Sport is more than a game at White Buffalo
Michael Linklater shares the benefits of playing basketball with inner city youth
While the final score may not always be in their favour, everyone is a winner on the basketball court Tuesday nights at White Buffalo Youth Lodge in Saskatoon.
White Buffalo's basketball program, co-ordinated by Michael Linklater, attracts up to 30 inner city youth each week to enjoy some friendly competition and hone their basketball skills under the leadership of experienced teachers. White Buffalo is a not-for-profit which is dedicated to improving the quality of life and health for youth, young adults and their families in the inner city through integrated, holistic support services. It also serves as a youth recreational facility fostering a safe and fun environment for all to participate in.
While Linklater admits that there can be a competitive environment among the athletes, he notes that the benefits of the program go beyond the scoreboard.
"They learn many skills, such as teamwork. Teamwork applies to all facets of life," said Linklater. "When you're working in an organization, the whole team is working to achieve a common goal - whether it's a business and they're trying to meet certain deadlines and make quotas, or whether it's a youth centre like us trying to have a measurable outcome where youth are leaving with experience, leadership and life skills from participating in some of our programs.
"A lot of our youth who have utilized the program have realized certain lifestyle changes that need to be made within their lives. A lot of them are coming back and saying that they've changed the direction they want their life to go and tell us some of their goals and future dreams they plan to aspire to."
Linklater certainly understands how sport is more than a game. Asked about the impact sports have had on his life, he said, "First and foremost, sports have really saved my life."
Growing up in Saskatoon, Linklater said sports helped him stay out of trouble and set goals for himself.
Linklater had a stellar high school career and also had the opportunity to represent Saskatchewan at the 1997 North American Indigenous Games. Linklater played for the basketball team at United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck, N.D., in his rookie year before transferring to the University of Saskatchewan (U of S) in his second year. He transferred to SAIT in Calgary the next year and then to Lakeland College in Lloydminster the following year.
In his final season of eligibility, Linklater returned to the U of S. Named a team captain, he helped the team win its first-ever CIS basketball championship, a 91-81 victory over the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds. He was also named an all-star that season. Linklater played semi-pro with the Edmonton Energy of the International Basketball League before retiring from the game.
"Winning a national championship at the U of S was huge for many reasons. One of the biggest was that the U of S had never won a national championship in basketball before. Another reason was a few years prior I was questioning whether or not I could even make the team, let alone be captain of it and accomplish this prestige goal," he said.
"As well, just being of First Nations descent and being able achieve these things for myself, my family, my community is amazing. Signing my first professional contract; that was a goal I had set as well."
Through the basketball program at White Buffalo, Linklater is aiming to help kids discover their dreams through sports just like he did.
"It's really our job as previous athletes to look back on our own careers and how we got to where we are, and it's people giving their knowledge to us and sharing their expertise," he said. "The way I explain it is, 'It's not my talent and it's not my talent to keep. It's mine to recycle back.' "
Linklater is proud to note that many of the basketball program participants are taking the lessons he and other volunteers have passed down to heart.
"A lot of the youth who have come up through our basketball program have gone on to school and jobs and what we're noticing is a lot of our youth are coming back to White Buffalo wanting to do a practicum placement," said Linklater. "They'll come here and work with what they're familiar with. It's a great experience for them and a great opportunity for them to be giving back.
"Sport teaches you a lot of things: goal-setting, critical thinking, motivation, determination and the importance of a high self-esteem. It helps shape the person you become."
• Basketball Saskatchewan
• White Buffalo Youth Lodge