When asked to take the reins as coach of the Tamworth Thunderbolts Youth League Men's side earlier this year, Mitch Balderston was forced to make a difficult decision.
On one hand, the lifelong basketball devotee had sorely missed the sport that he had played since he was three years old.
But on the other, he had spent the last five years focusing on fatherhood and family.
"From a family perspective, it was a little bit [tough]," Balderston said.
"I give up about 10 hours of time a week plus the travel and weekends away during the season. So that part of it was a big decision for myself and my wife to make.
"But in terms of me enjoying it, knowing what I was doing, and really wanting to get back into it, it was sort of a no-brainer."
Once the choice was made, Balderston's wife, Jacqui, was wholly supportive of his decision. In addition, their daughters, Bridie (4), and Callie (2), have taken an interest in basketball since Balderston began bringing them to the courts.
"The girls have really got into it so far this season," he said.
"Having something to do after COVID, it's a bit different to going to daycare. They can actually come down to the stadium and be involved with other kids, running around and watching what's going on. It's been a bit of a blessing from that point of view."
As a born-and-raised Tamworth local, Balderston's history with basketball is intertwined with the Thunderbolts.
He played in their junior representative programs through to the Under 18s, before moving to Armidale for university, where he helped found, and captained, the Armidale UNE Lions' first State League team.
All the while he coached junior sides, and even oversaw the NSW Under 15s Kookaburras in 2009.
Now, having returned from his hiatus, Balderston hopes to stay on as Thunderbolts coach for at least three years, to help reestablish their senior representative program.
"I'm going to take it year-by-year with the kids, but the discussion that I've had with the board is that we try to make a three or five-year proposition," he said.
"We really want to continue to get out of the Youth League and back into the Open Men's."
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