Written by Valts Rozentāls

Draining energy. Monochromatic scene unfolded as the fog crept across the landscape and was accompanied by half-awake teens. Practising in the morning is not an easy task, but it builds character. We are preparing for the tournament this afternoon, so we planned less drills and more scrimmages for decision making – 1on1, 2on2 and 4on4. All with disadvantage for the defence to stimulate offensive decision making, fast finishes and defensive prioritising.

Strengthened by the breakfast we take a short walk to the culture house for some Szekler dance lessons. We can already feel the temperature rising. Our luck today was the fog which held back the sun long enough for us to properly enjoy the first half of the day. It’s always interesting to see how the groups each year handle the more intimate setting of dancing. Up till now we’ve seen it to work amazingly – breaking boundaries and bringing the youth closer together. After the dancing, this can also be observed in their free time. Groups are not strictly Munich and Bögöz anymore. They are all trying to communicate, playing games together and having fun. Now it’s becoming one big group instead. During feedback in the evening we can hear that language is still a barrier, but also here it has gotten better and it’s becoming easier for the kids to talk in English.

In the afternoon we received guests from Székelyudvarhely and Székelykeresztúr for a small basketball tournament outdoors. The weather is playing nice (although a bit hot…) and everybody is having a lot of fun. We decided for short ten minute games which rounded up to sixteen games. Ten minutes were just enough as the hot weather started to take its toll as the games went by. What we really liked to see is that also the parents came to support their children and took refuge on the sidelines in the shade. The vibe really was like in the best American movies – community meeting up for a sports event together and having a good time.

At the end our friends from Udvarhely were the victors for boys and the mixed team of Bögöz and Munich for girls.

Written by Valts Rozentāls

“Wherever you are, it’s the place you need to be.” / Maxime Lagacé /

Ninth summer camp in Bögöz. We can’t believe how fast time flies. It only seems like yesterday we were here, but it was last summer. One year is gone again. We can only wonder and look at what we have achieved, what is yet to come and what challenges we will need to face. We are happy for our new group of kids coming this year – with exception of four kids who are for the second or third time here, everyone is new and ready for new experiences. 

First day – after some friendly shootout games, the usual first ‘get together’ with the kids from Bögöz. The weather still plays nice and we can gather outside and enjoy stew made by our lovely hostess Irénke. Afterwards a few words from Éva (Project Management on-site), Sandy (Programm Manager) and Nadine (Research Analyst) as an official camp opener. Quick feedback round and up to beds – tomorrow is the first big day.

Despite starting at 08:00 o’clock, we start to feel the warmth of the sun which will accompany us for the rest of the day until rain will take over in the evening. Today we have almost thirty kids from both Bögöz and Munich. First observation – the kids from Bögöz have developed basketball skill-wise and we can work with them more easily, despite the language barrier. Barni (former player and current coach in Bögöz) now helps us with the practice and acts as a translator. He was one of the first kids who started to participate in the Basketball Leben project in Bögöz.

We go all together with the Bögöz youth which show the guests from Munich their village. Right after we split them in different groups and they prepare the meal for group lunch. This works out really well as the groups have taken up communication very soon and are willing to work together. This is a perfect intro for what is planned – mini-games. Four groups, multiple challenging tasks,  a lot of teamwork and finding the best solutions. Mind you – in VERY hot weather. 

Evening practice got cut short due to rain. Five minutes more and we would have found ourselves in the middle of a hefty summer storm. Luckily we break it up just in time and escape the rough ways of nature.

Feedback rounds are good for overall information from the group. This year we wanted to go deeper and talk with the youth in smaller groups with more targeted questions.

Here are some of the first answers we’ve got.

Q: What meaning does basketball seem to have in the lives of the youth here?

Laila, 14 (second time part of the camp)

“Basketball is already a big part of the community here and allows the youth to have something in common and a sense of belonging. I also noticed that they’ve gotten better with their basketball technique and skills. This also shows that basketball plays a central role in their life.”

Q: What would be important to change here in the village, community?

Charlotte, 13 (first time part of the camp)

“It would be important to think and act on general education and development of infrastructure in the village. Also they would probably profit by learning Romanian as a language. I know that they are a minority here and reluctant to learn Romanian, but they still live in Romania and the language would open more opportunities for work for many of them and help with the finances. With more finances it could allow them to fix their houses properly and go after infrastructure projects.”

Henri, 12 (first time part of the camp)

“I agree on education. Maybe they can learn in eight grades what they need to exist, but it would definitely open more opportunities if education was also persuaded overall after eight grade class. ”

Written by Valts Rozentāls

We get up and prepare for the upcoming day – there is a girls team coming down from Szentgyörgy for a practice session and a game. The boys from Vendor would also visit again for a practice game. Fun time let’s go.

As we have about 30 kids taking part in the practice, we make it basic and fun so everyone can take a part. We start off with some warm-up for muscle activation and coordination, then add some dynamic stretching. Then we decided to split the kids in four groups and do different shooting contests, this is also a good preparation for the game afterwards.

