Points covered in this newsletter;
1. School sponsored summer camps, leagues and clinics
2. Summer travel leagues
3. Summer team camps
4. Independent summer camps
with Summary recommendations for each point
This is an important topic for parents who want to see their kids enjoy sports and even excel at them. What we cover can be applied to most sports. The changes we recommend will NOT occur overnight. There’s no way coaches and programs will quickly break away from what they’ve been doing for years. But if the arguments here are sensible and a few key people in your program believe there is a better way to help your kids become better players, it’s possible in a few years to see the landscape change.
School sponsored camps, leagues and clinics: Optionally Mandatory
Recent e-mail from a parent: “She is looking forward to the event next weekend. She played 22 games this week and is tired, but she’ll be ready for sure.” (This is NOT an exaggeration)
As kids get into High School, and even some middle schools, summer programs at many local schools become “optionally mandatory.” Kids can not technically be told to attend school-sponsored summer programs. There are MHSAA rules that forbid/discourage mandatory summer workouts, although there are some loopholes that permit limited players and limited dates for coaches and players to attend. There is however an unwritten rule at many schools that the players better attend if they want to make the team next year. Some coaches have gone so far as to verbally tell players this; “attend our summer camp/league/clinic or you will not make the team next year.” This young lady above was simply doing what she was told to do, for fear of not making the team.
It’s difficult to address this topic briefly. There are many moving parts.
Basketball is a CHAOTIC game. Other chaotic team-sports are soccer, volleyball, hockey. There is no rhyme or reason to the play, in fact the play itself is not predictable from moment to moment. There is a huge amount of spontaneity and creativity in basketball. Sports that are NOT chaotic, that are highly controlled and managed, are baseball and football, among others. The play is in many respects choreographed. Play often STOPS fully for seconds or minutes at a time. Game management and coaching strategy is critical.
The first thing many well meaning coaches and parents want to do is manage the activity. This is seen in the 22-games-in-1-week example above. Not only is this young player NOT improving by playing 22 games that week, she may well be getting worse. (Risk of injury from fatigue is also obvious.) Way too many coaches and parents attempt to choreograph a sport that is not choreographable. Competition is NOT the pre-eminent form of skill development and growth as a player. Closely supervised repetition coupled with free, unfettered play is. This concept is basically the OPPOSITE of the way youth basketball is managed today.
Why over-manage the kids in basketball? When crunch time hits in some game that has meaning, it’s not the coach who’s going to make the play to win the game. It’s the players. All this STRUCTURE we force upon our kids in the summer (do this, do that, go here, go there, etc) greatly inhibits their ability to play loosely, with confidence and with no fear. They become used to being managed. They look to the bench. What’s the play?
I believe city kids do NOT dominate the game because of their speed and athleticism, although those attributes are VERY helpful. I believe they dominate the game because they have grown up with NO RULES, very little structure and 1 simple concept: to stay on the court, you have to WIN.
Reduce or eliminate as much structured team play as possible. In exchange, open the gyms often and invite all area communities to attend. It would be a GREAT idea to coordinate this among programs. For example, if the Fruitport gyms are OPEN on a given week, the Coopersville, Shores, Spring Lake, Grand Haven, Muskegon kids know about it. Go play. I can’t tell you how beneficial it has been for our kids to go to Muskegon to play with their kids. Our High School boys team below this year in AYBT beat Dearborn Elite, Motor City Mayhem, DSO Club, Pinckney HS, Montague HS, ACB Club and two other AAU teams. We also beat the Muskegon Wizards below in a scrimmage, losing a tough game to them in the Ludington event. Overall record: 15-6.
By the way, the kids who WANT to play and improve will show up.
Travel Leagues: AAU and AYBT
In a previous newsletter, we comment that over 90% of our local players are NOT ready for the competition in these leagues. That’s a HUGE percentage. Here’s why. Most kids don’t practice enough. The city kids always practice, and most of their practice is at the park or an open gym, unsupervised, with no rules. Their practice to game ratio is probably 50 to 1. Most of the kids we work with have an INVERTED practice to game ratio, maybe 1 practice for every 2 games!! I asked that young lady how many practices she had the week she played 22 games. Answer; “None.”
In my opinion, these travel leagues are more social than competitive for way too many kids and their parents. It’s not acknowledged but the games, the competition, the quest to improve may well be secondary to the hotel stay and the cookout at the beach. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this. But if the goal is competitive growth and preparation for the next level, don’t confuse participation in these travel leagues with that quest when the kids don’t practice enough and many of the coaches (not all, there are some GREAT coaches locally) are not qualified.
