First off, I am not against Amateur Athletic Union or club basketball. I believe that club basketball serves a need and purpose of which I will expand on later.


A little about my background. I have coached junior high and high school basketball for the past 12 years in the Sacramento area. I have experience in coaching both boys and girls basketball at the junior high level and have coached boys basketball at the high school level. I have been very fortunate to work with some very respected coaches and have had the opportunity to coach several players that have gone on to earn scholarships and play at the Division I, II, and III collegiate levels.


One of the issues I have with young players today is that they are not interested in learning or working on fundamental basketball skills. I would categorize these skills as ball handling, dribbling, footwork, passing (both making and receiving passes), and shooting. Putting in the work to improve as a basketball player has become “not sexy enough” for most young players. What I mean by this is that players today would rather travel to tournaments and play basketball games than put in the time and effort to improve their basketball skills.


Club basketball has become the “sexy environment.” Players do not have to practice as many long hours with their club teams and in some cases, may only practice once a week. Club players also do not have to provide their club coaches with grade reports and do not have coaches periodically making contact with their teachers to determine eligibility. When club teams practice, most of the on-court time is dedicated to preparing for an upcoming tournament and practicing what will be used in tournament games. This leaves very little time to provide instruction that improves the player’s basketball skills and knowledge.  


Another issue is the number of games young players participate in on a yearly basis. With a school team, a player may play at most four to five games in a week and usually only two games per week when league competition begins. In our section in California, we have a limit on 27 contacts (games) during our regular season. In club basketball, a player may play 5-6 games in a weekend. I have routinely seen kids that have played in 60-80 games during a club season. This would project out to 2-3 times the amount of school related games a player would play in one season. This may contribute to player’s bodies “aging” more quickly once they complete high school and enter their college careers. One might wonder if this will lead to professional playing careers being shortened due to the increased load their bodies absorb during youth basketball.   


Playing more games and tournaments may also lead to the increased risk of injury and the continuance of bad habits. With weekend tournaments, multiple games in one day for young players is the norm and the strain on young player’s bodies can add up which could lead to injuries being more common. Playing more games without practicing can also contribute to bad basketball habits not being corrected. Players will continue to develop bad habits because not enough time is being used in practice to correct fundamental flaws. At our high school, we routinely see players in the fall that have completely forgot basic ball handling, passing, footwork, shooting,  and defensive skills that have been taught during the school season. We often refer to this as “reprogramming” our players to what is being taught in the high school program.


Cost is another factor when a player decides to participate in club basketball. While school budgets are being slashed and parents are expected to shoulder more of the burden for school related sports programs (pay for play, voluntary athletic contributions, fundraising, etc.), the cost for club basketball can be enormous. Players must contribute for uniforms, equipment, tournament entry fees, coach stipends, coaches travel expenses, gym practice time, and any other travel related expenses for the player and the player’s family (travel costs and hotel expenses). Also, in some cases, players are expected to pick up costs for other more talented players on club teams that cannot afford all of the expenses. While some elite club teams are sponsored, this is typically the exception for the majority of club teams.


With all of these issues I have with AAU or club basketball, there are some advantages for a young player on the club scene. At the elite levels of club basketball, players are being exposed to a higher level of competition on a more consistent basis than they would see on a school team. Most of the elite clubs are “all star” teams that select the best players from area schools. This leads to a higher level of competition that can be used to evaluate a player’s ability against peers. The club scene also allows increased visibility for college coaches, recruiters and evaluators as they can travel to host tournaments at one location to see many different teams and their prospects. In an age of decreased funding and budget cuts, this is an advantage for colleges looking to evaluate top talent.


Hall of Fame coach Pete Newell was quoted as saying: the game of basketball is over coached and under taught; too few coaches are minding the gym at the entry level of the game as the instruction of fundamentals has slipped badly. There has been a premium put on athleticism over skill development which is reflected at the youth level and the high school level. Kids play games. They don't work at the game.


I can’t agree more with Coach Newell’s statement.

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Comment by Ed Hammersmith on September 16, 2011 at 3:25pm

Mr. Henry, Well Done! 

Mr. Blake, I agree kids should play and enjoy multiple sports. Although, it's not something I feel makes them better than anyone else. Multiple sports isn't for everyone. All of the 13/14 year olds that play on my basketball team also play at least one other sport. I encourage it and support it. They are also all A students. The priorities I teach order,

1. God

2. Family

3. School

4. Sports

Something that seems to get lost is "fun". Why is it that every kid thats playing on a competitive team is being labeled as a "scholarship hunter"? I have a few kids that just like to compete and want to be able to play HS ball. They aren't great athletes. They enjoy playing with their friends, love the competition, and are learning to appreciate the fact they can.