The girls played first. Opponents had good technical skills but were taken out of the game early by the fierce and relentless game of the Hellenen and Bögöz girls. This just went to show once again that will and energy can separate the skill. We could see a nice development in the team play – much more passes, faster transition and altogether better spacing. As always, satisfying to see that players take the practice lessons and implement them into their game.

The same would go for the boys. Vendor boys came in the same roster as yesterday, but also, they had adapted and played better basketball, just like the Bögöz team. Better spacing, more passes, faster game and greater team spirit. Totally different from the game on Sunday.

Afterwards we still had some time left and decided to split the kids (those who wanted to play) into smaller groups and spent the rest of the time playing a 3×3 tournament. At this point we had had no rain for the past days, and it just kept getting hotter – shower time after the activities and the walk to the train.

Evening program was simple but exciting, dinner was planned outside, and we would setup a projector for a movie night. Irenke cooked one of her homemade, delicious stew-like dishes: potatoes with baked cheese for those who do not eat meat and with sausage for those who do. What she does in-between is a tasty mystery. If you are not a getting a second portion of it, something is wrong with your taste buds. Between us – everybody did.

The name of the film is “Isteni kéz” or “Hands of God” directed by László Barna and written by András Ifj. Petróczy and Ágnes Sós. The story revolves around Csángáló, the world-famous gypsy violinist of the Szászcsávás Band. He now lives in a small Transylvanian village and even if the glory days of the band are behind, they are still going around and playing on bigger stages. Though, he suffers from Parkinsons and can’t keep up with others, therefore the band leader Dumnezeu, with a broken heart, expels him from the band. There might be a solution with an operation for Csángáló, but for him the only help can come from God, therefore he refuses to go through with the surgery despite family and friends asking him to do the opposite. Instead, he puts his faith in his grandson Bálint to learn from him and continue the tradition of violin and music in his family.

This is kind of an independent film, and the director is traveling around to present his work. We thought he could not make it today, but at the end he managed to arrive for the last part of it. It was a great experience for the kids to meet somebody who had created a documentary masterpiece. This is another experience to see the film, meet the person who created it and even ask questions about the process and people in it.

After the film, some of the kids want to stay up a bit longer and enjoy the night sky. It’s so clear and full of stars, a rarity in a city polluted by light, but here in Bögöz…it’s just there for one to admire and sink into. There is a saying: “Do not forget to stop and smell the flowers.”; somebody said something like it about my remark – “But they are always there”, in Bögöz: “Just because it’s always there, doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate its beauty.”. Well, it rubbed off on all of us and that’s exactly what we did next day.

Written by Valts Rozentāls

We took the learnings gained in yesterday’s games and tailored our morning practice around deficiencies we were seeing on the field. Defensive basics – footwork, proper individual positioning and 1on1 defense. We had to get more ball stops and deny easy drives to the basket. This went well, although we noticed that some variance in skill between the groups were hindering us to move on with the practice at the desired tempo. We finished on point as we still had to get the nutritious breakfast in and take part in two hours of a traditional Szekler dance lesson.

This year the instructor was a different one, it was a teacher from the school we would visit later today. As the originally planned person cancelled the evening before, it was nice of him to jump in and teach us the basic steps of this traditional dance. One could at once notice he was in the business to educate people. Very clear spoken and even used French to break some of the language barriers we had. Otherwise, it would be translated for us. He got us up to speed very fast, by splitting the whole dance in smaller parts for girls and boys and then bringing it together at the end. Not only that, as he did not have a music box with him, he was singing all the time! Spectacular demonstration of skill – singing loud in rhythm and dancing at the same time.

Free time in-between the events was used by youth to play some pickup games on the court outside or play some board/card games together with Bögöz kids. It’s always interesting to see how they communicate with each other and how mutual interest in playing games bring people together.

For this evening we have planned to visit nearby village Galambfalva (the commune center Nagygalambfalva, previously one commune with Bögöz until break off in 2004) and present the game of Basketball to them and the work we are doing through it. Recently they had renovated a small gym at that school and are planning to build a proper sports gym with basketball court. They also have an outdoor basketball court in the school’s backyard. This could be an opportunity to grow the basketball community around the Bögöz and strengthen our roots. We had a meeting with the school principal, local coaches and everybody that was interested and showed up. We played some exhibition games to show how exciting our game is and to portray our love for it. Afterwards we presented ourselves and the project to the parents and everybody present. The principal of the school showed us the school – it is small, grades one to eight. Afterwards some more freestyle activities for youth and conversations for adults.

Two of our girls left earlier as they got an invitation to visit the home of one of the Bögöz girls they had made friends with. They would meet us later at the train station as they decided to stay together with the group and not spend the night. It was nice to see the friendships develop in the group and the mutual trust they put in each other.

