ROCKS & UWS: Working together in harmony

Article by Alan Caldwell and Scott Young

When you are running a club or a business, partnerships with other businesses can play a vital role in the long term sustainability of an organisation, with often both sides of the partnership mutually benefiting from this. A prime example of this being the partnership shared between the Glasgow Rocks and the University of the West of Scotland.

A university has a lot of outlets and departments, so there are a lot of ways that the team can be helped by partnering with UWS. This we saw come to fruition in 2020 when the team may have needed their support the most.

Due to the rulings from the Scottish government all Rocks’ players had to self-isolate for two weeks because of the coronavirus pandemic. It left the Rocks with a massive disadvantage due to the fact that they are the only Scottish based team and the English government had different rules which meant that teams based down south were able to train together as a team.

Obviously, when you are stuck in the house for two weeks, it is incredibly difficult to train and get fitness up. To combat this, the university was able to provide players with gym equipment in order to help get their fitness up for pre-season.

It may have seen a small gesture, but it is something the players would be grateful for as it would have allowed them to at least stay active in some capacity, with the university providing them with essential gym equipment to help them get as fit as they could possibly be.

Ciaran O’Brian from UWS spoke about how important it was for them to do this: “They were in a difficult position bringing players here and wanting them to be fit and proper to play and it was difficult because the rules were different south of the border where teams were able to train.

“It was moving quite quickly at the time and we had good equipment available and we had to work out the logistics on how to do that but we quickly got all the protocols in place and we had to clean them and deliver them safely and when they were brought back we had to set them aside for a period of time, just to make sure it was all safe.

“It was just one of those things where the university has an infrastructure and equipment that no one else was using and we were able to give them support which I’m sure was greatly appreciated. It seems like such a simple thing.

“But, I think being able to do it quite quickly was important for those players, partly for their fitness preseason but also because it’s difficult for players to spend a long time indoors. This gives them something to focus on.”

Helping out the Glasgow Rocks with their fitness has been a massive part of the partnership this season especially with the Covid-19 pandemic. Not only did the university help out with the previously mentioned gym and fitness equipment, but due to the relationship that UWS have with the Emirates Arena, the Rocks were able to train in the velodrome gym which is situated in the facility but owned by the university.

Giving that the Rocks play their home games at the same arena, that is a massive positive to be able to train in a gym that is in the same building as match days therefore the team can familiarise themselves with the surroundings of where they play. For the Rocks to get the opportunity to train there because of UWS just shows how important this partnership is for both parties. UWS get their name out there as being a great partner and organisation to work with and the Glasgow Rocks get the opportunity to train at an incredible sporting facility.

In terms of the university, the opportunities that are given through working with a massive organisation like the Glasgow Rocks is huge for any student. With the mass number of departments that the university has it gives students a wide range of opportunities to work with the Rocks. For example, journalism students being able to get interviews with players and create content for university’s projects.

Then you have a lot of the sport and physical education students being able to have an opportunity to see what goes on with the team and how they train and prepare for games. This is massively important and provides an immeasurable amount of experience for any student and when they go for a job. When an employer sees on their CV that they have worked with an organisation like the Glasgow Rocks, that will be a huge bonus.

Ciaran again spoke about the fact that getting experience for the students was the most crucial part, for the university, when it came to arranging the partnership: “It’s important, both in terms of getting students on board for a work placement but also, being able to get guest lecturers in to help with classes. It helps give people more experience with a genuine professional sporting franchise.

“It helps develop contacts, skills, and experience, they won’t just be useful now but will be helpful when it comes to writing a CV or something like that and looking for jobs in the future. Being able to work with a genuine team and being able to deliver things that they used and published.

“That’s one of the important things for any of our sports partners, is that they are helping us to enhance the student experience in a way whether that is by giving students opportunities or by giving information that keeps the top programmes current because I think with those things, they are serving our students really well in terms of future employability.”

Coincidentally, the links between both organisations don’t stop just there, as a number of the Rocks staff and even players are UWS alumni. Joining the list includes: GM Sean Skelly, assistant coach Sean Davidson, team captain Jonny Bunyan and former Rocks forward Ali Fraser, who just won the BBL title with the Leicester Riders.

