AMERICA NEEDS MORE “TEACHING” FROM IT’S COACHES

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By Jay Bilas
I have been watching more high school and junior basketball than ever, and I am worried about what I see. The canary in the United States’ basketball coal mine has not yet died, but it is starting to teeter on its perch.
No reasonable basketball person can refute the fact that the fundamental skills of American players are slipping, and so is the American game. I believe a primary reason is an increased emphasis on coaching the game, and a decreased emphasis on teaching our kids how to play the game.
Pete Newell, the legendary coach and teacher, has often said that basketball is “over-coached and under-taught”. He is absolutely right, and that is finally catching up with us, as is the rest of the basketball world.

Generally, “coaching” consists of team preparation, the devising of game plans and schemes to defeat opponents. When you are coaching, you are dealing with strategies, different offenses and defenses, and putting in plays to take advantage of the skills, strengths and weaknesses of your players. The measure of a coach is the quality of the development of his system, and has been distilled into winning.
“Teaching” consists of instruction and training of individuals in the fundamental skills of the game, and in teaching players how to play, instead of how to run plays. The measure of a teacher is not in winning, but in the fundamental soundness and skill level of the players taught. A player with excellent fundamentals and skills can play successfully in any system.
Generally, American players are less skilled than their European counterparts. The United States produces the best “athletes” in the game, but not necessarily the best “basketball players”.
Here are the reasons why American coaches, at all levels, have gotten away from teaching, and have gravitated more to coaching.
Immediate Gratification of Coaches: Coaches, especially at the grassroots and high school levels, seem more interested than ever in winning rather than developing well-skilled and fundamentally sound players. They are impatient, and too focused on winning games instead of developing players.
It takes time to teach and instill discipline. While it may seem more important to spend the majority of time in practice working on the execution of halfcourt offense, or putting in new set plays, it is far more important to develop the skills of your players. Coaches do not have enough time with their players anymore, which means that floor time cannot be wasted.
High school coaches get less floor time than ever to teach, and less and less access to their players. Players now play an excessive amount of games over the summer in AAU competition, which means that they play many games and have far fewer practices.
While young kids are busy traversing the country to play in AAU competitions, they are spending hour upon hour running up and down the court in a helter-skelter atmosphere where, 95 percent of the time, they do not have the ball in their hands. What this does is cement bad habits — and habits, good or bad, are what players revert to under stress.
If these same players were in focused practice environments instead of in so many games, they would spend the majority of time with the ball in their hands, working on their skills and footwork.
Increased Specialization: Basketball in this country has become over-specialized, and players have become “systematized”.
Kids are identified by size and body type into positions way too early on in their devopment and are “coached” differently. As young kids, players are told, “you are a point guard,” “you are a power forward,” “you are a center.” Then the guards and big guys are separated, sent to opposite ends of the floor, and coached to work upon different skills that are specific to position.
In Europe, players are encouraged to work on the same skills, whether small guard or big forward.
The result of this specialization is that our players are boxed into positions, and therefore limited. Why should kids be labeled and limited into being “point guards” or “shooting guards” and coached to be only that? A point guard is coached to be a primary ballhandler, while a shooting guard is coached to be a scorer and therefore limited in making the “transition” to the point. Similarly, big guys in America are used as screeners, rebounders and low-post robots. Very few programs in America, college, high school or lower level, produce versatile and skilled big men who can dribble, pass and shoot.
We cannot expect the players to combat this trend. Players want to play and will do whatever the coaches tell them to do because, ultimately, the players want to play out on the floor, and coaches control playing time. Doing what the coach tells you to do is a necessary element of gaining playing time at any level. And we cannot expect players to simply work on individual skills on their own. We would not expect kids to educate themselves outside of a classroom environment, we certainly cannot expect it in sport.
European programs approach teaching differently. Players are not limited in how much they can practice, and therefore spend from 60 to 90 minutes in the morning working on footwork, shooting and ballskills. The same players then practice another 60 to 90 minutes in the afternoon on more team-oriented concepts. There is no separation of big guys and guards, every player works on the same skills. As a result, European players are generally more well-rounded and more fundamentally sound. And they are more coveted by coaches at all levels.
Shoe Companies and AAU Basketball: Contrary to popular belief, the shoe companies and AAU programs are not full of bad people looking to exploit kids. As in any endeavor, there are good people and bad people in those organizations. However, it is clear that the goals of the shoe companies and AAU programs are at odds with the proper teaching and development of fundamentally sound players.