For some reason the train schedule was not quite right. We did our best to arrive at the station on time, or at least what we thought was on time. We ended up waiting more than an hour for the train to take us home. Thankfully Irenke kept food warm until we arrived.

Written by Valts Rozentāls

Enjoy the free time and breakfast. We have a long day ahead of us and we must stay flexible – there is a chance for rain, but we hope it won’t come true. Right after breakfast we have a game day planned in Székelyudvarhely against teams from Vendor. One game for boys and one for girls.

Boys went first. Game turned out quite good and both teams could take something out of it for them. The opponents from Vendor were not in full strength due to some players being on vacation, they were also one year younger. The Bögöz Team (together with Hellenen) won the game and took many great lessons from it. We worked on many basics such as spacing in five out formation, cutting and filling and pushing the ball forth on fast breaks. We saw some deficiencies and decided to work on them in following trainings.

The girls‘ game clearly went one way. We didn’t only bring more skill on field, but also a larger number – unfortunately Vendor girls only came with six players. Still, this was good for the Bögöz team building and development. The girls played together nicely and showed Bögöz girls how to work on their basics in a game.

After the game we went for a pizza not so far from the swimming pool. It had rained recently, and we were not sure if the weather was good enough for a trip to an open-air swimming pool. After lunch it turned out to be just fine and we went for a swim. Because of the weather changes there were only other four people there, so we got basically the whole place just for us. The water was colder than usual, but because of the hot air it was very refreshing and enjoyable. We got a quick shower of rain while in the pool, but we were happy that we were wet already. Fun times.

Next action was to go home by train, and we came up with the grand idea of putting up some techno-music and dance to it. The great thing about dancing in public is the freedom that comes along with ignoring all the stares and just having fun without a care in the world. If you are lucky enough – somebody might even join in. It’s also a good way to pass time as we must wait for the train. It might be on time, might be later, rarely – but people say it might even be earlier than supposed to. Bögöz is two stations away from Székelyudvarhely, the ride takes about twenty minutes. The most exciting thing though is the sight of passing by landscapes. Once that evening light hits the pastors on hills… it does become magical.

We end our day with a practice session and dinner. Feedback round had to be sacrificed for sleep as everyone was very tired of all the activities and excitement in the past days. We will just get it done in future.

Written by Valts Rozentāls

First full day in Bögöz. We start off with an early practice before breakfast. Today it should be hotter and not as much rain as yesterday, so we want to take advantage of the cool morning air. Everybody is still a bit sleepy, but that changes once we are done with the warmup. One cannot escape the power of blood flow. Practice consists of some games to keep the fun going and basic drills to develop foot work, ball handling and layup finishes. Now everybody is hungry, and we can enjoy well-earned breakfast.

Right after, we have some free time and prepare to go explore the village. Our local guides are Orsi and Vanessa. They showed us their school and preschool, places where they spend time together, the local church, a stadium. This will come in handy on Friday for the scavenger hunt. Coming from Munich, this really is a small place, and it has its own feeling and charm. Things that we take for granted in Munich, are seen differently in Bögöz. What we consider basic infrastructure is a commodity here. Water shortage due to draught, lack of or old drainage systems, lack of streetlights, broken or non-existent roads, the train going to each direction just three times a day. A stark difference. It really shows how big of an influence a good infrastructure can have on one’s life. But the people are also more friendly and ready to help. They are curious to know what brought us here, are talkative, want to present their way of life. Life is also more simple and slower, though – one must work very hard for it, literally.

We end our walk by having lunch together. A quick side note for our readers – youth prepare most of the breakfast and lunch for themselves and others. It’s always five people having to do the service. Anyhow, now it’s time for some fun and team building.

We mix the teams together. Bögöz and Munich kids must find a way to communicate together and win the games and overcome challenges to get points. It’s all about little fun games with the purpose to think outside the box and work together. Who can come up faster with a good strategy on the spot? Energy is high and everyone does their best to contribute to their team’s success. In the end, there is a winner, but the real win is actually the experience gained and the friendships made.

For the next action we split the groups. One group was training on the court, while the others were discovering traditional Szekler wood painting. They use it everywhere and originally it developed by painting on furniture. So, they are keeping the tradition alive and educating people about it. Our kids did the motives seen on ceilings of the local Bögöz church. The church itself was built around 1200s, but the motives are a bit younger than that.

Now follows the evening routine – dinner, shower and feedback on the day. We had planned to sleep outside, but there were two reasons we decided against it – recent sightings of bears lately and rain overnight in the weather forecast. The choice not to sleep outside turned out to be a good one as around 02:00 it was just pouring rain outside. Dodged this one.

Written by Valts Rozentāls

This is my second year coming to Bögöz in Székelyföld (Székely Land). Some say you cannot visit the same place twice. It is true, the very idea changed my perspective about the place even before leaving. This year we got the same Orga team as last year – everybody knows what to do and how to get it done. Fifteen kids will be traveling with us to Bögöz, three of them visited Bögöz in previous years – twelve are coming for the first time.