Quickly on that topic: Coaches. The most important person in the gym on any given day is the coach. Identify a strong local coach who you trust and will focus on your child’s skills and also be a positive mentor and role model. Find that coach and hold on tight!!!
Practice, practice, practice. Find a capable coach who is fair and firm with NO BLUSTER and practice as often as you can. Go to the park or the driveway with your buddies and then play with whoever is there. Do this ALL THE TIME. NO PLAYS, just play.
Summer Team Camps
For many schools, this is another “optionally mandatory” choice. The coaching staff may choose a summer team camp for the program and regardless of its “optional” status, it’s expected that the players attend. We would love to not be critical of these choices. We would love to say the 10+ Team Camps seen were outstanding camps. We would love to describe how much skill development and competitive growth was emphasized. But we can’t.
There are two team camp scenarios that are most common. One involves participation at a university, where the team travels to the college to play. These are generally expensive and involve 10’s if not multiple 10’s of teams. The university’s coach often makes an appearance, and gives a speech, hangs around for photos, signs autographs. The college players are often the coaches/instructors. These are generally feel-good experiences for the kids but on the scale of actual competitive growth, these team camps often weigh very little.
The more common Team Camp choice is a local one. There may be a freshman, JV or varsity team camp choice played at a school in our area. The Team Camps seen under this umbrella again feature too many teams, as many as 10 to 12 teams may be in the gym. Even 4 to 6 is too many. When the kids do get to play, the competition and energy is great. But at many of these camps, you will often see entire teams sitting for minutes if not an hour at a time. Players should be engaged in any camp they attend almost 100% of the time. If they are not, it’s not a good camp. Honestly, who cares about the college coach making the speech or the cathedral-like high school venue? Get my kid on the floor!!!
Run a team camp in your own gym and invite 1 other team, that’s it. Try and have 10 to 12 players max on your team, likewise for the visiting team. Work on skills and small scrimmaging (3 V 3) a lot. Have 2 games of 5 on 5 going on side courts for a good portion of time. (GREAT for looking at player rotations) At the conclusion each day, play 1 full court game with subs. Basically every player on both teams will have played almost the entire time. The advantages of this choice are numerous: no travel, no expense, thousands of competitive reps, good camraderie builder if the coach is fully engaged. If you choose a Basketball Basics Team Camp, this is the format.
Independent Summer Camps
It’s amazing to me how few independent summer camps there are. When I played, this was about the only organized summer basketball choice. There were camps of all shapes and sizes, both local and regional. The 5 Star Camp in Philadelphia was sort of the gold standard for competitive summer camps. These days, the school sponsored stuff described above dominates the landscape.
This speaks volumes. Almost universally, we are trying to manage a game that is very chaotic, almost unmanagable. No game exerts as much pressure on its players as does basketball. Too many programs try to manage the chaos and pressure with games, scrimmages, leagues and competition. It is far better to teach the players sharp, repeatable skills in practice and then release them to the chaos and pressure to see where their skills really stand. Never be afraid of organizing what looks like pick-up basketball. This is often where kids learn the most, where they learn how to handle the chaos and the pressure that is basketball. Teach them skills and then let them figure it out.
Those that have attended our summer camps recognize this format. Only 12 kids. Just 1 solid coach. 70% skills and drills EVERY DAY. And then we finish with competitive scrimmaging with different teams every day.
Try and convince the coaches that more is not necessarily more. Sometimes less is more. Play less, practice more. Travel less if at all. Sit less if at all. This one drives me nuts, I have to admit. When I see a gym full of kids and a good percentage of them are SITTING, what the heck is going on???? The answer is simple: there are too many kids in the gym.
Open your gyms and invite kids from area communities to play. Try and get solid coaches to participate in the gym. This one is tough. These coaches are few and far between and most want and hope for some down time when the summer hits. A tell tale sign of a less-than-stellar camp is if the varsity players are either in charge or are being directed to be in charge. These are great kids, but they are still kids. They can not be expecetd to exhibit the sense of urgency and level of engagement required to teach young kids the game. I often have HS or college kids help me, but I run the camp.
Don’t be afraid to say no. Try and understand that all this coordination and management is in many respects the opposite of what young players need to improve. They need instruction but they also need the freedom to learn, to compete, to play with no consequences.
Doing the same thing over and over and over again and expecting a different result is one definition of insanity. If your school program is struggling or infrequently has a winning or even competitive record, consider the alternatives listed here. The Herd Mentality is very strong. “This is the way we have always done it” can be heard as summer basketball approaches. Remember, the players will do what they are told, go where they are told to go and follow your leads. Give them the tools to succeed. Don’t be afraid to try something different.