Indigenous basketball player, coach comfortable being role model for young girls
- NC Raine | November 07, 2018
A recent study on the psychological and social benefits of sport from the National Institute of Health, which collected data from 3,668 youth, determined what we all pretty much assume; sports are good for you. The most common reported benefits were self-esteem, social interaction, and lower rates of depression. Tara Griffith, who has been too busy dominating Saskatchewan basketball to comb through these boring health studies, has arrived at essentially the same conclusion.
“What basketball and sport has done for me: it’s where my self-confidence comes from. My self-respect, my respect for others, my commitment and responsibility,” said Griffith. “Sport instilled these in me from a young age, and I’m carrying them in my life currently.”
Griffith, a point guard out of the Okanese First Nation, has had the sort of success on the basketball court that might make the likes of Carmelo Anthony jealous. The girl simply just wins. At the Masters Indigenous Games in Toronto this summer, Griffith and her Turtle Island team added a silver medal to her heaping collection.
Growing up in Regina and playing basketball at Balfour Collegiate, Griffith and her squad won the city championship every year of her high school career. In her senior year, they didn’t lose a game, including tournament play in Alberta and BC. She fielded recruitment from universities in Saskatchewan, Regina, Victoria, and McGill, opting ultimately to accept an offer from Lethbridge College, where she won one national title, was named All-Canadian, and was listed in the top five for Player of the Year.
But for Griffith, her excellence on the court comes secondary to how she can use athletics to benefit those around her.
“I think there’s a lack of inspiration for young people. There’s not enough role models that young girls to say ‘hey, she’s doing it. So, can I.’ That’s what I want to do going forward – share my story to hopefully encourage young people to chase their goals,” said Griffith.
While Griffith hasn’t hung up her sneakers yet, she’s turned her primary focus to coaching, where her uncanny success has followed her. At her first coaching effort, the Under 14 girls at the North American Indigenous Games, Team Saskatchewan won bronze – the first medal of its kind for Saskatchewan in 21 years.
“Since then I caught the coaching bug,” said Griffith, who acknowledges she initially wasn’t expecting to be looked up to by her young athletes.
“Early on, I was challenged at the fact that being a coach means you’re automatically a role model. These girls weren't just looking up to me because I was good at basketball, but because of the life I was living and choices I was making,” she said. “It was a challenge to accept the role of being a role model, a coach, sometimes even a big sister. But I needed to (take that on) to help me where I am today – it’s only made me stronger.”
Griffith now works daily to improve the mental and physical health of youth in Sports and Recreation at File Hills Qu’Appelle Tribal Council. This summer, she’s working the Toronto Blue Jays Care Foundation on a rookie league development program, which is designed to help youth with skills, experience, and role models to help overcome obstacles.
Going forward, Griffith hopes to engage First Nation communities across Western Canada through the Indigenous Fitness Leadership Program, utilizing both traditional and contemporary games to inspire young minds.
“There’s a lot of diabetes and obesity now, and I feel like it’s often due to a lack of knowledge and history,” said Griffith. “It’s important to connect back to our history and hopefully those young people can learn to make healthy changes in today’s society.”