Whether well intentioned or not, shoe companies are in the business of selling shoes, not growing the game. While the major shoe companies have “grassroots” programs, they are more interested in growing their influence than in growing the game. The best evidence of that is in the national camps run by Nike and adidas every summer. These camps are designed to showcase players against the best competition, not improve their skills. Instead of running stations in the morning or early afternoon, where the players would spend time at each different basket in the gym working on individual skills, they play games all day.
The coaches and scouts evaluating these players would much rather watch the kids in one game per day and get the chance to evaluate skill levels through station work. And the kids would be better off as well. But teaching is not the goal.
The same goes for AAU programs. Far too many AAU coaches are more interested in playing and winning games, rather than teaching young players the skills necessary to be successful players. While young kids are travelling the country playing games, they are not able to practice or work on their games. It is really that simple.
Skills ‘Players’ Need to Have
Fundamentally sound players need to be able to handle the ball, shoot the ball, pass the ball, and use their feet. Unless a player has these basic skills mastered, he will be limited and therefore easy to guard and difficult to play with.
Here are the basic skills needed by every player on the court:
Ballhandling: If a player cannot handle the ball with either hand, he will get attacked and overwhelmed by the defense because he cannot go anywhere off the dribble. To be a competent ballhandler, a player needs to be able to control the ball with either hand, and know the proper use of the dribble given the situation. Once a player knows when and how to dribble, how to set up his man to make a dribble move, and has the basic skills and footwork, he becomes much harder to guard, and much more valuable to any team.
The best way to become a better ballhandler is to handle the ball more often. Repetition is the key to success as a ballhandler, whether it is doing game speed drills in dribbling around cones or executing the footwork and handling of a spin move, rocker step or reverse pivot. Ballhandlers must also learn to handle the ball playing against a defender. That is the only way to learn how to protect the ball, use the body, and learn to set the defender up for counters. If you want to make players better handlers of the ball, make them handle the ball. And make the big guys handle it in the same situations you ask guards to handle it.
Shooting If you cannot shoot the ball, you will always be able to get an open shot, because nobody guards a substandard shooter. Like ballhandling, the best way to become a better shooter is to shoot the ball over and over again at game speed. The motto for shooters in practice should be “game shots, game spots, at game speed”. Shooting “game” shots over and over creates muscle memory, and provides confidence to the shooter.
The first thing shooters must learn to do is to look at the basket when they catch the ball. Defenders must believe that you are a threat to shoot the ball, and nobody will by that if you don’t look at the basket, and no good defender will go for a shotfake. In looking at the rim, a player will be able to see what is going on under it as well. To be a good shooter, a player has to use his feet effectively to create space and get open, and must be ready to shoot as the ball arrives. Good shooters go straight up and down without drifting, and therefore don’t have to shoot at a moving target. They have their shooting hand under the ball, and the elbow under their shooting hand. The motion should be up and not out in order to shoot a soft ball with good trajectory and velocity.
Whatever shot a player wants to perfect, the proper repetition of that particular shot is the key. No player can get that proper repetition by simply playing in games, but must be made to do it in practice.
Passing: No skill in American basketball that is more neglected than passing. Good coaches will tell you that the quality of the pass determines the quality of the shot. That is absolutely correct. In order to score, the defense has to be moved, and the pass is the most effective way to move a defense.
Players need to be taught how to properly throw two-hand chest passes, overhead passes, bounce passes with either hand, and to pass with exactness and imagination. The first rule of passing is that, if you have a clear path to an open player, pass him the ball. You do not pass-fake to open people, you pass the ball to them. Passing should not be a last resort, after you have exhausted all possibilities to obtain your own shot. Rather, you should pass the ball to get your team the best quality shot. Watch any game, on any level, and see for yourself how many times passes are made only when all other avenues have been closed. It happens a lot.
If a player cannot pass, he cannot play, and the ball dies in his hands.
Footwork: Basketball is played with the feet, and every phase of the game is dependent upon good footwork. In any game, a player plays 90 percent or more of the game without the ball. Learning how to play with your feet, offensively and defensively, is of vital importance for basketball players at any level, and an area in which youngsters need the most attention and instruction. Without attention to detail of the footwork necessary to execute basic moves in the game, and to create space, the player is severely limited.
The United States has the best athletes, the best coaches and the most basketball resources in the world. We need to spend less time coaching, and more time teaching, especially at lower levels of the game. We need to encourage coaches to teach, not just to coach, and for players to practice, not just to play. There is no reason why our best athletes cannot be our best players. If we do a better job of teaching, the level of play in the United States will skyrocket, and the game will be better for it.