Bögöz must wait – we missed our take-off slot as the plane personnel had to re-seat 1/3 of the plane, almost everybody from our group. It seems that they tried to fix trim and mixed the youth and adults. This event put us on the next available slot 45min after original take-off time. If that wasn’t enough – landing slot was also on hold because of bad weather over Romania. This even set us off for about two hours. The flight itself and also the landing were calm. We arrived at Sibiu Airport around 14:50 local time, it was hot – rainy summer day type of hot. Some puddles on the ground implied that there was rain not so long ago, but now the heat was back. Rain turned out to be our companion for that evening and the following day also. The bus ride was as swift as it goes on these roads and in no time, we arrived in Bögöz.

First – some information about ground rules and water shortage here. Even if we were a little bit upset about the rainy weather, the locals were waiting for it since spring. Rain was not a common occurrence here this year and it depleted the ground water reserves. This would also mean to keep our showering times at the minimum.

The kids of Bögöz were also here so we wanted to jump right into having some fun as the clouds got darker and darker with each passing minute. Shootout was a good choice; the kids could be mixed throughout the line and start to get to know each other. We could manage but a few games and it started to pour down on us. The long-awaited relief. But it was okay – it was dinner time anyway. Irenke had cooked and it was delicious and nutritious as always. Amazingly she can accommodate all our needs – be it vegetarian or some intolerances.

Meanwhile the rain had stopped, and we could go outside again to play some more. The ground was wet, so we decided to play 5on5 with passes only. Four teams, everybody plays with everybody, teams mixed – kids from Munich together with kids from Bögöz. Basketball does bring them together, both had to use every bit of imagination they had to communicate and play together.

Only thing left was the feedback round to reflect what we have already seen, experienced and define personal expectations for the week ahead. Just like last year, the first one was slow, and the youth didn’t trust to fully commit themselves to express themselves. No worries, though, it would get better every day.

Orsi ist heute 15 und lebt seit ihrer Geburt in Bögöz, einem Dorf im rumänischen Transsilvanien. Orsis Mutter gehört der Roma-Minderheit an, ihr Vater ist Szekler, eine ungarische Minderheit mitten in Rumänien.
Orsi hat insgesamt 7 Geschwister, 3 jüngere und 4 ältere. Bis 2021 lebte sie zusammen mit ihren Eltern und 4 Geschwistern in einem kleinen Haus mitten in Bögöz. Viele Jahre war nur ein Zimmer in diesem Haus bewohnbar, indem sich alle 7 Personen tags und nachts aufhielten. Ihre gesamte Kindheit war geprägt von Armut verbunden mit Kälte im Winter, Hunger und Perspektivlosigkeit. Ihr Vater arbeitete als Hirte in einem nahegelegenden Dorf und war nur im Herbst und Winter zuhause. Aufgrund seiner Alkoholsucht tyrannisierte er die Familie während seiner Anwesenheit in Form von verbalen Auseinandersetzungen und von häuslicher Gewalt. Das wenige verdiente Geld wurde regelmäßig in Alkohol und Zigaretten investiert, sodass die Mutter alleine als Tagelöhnerin die Familie ünber Wasser halten musste. Oft muss Orsi auf die kleinen Kinder aufpassen, während die Mutter anderswo für ein wenig Geld Brennholz schleppt oder Wände streicht. Oft reicht das Essen nicht mal für eine warme Mahlzeit am Tag. „Trotzdem sie wenig Schulbildung genossen hat, ein Leben voller Entbehrungen lebt und jeden Tag ums Überleben kämpft, hat diese Mutter bei jedem Treffen eine unglaubliche Liebe ihren Kinder gegenüber ausgestarhlt“, so Sandy aus Deutschland, die seit vielen Jahren regelmäßg ins Dorf kommt und immer wieder nach Orsi und ihrer Familie schaut.
2021 stirbt ihr Vater und hinterlässt der Familie hohe Schulden.

Als 2015 das Basketballprojekt in Bögöz startet, konnten wir zunächst ihren damals 11 jährigen Bruder überzeugen, an den Trainings teilzunehmen. Er war zu der Zeit der einzige Roma, der regelmäßig trainierte. Mit Hilfe der damaligen Trainer wurde er von einigen Spielern akzeptiert, hatte aber dennoch oft auch mit Vorurteilen und verbalen Angriffen zu kämpfen. Während einer unserer Sommercamps begleitete Orsi ihren Bruder als Zuschauerin und schaute während der Trainings vom Spielfeldrand aus zu. 2017 luden wir zum ersten Mal auch jüngere Kinder von Bögöz zu unserem Sommercamp ein. Orsi war dabei und viele andere Romas aus Bögöz ebenso. Orsi war glücklich, liebte jeden Moment, war aber schüchtern und zurückhaltend. Sie redete wenig.

