A family’s love for basketball has given them the opportunity to give back to the sport.
Kaitlyn Burke has been involved in basketball in B.C her entire life. Growing up as the youngest, of three girls, she watched her sisters on the court and developed a love for the game that, as she grew up, never lost.
It wasn’t just her sisters that fostered her love for the sport though; both her mom and dad played a large part in getting her to where she is today.
“I used to play for my dad and I loved it, it was great,” Burke said of how her dad was
involved in the sport, “when I wa
s on the court he was my coach, and when I was at home he was my dad, he really helped me with some of tools that I needed growing up.”
Burke’s mom was also involved in developing her as a player, but in a subtle way that she didn’t notice at the time.
“I’d go for walks with my mom and she’d always have me bring a ball,” Burke said, “I’d be walking the dog with her, while dribbling. Both my parents would do fun little things like that, and I didn’t even notice it was helping me.”
Burke went on to compete at a very high level. She started playing for the B.C provincial team when she was 13 years old, and since, has played in National Championships, the Western Canada Summer Games, the Jr. National Team, and ended her career at a division I school as the starting point guard for the University of Nebraska. Following her successful university career, she had the opportunity to play professionally overseas.
“I decided it was my turn to give back,” Burke said of her decision to turn down the offers due to injuries, “I just wanted to be able to create something where girls and young women felt comfortable playing basketball in an environment where they didn’t just focus on skills and development, but also life skills.”
It was on this foundation, that New Heights Basketball Academy was born. Since the club’s launch three years ago, the programs have grown immensely, and now encompass teams for girl’s kindergarten to grade 12.
“Regardless of if players reach their goals, they should always be focused on getting better and striving for new heights,” Burke said of how the name she picked is reflective of what the organization represents. “I want my players to aim to be the best they can be as an individuals and as team players.”
New Heights is very much a “family feel”, but when Burke says family, she isn’t referring solely to the environment the club aims to create. The entire Burke family is active in contributing to the New Heights programs, with her sisters and dad all getting in on the action.
“Basketball has always been such a big part of our family, and I always laugh that we all played the same sport,” Burke said of how her family’s love of the game has brought them together.
“[My sister] Chantelle runs all our youth programs, she’s awesome and she’s so amazing with the young age group. She’s really great at getting them energized and excited about the game.”
Kaitlyn’s other sister, Ashley, lives in Phoenix, but is still active in organizing New Heights’ events, “Ashley has done a great job running camps for us, she’s not as involved as she would be if she was living in Vancouver, but she does a great job at organizing our annual tournament, and I always bounce ideas off her.”
Kaitlin’s dad is still involved in the same way he’s always been, through coaching, which he started doing last year.
New Heights aims to keep girls involved in sport, through boosting self-esteem, “I find girls and young women are often lacking confidence, so I try to let them know that it’s okay to make mistakes because we learn from them. Mistakes are how you get better and grow.”
Through this thinking Burke is able to achieve her goal of making sure that the athletes get better every time they step on the court, “I think the score shouldn’t be the only reflection of progress,” Burke said of her coaching philosophy, “it’s what they’re doing everyday, and ultimately a win to me says that every single player got better.”
Since shifting from player to coach, Kaitlyn Burke has learned how important it is to be able to relate to her athletes in order to help them succeed on and off the court.
“Some days there’s going to be something happening off the court that’s effecting them on the court, and coaches should be able to stop and help them work through it,” Burke said of the important role coaches play in their athlete’s lives, “not everyone is going to play at that next level, but giving them the life skills that sport teaches them are the things that they’re going to carry on.
Written By: Sarah Reid