Basketball beyond borders: Bijlmer’s WSFG Academy

Foto door: Olivier Overberg

We Strive For Greatness Academy gives everyone the opportunity to play pickup games every week. It is located in Bijlmer, an area that contains a history of high crime rate violence. Though it suffers from this label, actions like WSFG Academy are taken in order to change its perception and create an inclusive neighborhood.

Wearing a big hoodie, Nike pants and Air Jordan sneakers, Guillaume Zuylen approaches me and apologizes for being late. The 21-year-old Dutch-Surinamese began organizing weekly pickup games one year ago and steadily gained a bigger mass.

We Strive For Greatness Academy gives everyone the opportunity to play pickup games (a casual game of basketball, usually played at a playground outside) every week. “We were a group of friends who just enjoyed playing basketball together. Then, more people from all over the city just started to show up because of recommendations. Now people from all over the country play here when they can, even people from all over the world.” We Strive For Greatness Academy is a basketball organization that aims to evolve the notion of pickup games from outdoors fun to a full year event, on the same line as seasonal club basketball.

Foto door: Olivier Overberg
Guillaume Zuylen. Foto: Olivier Overberg

He reveals that “people from all over the city can come and play yearlong basketball without committing themselves in terms of time. We don’t take into account where they’re from if someone new comes to play. It’s all in the spirit of basketball, off the court we all treat each other with respect.” He recently introduced trainings on Saturdays, where people can hone their basketball skills, and as well as a new scoreboard, where players in the pickup games can view their points, rebounds and other basketball related statistics while they are playing. “This is a free space where basketball players can come and pay cash up front without worrying about a contract or any restrictions.”

The perception of Bijlmer

Bijlmer is a large diverse area in terms of ethnicity in Amsterdam Zuidoost, where there has been a history of high crime rate violence. Guillaume explains how this was at its worst during the 90’s, but has gradually changed. “I think the influx of all the companies moving here has something to do with the decrease in crime. MediaMarkt, ING and, of course, Ajax have been here for years now. Bijlmer is still one of the more diverse neighborhoods in Amsterdam, which I think is positive.”

Building relationships with new people helps in erasing bad perceptions of not only places, but especially people

He claims the area is more of a suburb than anything else and calls it a good place to raise a family. “I have lived here for a large portion of my life and nothing has ever happened to me. I can understand that people are afraid because of all that happened in the past, but I think this is a time when we can look beyond that and grow new relationships beyond borders.” He points out how much building relationships with new people helps in erasing bad perceptions of not only places, but especially people. Because of Guillaume’s work in a simple setting that basketball is, borders are being crossed.

The experience of WSFG Academy

“I want to introduce tournaments with prize money and make it a more organized event.” He speaks passionately about the forthcoming projects and plans he has for the pickup games: making jerseys, organizing tournaments and creating leagues that will span the whole year. Love for the game is a cliché often used in sports when we talk about the professional level, but with something as simple as playing pickup games once a week, we can see that this type of love is the same on all levels. “I want the pickup games to be a place of unity. It is about preserving the love for the game, no matter how many times you join. If you come here, I know that you love basketball and I appreciate that.”

Guillaume explains very passionately his underlying motivation to continue with his work: “People who are on the top get comfortable, but when you are below that, you are hungry to get to the top. Not only in basketball, but also in life. You will always fall at some point. Through the pickup games, I want to install that mentality, but also with an emphasis in brotherhood, unity and building relationships.”

Guillaume’s work with WSFG Academy may be perceived as simple and not as something that affects society, but it is rather the contrary. The work of this young man is connecting people throughout the city for one simple purpose: to enjoy basketball.

Foto door: Olivier Overberg
Foto: Olivier Overberg