“THERE ARE NO TRICKS. THERE ARE NO SHORTCUTS. IT’S PRIMARILY ABOUT HARD WORK.” COACH WOODEN
Founded in 2002, Basketball Basics has a firm grasp on youth basketball, the skills required to excel and how to teach and develop these skills. We receive plenty of positive feedback from the parents and players and our results simply speak for themselves. Over 90% of our summer camp and pre-season players make their school teams. We currently have 128 program graduates at the college level. Our High School Boys Spring Basics Team last summer was 15-6, with wins over 3 AAU teams and 4 city teams from the Detroit area. (Motor City Mayhem, Dearborn Elite and 2 others)
Yet what Basketball Basics does is only a needle in the haystack of youth sports generally, and youth basketball in particular. We only permit a dozen or so players at a time, so our reach by definition is limited. In fact 70% of our players are returning players, kids who have attended already. It gnaws at usthat what we know is the correct approach to basketball skill development and competitive growth is not only not followed by most coaches and parents, many of these adults think the opposite approach is true. Namely, play more games, enter more leagues, travel all over the place in order to become (in parantheses) “more competitive.” Nothing could be further from the truth.
Dose of Reality # 1
Adults, grown ups, parents and people who make decisions for youth players schedule WAY TOO MANY GAMES and participate in WAY TOO MANY LEAGUES. The correct ratio of practice time to game time over the course of a year is 10-15 practices for every game before high school. Any gym practice with buddies or his/her team, any practice on his/her own at the home hoop, the local rec center or park counts. 15-1. So if a middle school kid plays 12 games for his school and say 16 other games throughout the year, that totals 28 games. 28 X the practice ratio of 15 equals the astonishing number of 420!! This is a DOSE of REALITY. The number of kids who play MORE THAN 28 games is huge, some kids play 40, 50 or more games a year. (1 area player played 22 games in 1 week last summer!!) Some kids play as many games as they practice. In short, reduce the games to maybe a total of 20 A YEAR at the middle school level and now we are at a realistic 300 practices. (basically EVERY DAY)
Players do not develop skills in games, games are simply the test. Players develop in PRACTICE. When I see kids with poor or really poor skills playing in a competitive league or game, either some grown up has made a bad decision or an unwitting parent perhaps has been pressured to sign their kid up for the “league”. Everybody just follows suit.
This leads to our next dose of reality.
Dose of Reality # 2
A simple definition of a competitive player is a kid who can dribble, pass and shoot effectively with pressure. Using this definition, the percentage of competitive players at the high school varisty level is approximately 10%. 1 out of 10 kids at the varsity level can actually dribble, pass and shoot effectively with pressure. (A few of our coaches think this percentage is generous, one chimed in with 1 in 100.) At the lower levels, the number probably is 1 in 100.
These are not just my eyes and opinion. I have spoken with dozens of coaches, and also consulted our newly formed Committee for Coaching Excellence. This dose of reality is stark: “Most kids really can’t play that well”. Why? Pretty simple: See Dose of Reality # 1. The best players execute sharp skills under pressure with no thought. This defines a COMPETITIVE HABIT. These habits are built in practice only with thousands and thousands of repetitions.
And parents, listen up!! The games, the travel, the competition-it is NOT what makes a player great, or even competitive. Sharp skills, conditioning, mental toughness, handling disappointment and failure in a productive manner-this is what makes a player competitive. These attributes are developed in practice, with no results, no outcomes, no relationship to the score. Which leads to our next dose of reality.
Dose of Reality # 3
Wins, results, outcomes are meaningless before the HS Varsity level. Meaningless. The argument “How can we know if our kid or travel team is improving unless we compete?” is hollow. Here’s why.
Serial skills are skills that are LINKED together. Simple maneuvers on the court are actually extremely complex and essentially IMPOSSIBLE for kids at younger ages to understand and master. EXAMPLE: When a player dribbles the ball up the court, they need to look up, they need to run and look up, they need to run, look up and be able to use both hands, they need to run, look up, use both hands and change directions, they need to run, look up, use both hands, change directions and use their body to protect the ball, they need to run, look up, use both hands, change directions, use their body to protect the ball and do so with pressure. Oh, and it would be a good idea to have some spatial awareness of the other 4 players on the court-who is moving where, and what that movement actually means to the flow of the game.