Kurz darauf organisierten wir regelmäßige Trainings auch für die jüngeren Kinder in Bögöz. Ab dem
Moment wurde Orsi zur Basketballerin und vermisste nur wenige Einheiten. „Orsi liebt das Basketballtraining“, so Ida, ihre Mutter. „Ich bin froh, dass sie dorthin geht und ich lasse sie auch.“ Mittlerweile durfte sie schon an mehreren Freundschaftsspielen und kleineren Turnieren teilnehmen. Ihr Trainer resümiert dazu: „Ich erinnere mich, als Orsi mit uns zum ersten Mal nach Kézdivásárhely gefahren ist, wo sie in deren großen Sporthalle mit Tribüne und Parkettboden ihr erstes Spiel gegen eine andere Mannschaft bestreiten sollte. Es gibt einen Moment, kurz nachdem sie erstmalig ihr Trikot anzog und damit die Halle betritt. Etwas schüchtern steht sie auf dem Parket, aber voller Stolz schaut sie mit Blick auf ihr Trikot an sich hinunter. Ich werde diesen Moment nie vergessen. Katalina hat diesen Moment scheinbar ähnlich intensiv wahrgenommen und genau in dem Moment auf den Kameraauslöser gedrückt.“ Dank geschulter und unvoreingenommener Trainer gelang es sehr schnell und mit wenigen Hindernissen, sowohl Romas als auch Szeklerkinder in den Basketballteams zu integrieren. Der soziale Hintergrund spielt hier keine große Rolle. Die Kinder haben auch ohne eigener oder elterlicher vorheriger Erfahrung schnell verstanden, was Teamgeist bedeutet. Orsi hat hier ihren Platz gefunden, ist aufgeschlossen und hat großes Selbstbewusstsein entwickelt.

Seit nun beriets 4,5 Jahren spielt Orsi in Bögöz Basketball. Nachdem wir im Rahmen unseres Projektes VALYOUNITY beschlossen haben, unsere eigenen Trainer für die Zukunft auszubilden, viel unser Augenmerk recht schnell auch auf sie. Früh musste sie sich geduldig um ihre Geschwister kümmern. Auch verlässlich war Orsi schon immer und ihre Begeisterung für den Sport war auch allen bewusst. So fand auch sie die Idee schnell gut, auch wenn sie anfangs skeptisch war, ob sie das überhaupt kann.

Coach Levi, Trainer der kleineren Kinder ermutigte sie mit den Worten: „Mache dir keine Sorgen, Orsi. Wir gehen das langsam an und du hast meine volle Unterstützung.“ Die Nachrichten in den Messengergruppen der Eltern zeigen uns, dass Orsi auch von den Eltern respektiert wird. So informiert sie die Eltern zum Beispiel regelmäßig über die Abfahrtzeiten aus der Halle in der Stadt zurück nach Hause, sodass die Eltern rechtzeitig die Kinder vom Bus abholen können. Sie bedanken sich regelmäßig für das Commitment beim ihr. Einige Woche später schreibt Orsi an die Projektleiter in Deutschland: „Ich fühle mich sehr wohl mit den Kindern. Ich mag sie sehr. Sie sind gute Kinder, hören gut zu. Es gibt Tage, an denen sie weniger aufnahmefähig sind, aber dafrü finden wir meist eine Lösung. In letzter Zeit habe ich sehr gute Übungen gefunden, die den Kindern sehr gut gefallen.“

Orsi ist angekommen. Sie hat Freunde mit unterschiedlichen sozialen Hintergründen, sie wird akzeptiert und respektiert und hat mittlerweile genug Selbstbewusstsein, um auch Kontra geben zu können, wenn sie doch mal verbal angegriffen wird. Wie alle unsere Trainer bekommt auch Orsi ein Entgelt für ihre Zeit mit den Basketballkindern. Es macht sie Stolz einen Job zu haben, der ihr Spaß macht und mit dem sie sogar ihre Familie etwas unterstützen kann.

Written by Valts Rozentāls

The last full day has come, tomorrow morning we will leave Bögöz and return to Munich. Before we do – one last adventure. Together.

Wake up and go. We are in a bit of a hurry – not even breakfast! By spending one week on our little retreat in the middle of Romania, it is easy to forget the rest of the world. Easy to forget our daily life. This is a throwback – something like Covid-19 is still holding us in a grip. The difference we saw already on the first day as we brought some tests with us to test the local youth. None of them, this whole time, had done a single test. Just for some comparison – in Germany we tested ourselves almost every day or at least multiple times per week. Here… many of them saw a test for the first time and it was a completely unfamiliar event for them, with all the emotions that come with it.

So, we leave early to get tested and get a certificate for our flight. Without this piece of paper (or passport of immunization) we can’t cross the borders. All the struggles we go through to build friendships.

After we return and grab a quick breakfast – it is time to leave for our last adventure. We are going to the trail and caves of Almási Barlang. Interestingly, on Wiki you can find information only in Hungarian. There is no article either in English nor even Romanian. I also did not go hunting for further information. Maybe this is just one of those magical places you just get to meet in your life and get to keep fantasizing about till you visit it the second time.