Bottom line for me is this...participating in sports is something I believe builds character in young people. Hopefully more qualified coaches, HS or Club, invest in these young people.  

Comment by David Henry on September 16, 2011 at 2:41pm  feel free to visit   we turn no-one away regardless of ability, our mission to create productive members of society using basketball as an avenue to do so.

every student must maintain honor roll not gpa we require All grades be A-B nothing less

4 principle rules 1. gentlemen/women at all times a scholar 3. be religiously grounded in your belief 4. be a better basketball player.

Comment by Ryan Blake on September 16, 2011 at 12:58pm

 I find it intersted that no one has mentioned that lack of multi sport athletes in today's youth.  I'm 24 and have noticed that many parents and families are putting emphasis on an individual sport, whether that may be basketball or another sport.  When asking the question "is AAU bad for basketball?", there is a fine line that many other people have touch on when it comes to lack of skill development and how it can turn into a "talent mill".


A little background on me, I played soccer throughout high school, year round, every season.  Outdoor for 6 months and indoor for the other (i live in MN).  While it may seem as though most people attributed me to playing soccer, I was not very technically skilled, but a top defender in the state having been recruited by colleges.  Aside from soccer, I also competed in Basketball, Wrestling, and Track & Field.  So where's my point?  Having been a multi sport athlete, I took aspects of each to be able to hold my own and compete at high level in each sport through learning the skills and techniques of other disciplines.


I also find it intersting that no one refers to the athletes playing AAU as student-athletes.  It is ignorant to think that if your child/student/athlete plays AAU year round that they have a chance to recieved one of the hundreds of scholarships the NCAA offers in DI and DII (DIII can not award athletic scholarships).  Especially when there are thousands of AAU athletes every year that are competing for the same scholarships.


I would personally like to see AAU have stricter policies on maintaining Grade Point Averages as I personally know of several highly skilled athletes that played year-round ball, that were unable to go anywhere because they were academically unsuccessful.  I'm a young coach and love to teach student-athletes that nature of the game as well as develope those that seek it, but also make sure that they are getting things done in the classroom.


Now I realize that I didn't really answer the question and may have brought up several other issues, but I felt it needed to be adressed.


My answer to "Is AAU Bad for Basketball?" - No, It's not bad for basketball, It's bad for those who know nothing else but Basketball.

Comment by David Henry on September 16, 2011 at 12:53pm

Mr Cairo

   your below quote is very idiotic 

"Here's a news flash "Ed", when something is free, it has no value.  Something that costs nothing usually is worth nothing."

as an inner city kid who has had many people give to me I give back FOR FREE and trust me my work is quality to piggy back on the late Dr. King everything I do I am the best at.

I have helped numerous kids get to college and have never asked them for any compensation ever, Nor do I ever tend to.

Some of us do give and give a lot. 

Comment by David Henry on September 16, 2011 at 12:46pm

Lets not stereotype, and categorize all AAU programs into your little hypothesis about what you feel An AAU team consist of or how its structured.

Unless you have had the opportunity to evaluate every program nationwide then I feel that you sentiments are from a personal endeavour that you have acquired with your local teams. I can rest assure you that in VA we preach fundamentals from inception to the day they stop playing it will always be a part of their practice.

Though the comments made may be true for select demographics it does not hold true for all.

I know of school programs that are motivated by alumni or an unexperienced coach. A coach that is coaching simply for the stipend and the district hires them because no other teacher was available. So falls short?  Example: I know a young lady you saw a total of 5min on the court her senior year. During the summer she started for her AAU team with the help of her AAU coach and some exposure she signed a letter of intent to South Plains Univ. 

Not all teachers are qualified coaches and not all coaches are qualified to teach the game, but there are some.   

