Youth Basketball in North America

By Ryan McNeill

After the United States fizzled at the World Championships in 2002 and failed to earn a medal countless media personalities started to proclaim that AAU ball and shoe companies were ruining basketball in America. After the American squad failed to win a gold medal at the World Championships this summer the chatter picked up once again and it appears that some positive changes are starting to happen at the high school level.

Aggrey Sam had a great article on Slam Online last week that shed some light on the new moves that Nike has in store for high school hoops. Sam was able to take part of a conference call with Nike head honcho George Raveling this week he wrote in his post that “Raveling detailed Nike’s plans for youth basketball, mostly centering around replacing the shoe company’s all-American camp in Indianapolis with smaller position camps. The top 20 consensus high school point guards in the country will be invited to the Steve Nash point guard camp. The top 20 shooting guards will go to a camp hosted by Kobe, the top 20 wings will get to attend Vince Carter’s camp and the top 20 big men will benefit from the tutelage of Amare. The kids attending the camps will be at least rising 10th-graders and while Raveling acknowledged that about half of the players are already locks to be invited, these camps will go down in June, when college coaches can’t watch high school kids play.”

Ravelling went on to state that “the camps would be about teaching fundamentals and learning team play, and that NBA vets (for example, Jason Kidd and GP) retired players (John Stockton) and top coaches on all levels would be involved. While there will be some five-on-five action at Bron’s camp, Nike would also institute an event in August (called “The Global Challenge”) that has more of an all-star feel. The 80 kids from the camps will be divided into teams and all-star teams from four other countries (Raveling named Australia and China as tentative commitments) will be invited to compete. In addition, Raveling spoke of a “coaches’ learning academy” that would train select AAU and high school coaches on Nike’s payroll to teach kids “fundamentals and values,” perhaps run by Hubie Brown with help of Jack Ramsay, Chuck Daly and others.”

Henry from True Hoop wrote a great article on Friday that provided plenty of suggestions on how to fix some of the perceived problems with youth basketball programs in America. Abbott used his connections with brilliant basketball minds such as Brian McCormick, Rick Barry and Rus Bradburd to produce one of the best posts that I’ve ever read on a blog.

One of my favourite coaches, Brian McCormick, weighed in on this topic for Henry and wrote, “if you look at the narrowing of the talent gap worldwide, it is apparent that other countries are doing things as well as or better than the United States at this point in time. With the resources invested in basketball in the USA, the USA should have the best system in place. The answer, most simply, starts with three changes: 1) Coaches education for grassroots underage coaches. The vast majority of youth coaches in America are volunteers, often college kids or parents who have little to no coaching experience. Every organization sponsoring these programs needs to work together to provide a coach’s education program that goes beyond teaching the slides of a 2-3 zone or telling coaches the sandwich method of critique. Coaches need some understanding of training theory, development, fundamentals, communication, learning theory, etc. 2) A long term approach at the youth level. Because of the structure of youth sports, basically a new team and new coach almost every season, there is little thought to the lifetime of an athlete. A coach views a 10 or 11 year old simply as a 10 or 11 year old with no thought as to what would be best for that 10 year old when he gets to be 14. This is why you have a tall kid standing under the basket learning few skills only to stop growing and end up a 6’1 power forward in high school. Youth coaches need to play games to win, but train and practice to develop players. Right now, there is, in Istvan Balyi’s words, a “Peak by Friday” mentality, which results in lots of plays and structure and little learning on how to play the game. Instead, players need an opportunity to play and learn the game from a young age. 3) Play. Our society has evolved into a society of play dates and 24 hours a day of structured activity. Kids now need homework clubs to focus on their homework and a coach to work on shooting, etc. Kids are not encouraged to think or act for themselves. And, on the court, this results in a low basketball IQ, not to mention a reduction in fun. Kids start playing sports to move around, be active and play with friends. However, once they join a team, adults shift the model to development of worthwhile traits, like competiveness, the will to win, discipline, following directions, etc.”

As a young basketball coach I’m excited to see the results of college coaches being able to work with high school students and provide them a high level of instruction during the summer that they wouldn’t normally receive from their AAU coaches. The concept of providing high school players the opportunity to work with college coaches is similar to what European clubs do and it’s been a great tool for the development of players such as Dirk Nowitzki, Tony Parker and Yao Ming. By providing high school players with the best instruction available it be a great tool to improve their games. When you throw in the chance to have one-on-one instruction by a NBA player that plays a similar style of game as them it will only add to this.

I’m also stoked about all of the new coaching theories being made available myself and my peers thanks to people like Coach McCormick. I had the chance to read his book last month and it’s left a lasting impression on me and has challenged to rethink the way I approaching coaching my elementary school team. If more people start to step up and provide young coaches with new ways to approach coaching or ideas they can incorporate into their current programs it will strengthen youth basketball programs in the United States and Canada.

When you add the great work that 5 Star Hoops is doing to educate the players, coaches and parents to the mix and I can’t help but be optimistic about a hoops revival occurring within North America during the next decade.

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