The drive was quick – about an hour from Bögöz. This time we also got rewarded by amazingly beautiful sights and views. Pardon my writing skills as I cannot put into words how beautiful this part of the world is. We tried to capture those moments and the astonishing scenery in pictures for you all to see, and even those don’t do them justice. Sometimes it was breathtaking, and one could only ask oneself – how can something be so beautiful?

As we come closer to our destination, the bars on the phone grow smaller and smaller till all we had was “no signal”. Looking at that plaque of a bear and a snake on it, I could only remember my first aid course: “Remember, even if you are in the mountains and your smartphone shows no network connection – 112 should work for emergencies.” I better hope it does when the bear comes…

We begin the adventure by parking on the side of the parking lot that is a bit further away, which is basically a big piece of grass. Nearby is a fireplace, so the first thing we do is to get some fire going, so we can prepare food on the grill. Old school – get some wood to burn through and get coal this way. This is also the best way, our bus drivers once again showed that they are like Swiss pocket knives – pulling yet another trick out of their, seemingly never ending, arsenal. They quickly start a small fire and engage the youth to bring firewood, literally out of the woods nearby.

Some nice sausages, grilled cheese and potatoes; served on a piece of bread. There is something about being hungry and eating basic food outside out of raw fire. For myself it throws me back to times of my youth where we would do things like this all summer long. I am older now, but I see myself in the youth around me. It is important not to forget our days as little humans. We grew up, became all serious and forget the play. This reminds me of an interview with Giannis Antetokounmpo, where he spoke about tips Kobe Bryant gave him. One of them was – never forget how to be a kid. Kids are always learning, they want to know stuff, they ask questions. Kids can play with two stones, or with some sticks and their creativity makes it a magical world with all kinds of adventures. The youth always does some crazy stuff which sometimes turns into stupid stuff. Stupid to whom? Us? We were also young once, it’s just how it goes. We laugh it off now as adults, but I think we can all agree – we did some truly dumb things back in the days. Why should our kids not get a pass? Just because we managed to grow up? Passes – I love them. It might be that as a Coach I try to show them the ropes and everything, but they must also make their own mistakes. Even if that mistake is to hit a log with a stick.

We get our food and move on. It turns out to be a proper hike. It starts very easy and gets harder as you go further into the natural park. Nothing crazy, but the terrain is not a walk in the park – many stones and roots, you have to watch your step not to stumble. Our first stop is the bat cave, well at least part of it. Turns out that we can access only the shallow cave of the system. The deeper ones have been closed to preserve the bats living in them. Understandable. So, we take a little course in the accessible part and move on. What are the caves like? Well, mostly cold and wet.

Next up is my favorite part – a hike! This is a mix, as we were the last and at some point completely lost the rest of the group. This is also something one must learn travelling with a four-year-old. Some things can be done, but they take longer. Just like in the old saying – if you want to go fast, then go alone; if you want to go far, then go together. We were going together, and we were going slow. Part of the fault could be also found on the bridge system. I did not count them, but I think there were at least ten of them and they all had a weight restriction of 200kg. If you know me, you know I am a bit over a half of that. So, for our own safety – I would always wait for the others to get over. Where we would lose time, was if there were other groups already on the bridges going the opposite direction. It was just impossible to pass simultaneously, and we would just have to wait. This would allow for some brief conversations and recalling of memories of those who had already left their footprints on this path.

As one would assume the nature around this trail was just fabulous. What I find very interesting is the small river that went along the trail. You could not see through it at any point. The mineral concentration was just too  high in the water, and it was not clear at any point along the way. Either very red or very turbid. The further we went, the rockier the path got. Maybe we just started at the wrong point? The hike itself was about 45-50 minutes from start to finish, excluding the visit to the bat cave. Once we got through, the question was – do we walk back for 45 minutes to hop on the buses or do we wait for two hours and let the buses come pick us up. Additionally, we would save about 30 minutes of the drive home. Well, you can guess once which option was chosen by our democratic vote. Two hours of waiting. Oh my, not our plan at all, but you got to deal with it, don’t you? That’s how democracy works.

We proceeded to set up a temporary “camp” in the shadows of the trees as the sun was just crazy burning hot and we already had been in the sun the whole day. Card games, chit-chat and boredom. Best way to spend two hours. Some took the time to get some rest and snuck in some proper naps under the blue sky.

There were some horses nearby, as it turns out, they are watched by a man who lives in a simple hut, seemingly with no running water and kitchen just outside his small hut. Someone made contact with a foal, and it followed them back as the offer was some flowers and greens. Simple life. Though, somebody tried to feed it some Plantain, to which the Romanian youth responded with immediate objections. One could trust them, after all many of them have grown up near or on farms and had experience with the horses. Shortly after the foal decided to leave for good and went through the electrical fence (which turns out is not as electrical as one might think), it was time for the horses to get their dose of water at the river before they were put in a smaller grazing zone for the night. We could observe that horses were more civilized than some humans – they took turns at the river and did wait for the one horse before them to finish drinking before going in. Maybe they just had some privacy issues?