Comment by Tom Higgins on September 16, 2011 at 11:32am

AAU was something many of us participated in post college as "old" guys.  It's increasingly become something more out of control than of benefit.  I know well meaning and competent AAU or summer travel coaches but I know of just as many who do more damage to a kids potential than good.  I'm with Coach Newell.  My beef with where the AAU/summer circuit has gone is that it's caused basketball to be over coached and under taught.  Any way you slice it, basketball remains a team sport and a game of numbers.  The focus of summer or AAU is to get individuals noticed and the impact of that focus is pretty clear in the numbers and easily measured by the stats and lack of fundamental skill among players at every level.  Review what our counterparts are doing in other countries.  Those kids spend a fraction of the time our kids spend playing games and many times what we are allowed to spend actually learning the game and developing fundamental skill sets.  The phenomenal player will find his or her way to the D-1 scholarship regardless of AAU and summer ball.  The real tragedy of summer ball from my experience is that the borderline players and their parents get sucked in and Johnny spends a summer playing 60 games doing what he already can do and spends little if any time working on and being taught the things that will take him to that D-1, D-2 level because he never develops the left hand, can't pass, can't shoot a spectrum of shots, can't hit more than 50% of his free throws and wouldn't know how to play solid man within a team if you led him by the hand.


Bottom line, the lack of balance and the growing influences are creating conflict for the high school programs, college coaches and more importantly, the kids and families of the kids.

Comment by Carl Parker on August 15, 2011 at 6:27pm

As an AD and HS coach, I've seen terrible coaches on every level. AAU basketball has been good for my team because it has given my best players the playing experience necessary to approach the game with confidence. There is no way I could afford to coach them for 10-12 months a year - and still pay my mortgage and remain married.


However, I'm not a fan of the "talent mill" that AAU often becomes. I've had experiences with AAU coaches that constantly recruit over existing players - always looking for that better player. The kids bounce from team to team and so do their emotions and self-esteem. They hype them up and sell the parents on dreams of making it to the league and entice them with the latest shoes and gear.


One AAU coach's sales pitch for trying to get one of my players to run with his team during the summer was 1) "My team is Nike sponsored", and 2) "I have the best team in the area. I take his (rival AAU coach) players." Did I mention that we had this conversation directly following a regular season HS game where my non-AAU team ran his team off the floor? He had the better athletes but he couldn't coach. His girls were frustrated. They couldn't understand why a team that looked like ours was "handling" them. Answer: We focus on developing fundamentals instead of talent scouting. And when my girls need shoes, we'll earn the money for them. Thanks.


How do you get school sports and AAU to co-exist?


In summary, I've been coached by and coached against good and bad coaches. Mean and nasty. Incompetent. And the salt of the earth coaches that would give you the shirt off their backs. I think there needs to be more regulations in place to ensure that coaches are qualified to teach the game. It's not an AAU problem. It's a coaching problem.

Comment by Ed Hammersmith on August 4, 2011 at 5:29pm
Mr Cairo, I will for the final time counter your points. But one question first. Deep down, you don't like people that give their time and talents for free do you? Is this because you charge for a similar service? If not, my bad. I thought I read somewhere that you have some training business.
We, the coaches in my club, have never asked for any sort of recognition. I'm only defending the fact that we are trained coaches, more than qualified to teach the game to kids and provide them a great non-school playing opportunity. With the added bonus of being seen by college coaches in certain age groups. You continue to take shots at people that you don't know and don't really care who they help. Oh, and thanks so much for the news flash...if it's free, it's probably worthless. I know teachers that tutor kids for free, music teachers that donate their time, brick layers, plumbers, accountants that all give their time and training to folks that could use their help. Are these all worthless as well? Maybe if more "trained" coaches, like yourself AND those in my club, gave their time, there would be less cases of "worthless" AAU coaches.
Next point. It doesn't matter to me what you did 40 years ago. Times have changed. In my world, you either hunker down and do nothing or you step forward and try to make a positive difference. I played ball (baseball, basketball, kickball, ect.) until it got dark when I was a kid. We didn't have a park. For the record, all that time playing didn't teach me how to shoot with good form or dribble with my off hand. I didn't have the opportunity to play club ball when I was a kid. I didn't have someone that was willing to teach me. I laugh when I see how poorly skilled we were back in the 70's. Pretty sure my 7th grade girls team could have beaten my HS team. (-:
Next, Why is basketball a kids game? It was invented for college students (young adults). Kids play it, but so do professionals! You are correct that some parents are over the top with their kids. Again, if you can help some of them not be that way, why aren't you helping them by being involved? In my world, there are people that try to make a difference and folks like you that sit on the sidelines and criticize those who try.
Last note. Those Coaches in my club are exactly who I've been talking about. You act like all AAU coaches are uneducated nut jobs. I've taught and coached for 27 years. 15 years AAU and Two years of HS. For the record...didn't enjoy working for people who didn't understand the value of organized sports. we need more coaches that have a passion for teaching the game, willing to continue the learning process. I seem to remember you took a shot at me for this as well. Yes, I still attend coaching clinics and even work some of them. And no one pays me Joe. I coach 10 months a year. Come think of it...I may be over qualified for this gig. (-:
Maybe you should start a new topic for discussion. "alternatives to organized youth sports"?
Comment by joe cairo on August 4, 2011 at 1:52pm

Ed, (since you decided we are on a first name basis, I guess it's ok to call you "Ed")


I think I highlighted the fact the HS coaches see winning as a way to get their next job, so your discovery that this is, indeed, a reality is a little late.