16 RULES FOR PARENTS

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By Allen Stein

As both a coach and a father, I want to offer my 16 Rules for Basketball Parents:

  1. Parents… you must embrace the fact that this is your child’s journey – not yours. Do not live vicariously through them. Put your focus on being a supportive and encouraging parent.
  2. Parents… it’s true. Coaches do play favorites. They favor players who give the team the best chance to win, who have great attitudes, who work hard every day, who embrace their role (regardless of what that role is) and who support the program’s culture.  If you think a coach doesn’t ‘like’ your child; your child is more than likely deficient in one (or more) of these areas.
  3. Parents… as far as playing time goes, coaches want to win. They want to win badly. If your child will help them win… they will play. If not… they won’t.  Period.
  4. Parents… more often than not, your child’s coach is in a better position to evaluate and determine appropriate playing time because they see everything. They see workouts, practices, meetings, film breakdown and games (where as most parents get an incomplete picture because they only see games).
  5. Parents… more often than not, through both experience and professional development, coaches usually have a better basketball IQ and general understanding of the game then parents do (so questioning a coach’s X’s & O’s or their ability to judge talent is inappropriate).
  6. Parents… stop coaching your child from the sideline. The only ‘voice’ a player should receive instructions from is the ‘voice’ of their coaching staff.  Cheer for them all you want, but do not coach them. That isn’t your job.
  7. Parents… you love your child more than anything in the world. You always want what is best for them(which is understandable and respectable).  However, a coach’s obligation is to do what is best for the TEAM.  In many instances, what you want for your child and what is best of the team is not congruent.
  8. Parents… you should never push to discuss playing time, strategy or another player with your child’s coach. Ever. Those 3 domains are sacred ground.
  9. Parents… politicking will never get your child more playing time. I promise you, this statement hasnever been said by a coach in the history of high school basketball, “I really need to start playing Jeffrey more because his mom thinks he isn’t playing enough.”
  10. Parents… you should encourage your child to communicate any issues, questions or concerns they have (or you have) directly with their coach by having them schedule a meeting. It is my belief, as a parent, you have the right to attend that meeting, simply as an observant, but the discussion should be between your child and the coach.
  11. Parents… do not undermine your child’s coach in the car ride home or at the dinner table. Subtle, passive aggressive comments like ‘Your coach doesn’t know what he’s doing’ or ‘I can’t believe you don’t play more’ do not comfort your child (although I am sure that is your intention) – it enables them to have a bad attitude and to make excuses… both of which are unacceptable.
  12. Parents… if your child isn’t getting the playing time they feel they deserve or if they lose a tough game… use that experience as a powerful teaching tool. Teach them how to own it. Teach them what they can do in the future to possibly get a different outcome.
  13. Parents… stop berating the referees. It sets a bad example and it makes you look foolish. The referees are doing the best they can. More often than not, a referee has a better position and a much better understanding of the rules to make the correct call then a parent does. And I promise you this statement has never been said either, “Can we stop the game? I’m sorry everyone. The loud-mouth mom in the stands is right, her son did get fouled on that last play.”
  14. Parents… it is highly unlikely that your child will play professionally.  In fact, statistically, only a very small percentage of you will have children that play in college. So let them enjoy the journey. Their playing days will be over before you know it. Use basketball as a vehicle to teach the life lessons they will need when they grow up.
  15. Parents… don’t push your child too hard.  It’s OK to encourage. It’s OK to suggest. It’s OK to hold your child to a very high standard of excellence… but don’t force them to ‘get up extra shots’ or get in extra workouts.  That has to come from them, not you.  If they choose to do those things on their own, be supportive. If they choose not to, if they choose to only do the bare minimum, they will eventually learn a potent life lesson (not make the team, not get much playing time, etc.).
  16. Parents… one of the best things you can do is develop a quality relationship with your child’s coach. Listen to this for some sound advice:

5 Things Every Point Guard Should Know

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Playing the point guard position in basketball comes with a lot of responsibilities. The position comes with an added role of leadership and being able to get the team organized on the offensive and defensive end, as well as being a skilled player. A lot of point guards are considered the coach on the floor or the general of the team. If you look at the elite point guards likeChris Paul and Rajon Rondo you will see that they lead their team and look to make every player around them better.

Since being a basketball point guard requires so much of the player, it can become a very challenging position. That is why I have created a list of things that every point guard should know about playing this position. So whether you have just started playing point guard, or have been playing it for a while and are looking for ways to be a better player, this article is for you.

1) Take Care of the Ball

As a point guard you must be able to take care of the basketball. If you are throwing the ball around the gym and turning it over frequently your team is going to struggle, and you will most likely end up on the bench. So you need to make sure that you are making good basketball passes and staying out of situations that have a high turnover probability. Stay out of spots on the floor where you can get trapped and where there is a lot of congestion, and don’t force the action. A good point guard is able to see the floor and stay out of situations where there are a lot of hands and people. Just being able to recognize these types of places on the floor will help you limit your turnovers drastically.

2) Be a Leader on the Floor

Some players are more naturally outspoken than others and it is easier for them to be leaders. With the point guard position though you are going to need to get out of your comfort zone and be a leader, whether you are natural leader or not. It is your job to be able to get the team organized on offense and defense. You are an extension of the coach on the floor and you need to know the offense and the game plan better than anyone else out there on the floor. This will require more time on your part studying the plays, learning the defense, etc. but if you want to be a great point guard than this is necessary.

3) Make your Teammates Better

You will have the basketball in your hands more than anyone else on the floor and you will be running the offense. One of your jobs from this position is being able to help your teammates get great scoring opportunities. Great point guards are able to set their teammates up for good shots in places where they are comfortable with the ball. So whether it is driving the paint to kick out to a down ready shooter for an open shot, or running a play to get the ball into the post player, you need to make sure that you are helping your teammates out.

If you see that one of the better scorers on your team is struggling to get going then you need to be able to run a play that gets them a high quality shot. You must be able to keep your finger on the pulse of your team and know your teammates.

4) Pressure the Ball

As a point guard bringing the ball up the floor you know how annoying it is to get pressured and not be able to get into the offense as easily as you would like. Well the same thing goes for the ball handler on the other team. If you can provide good ball pressure (especially in high school and college basketball where there is a 5 second closely guarded call) you can add a lot of value to your team. The other team’s point guard will be so nervous about the pressure that they won’t be able to get their team into the offense.

Pressuring the ball does not mean reaching, gambling, and getting out of defensive position (unless that is your team’s game plan). You must be able to keep your man in front of you, because if not they will just get into the paint and carve up your defense. Be able to pressure, while also being able to contain the ball.

