Basketball veteran Phil Pearce has reached a lifelong goal of representing Great Britain, after Elite’s clinical experts helped him bounce back from a series of injuries.

Written by: Dottem & Crossem

Phil in action

56-year-old Phil has loved basketball since school, where his passion for sport always saw him through his academic struggles.

After playing for local teams in his late teens, Phil went to Teesside Polytechnic (now the University of Middlesborough) aged 20, and began playing for the college team. This opportunity allowed him to develop and improve considerably, and in his first year he was selected to play in the British Polytechnics representative team, as well as playing for the local Middlesborough team.

Partway through his studies, Phil approached his college basketball coach, who was involved with the British Basketball League team, then based in Sunderland. Wanting to stay sharp for the following season, Phil asked to train with the professional players over the summer and found himself unexpectedly signed the following season. Phil played for Sunderland for five seasons before transferring to Worthing for two further seasons. He then retired from basketball at age 30.

“There comes a time in professional sport when you have become too fat, too old, too slow and I just happened to be all three at the same time! At that point, I went back to college to do a Master's and really started my “proper” career. After getting married and having children, I barely picked up a ball for 25 years.”

Back in the game

In 2021, Basketball England began reaching out to ex-internationals and former British Basketball and National League players, to attract players with an interest in joining age group teams to play in the World and European Championships as part of the GB Maxibasketball programme. Phil attended the open tryouts and was accepted onto the programme, which continued to run throughout COVID.

“We were assigned elite athlete status in the pandemic, which allowed us to train when other sports teams weren't allowed to. Suddenly I was training and practising for hours at a time and of course - after not playing for 25 years - I immediately got injured.

In April and May 2022 I went through a fairly arduous journey in terms of fitness, suffering injury after injury. Some guys in the team for the World Championships in Argentina have been playing all through their 30s, 40s and 50s, whereas I haven’t and I really didn’t appreciate how difficult it was going to be!”

Act your age

After playing a couple of over-50s warm-up tournaments for GB Maxibasketball in Spain, Phil discovered that “there's a big difference between someone who's 49-50 and someone who's 55-56!”

The initial GB Maxibasketball training camps were run over weekends, with athletes required to train for six hours a day, both days.

Phil in action

The first injury Phil sustained, when he began running and jumping at high volume, was acute tendinitis in both his Achilles. In the early part of 2022, there were weeks when Phil “could only just walk and was hobbling everywhere,” but he has recovered thanks to treatment from Andy McCrea and Tom Stainer.

Phil subsequently suffered a significant hamstring injury and also some back pain. As well as regular physiotherapy, his recovery has been supported by Elite’s massage therapist Nicolette Havers.

Phil Pearce at basketball training

Phil said “Tom in particular has been treating me through all the Achilles issues, the hamstring injury, and my back. But the whole Elite team have been great at helping me with general maintenance.

They've also put me in touch with a podiatrist who sorted me out with some insoles to take the pressure off my Achilles.

Elite have a brilliant, holistic approach to fitness and injury management. I can't speak highly enough of them - they’ve been spot on with everything and responsive whenever I’ve got injured."

"I go in two or three times a week for weight training in the Elite gym. I love the fact the gym opens at seven o'clock in the morning, which works perfectly for me. I wouldn't have made it to where I am today if it wasn't for them. It’s been amazing and I’m really honoured to be representing GB.”

As the groundbreaking GB Maxibasketball programme gains momentum, the staff have developed a greater understanding of how to manage their older age group athletes, and have adapted training camps accordingly.

There are prehab and strength and conditioning resources as part of the programme, but given the time between training camps the support from Elite has been essential.

Phil said “In the older age groups, everyone is highly motivated. It's unbelievably competitive. They're really going for it. No one's messing around with this and for some guys, the commitment to staying fit enough to be successful was just too great at their current point in their lives.

With the Elite Physical Medicine Team supporting him, Phil has been injury-free for the last eight months. In preparation for the upcoming Maxibasketball events, he has been playing with the Aylesbury Dux in Division 2 of the Hertfordshire Premier League.

Describing what GB Maxibasketball has given him, Phil said:

“Since I've been fit, I’ve enjoyed it more and more as we've gone on the journey. More people have come along and I've met up with former teammates - guys I’ve not seen for 30 years. That's been a great benefit as well.”.

Phil is looking forward to competing in the World Maxibasketball Championships in Argentina alongside player-coach Steve Bucknall OBE, a former NBA player who enjoyed a long and successful playing career in the UK and Europe. Phil described Steve as “a trailblazer and the standard bearer for English basketball - probably the best young player the country had ever produced at the time.”

More details and event dates can be found here.

Maxibasketball receives no Government or Lottery funding, so all players and voluntary staff have to cover all the costs of training, playing kit, facility hire, medical supplies, travel and accommodation themselves. To show your support for Phil and Team GB, please donate via their Go Fund Me page.

If you’re considering returning to competitive sport as an athlete in your 40s, 50s or 60s, please contact the clinic to arrange an assessment. Our multidisciplinary team can support you with a personalised programme designed to prevent injury and gradually develop your fitness.