Paulina Fritz: using basketball to break down barriers

Germany’s Paulina Fritz is an IOC Young Leader and a global citizen. With the support of Panasonic, she is implementing her basketacademy project, the aim of which is not only to connect different cultures through basketball and education, but also to break down barriers by campaigning for gender equality through diversity in the game. And her idea, which she is continuing to work on in Japan, is really making strides.

How did you start playing basketball and what did you learn through sport?

I’m from Germany, and my hometown of Hagen is very passionate about basketball. Fortunately, there was also a girls-only basketball club, which made it easy for me to start playing at the age of six. I continued playing during my youth, as basketball became my biggest passion. In the beginning, it was just for fun, but as our team got better and better throughout the years, it also became a bit more competitive.

Sport gave me a social environment. As basketball is a team sport, you always have your team with you. You spend a lot of time together, both on and off the court, and my team-mates turned into my friends. And, of course, sport transferred many important values. I learned a lot about myself, about teamwork and empathy, but also punctuality, discipline and being committed to something.

How did you get involved in the IOC Young Leaders Programme?

First, I joined the Young Change-Makers Programme for the Youth Olympic Games [YOG] in Buenos Aires in 2018, where I was coordinating the cultural and educational activities for the athletes from my NOC [National Olympic Committee]. It was an amazing experience, and I met people from all around the world. The discussions with them were very inspirational, and it made me think about what else could be done through sport. This gave me the motivation to apply for the IOC Young Leaders Programme, and to develop my own sports-based social initiative. I came up with a project proposal, and fortunately I was selected.

How did you come up with the idea to create basketacademy?

Basketball was my biggest passion during my childhood and youth. After graduating from school, I also became very interested in foreign cultures and languages. I therefore decided to go to Guatemala, to learn Spanish and gain international experience. Even though I did not play myself, I set up a weekly basketball activity for the local students, and experienced how powerful this was to break down barriers and reach out to them. This is how I developed the desire to connect cultures through basketball, which was the initial idea of my IOC Young Leader Project, basketacademy. I wanted to create a global platform where everyone can get in touch with each other, communicate about basketball and through basketball, learn and apply foreign languages, and become educated about topics of global relevance.

What are the objectives of your basketacademy project?

The general idea of basketacademy is to create global citizens through basketball, culture and education. I established a partnership with an organisation, the SEED Project, in Senegal, which will be hosting the next Summer YOG in 2026 and wanted to use this platform as an area of engagement and inspiration.

My fellow Young Leader from Senegal, Babacar, helped me to set up the contact with the partner organisation, and they accepted my request to do an internship there. During that time, we worked together to implement Olympic education activities in their curriculum, and we organised a Youth Olympic Day for the 20 male and 20 female SEED student athletes. This one-day event consisted of presentations about the Olympic Movement and YOG, a 3x3 mixed-team basketball tournament, and a poster workshop to reflect on the Olympic values. After a final discussion, medals were handed out to the teams who demonstrated these values in the most convincing way.

As part of the IOC Young Leaders Programme, you did an internship at Panasonic. Can you tell us about that?

Yes, I had to do an internship as part of my master’s degree in sport and Olympic studies. At that point in time it was very difficult, due to the COVID-19 situation. I thought of Panasonic, as I knew about its partnership with the IOC and support for the Young Leaders Programme. So I reached out, and I was lucky they approved my request. I believe this was a great opportunity for both sides. I learned and experienced a lot, not only about Olympic and Paralympic marketing activities, but also about the company’s corporate citizenship and philosophy. Panasonic took that step to intensify its engagement with the Young Leaders Programme, which demonstrates its commitment to youth development.

What are you proudest of, and what has had the biggest impact on your project?

Through the SEED Project, I got an idea about what I wanted to do in the future. During the basketacademy Youth Olympic Day, the biggest achievement was to see how people enjoyed playing in mixed teams. The SEED student athletes hadn’t played basketball 3x3 or in mixed teams before. The feedback clearly demonstrated that they really enjoyed this experience a lot. This also shows the opportunities of having mixed-gender activities in basketball, and breaking down certain barriers that still exist.


Get to know basketacademy. Paulina developed the basketacademy idea and concept during her @iocyoungleaders journey....

Posted by Basketacademy on Thursday, April 16, 2020


How are you managing to carry out your activities during the global pandemic?

Because of COVID-19, I didn’t have the chance to deliver my project’s activities in Germany, as I had to stay in Japan. Luckily, however, the Youth Olympic Day in Senegal could still happen right before the outbreak of the pandemic over there. So I have not been affected too badly, and have still been able to pursue my goals. I was also able to do my internship at Panasonic, despite the situation. They managed to find great opportunities for me to experience as many areas as possible.

What are your hopes and dreams for the future?

I want to continue developing my idea and establish a basketacademy platform for learning and exchanges. When I go back to Germany, I want to start cooperating with clubs and federations to see how basketball and education can be combined in terms of a play-based education curriculum in basketball. At the same time, I want to create an online platform to bring young people from different countries together, so that they can exchange their ideas and aspirations. I want to help them use their passion for basketball to find their own purpose and pathway.

As March is Women’s History Month and the month your article is coming out, could you share what gender equality means for you and how it came alive through your basketacademy project?

Gender equality is an important issue, and was integrated into the basketacademy project design from the beginning. At the Youth Olympic Day event, we decided to have a basketball 3x3 tournament in mixed teams. Even though this is not the officially played format, we considered it to be an important experience for the student athletes, to practise and reflect the Olympic values that we introduced to them. Our post-event survey confirmed that and showed that they perceived playing in mixed teams for the first time as one of the most positive experiences. For the next project stages, solving challenges faced by women and girls in basketball will be a top priority, and I hope that basketacademy can make significant contributions to enhanced gender equality in the future.

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