5) Play at Different Speeds

A player with the ball that plays at the same speed the whole time is easy to guard, but a player that mixes up their speeds and is unpredictable becomes a lot harder to guard. It is not always about being lightning quick with the ball, but you do need to be able to go from slow to fast and fast to slow while handling the basketball. This will keep the defender guessing and off balance when they try to pressure you on defense, or when they are trying to keep you out of the paint.

The harder you are to guard off the dribble the more value you bring to your team. If you are able to get into the paint to kick the ball out for a shot, or dump it off for a layup, etc. you add a lot to your team on the offensive end. You need to be able to get into the paint though within the offense, not by using 10 dribbles to try and break your man down.

How to Contact College Coaches

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What’s the best way to get on a college coach’s radar when seeking an athletic scholarship?

You first need to understand that the burden is on your family to contact coaches. This might seem like an easy thing to do, but parents and teenagers frequently make mistakes when reaching out.

Below you’ll see some frequent mistakes that families make, as well as my recommendations on how to attract a coach’s attention.

Five Common Mistakes When Contacting Coaches

1. Do not send out hundreds of identical “Dear coach…” emails.

Coaches can smell spam a mile away.  If they get a non-personalized email, they are just going to hit “delete”.

2. Do not mass mail DVDs to coaches. 

There is a role for athlete videos, but you should never use a video as an introductory contact.  Most coaches don’t want to take the time to watch an athlete’s video until after they’ve done some screening of the athlete’s facts and stats.

3. Don’t fill out a questionnaire to introduce yourself.

Coaches want you to do that, but you’ll just blend in with the crowd if you try this as the introductory approach.  You don’t want to blend in, you want to stand out.  You’ll eventually be filling out the school questionnaire, but not initially.

4. Don’t let your parents phone coaches.

Phone calls aren’t useful to coaches for a number of reasons.  First, they take a lot of time that a coach would rather invest after he or she screens a prospective athlete.  Second, the coach would rather talk with athletes than with their parents, scoping the athletes out to find out what they think, what their level of interest is, where their head is, etc.

5. Don’t rely on your high school coach to make every coach contact.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s great when your coach makes contact to coaches.  He knows how to promote you.  That goes a long way but that usually only exposes you to a handful of colleges.  High school coaches don’t have the time and they don’t have the know-how to run an effective campaign for you.

The Right Way to Contact College Coaches

If you want to get on a coach’s radar and want to be recruited by that school, what should you do? Create a well crafted introductory packet to send to a coach.

The packet needs to introduce the athlete to the coach in a very personal way.  It needs to get the coach’s interest and make the coach want to know more.  You should never send an all inclusive “here’s everything” dump, but you should provide the just right info to get his or her interest.

The two things to include are a one-page cover letter and a one-page profile that includes the athlete’s key athletic, academic and personal information.

Your letter should be a few short paragraphs that introduce yourself to the coach.  It should be personalized to each coach, addressing him or her by name and specifically mentioning the school.  Begin by introducing yourself and explaining in one sentence why you want to compete at that
school.  Continue with a paragraph about your athletic abilities and a couple of your best stats.  Finally, conclude by sharing what you feel you can contribute to the program.

If you’re sending your packet by email, the cover letter would be the body of the email and the profile should be attached.

On the profile, you will include all your family and contact information, personal information and some of your specific stats.  You can see some samples of one-page profiles by doing a Google search on the term “athletic recruiting resume” and viewing “images.”

The one-page profile is a way for the coach to get a feel for your talent level.  Of course, seeing you in person or watching your video will really be the true test.  However, the profile will at least give him or her an indication and will hopefully lead to a response for further information.

Your kid and my kid are not playing in the pros

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Posted By 

I don’t care if your eight year old can throw a baseball through six inches of plywood. He is not going to the pros. I don’t care if your twelve-year-old scored seven touchdowns last week in Pop Warner. He is not going to the pros. I don’t care if your sixteen-year-old made first team all-state in basketball. He is not playing in the pros. I don’t care if your freshman in college is a varsity scratch golfer, averaging two under par. He isn’t playing in the pros. Now tell me again how good he is. I’ll lay you two to one odds right now — and I don’t even know your kid, I have never even see them play — but I’ll put up my pension that your kid is not playing in the pros. It is simply an odds thing. There are far too many variables working against your child. Injury, burnout, others who are better — these things are just a fraction of the barriers preventing your child from becoming “the one.”

So how do we balance being the supportive parent who spends three hours a day driving all over hell’s half acre to allow our child to pursue his or her dream without becoming the supportive parent that drives all over hell’s half acre to allow our child to pursue OUR dream? When does this pursuit of athletic stardom become something just shy of a gambling habit? From my experience in the ER I’ve developed some insight in how to identify the latter.

1. When I inform you as a parent that your child has just ruptured their ACL ligament or Achilles tendon, if the next question out of your mouth is, “How long until he or she will be able to play?” you have a serious problem.

2. If you child is knocked unconscious during a football game and can’t remember your name let alone my name but you feel it is a “vital” piece of medical information to let me know that he is the starting linebacker and that the team will probably lose now because he was taken out of the game, you need to see a counselor.

