Embedded in our university’s performance program is a shared vision to create competitive opportunities in basketball that have a lasting impact on individuals, team culture, and the British game. Heading up this transformative journey is our Head of Performance Basketball Coach, Ashley Cookson, talking through his pathway to coaching the women’s team at Essex, highlights following a stand-out season within our basketball program, and his role in building a love of the game.

Couldn’t be timelier to engage, as women’s sport continues to make waves across the world.   Basketball is at the forefront of the women's sports landscape. With eyeballs on the NCAA tournament, the WNBA making strides, and even more local, London Lions becoming the first-ever British winners of the EuroCup title. Add that to our very own Claire Paxton selected to represent Team GB in the 3x3 EuroCup Qualifier in Romania, it's a good time to be talking.

Coach Ashley Cookson 450 x 300

Introducing… Ashley Cookson

What made you want to become a basketball coach?

"I've always been a sporty kid who loves to compete. Basketball helped me explore my own capabilities, build confidence, and form lifelong friendships. Over time, I became obsessed with understanding what makes the best athletes stand out. I realised early on that I wanted to help others develop. Coaching allows me to tackle the daily jigsaw puzzle that the game presents – the challenges, the preparation, the highs and lows of winning and losing, and the constant reflection on the process of becoming the highest performer. There’s nothing more rewarding than helping others reach their full potential."

Why the University of Essex?

"My journey has taken me from my hometown club, the Shropshire Warriors, to coaching stints in Australia, Canada, and Sweden. Each experience shaped me as a person and as a coach and I wanted to bring this back to the UK when the right opportunity came along. Essex felt like the perfect place to make a lasting impact. The atmosphere here is one of aspiration and potential. With amazing facilities and a supportive environment, it's the perfect springboard to implement lasting changes in the British game and instil a culture of performance."

What have been the highlights for you this season?

"There have been many. Building relationships with the students and watching their growth on and off the court has been inspiring. Their effort throughout the season has made me want to be a better leader. We've achieved a lot – team successes, individual accolades, and a record-breaking season. The men's program has made significant strides, and our junior program continues to grow. We recognise room for growth, which makes for an exciting summer to reflect, regroup and reorganise for the 2024-25 season. Personally, living out a lifelong dream and sharing this experience with my fiancée Katherine and our son has been incredibly special."

What’s next for the Essex Rebels and the university basketball program?

"We want to build on the success of our junior pathway and create an engaging environment that promotes lifelong participation in the sport. Whether it's future athletes, coaches, referees, or game-day staff, we have a responsibility to foster a love for the game in every capacity. Our men's and women's performance programs have had a taste of success, and we're hungry for more. It’s always a great day to be a Rebel.

What makes you passionate about women's sport?

"Growing up with two competitive sisters that enjoyed their own sporting success had a big impact on me. Coaching women's basketball has been incredibly rewarding. I've been lucky to work with amazing young women and be part of their journey to achieving their goals. Designing an environment that allows exploration, autonomy, and instils belief in the athletes is what contributes to growth on and off the court."

You referred to a culture of performance. What do you mean by that?

"A culture of performance sets the challenge bar at the appropriate height. It pushes people just beyond their boundaries to achieve a standard of behaviour. For that challenge to be met, I have to be supportive of the athletes and our multidisciplinary team. My role is to strike the balance of challenge and support to get the best out of everyone and give them a shared vision to work as a team."

How do you feel about being part of the U18 GB training camp at the university this summer?

"I'm excited to be part of the Great Britain U18 women’s national team staff and to host our training camp at the University of Essex in preparation for the European Championships. It’s an honour to represent Great Britain and to be coaching alongside former colleagues Krumesh Patel and Oli Parr. Our university's facilities will provide the perfect environment for these young women to train and prepare for international competition."


Discover how our Performance Sport program at Essex can support your overall development. 

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Sport scholarships and bursaries.

We are committed to supporting and developing high performance athletes. Find out whether you could be eligible for a sport scholarship or bursary, plus a range of additional benefits too when you join the University of Essex.