketball matches between the children under care at those institutions, and having the children meet professional athletes.

The project’s goal is to encourage the children to take part in sports, acquire athletic skills, and adopt a healthy lifestyle.
The main beneficiaries of the project are 66 teenagers residing in regional institutions.

Everybody is into football, so let’s try something different

The volunteer program that gave rise to the LADA Foundation began in 2003. Volunteers regularly visited children’s institutions and interacted with the children, and soon many of them became very interested in sport.

The people who subsequently became the Foundation’s organizers quickly recognized that football was the team sport most available at children’s institutions. The boys already knew the rules, the gymnasiums had suitable equipment, and most of the institutions had football pitches on their grounds.

That lack of alternatives is not conducive to broad self-development. It often interferes with discerning the children’s real preferences while restricting personal growth and occupational choices. And the prevalence of football almost entirely excluded girls from team sport.

That was when Yulia Sokoreva, who subsequently became director of the LADA Foundation, began to dream of showing the children that there are many excellent kinds of sport and of giving boys and girls a chance to choose among them, try out several and see themselves in different activities.

Faster, higher, stronger

The Cheburiada is a major festival of sport for students who are under institutional care and one of the earliest important projects that the LADA Foundation undertook soon after it was officially registered in 2013. At first it included various kinds of sport. However, when the Foundation went into partnership with the Russian Basketball Federation the leading sport became clear. The Cheburiada turned to creating, developing and supporting basketball master classes, training and competitions at eight children’s institutions in the Russian Federation.

Inna Solyanova explained the virtues of the game this way: “Basketball is a wonderful sport. First, the teams are small enough that every player is noticed and appreciated. Children can show some individuality, and that is very important for those who are growing up in collective institutions. Second, basketball, like any sport, teaches sportsmanship and reaching victory not through aggression and foul play but by improving one’s skills, persevering and growing personally. Third, basketball requires a good deal of practicing defense. The confidence that comes from knowing you can defend yourself is essential for today’s teenagers, in and outside the gym.”

Making sport an aspiration

Eight children’s institutions in Vladimir, Ryazan, Nizhny Novgorod and Moscow regions were selected to participate in Cheburiada 3x3, a project implemented in 2022 with financial support from CSS. The chief qualification for an institution to be included was a cohort of students in their early teens and an administration willing to make a commitment to promote sport for them.

“Choosing the right institutions is important, but it is not the only consideration. When project director Yulia Sokoreva began visiting the children’s institutions, she found that sixty per cent of them had serious problems with infrastructure that would hinder implementation of the project. Some had no physical education instructor. In those cases, we worked with them and also with the Russian Basketball Federation to find suitable personnel. Others lacked a gymnasium or the kind they had was not suited to basketball. We then sought out sport academies near the children’s institutions, arranged for trainings in their facilities and facilitated the students’ travel to them. Not all of the instructors were familiar with the intricacies of basketball. With input from the Russian Basketball Federation, we helped those instructors learn the necessary new training techniques. Some schools needed to replace the basketball backboards or repair the hoops, and we took care of it. Of course, we provided new basketballs to all of them,” Natalia recounted.

Relying on instructors

The project’s principal beneficiaries were, of course, the teenagers, but it also helped the physical education instructors.

Cheburiada arranged regular matches with other teams nearby and informal matches with volunteers as well as visits from fellow athletes and socializing with them. The result was that instructors at most of the children’s institutions came away with renewed commitment and motivation. Even if an instructor was skeptical at first, they would be completely on board when it was time to prepare for competitions and go to the final game,” Natalia commented.

Cheburiada in many respects helped to engage the teachers. Ordinary physical education lessons became central events in the life of the institutions.

An example of something better

In order to reach the project’s main goal – showing children how fulfilling a life that includes sport can be – the LADA Foundation team invited award-winning athletes to the children’s institutions. There they conducted master classes for the young people, talked about their professional activities, lifestyle and priorities.

“These encounters were extremely valuable for those living in orphanages because their understanding of the adult world and of future occupations and opportunities had been severely limited. It is extremely important for them to make contact with successful, goal-oriented people,” Inna says.

Regular training, friendly matches, discussions with professional athletes, taking part in a huge and uplifting festival – all these aspects came together to bring the organizers nearer to their intended goal.

IV Nationwide Russian Cheburiada

The fourth annual Nationwide Russian Basketball Cheburiada 3x3 took place on 15 January 2022 at the Khimki Basketball Center just outside Moscow. It was the fitting culmination of a five-month program. Sixty-six teenage basketball players competed while about 150 fans from eight children’s institutions looked on.

Taking part in this project set in motion an ongoing process that engaged teenagers from these institutions in sport in order to strengthen them physically, have them understand important priorities and motivate them to achieve new goals. All the participating institutions received materials that will enable them to continue providing basketball for their teenagers.

Systemic changes due to a CSS grant

When the LADA Foundation won the CSS grant competition, it was the Foundation’s first time working with a grantmaker.

“We would like to thank CSS for their commitment to partnership and their guidance. Their managers always helped us with reporting. After winning the CSS competition, we began to enter other competitions for funding. We have already received several grants as we become more sustainable and experienced.”

Cheburiada 3x3 now continues without CSS support. Basketball lessons are an ongoing part of instruction at the children’s institutions, and more and more young people choose to integrate sport into their lives.