3. If I tell you that mononucleosis has caused the spleen to swell and that participation in a contact sport could cause a life threatening rupture and bleeding during the course of the illness and you then ask me, “If we just get some extra padding around the spleen, would it be OK to play?” someone needs to hit you upside the head with a two by four.

4. If your child comes in with a blood alcohol level of .250 after wrecking your Lexus and you ask if I can hurry up and get them out of the ER before the police arrive so as not to run the risk of her getting kicked off the swim team, YOU need to be put in jail.

I bet you think I’m kidding about the above patient and parent interactions. I wish I were, but I’m not. These are a fraction of the things I have heard when it comes to children and sports. Every ER doctor in America sees this. How did we get here? How did we go from spending our family times in parks and picnics, at movies and relatives houses to travel baseball and cheerleading competitions? When did we go from being supportive to being subtly abusive?

Why are we spending our entire weekends schlepping from county to county, town to town, state to state to play in some bullshit regional, junior, mid-west, southeast, invitational, elite, prep, all- state, conference, blah, blah, blah tourney? We decorate our cars with washable paint, streamers, numbers and names. We roll in little carpool caravans trekking down the interstate honking and waiving at each other like Rev. Jim Jones followers in a Kool-Aid line. Greyhounds, Hawks, Panthers, Eagles, Bobcats, Screaming Devils, Scorching Gonads or whatever other mascot adorns their jerseys. 

Somewhere along the line we got distracted, and the practice field became the dinner table of the new millennium. Instead of huddling around a platter of baked chicken, mashed potatoes and fruit salad, we spend our evenings handing off our children like 4 x 200 batons. From baseball practice to cheerleading, from swimming lessons to personal training, we have become the “hour-long” generation of five to six, six to seven, and seven to eight, selling the souls of our family for lacrosse try-outs. But why do we do this?

It’s because, just like everyone else, we’re afraid. We are afraid that Emma will make the cheerleading squad instead of Suzy and that Mitch will start at first base instead of my Dillon. But it doesn’t stop there. You see, if Mitch starts instead of Dillon then Dillon will feel like a failure, and if Dillon feels like a failure then he will sulk and cower in his room, and he will lose his friends because all his friends are on the baseball team, too, and if he loses his friends then he will start dressing in Goth duds, pierce his testicles, start using drugs and begin listening to headbanging music with his door locked. Then, of course, it’s just a matter of time until he’s surfing the net for neo-Nazi memorabilia, visiting gun shows and then opening fire in the school cafeteria. That is why so many fathers who bring their injured sons to the ER are so afraid that they won’t be able to practice this week, or that he may miss the game this weekend. Miss a game, you become a mass murderer — it’s that simple.

Suzy is a whole other story, though. You see, if she doesn’t make the cheerleading squad she will lose a whole bunch of friends and not be as popular as she should (and she’s REAL popular). If she loses some friends, she will be devastated — all the cool kids will talk about her behind her back, so then she’ll sit in her room all day, eating Ding Dongs and cutting at her wrists. Then, of course, it is only a matter of time until she is chatting on the Internet with fifty-year-old men and meeting up with them at truck stops. And that is why every mother is so frightened when her daughters have mononucleosis or influenza. Miss cheerleading practice for a week, and your daughter is headed for a career in porn. It’s that simple.

We have become a frightened society that can literally jump from point A to point Z and ignore everything in between. We spend so much time worrying about who might get ahead — and if we’re falling behind — that we have simply lost our common sense. Myself included.

There was a time when sick or injured children were simply sick or injured children. They needed bed rest, fluid, antibiotics and a limitation on activity. They just needed to get better. They didn’t NEED to get better.

I know, I know. Your family is different. You do all these things because your kid loves to compete, he loves the travel basketball, she loves the swim team, it’s her life, it’s what defines him. Part of that is certainly true but a big part of that isn’t. Tens of thousands of families thrive in this setting, but I’m telling you, from what I’ve seen as a clinician, tens of thousands don’t. It is a hidden scourge in society today, taxing and stressing husbands, wives, parents and children. We’re denying children the opportunity to explore literally thousands of facets of interests because of the fear of the need to “specialize” in something early, and that by not doing this your child will somehow be just an average kid. How do we learn to rejoice in the average and celebrate as a whole society the exceptional? I’m not sure, but I know that this whole preoccupation is unhealthy, it is dysfunctional and is as bad as alcoholism, tobacco abuse, or any other types of dependency.

I would love to have a son that is a pro athlete. I’d get season tickets; all the other fathers would point at me and I might get a chance to meet Sandy Koufax. It isn’t going to happen, though. But you know what I am certain will happen? I’ll raise self-reliant kids, who will hang out with me when I’m older, remember my birthday, care for their mother, take me to lunch and the movies, buy me club level seats at Yankee Stadium on occasion, call me at least four times a week and let me in on all the good things in their life, and turn to me for some comfort and advice for all the bad things. I am convinced that those things just will not happen as much for parents of the “hour-long” generation. You can’t create a sense of family only at spring and Christmas break. It just won’t happen. Sure, the kids will probably grow up to be adequate adults. They’ll reflect on how supportive you were by driving them to all their games and practices and workouts. They’ll call the ER from a couple states away to see how mom’s doing but in time you’ll see that something will be missing, something that was sacrificed for a piano tutor, a pitching coach, a travel soccer tournament. It may take years, but in time, you’ll see.

