DUBAI: When Mohanned Shobain fell in love with basketball at the age of 15, he had no idea it would become his full-time career. Nor could he have imagined that he would one day coach the next generation of Saudi stars and encourage young women to embrace what was until recently a male-dominated sport in the Kingdom.
Now, as Saudi Arabia hosts its first-ever women’s basketball tournament, Shobain is at the forefront of efforts to promote and grow the sport among the country’s women and give back to homegrown talent chance to shine on the international stage.
A Saudi Premier League champion, he opened his first Swish Basketball Academy in Jeddah in 2017. It was followed by four others in the city and one in Riyadh.
His leading role in developing the sport of basketball in the Kingdom, particularly among women, is a sequel to work he began as a student, when he wrote a thesis addressing gender inequalities in sport. He said that when he returned home to the Kingdom after completing his studies, it was a major motivation for him to improve the sports environment for both genders.
To that end, Shobain took a girls’ team to Romania to compete in a three-way World Cup qualifying tournament in 2019, and a boys’ team to compete in Dubai in 2018. Last year, the club helped to host the Saudi Kingdom Cup in Jeddah. This summer, he will take a team of girls to Europe to participate in a basketball camp and develop their skills.
In the meantime, the Swish Basketball Academy is one of the organizers of the All-Women Saudi Basketball Tournament, the first event of its kind for women in the country, which started on January 22 and will run until March 3, with matches. in Jeddah and Riyadh.
“Just having this (women’s basketball) tournament and having this opportunity for them here is amazing,” Shobain said.
He added that community building is the main motivation for his work, with the aim of bringing local people and families together and encouraging them to become active and adopt a new way of life in a rapidly changing country.
Shobain, who is also a full-time physical education teacher at the American International School of Jeddah, has big plans to improve on that record by helping to nurture a new generation of male and female players.
At the heart of its philosophy is the desire to encourage the country’s youth to play sports. He said he sees great demand and hunger among local youth to take advantage of these opportunities.
He believes there is talent and potential in the Kingdom not only for sports to gain popularity as a pastime, but also for Saudi men and women to make their mark in international competitions and in international competitions. Olympic Games.
Shobain’s efforts to develop local basketball talent are already paying off; four players who train with him joined the Saudi national team and two women play for college teams while studying in the United States.
“The results are there,” he said. “All the (academy basketball) coaches are currently playing professionally and they’re teaching part-time, just to represent themselves and the academy in a great way, where they can be good role models.
“I feel like we built a great culture not only of basketball, but also of a lifestyle on how basketball players and athletes would live.”
Participants in the first Saudi women’s basketball tournament are enjoying the competition and the chance it has given them to gain experience and develop their skills.
Layane Chemaitily, who started performing at the age of 10 in Lebanon, said the opportunity to compete on such a stage, in a big arena, is a dream come true. She admitted she feels the pressure of competition, in part because at 17 she is the youngest player on her team and in the tournament.
“I was scared and had butterflies in my stomach, but I also wanted to compete and fight, and without my team around me cheering me on, we couldn’t have coped with the pressure of the competition,” she said.
“There’s a lot of adrenaline and pressure, but we were also very happy to represent Saudi Arabia as girls (from) different cities in the Kingdom. It was really fun and it helps you gain a lot of skills. experience.
Chemaitily added that she hopes the tournament will not only be a step for her personally towards a place in a professional team one day, but will also motivate other girls and young women in Saudi Arabia to pursue their dreams in fields of society that were once the exclusive domain of men.
“I can see gender barriers falling in the Kingdom, especially as previously male-dominated sports are starting to hold leagues and tournaments for women,” she said. “There’s a lot to come for us in the future.”
Shobain is certainly doing its part to increase and expand opportunities for women. In addition to its basketball activities, Swish also offers a training camp that includes fitness classes; scholarship opportunities; and community service activities such as helping to build and maintain basketball courts and providing sports equipment, shoes and basketballs to people who do not have the means. means.
“These community activities, as well as sport itself, are things that can develop (a child’s) character to become a better person and learn to give and not just take,” he said, referring to life skills acquired alongside sport. capacities.
Shobain, who is 31, remembers his first encounter with basketball as a child, when he came across a street court near his home while walking with his mother along the ledge. Soon after, he bought a ball and began to participate in pick-up games with other players.
“Day after day, I fell in love with it,” he says. “I started coming every day, then I started showing up twice a day, and more than twice a day. I was staying late at night just to practice and shoot, and that’s where that I realized my passion for it.
Shobain hopes to inspire others with the joy and excitement that came with his own discovery of the sport and his subsequent journey in the sport. An active teenager, he said he tried many sports, including football, swimming, athletics and martial arts before basketball became his full-time passion. His football skills had even earned him a youth spot with Saudi Arabia’s Al-Ahli team, but it was basketball that called him the strongest.
While a student in Malaysia, where he studied business, he played for the University of Kuala Lumpur basketball team. While honing his skills with them, he was spotted by a dean of Alfaisal University in Riyadh, who offered Shobain a full basketball scholarship to study there, play for the university’s team. and help develop its sports program.
“It took me a week to think about it, then I made my decision and felt more comfortable going home and continuing my undergraduate studies here,” he said.
After graduating, he explored a number of options to take his game to the next level and, with the help of a Saudi scholarship, traveled to the United States where he studied for a Masters in Sports Management at Cleveland State University in Ohio. This proved crucial in the development of his game.
“I worked with the NBA (the National Basketball Association) and (the NBA team) the Cleveland Cavaliers,” he said. “During my time there, I also helped work with the men’s and women’s teams, playing and coaching.”
As the sport began to gain popularity in the Kingdom, Shobain said he felt compelled to return home to build a career and give something back to his community, despite receiving an attractive job offer from the United States.
“I felt like the reason I went to study abroad was to bring it back to my community in Saudi Arabia,” he said.
“It was a big motivation for me to come back as soon as I was done, maybe not with 20 years of experience but at least with some knowledge that I can at least spread now and start something that could benefit the next generation or the current generation.
Shobain has high hopes for the sport in the Kingdom and believes his future looks bright, although he admitted change doesn’t happen overnight.
“Everything takes time,” he says. “I am very patient and I know our time will come and we hope to get there.
“There is great potential for young Saudis, who could even make it to the NBA – they just need the right facilities, equipment, atmosphere, environment and training.”