Speaking about his time at the university, business graduate and now GM of the Rocks, Sean Skelly, explained how big of a part getting his degree at UWS played on the success he’s had in career so far and how the internship plans like those available with Rocks through UWS helped him get his start in the industry. He explained: “I think the degree was really important to get the foot in, but what was also really important was the chance I was given at UWS to intern, the two things together for me are equally important. I started off working with Glasgow City ladies football team which was set up by UWS and the SFA and I guess it was that little exposure to this crazy world that got me interested in working in sport.”

Having alumni in the club, is only the tip of the partnership between the Rocks and UWS, however this was something that just played out by coincidence rather than planned which makes the partnership that little bit more special, Sean further explained: “There was no intention behind that, the club has not specifically went out to recruit UWS students, it just naturally happened which I suppose is almost better because it’s more organic and shows the pedigree UWS are putting out there.”

It is not only off the court this allegiance can be seen between the two organisations, Ali Fraser, previously with the Rocks, studied at UWS whilst also playing, as does team captain Jonny Bunyan, currently in his final year of university, studying Sport Development.

Speaking about his time at UWS, Jonny highlighted how important he feels it is for a professional basketball player to get that education to fall back on after basketball, he said: “(to get the degree) it’s super important, I can’t understate that enough, thankfully when I applied to UWS they were quite flexible with me maybe having to miss lectures due to training and that was great because it gave me the chance to go to uni which I didn’t think I was going to get.”

He added: “In terms of basketball in Scotland, it’s not enough money be set up for life therefore that education side is crucial.”

Spending now four years at UWS, Jonny has not only been successful in the classroom but also on the court for UWS’ BUCS team, where he has helped them climb up the BUCS ladder, adding points on to the board for the university, showing again that the partnership is mutually beneficial as UWS vice-chancellor and principal Craig Mahoney is the Chair elect of British Universities & Colleges Sport (BUCS), therefore he will be pleased by the recent rise of his university in the standings, especially for basketball.

Speaking about playing university basketball, Jonny said: “Representing UWS basketball was great, we had a pretty successful time when I was playing. It’s certainly a different type of basketball, it went back to when I was younger being the main scorer and main guy in the team, having the ball in my hands 80% of the time, so when I went to play with UWS it gave me that part of my game back, being heavily involved in the offence and when you’re being that aggressive I think it gives you a lot of confidence back, if you’re dropping 30 or 40 points in a uni game then it gives you a lot of confidence going into your games at the weekend, from a mentality point it helped a lot.”

Beneficial for both sides of the partnership, UWS get their students valuable work experience and offer the Rocks players a chance to come and study at the university, which again is mutually beneficial as the Rocks players such as Jonny Bunyan have helped UWS climb up the prestigious BUCS ladder and for the Rocks, getting a masters degree in Scotland can take one year, as opposed to in other countries where it may take longer and cost more money, the Rocks can offer this as part of a players contract therefore it can play a vital role in attracting American and European players. Rocks also form part of the clubs sporting partners group alongside the likes of Ayr rugby and Celtic Ladies, which provides the teams involved opportunities to learn from each other with a view to bettering their organisations.

The partnership is already sturdy between UWS and the Rocks, however, both are only focused on making this even stronger for the future in hope of continuing to breed new ideas that would be mutually beneficial for both sides. Sean Skelly spoke briefly about an academy process, which would ‘allow younger players aspiring of playing with the Rocks to play at an academy whilst also studying at UWS and contributing to their BUCS team as part of their development.’ This was being investigated alongside the national governing body Basketball Scotland. It was noted that this is another example of the connections Rocks bring to the table with UWS.

The partnership certainly not going anywhere in a hurry as plans for the future are already being put in place, Sean Skelly highlighted just how important the partnership has been over the years: UWS and the council are probably our biggest sponsors, to speak about it from a Rocks perspective it’s genuinely massive, both financially and in terms of the connection and support they give us and then going ahead it’s a massive partner for us.”