The Race to Nowhere In Youth Sports

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By: John O’Sullivan

“My 4th grader tried to play basketball and soccer last year,” a mom recently told me as we sat around the dinner table after one of my speaking engagements. “It was a nightmare. My son kept getting yelled at by both coaches as we left one game early to race to a game in the other sport. He hated it.”

“I know,” said another. “My 10 year old daughter’s soccer coach told her she had to pick one sport, and start doing additional private training on the side, or he would give away her spot on the team.”

So goes the all too common narrative for American youth these days, an adult driven, hyper competitive race to the top in both academics and athletics that serves the needs of the adults, but rarely the kids. As movies such as “The Race to Nowhere” and recent articles such as this one from the Washington Post point out, while the race has a few winners, the course is littered with the scarred psyches of its participants. We have a generation of children that have been pushed to achieve parental dreams instead of their own, and prodded to do more, more, more and better, better, better. The pressure and anxiety is stealing one thing our kids will never get back; their childhood.

The movie and article mentioned above, as well as the book The Overachievers: The Secret Lives of Driven Kids, highlight the dangerous path we have led our children down in academics. We are leading them down a similar path in sports as well.

The path is a race to nowhere, and it does not produce better athletes. It produces bitter athletes who get hurt, burnout, and quit sports altogether.

As I said to my wife recently, the hardest thing about raising two kids these days, when it comes to sports, is that the vast majority of the parents are leading their kids down the wrong path, but not intentionally or because they want to harm their kids. They love their kids, but the social pressure to follow that path is incredible. Even though my wife and I were collegiate athletes, and I spend everyday reading the research, and studying the latest science on the subject, the pressure is immense. The social pressure is like having a conversation with a pathological liar; he is so good at lying that even when you know the truth, you start to doubt it.  Yet that is the sport path many parents are following.

The reason? FEAR!

We are so scared that if we do not have our child specialize, if we do not get the extra coaching, or give up our entire family life for youth sports, our child will get left behind. Even though nearly every single parent I speak to tells me that in their gut they have this feeling that running their child ragged is not helpful, they do not see an alternative. Another kid will take his place.  He won’t get to play for the best coach. “I know he wants to go on the family camping trip,” they say, “but he will just have to miss it again, or the other kids will get ahead of him.”

This system sucks.

It sucks for parents, many of whom do not have the time and resources to keep one child in such a system, never mind multiple athletes. There are no more family trips or dinners, no time or money to take a vacation. It causes parents untold stress and anxiety, as they are made to feel guilty by coaches and their peers if they don’t step in line with everyone else. “You are cheating your kid out of a scholarship” they are told, “They may never get this chance again.”

It sucks for coaches who want to develop athletes for long term excellence, instead of short term success. The best coaches used to be able to develop not only better athletes, but better people, yet it is getting hard to be that type of coach. There are so many coaches who have walked away from sports because while they encourage kids to play multiple sports, other unscrupulous coaches scoop those kids up, and tell them “if you really want to be a player, you need to play one sport year round. That other club is short changing your kid, they are not competitive.” The coach who does it right gives his kids a season off, and next thing you know he no longer has a team.

And yes, most importantly, it sucks for the kids. Any sports scientist or psychologist will tell you that in order to pursue any achievement activity for the long term, children need ownership, enjoyment and intrinsic motivation.  Without these three things, an athlete is very likely to quit.

Children need first and foremost to enjoy their sport. This is the essence of being a child. Kids are focused in the present, and do not think of long term goals and ambitions. But adults do. They see “the opportunities I never had” or “the coaching I wish I had” as they push their kids to their goals and not those of the kids.

They forget to give their kids the one thing they did have: A CHILDHOOD! They forget to give them the ability to find things they are passionate about, instead of choosing for them. They forget that a far different path worked pretty darn well for them.

So why this massive movement, one that defies all science and psychology, to change it?

We need to wise up and find a better path.

Parents, start demanding sports clubs and coaches that allow your kids to participate in many sports. You are the customers, you are paying the bills, so you might as well start buying a product worth paying for. You have science on your side, and you have Long Term Athletic Development best practices on your side. Your kids do not deserve or need participation medals and trophies, as some of you are so fond of saying, but they do deserve a better, more diverse youth sports experience.

Coaches, you need to wise up as well. You are the gatekeepers of youth sports, the people who play God, and decide who gets in, and who is kicked to the curb. You know the incredible influence of sport in your life, so stop denying it to so many others. Are you so worried about your coaching ability, or about the quality of the sport you love, to think that if you do not force kids to commit early they will leave? Please realize that if you are an amazing coach with your priorities in order, and you teach a beautiful game well, that kids will flock to you in droves, not because they have to, but because they want to!

Every time you ask a 9 year old to choose one sport over another you are diminishing participation in the sport you love by 50%. WHY?

To change this we must overcome the fear, the guilt and the shame.

