Youth Basketball Development, School or Club? Both!

Posted: 11/06/2010 in Basketball


 In an amazing time of NBA phenoms, and dream teams, more and more, the media and coaches seem to criticize club basketball for the lack of fundamentals in youth basketball and beyond. I think the problem is a lack to periodization and the lack of an off-season. The competitive season is not the time to develop skills. Most players only play the sport during the competitive season.

“It’s a bad system for developing players,” says Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy. “They aren’t learning to handle the ball; they aren’t learning to make plays against pressure. The emphasis with our high school players is to get exposure and play as many games as you can and show everybody how great you are. If I can win the 11-and-12 year old league and tell all my friends about it that is a whole lot more important than if my kids actually get any better or learn anything about the game.” 

In Europe, Mr. Van Gundy says, “those guys are doing five or six practices for every game. They are spending a lot of time in the gym working on individual skills. It’s reversed here.”

In the United States, players average no more than one to two practices for every game, (Brian McCormick- the Crossover Movement 2010). Without a properly periodized schedule and with a poor practice to game ratio, the entire youth system leans toward competition, not development.

For this coach the answer is to create a system that emphasizes development for young players. To do this the players need a true off-season without competition. This off season needs to be filled with training. Players need development in all the physical attributes needed to be effective on the court. Those skills include but are not limited to, multi- directional movement training, speed training, interval training, plyometric/resistance training to mimic specific movements to the sport. Players also need to work on the mental game during the off-season. It is impossible to work on aspects of confidence without competition, however, the skills needed to control ones mental and emotional coping skills need to be taught and honed during the off season. There also needs to be a better practice to game ratio during the competitive season.

Few organizations feature a progression that has off season, pre-season, in-season, post season with the same coach and trainer, or at least coaches and trainers guided by the same philosophies and principles. Continuity in coaching and training is a key component to the success of any young student-athlete playing sports. When a coach knows that he will most likely to coach a player for only one season, it is hard to focus on the players’ long term development. One coach might focus on his players’ long term development, but if he does not win enough, the parents might force out the coach or leave to join a “winning” program. This cart before the horse attitude is detrimental to real winning. Winning happens when players are ultimately prepared for competition, then execute well on game day as a unit. The best way to prepare the players for that  is periodization.

As a coach, what do you do? Do you focus on long term development and lose players before your approach has an effect or do you change to a win-now mentality to retain players? Is it fair to criticize the coaches or do parents who criticize and push for wins share the blame for the dysfunctional system? It is this coaches’ opinion that good coaches need to stick to their developmental guns. Some players will leave the program for greener (winning) pastures. Some parents will criticize and question your “slow” techniques.  The trade off is worth it. The development of a youth athlete is by far more important than winning championships at 12yrs. old. The skills gained at a young age from being in a developmental program will exponentially increase any players’ odds for success in sports and life. Proper development and patience can still however give your middle school team a championship experience. Summit Extreme, one of  Summit County Colorado’s competitive sports club has used the developmental approach to win 5 baseball tournament championships. Two 11-12 fall championships (2008+2010), two 13AA tournament championships (2010), and one 14 AA tournament championship (2010), in its’ first 2 years. Summit Extreme is also beginning a basketball system that can help players in basketball experience their sport at the next level.

In the elementary years skill development should be the only concentration. The basic movements and physical skills of the game need to be taught properly and instilled through repetition. Coordination development needs to be a central focus. The middle school years are a time when players need to begin to understand more sophisticated game strategies and continue to develop basketball skills. At the middle school level is when competition is stronger, and the temptations for players, coaches, and parents to win are greater. This temptation can be satiated for the players with a good system of practice and training that show the players improvement. If the coach and parents are in tune with the development schedule, and understand the progressive growth of the player, they too can stay on course. These younger years of a student-athletes life turn into high school. Their preparedness for the next level determines their success.

How can a developmental program be created that would give the youth athlete the skills to bloom into a competent, confident, accomplished high school student-athlete? 

I believe that a collaboration of school and club programs can create continuity and a year-to-year progression to teach the general skills to elementary, middle school players, allowing the high school coach, and Athletic Director to concentrate on a specific system. A high school with a junior high and elementary school feeder program creates a long term continuity of development. However, when there is no communication between coaches, players often over-train and over-compete. When there is no set progression for skills from one level to the next (from 5th grade to 6th grade, 8th grade-high school), each coach starts over at the beginning of the season. A concerted effort between school and club coaches to teach unified conceptual progressions can help tremendously. 

Club programs can start young players at a pivotal age and can retain those players into high school to create a long term program and season to season progression. However, this requires organization and communication between the school programs and the club programs, as well as patience by parents to invest in a program that concentrates on skill development to win championships rather than hop-scotching from program to program to find more playing time or exposure.

Club programs can also offer the off-season/post-season training that school budgets and regulations can in some cases not allow them to provide. As I stated earlier in this piece periodization is key. With a concerted effort and precise goals between the school and club programs, a year round progressive training system can certainly be created. With players using competition properly, those game hours spent on the floor can be quality. That’s when exponential growth takes place.

When the comments from the top high school, college, and professional coaches are about the need for development and a change in the mind set of youth sport development,it is something that young athletes, their coaches, and their parents need to listen to.  

 The issue is not club basketball or high school basketball, but the system’s disorganization, players and parents’ lack of patience and the individual coach who does not value fundamentals. However, these problems develop before high school. Players need access to better trained coaches at the youth level because players develop their practice and game habits early in their participative years.


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