Two hours later the buses were finally here, and we could go to them – the parking spot was like 300-400 meters away. Even at a remote place like this – there were some small huts on our way and people just enjoying the summer days with some barbecue and drinks. Keeping it simple and enjoying it very much. Our bus drivers pulls yet another bonus point – they did not just hike back 45 minutes and drive with the buses around the mountains, they also picked up fresh drinking water on the way here! We could fill our flasks and satisfy our need for water as some of us had none left after the hike and all the waiting. Now it was time to get back to “Székelykapu Panzio”. This next part I had to reach out to Nadine, as somehow, I was already drifting between actions and missed some of it.

After a long exhausting hike, we are finally back at the pension. Thankfully, Irenke had already prepared us one of her delicious meals for dinner. To round up this unforgettable week a cozy movie night was planned under the stars. Additionally, prior to the movie, we had to go through a celebration round. We were finally going to find out who won the scavenger hunt we had on our second day as well as the results of the 1on1 contest which had been going on all week long.

Holding two plates of what seemed to be two delicious pieces of chocolate cake, Miri began the short award ceremony. Eager to know who the lucky ones are who are about to receive these mouth-watering pieces of chocolate cake – the youth can’t keep quiet. Finally, Miri announces the winners of the younger Group: Johannes, who had won in the final match against Leonhard; and the winner of the older Group: Marisa, who was able to attain this title by beating Ferenz in the final match. Very content with their accomplishment both champions walked to the front to accept their reward. Cheerful applause kills the silence surrounding us.

Another important announcement follows. The winner of the scavenger hunt. The race was tight. A box of small fruit tarts is in Miri’s hands waiting to be devoured by the winners. After building up some suspense Miri announces that two teams had achieved the same scores: her team and Levi’s. The deciding factor was that Levi’s team made it back to the pension earlier than Miri’s team thus making them the winners of the scavenger hunt. Once again, we applaud the winners while they walk to the front to claim their prize.

Smiles and laughter all around. Not only the winners are celebrating. Everyone is. We’re celebrating the end of an unforgettable week filled with new experiences, lifelong memories, and fun times.

All cuddled up, we are ready for the movie „Space Jam“ to begin. For those who are familiar with Basketball of 90’s Era – this is one of the classics, for those who are not… Well, watch it before you go on and watch the second part with Lebron! This one includes Jordan himself.

Hugs and love, it is time to depart from one another. Next day, the youth of Bögöz would return to their daily lives and we would return to ours. This is another law of the universe, everything that starts – must end, sooner or later. It is the acceptance and the friends we made along the way, the understanding that under the right conditions we have more similarities with one another than differences. And as hard as it comes – it is best seen in the eyes of people who say their goodbyes. We promise to come again, they promise to be waiting. Meanwhile – we must hold onto the memories we made, even if that’s only in our dreams.

“Uzvelciet baltu kreklu un rakstiet jaunībai. Viņa atnāk ar taureni bizē.

Viņa ir soprāns vidusskolas korī. Un viņai ir baltas kurpes.”

Imants Ziedonis

Lost in translation: “Put on a white shirt and write to the youth. She comes with a butterfly in her braid. She is the soprano in the high school choir. And she has white shoes.”

This is the last evening. After the youth of Bögöz went home – our youth wanted to spend the last night chatting and reliving everything. Us coaches, we have been there before, we know how thrilling the last night always is. However, packing the bags and cleaning everything up comes first! After that – they are free to do whatever they please. As the weather was not quite welcoming the past days, some of the players still want to get some game in with night basketball. Amazing activity, the night is welcoming and pitch dark – perfect circumstances for playing night basketball. For those of you wondering how this works: you put up lights around the square on the board and around the rings of the baskets, fluorescent sticks around the players’ necks, wrists and feet, and you get a special ball which is lit up. I am sure Sandy will add some nice photos to bring this amazing experience closer to you!

We max out at around 300-330, this day used up our reserves to the maximum and we are really done. Tomorrow we have to get up early, eat breakfast, do the last checks in the rooms and on the luggage. Our brains do not even register the moment before and after passing out. Legend says, some even did not go to sleep and pulled an all-nighter. Why wouldn’t they? The next morning, we would find them all together in the middle of the corridor of the first floor. Beautiful youth.

