Coach Huber’s Blog – Youth Player Development
The first entry in my blog talked about the pros and cons of AAU. The youth player development model in the United States is closely related to this topic, and I wanted to touch on that today. One thing that got me thinking about this was when I came across rankings of the best 3rd graders in Ohio last week. I realize stuff like that should no longer shock me, but I can’t help but be disgusted. Why anyone would be ranking 9 year old kids is beyond me. We have created a system where everyone feels they have to be getting ‘exposure’ and getting ranked rather than getting better. I read a great (albeit disturbing) book called Play Their Hearts Out. The book tells the story of an AAU coach in California and his prodigy, a young man named Demetrius Walker. Demetrius was ranked as the number 1 player in the country for his age group when he was 12 years old. By the time, he was a high school senior, he was no longer among the top 100 players in the county. He ended up getting a scholarship to play at New Mexico. He was viewed as a failure by many. Stop and think about that. A young man who got his college paid for and who showed the ability to play Division 1 college basketball was widely considered a failure because he could not live up to his billing as the #1 player in the country when he was in middle school. If that’s where we are at, we need to reevaluate our priorities. Placing ranking on young kids puts unrealistic expectations and pressure on them.
Ranking are only part of the problem. In the United States, our mindset seems to e that everything has to be competitive. If it’s not competitive, it’s weak. As kids get older, I think there is a lot of truth to that. However, I find the over-emphasis on competition at young ages counterproductive. I saw last week that there is a 6 year old national golf championship. There are AAU basketball national championships for 2nd graders. Why? Has anyone stopped to ask that question or consider the consequences of making things so competitive so early? How many kids who are late bloomers are driven out of a sport because they aren’t “good enough” by age 6 or 8? How many coaches are focusing solely on winning and not on developing players because “every game counts”? How many kids get burnt out because of all the pressure to win beginning when they are in elementary school? Isn’t it okay for kids to be kids and play because it’s fun? If winning is the only focus, that implies that it can’t be fun or you can’t have a good experience unless you win. I couldn’t disagree more. I tell our kids that the relationships you form through playing on a team will last long after the memories of wins and losses fade.
Finally, we need to reassess the time devoted to game versus the time devoted to practice. In AAU/youth basketball, most teams practice 1-2 times per week. Those teams then might go play 4-5 games a weekend. This creates a ratio of play to practice of somewhere around 3:1. If there are 8-9 kids on a team playing roughly evenly and the game is 32 minutes, that means each kid might have the ball in his or her hands for approximately 2 minutes per game (if each team has the ball for half the game we are 16 minutes, and if each kid has the ball roughly and equal amount (divide by 8), we get to 2 minutes per player), or 8-10 minutes per weekend over the course of 4-5 games. No wonder kids are not getting better. Overseas, that play/practice ratio is reversed, and I believe that’s a big reason we are seeing an influx of talented international players. The emphasis on games and competition starts in high school there. Up until that point the focus is on skill development and improvement. This keeps more kids involved (so that kids who grow late aren’t weeded out too early) and allows kids to make mistakes in a practice environment where it’s encouraged rather than a game environment where the fear of being embarrassed or being subbed out often keeps kids in their comfort zone.
I hope that any youth coaches who happen to read this will consider giving some feedback as well as consider some of what I have to say. As always, I appreciate you checking out our website. Thanks and Go Demons!