Lessons of Basketball and War

Movie review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
Lessons of Basketball and War Movie Poster Image
Well-meaning docu lacks depth but inspires empathy.
  • NR
  • 2015
  • 56 minutes

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Positive Messages

Being an American means welcoming people from all over, respecting their differences, and helping them become thriving members of our society. Sometimes it's a struggle, but the effort's worth it so everyone gets a chance to succeed. Even though the team didn't have a winning record, the students and staff learned a lot about conflict resolution and how to work together with people you might not like.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Mr. Bacon, the middle-school principal and team coach, is patient, understanding, and tirelessly determined to help the Somali refugee girls and their families adapt to life in America. He has high but realistic expectations, guides the team through bad times, and cheers them on in good times. The girls are good role models for working hard and learning to become team players, except when they experience a bitter defeat and turn on each other. Many of the girls continued playing basketball in high school, and almost all of them have since gone on to higher education.


Newsreel-type footage shows men with weapons of war but no uniforms running into a town. Automatic gunfire can be heard, and a burning, ruined landscape in the aftermath is shown. Footage also shows starving refugees, including babies, with emaciated bodies. The narrator mentions that the refugees are fleeing rape, murder, and starvation. Frequent mention that the middle-school girls' fights mostly involve biting.


Some verbal hostility and mention of calling people bad words like "prostitute."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Lessons of Basketball and War is a documentary about a group of middle-school girls from Somalia who resettled in Portland, Oregon. There's brief, newsreel-type footage of men with guns, starving refugees, and mention that the people were fleeing rape, murder, and starvation; but the focus is almost entirely on the middle-schoolers learning to play basketball. The movie inspires empathy by talking openly about problems and conflicts and by showing individuals and their struggles. Positive messages can be learned about welcoming people who are different, helping them to adapt, learning how to work together with people you don't like, and solving conflicts.

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What's the story?

LESSONS OF BASKETBALL AND WAR follows a group of middle-school girls in Portland, Oregon who settled there after fleeing war and strife in Somalia. School staff members noticed that there was a lot of conflict and animosity among some of the girls because of tribal and ethnic differences. The principal also noticed that many of the girls liked to play with basketballs while waiting for school to start. So he started coaching an African girls' team, hoping that by learning the game, and learning how to work together as a team, the girls would carry those lessons over into the classrooms, hallways, and even into their homes.

Is it any good?

This documentary about a group of middle-school girls relocated from Somalia inspires empathy by introducing us to relatable young teens struggling to adapt in a new land. Lessons of Basketball and War allows us to get to know them as individuals and to start to understand their background and native culture. It leaves an unsettled feeling, though, as even Principal Bacon struggles with whether or not he'd call the program a success. And there's a little frustration in only seeing Mr. Bacon tell the girls over and over that they have to be nicer to each other without exploring any other ways he might have helped build team spirit.

The footage at the beginning of the situation in Somalia that the families were fleeing might be hard for younger kids to understand, and sensitive viewers of any age may need reassurance and to be encouraged to find ways they can help. Otherwise the content is fine for all ages, but it's most likely to appeal to middle schoolers who are going through lots of changes in their own lives and are becoming curious about the bigger world around them. Overall there are positive messages about finding better ways to get along, and the future looks bright for the girls, now young women, who've been through the program.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the Lessons of Basketball and War. What lessons do you think the team members learned? What did you learn by watching them and learning their stories?

  • Do you think the African girls' basketball team was a successful or a failed experiment? Why?

  • What team sports have you played, whether in P.E. or for a school or other team? What did you learn from the experience? What's good, and bad, about being on a team?

  • How does the movie inspire empathy?

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