We are not bad parents if our kids don’t get into Harvard, and we are not bad parents if they do not get a scholarship to play sports in college. We should not feel shame or guilt every time our kid does not keep up with the Jones’s, because, when it comes to sports, the Jones’s are wrong.

As this recent article from USA Lacrosse stated, college coaches are actually looking to multi sport athletes in recruiting. Why? Because they have an upside, they are better all around athletes, they are not done developing, and they are less likely to burnout.

You cannot make a kid into something she is not by forcing them into a sport at a very young age, and pursuing your goals and not your child’s goals. Things like motivation, grit, genetics and enjoyment have too much say in the matter.

What you can do, though, is rob a child of the opportunity to be a child, to play freely, to explore sports of interest, to learn to love sports and become active for life.

Chances are great that your children will be done with sports by high school, as only a select few play in college and beyond. Even the elite players are done at an age when they have over half their life ahead of them. It is not athletic ability, but the lessons learned from sport that need to last a lifetime.

Why not expose them to as many of those lifelong lessons as possible?

Why not take a stand?

Why don’t we stop being sheep, following the other sheep down a road to nowhere that both science and common sense tells us often ends badly?

It is time to stop being scared, and stand up for your kids. Read a book on the subject, pass on this article to like minded people, bring in a speaker to your club and school, but do something to galvanize people to act.

There are more of us who want to do right by the kids than there are those whose egos and wallets have created our current path. We have just been too quite for too long. We have been afraid to speak up, and afraid to take a stand. We are far too willing to throw away our child’s present for some ill fated quest for a better future that rarely materializes, and is often filled with so much baggage that we would never wish for such a future for our kids.

If you think your child will thank you for that, then you probably stopped reading awhile ago.

But if you want to get off the road to nowhere in youth sports, and to stop feeling guilty about it, then please know you are not alone. Our voice is growing stronger every day. We can create a new reality, with new expectations that put the athletes first.

We can put our children on a road to somewhere, one paved with balanced childhoods, exploration, enjoyment, and yes, multiple sports.

Someday our kids will thank us.

WHY 3 ON 3 IS BEST FOR YOUNG PLAYERS

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1. PLAYERS TOUCH THE BALL MORE OFTEN.
In the 5 on 5 game, players can go almost the whole game without touching the ball. In 3 on 3, you could touch the ball almost every possession. More shooting, passing and dribbling opportunities. When the player gets more experience handling the ball during game situations, the player is going to improve at a faster rate.

2. MORE ROOM TO OPERATE.
Fewer players creates a less congested basket area. Six kids close to the hoop instead of ten crammed in, allows for freer movement to open spaces when “moving without the ball”. 3 on 3 gives them more room to operate and practice their skills.

3. LEARN THE GAME AT A FASTER RATE.
With only six players on the court, players are more inclined to run the pick-and-roll or screen away without a coach even telling them to do so, because there are fewer options out there. After awhile, they will start to figure things out for themselves which is exactly what you want the players to do. With fewer players on the court, it gives them a split second longer to recognize a situation.

4. PREPARE PLAYERS FOR 5 ON 5.
3 on 3 teaches players offensive spacing, moving without the ball, 1 on 1 skills, reading defenses, using screens, defensive skills and positioning and many other skills necessary to be an effective player in 5 on 5. These skills are extremely valuable and very effective when players begin playing 5 on 5 at a competitive level.

5. NO PRESSING, ZONES OR ELABORATE PLAYS.
Now, instead of spending time on breaking full court pressure, or half-court pressure and playing against a 1-3-1, 3-2 or 2-3 zones, coaches can focus on the FUNDAMENTALS. Instead of learning plays, players will learn HOW to play!

Here’s a Reality Check If You’re Aiming for a Basketball Scholarship.

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Are you currently in High School, working your butt off aiming for that college scholarship to play basketball? Or do you know someone that is? Here is a reality check on what your actual chances are of getting that scholarship to play Division 1 basketball.

Here’s the math:
There are currently 351 Division 1 teams that each offer 13 scholarships a year.
On average, that means there are 1141 available new scholarships each year.
However, 30% of Junior College/Prep School players take those scholarships (342 total) that leaves us with 800.
Additionally, 10% of all scholarships go to overseas players which means we need to take off another 114.
That leaves us with 686 players that Division 1 schools can sign directly out of High School in the US.
Now let’s do some sums. There are 38,400 public and private High Schools in the US that offer a basketball programme.
On average, there are 4 seniors that play for each varsity team.
This means there are 154,600 High School Seniors, give or take, trying to get 686 scholarships.
The math on that? 0.4%. Yes, as an American High School Senior you have a 0.4% chance of getting an NCAA Division 1 scholarship.
It gets worse though. Half of these scholarships will go to players 6’5″ or taller. So if you’re under 6’5″, reduce your chances to about 0.2%.
However, all is not lost. Division 2 programme offers 765 scholarships per year, and NAIA schools offers a thousand plus, half or full, scholarships. So in total this increases your odds to around a 1% chance of getting a scholarship to college if you’re a HS senior.

They say pressure bursts pipes or makes diamonds. The question is, are you going to use this as a sign you have no hope and give up, or use it as motivation to work even harder?

Is Bryant right about AAU basketball? Well, it’s complicated.

