As part of the State Department’s sports diplomacy initiative, 16 young Filipino basketball players and two coaches visited the US to participate in a number of team-building and community-building activities. Many of the athletes chosen to participate in the program were from areas affected by Typhoon Yolanda last year. As part of their two-week trip, the group visited Miami, Florida and Washington, DC.
In Miami, the group met with the head coach of the NBA’s Miami Heat, Erik Spoelstra, who is half Filipino and the first ever Asian American to hold a head coaching position in any of the four major American sports leagues – the NBA, NFL, NHL and MLB. The group was also able to observe a pre-game warm-up session and tour the Heat’s home arena. Following their time in Miami, they traveled to Washington to receive basketball training, play games with American students, and participate in various community-building exercises. One of the aims of the program is to help the young athletes develop “the skills needed to assist their families and communities recovering from Typhoon Yolanda.”
The State Department has both in-bound and out-bound sports diplomacy initiatives, sending American athletes abroad and bringing foreign athletes for programs in the US. Erik Spoelstra was himself a sports envoy to the Philippines in 2009 on behalf of the State Department. Sports diplomacy is seen as a critical form of engagement with other nations through the universal language of sports, while also serving as a platform for teaching leadership, teamwork, and communication. The initiative has held exchanges in many different sports over the years, and connected American athletes with participants from over 100 countries.