“You don’t play against opponents; you play against the game of basketball.”
– Bob Knight –

Never skip steps. This is perhaps the most fundamental philosophy of basketball or any other sport for that matter. It takes time for players to learn and understand the concepts and we cannot skip them. It takes time and we must obey to this simple truth. This is also why it is hard to do – just as mentioned in one of the previous posts: if it is easy to do, it is also equally easy not to do. Same goes with skipping the steps, concept itself is as simple as it gets, but because it is simple, it is also easy not to act on it. This is exactly what we were teaching this week to players of Bögöz village – not skipping the steps, learning the basics. There have been many great basketball players and there is yet one to come who would say – nah, basics doesn’t matter! Every single one has mentioned at some point of their career that learning and understanding of basic concepts and skills of basketball was a crucial part of their journey to become best of the best. Who are we to assume otherwise? Know it all?

In this foggy morning we only had sixty minutes for a practice. While the youth of Munich were just waking up and going for breakfast, me and Sandy started off with Bögözians on the field. This morning we would work only with the local youth to return to five-out concept of pass, cut and fill. At 1000 we had to move out and take a journey to city of name Szent György which was give or take around two-hour drive away. Accounting for my lack of Hungarian, the practice went well, and we could work on two sides simultaneously to develop understanding of the five out concept. It seems that the most important thing is to really take time and put in an effort with this youth. In some instances, they lack discipline and guidance. We can’t teach them for life within a week, but we can give them a glimpse of how it is to set decent standards and implement them. It is always heart warming to see in eyes of the people the change their experience in the moment once you set them up for something they did not know they can achieve. Me? Am I able to do this and succeed? Yes, you are. You know, since ancient philosophers, we know that we are what we repeatedly do, and it goes both ways. For me it seems that Bögöz kids receive more signals that they wont amount to anything than they get encouraged… and it takes great character and inner strength not to default on failure. This makes me think – maybe, therefore we are here, even if promptly, we can reach inside them and trigger a vibration, a belief – yes, I can! And maybe, it would keep resonating and grow over time, and just maybe – we have changed lives and turned destinies. Just maybe. Now, keep cutting – we run in opposite direction of the ball! If you pass right, you must go left; if you pass left, go right! Move, keep moving, rotations! Good job, now faster! Just maybe.

On the road we go. There is always something about the bus rides – you never really know what you will get. Sleep? Chit chat? Games? Dancing? We get plenty of all, two-hour drive flies by and we get out at the gym. Oh, this is an older one, it has the vibe of the past. Oldschool wooden floor, with thick floor paint, not too many lines – just enough to accommodate two or three most common sports played here. Basketball is one of them.

Girls are playing first, then the boys. We already know that opponents are good, they are missing some of the lead players as they had to report to the National Team. Nevertheless, competition is fierce – this will be a very interesting game. Running time, five times ten minutes. Jump ball.

Hellgöz girls started with a lead at first, but after first two fifths the home team took over and held the lead till the end. From our side we tried to implement the strategy of pass, we taught the Bögöz girls this week, in the offense and just get as many stops and push as many bad shots as we could on defense. It seemed to work just fine, and game developed very fluently. Both teams scored, we did more penetration that shots, but the opponents were shooting more than penetrating. Long story short it all came down to 53 to 50 with four seconds to go – favor for the home team. Our players used the oldest trick in the back and after a foul play they closed the distance by letting the ball roll on the field. This was an interesting occurrence as the home team could’ve just let the time run out on foul and call it a day, but it seems that the opponents Coach wanted to test their defense on last shot. Well, we had to take a 3p. After picking the ball up, it was just the time to perform two short dribbling actions and release the ball and… well it went in! 53 to 53, friendship wins! What a great score to end an equal friendly game, also with a great shot from our side.

Boys were up next. This seemed to be a game with a score determined before the game began. We spoke with the opposing team Coach, and it was a younger team with about one year difference. But you know – the playing part here was more important than the winning. Also, the kids here did not have the ability to play a season and for everybody the ability to play again was something amazing. Even if you were playing against a bit older and bigger opponent, it did not matter – playing the game matters.

After snapping a beautiful picture of all the participants – everybody was as happy as hungry. We decided to grab a pizza before our drive home. While the order of local restaurant was pending, we found a nice place to sit – on the stairs of nearby square, just on side of a city park. Beautiful place, full of flowers and it even had a water fountain! Well, even two – but the second was more like an object to get refreshed in a hot day, than a fountain. It consisted of a basic wooden frame with some rubber hose attached to it. The idea was brilliant – the hose had running water in it, but the openings were so fine that it turned water in a fine curtain in the air. This way one could go through it without getting too wet and still get water on one’s body to refresh one in a hot summer day. Brilliant solution!

Pizzas were also superb. It seemed less than deserved by playing this hard today, but there was dinner awaiting us once we get back to “Székelykapu Panzio”. Our lovely bus drivers had done their job once more and buses were just about 200m away from us. So, we just took a quick photo at the big letters on the side of the city square and it was time to depart beautiful Szent György. Even if this was a brief visit – a nice one, new friends, good food and amazing memories.

Company, as good as it gets, assured that the bus drive was as good as always. There was nothing more planned for this evening, just dinner and feedback session. For our bodies require sleep, tomorrow comes with new adventures!