I don't like dabblers or dilletants, coaches who are temps who think that because they are willing to work for no money that they deserve some sort of special recognition.  Good for you, if that's your only contribution to the game.


The coaches you allude to, who are coaching in HS/college, as well as for your AAU squad, aren't by the definition of our discussion, strictly AAU coaches, now are they?  They are paid coaches, at another level, who have some other motive to be coaching for free...if that is indeed the situation. These are probably coaches that have paid their dues and who either can't stand taking a day off from coaching or who are looking to pick up a little extra in terms of cash and/or perks.


Here's a news flash "Ed", when something is free, it has no value.  Something that costs nothing usually is worth nothing.


Is AAU good for basketball?  My answer is: No.  Is it better than NO basketball?  The answer is yes, but by what degree?


I also firmly believe that we have over-organized every aspect of our kids recreational lives.  Like Jim Remmers commented: "Quite frankly I don't know about you but I used to play all day and until the park lights went out at 10PM. Burning asphalt, blazing sun and on occasion a fight would break out over calls. And as I recall most every player who was a player in the area was out there".


We forget that basketball is a kids game and left alone, to their own devices, kids who don't play organized ball every day of their lives, have a great time staying healthy and playing a sport they love.  It's adults that thrive in organized ball, not always the kids.


Like I said, if you were listening, I don't think that volunteers are bad people, far from it.  But, just beause their hearts are in the right place, doesn't mean they are good for the game of basketball, which was the focus of the topic that we are discussing.


Comment by Jim Remmers on August 4, 2011 at 11:37am

After reading through the comments there are a few things that really jump out at me.


One, there are "bad apples" in every bunch. As a player I know I had my share of bad coaches both in the school and club setting. Bad coaches are everywhere, the teacher who is only coaching for the extra dollars, the club coach "dad" who doesn't have a clue or worse the club coach who uses this as a money grab. Unfortunately, there isn't a set standard or test or certificate to coach. And while better standards can be set, background checks, CPR certification, and standardized testing. It won't change the core, some coaches aren't that good! At the Academy where I coach one thing that is certain all the coaches are students of the game and believe in the fundamentals first.


Which brings us to the fundamentals. I currently coach at the St. Louis Basketball Academy, home to the Saints Basketball Club. What differentiates us is our kids are required to attend one night of skills training each week. This still doesn't mean we have the best skilled kids in the area. Because here is the simple fact, "you can lead a horse to water but you can't make them drink" I have kids that have been going to skills for over a year and still can't dribble with their off hand. They don't want to, and eventually this will catch up to them. Some kids just don't want to spend that time even when they are "forced" to do it. Now on the flip side those who really want to improve are getting better by leaps and bounds with this kind of training. And it is those kids who are getting more playing time, getting the ball more, and making big plays.


Which brings me to the 70-80 games per year. This idea that playing all those games is bad is just baffeling to me. The fact is this, those "games" are going to be played regardless. The question is format, before all the AAU tournaments what did kids do? They played at the park in pick up games. Quite frankly I don't know about you but I used to play all day and until the park lights went out at 10PM. Burning asphalt, blazing sun and on occasion a fight would break out over calls. And as I recall most every player who was a player in the area was out there. Now let me ask this. Which is better, a format that allows kids to play in a safe environment, in good conditions, with officials, or one that has poor conditions (asphalt, talk about injury), no officials and no organization? So is AAU "good"  for basketball, given the past yes, can it be improved Yes, but this doesn't make it bad, it could simply be better.


So to recap, 1 there are good and bad coaches everywhere just like there are good and bad people everywhere. 2 Some will some won't, the fact is those kids that want to improve skills will and will seek it out. The others will simply miss their opportunity, and that's just a fact of life no matter what we're talking about. Some do and some don't. 3. AAU is better than where basketball was before and is good for the sport, and it could be better!




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