Psychologists and medical experts indicate players younger than 13 will not have the ability to execute this complex set of skills with any degree of efficiency. And this is ONLY DRIBBLING THE BALL! It does not take a rocket scientist to see if this basic skill is so complex, what about rebounding in traffic, what about shooting the ball with extension under pressure using a pivot or jump stop, what about anticipating a move defensively and being able to help out and recover, what about being double teamed on a press? (If this description does not destroy many youth coach’s notions of “teaching plays” as being important, nothing ever will. Plays are RIDICULOUS at the lower levels-before high school.)
The ugly dose of reality is this: we set our kids up for failure in basketball because it is such a skill laden game (the most highly skilled game in my opinion) yet we force the kids to compete BEFORE they have any degree of mastery of the game’s basic skills. When parents and coaches argue that we must compete at ages 9, 10, 11, 12 (even younger!) to try and get better, the teams that WIN are not better. They are less awful. The solution is seen in Point # 1 above. Reduce or eliminate the games (have the courage to say NO), and practice all the time. Good coaches can make practices FUN and COMPETITIVE. The emphasis on winning is important to the adults, not the kids. The kids just want to play.
Dose of Reality # 4
Too many kids are over-scheduled. Almost everyday, I have some young lady or young man coming late to practice or leaving early because of a conflict with another team, sport or obligation. You can see in the kids eyes and body language their impatience with the schedule. They shrug their shoulders and roll their eyes. I had a kid come to summer camp once with football cleats on, right from football camp. He had no sneakers.
But these are dutiful kids, they do what they are told, they go where they are told to go, they do their very best to make mom and dad proud. PARENTS: ratchet the schedule back. Give the kids 1 activity at a time. Do not overlap their schedules. I know it’s not easy, I have 3 young kids myself. The taxi meter is always running. But it should be known, if it’s not already, that 75% of kids ages 13 and older have QUIT ORGANIZED SPORTS. That is a stunning number. The number 1 reason why: loss of interest/ burn out.
The kids just want to play. Let them play without running them all over creation on the same day! This Grand Haven Tribune editorial appeared in November, The Power of NO. It’s OK to say NO, in fact NO is required many more times than we actually use it.
This comment is related to # 1 above. If you really want your kid to be competitive, it’s better to play less anyway and practice more.
Dose of Reality # 5
When our Committee was consulted for this newsletter, every coach made this comment in one way or another. The most important element for a player to achieve greatly, to the best of his or her ability, is not the competition. It’s not the travel leagues. It’s not the points per games, accolades or trophies. It’s what is INSIDE the kid, their heart, their desire, their internal drive. We have seen many kids who were barely good enough to be decent players in high school go on to play college athletics because the kids were highly self-motivated. And not surprisingly we have seen even more kids who were supposedly great high school players never step on a field or court at the next level. While a tight rope to walk, provide opportunities for your kids without burdening them with too many games, too much travel and PLEASE, eliminate any expectations. Let them drive. Accept outcomes with grace and humility. You can not legislate heart and don’t try. You can lead by example, with no bluster and see what happens.
Dose of Reality # 6
Rip Hamilton said it best. “We get out of our bodies what we put into it.” We feed our kids too much junk. That’s being polite. This is really a dose of reality. Stop feeding kids this crap-some call it “poison.” I know it’s easy to grab that $5 pizza, or stop at the fast food joint or fill the shopping cart up with pop. Habits apply here as well, and boy can we positively impact our kids if we are aware and provide healthy choices. Parents are the ULTIMATE ROLE MODELS. Our kids will do what we do. If you can lead them with a robust diet, and develop a positive approach to exercise and well being yourselves, you will teach your kids the life-long discipline of fitness and health.
There were several other legitimate issues raised by our committee, which follow. These may be topics for future newsletters.
- Parents thinking their kids were better players than they really are.
- Parents thinking a college scholarship is within reach (chances are 1 in 5,000)
- Athletics should be used more frequently for teaching life skills for our kids.
- During games, coach less. Let the kids figure it out, even if it means jeopardizing the “win”.
- It’s just a game. Provide balance for your kids, keep it in perspective.
- If you want a shot at college ball, when practice is over, your work is not. Not only must you constantly practice, it is required that you more or less LOVE TO PRACTICE and that you go out of your way to practice.
- Give your kids SPACE after the game. Be quiet. And the best thing you can say to your kid, win or lose? “I love to watch you play.”
Practice more, play less.
Be realistic about your skills. Focus on what you can do well and don’t let what you can’t do well affect you (Wooden)
Forget about results, get into the process (IE: Practice habits, study habits, diet, sleep)
Do not over-schedule your kids. If it means saying no, say no.
Great players drive themselves with little or no encouragement. Encourage them and then get out of their way.
Eat well. Sleep well. Treat your body with respect