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When Kobe Bryant speaks, the basketball world listens. On Friday night, after the Lakers were defeated at home by the Memphis Grizzlies to fall to 10-23 overall, Bryant channeled his frustration from a losing season toward the development of youth players in the United States.

After watching Memphis’ Spanish-born center Marc Gasol turn in another masterful performance, Bryant declared that Europeans players are more skilled than Americans. He blamed “horrible, terrible AAU basketball” for what he believes is the deterioration of fundamentals among players in this country, citing the Spurs’ diverse roster and the Gasol brothers as examples of Europe’s superior ability to teach the game.

Bryant offered advice to American youth programs in a way that only Bryant can:

“Teach players the game at an early age and stop treating them like cash cows for everyone to profit off of,” he said. “That’s how you do that. You have to teach them the game. Give them instruction.”

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You only need to know about the bizarre recruiting stories of Antonio Blakeney and Skal Labissiere over to last six months to know Bryant has a point. Like most things with the Lakers’ star this season, though, it’s complicated.

Grassroots basketball has changed dramatically in the last 20 years since Bryant was turning himself into a star at Philadelphia’s Lower Merion High School. Experience has helped color his perspective: he won his last two championships with Pau Gasol as his chief sidekick, but he’s also played with plenty of “AAU” products over the years. Even successful ones like Andrew Bynum seemed to find a way to irritate Bryant.

There’s no question Bryant knows the game, so his comments carry a certain significance. But unlike LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Chris Paul, all of whom host youth camps for elite young players every summer, Bryant is further removed from the current state of youth development.

He isn’t the only high-profile player to think this way, but his comments are still sweeping generalizations. With that in mind, here are three misconceptions about “AAU”.

1. “AAU ball” is not all encompassing

“AAU” isn’t even the right term. “AAU” is simply an organization within the broader scope of grassroots basketball, the general label for teams and leagues that play when the high school season is over.

High level grassroots ball is generally contained to three shoe company leagues run by Nike, adidas and Under Armour. There’s almost no streamlined regulation between the three leagues or any of the extra tournaments that take place during the year.

Grassroots teams pull their players from a variety of different places. Some teams only take kids from a certain city, some from one state, others from an entire region. Because of the way these teams are set up, many are unable to practice regularly when you factor in school obligations and the travel restrictions involved in getting the players together. In that sense, Bryant is getting at something.

In another, grassroots ball was never created to teach fundamentals. It about competition: getting the best players playing against each other.

The lack of structure and regulation dictates that every team and every league is going to be different. Some players are going to receive really good coaching. That’s the reality of the situation.

2. America is producing a ton of great young basketball players — and it’s not all athleticism

The NBA is loaded with young talent right now that came from the same scene Bryant is taking issue with. There aren’t many players in the history of the game as skilled and fundamentally sound as LeBron James, and he’s perhaps the biggest poster child for the system. From Anthony Davis to John Wall to Blake Griffin, every American-born star less than 30 years old came up through grassroots ball. It must be doing something right.

Bryant’s assertion that players today lack fundamentals rings a bit hollow, as well. Big men are more skilled now than ever. There weren’t always players nearly seven-feet tall who could shoot and put the ball on the floor, but that’s the way the game is going. There’s more of those types of players now than ever. Another example: all of the great young point guards in the NBA right now. Are Russell Westbrook, Damian Lilliard and Steph Curry lacking fundamentals?

While Bryant’s head might have been in the right place, he didn’t exactly nail down what he was trying to get at. A better way to say it might have been like this:

There are noticeable differences between the Euro game and the American one, but it doesn’t all come down to fundamentals.

3. The problems with grassroots ball extend beyond the lack of teaching

Bryant is right about one thing: grassroots ball is far from perfect. There are plenty of ways it can improved, but it probably isn’t going to happen the way it’s currently set up. You can thank NCAA rules and major corporations.

Grassroots ball has allowed elite young players to face elite competition throughout the spring and the summer, but it’s also making them play a lot of games. The schedule for a player like Jaylen Brown, currently the No. 2-rated player in the class of 2015, can be pretty insane. This summer, Brown crisscrossed around the world (not just the country) on a schedule that might be even more intensive than the one some NBA teams face.

Brown is a Georgia native. This past summer, he played in Treviso, Italy at adidas Eurocamp, went to Colorado Springs for USA Basketball’s U18 team, made two separate trips to Chicago (first for adidas Unrivaled camp and then for the Nike Global Challenge a month later) and was in D.C. for Kevin Durant’s camp. That’s just some of the traveling he did.

NCAA rules make weekends in the spring and the summer the most rigorous stretch on the schedule. College coaches can only watch kids in person during the “live period”, which amounts to six days in the spring and 15 in the summer. Because of that, kids are shuffled around the country to play at events and showcase themselves for the next level. That “Basketball Never Stops” shirt Nike makes isn’t lying.

Young players don’t come up the same way today as they did 30 years ago, but not all of the change is bad. Grassroots ball provides a shot clock (which many players have never played with) and college referees.

Bryant isn’t wrong about everything, but grassroots basketball also isn’t the abomination he might think it is. Playing with Jahlil Okafor or Emmanuel Mudiay, who were on the circuit just a year ago, next season might start to change his mind.

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