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.