Some of the strong selling points for playing with PeacePlayers International is that a PeacePlayer learns to think outside the box, meet and befriend players from different and traditionally averse communities, and develop greater social skills and awareness. But on top of all these important experiences, PPI is a good place to learn the game of basketball and meet top-notch basketball figures from abroad. Thanks to the America House Life Skills Event Series, generously supported by the United States Consulate in Jerusalem, our young PeacePlayers have the opportunity to do just that.
For example, last week PPI – ME hosted coach Robert Jurkovic – a renowned junior basketball coach from Croatia – for a weeklong series of basketball clinics and conflict resolution workshops. His visit was part of a cultural exchange between regions that have experienced conflict and the role basketball can take in improving the lives and life-skills of youth in these regions. Robert (aka Bo Bo) is no stranger to working in foreign, and even conflict-ridden environments. He has worked in places like Israel and Italy, before returning to his home country of Croatia. Until a couple of years ago he coached the Croatian boys cadets national team, and today he runs the boys and men section of the Rijeka basketball club in Croatia. He helped cultivate many basketball players who went on to illustrious athletic careers.
Robert, who is a long-time professional colleague of PPI – ME Director of Basketball Operations Vito Gilic, came to Israel to lead a series of PPI – ME activities and to meet the girls and boys who play and learn with PPI – ME. Robert led practices for teams of all ages. He came to Keshet School in West Jerusalem and ran two practices with Jewish boys and girls from grades 1 – 4. A day later, he visited Ein Raffa – an Arab community near Jerusalem – where he led practice for our grade 1- 2 teams. He said it was a refreshing experience, as he hadn’t worked with young children for such a long time. Robert also got a chance to work with PPI – ME’s older players. He led our weekly LDP practice, challenging the players with drills that develop physical skills and quick thinking.
He also led a workshop with a group of female PeacePlayers at the America House facility. He spoke to them about basketball, life in a conflict zone (for them the Middle East and for him the wars in the Balkans). Then, he showed them the movie “Once Brothers” about the falling out between former best friends and basketball players Drazen Petrovic and Vlade Divac. Robert noted that this story, as well as basketball in general, can contribute to understanding the “other” and ourselves, beyond political masks or stereotypes.
It was a busy week for Coach Robert; but it was no doubt just as satisfying. The lessons he taught the children and youth of PPI – ME – both on and off the court – will not be soon forgotten, and they are bound to help the young PeacePlayers learn not only the importance of practicing their dribble and lay up, but also how peace and understanding can find room in their lives through basketball.