If you’re at a youth basketball game, chances are that you’re watching bad basketball. It’s not because the skill level of the kids is poor, but because of much larger-scale issues that have become an epidemic for the game of youth basketball.
Before we ‘fix’ youth basketball, we must identify the problems first and then work diligently as coaches and leaders of young men and women to rectify them.
Without further ado, the problems we see in youth basketball today.
Too Many Basketball Games
Sure, games are fun and help build up competitive spirits. Contrarily, too many games is actually hurting basketball. Kids are working on their skillsets less so that they are able to play more. This hinders skill development with our youth. Not only does too many games hinder basketball skill development, it burns the kids out at a much younger age. If kids are playing 100 games as 10-year-olds, they may lose interest in the sport by the time that they’re 11 or 12.
Instead, kids need purposeful practices and skill development, along with much-need time off away from the game. As a coach, instead of entering your team into a tournament every weekend, along with a couple league games each week, work to lighten the game schedule and work more on vital skills that are necessary for your players to improve.
Too Many Plays
Nothing irritates me more as somebody that wants to see the game grow in a positive way than watching a youth team go out and have a set to run each time they’re on the offensive side of the ball. By running set-after-set, coaches are turning their players into robots that are learning plays, rather than learning how to play.
As a coach, rather than working on new plays and sets, teach your players the vital aspects of good offense, like:
- Dribbling with a purpose
- Shot selection
- Floor balance
You’ll be shocked at how good your offense can be without running sets if you teach and drill your players on what makes a great offense tick.
Parents Competing With Parents
Unfortunately, somewhere in the last decade or two, youth sports became parents competing with parents, rather than kids competing with kids. There used to be something so wholesome about watching innocent youth basketball players going up against one another for the love of the game.
But parent egos have started to get in the way, and everybody wants their kid to be the best. That includes switching teams all of the time, constant yelling at their child, belittling of kids that aren’t as talented, and other completely inappropriate actions that should not be a part of youth sports.
As a youth basketball coach, you have to get parent buy-in that you’re putting the kids’ best interests at the forefront of your priorities. Also offering reminders that scholarships are not given out at a nine-year-old’s game can help, too.
Ultimately, it’s up to parents to put the power back in their kids’ hands and step away from competing with other parents over whose kid can be better.
Ulterior Motive Coaches
If somebody is coaching basketball at the youth level and EVERY player’s experience as their top priority, they’re in the wrong business. A youth coach is there to help teach the game and create a positive experience for every player involved.
Unfortunately, we often see coaches that don’t value player experience at all, and they’re either coaching to only help their child out, or even worse, they’re coaching to make themselves feel better.
No matter what, a coach can’t play favorites to their child, and they shouldn’t be worried about anything to do with themselves. The game, especially at the youth level, is about the players and never about the coaches.
To remedy this, we need people that value the player experience to step up and be the loudest voices in the room. This isn’t saying that you should go yell and scream at somebody that isn’t coaching properly, but it’s saying that if you need to step up and remind people that it’s about the players, sometimes that’s all it takes.
Hopefully youth leagues will start forcing coaches to go through certification processes where this is instilled in their mind.
Kids aren’t learning man-to-man principles anymore, as several youth basketball coaches are now opting to go zone, which is a terrible decision. Of course playing zone defense is going to be effective at the younger levels. Players aren’t even close to having fully-developed offensive skillsets. But the point isn’t to try and win more games as a youth basketball coach; or at least it shouldn’t be.
Instead, you should be teaching your players how to play defense properly and not forming lazy habits in zone defenses. Teach your players about team defense and the shell defensive principles. Teach them the proper defensive stance and how to play on-ball vs. off-ball defense.
Teaching your players those skills is far more valuable to them than teaching them a spot to stand in for a zone defense.
There really is no reason that a seven or eight-year-old kid should have to endure being cut from a basketball team. By doing this, kids feel defeated and may quit the sport. Who’s to say that a kid that is cut as a seven or eight-year-old may not blossom into an excellent basketball player? Nobody knows, yet kids are feeling defeated at a young age and quitting the sport.
Sure, you could argue that this is the ‘everybody needs a trophy’ generation and rejection is a part of life. I get it, but learning that lesson so early in life seems unnecessary to me, but the competitiveness of youth basketball has started this epidemic.
Add in the fact that there are players that same age that may make the team, yet ride the bench. That isn’t a positive experience, either. Until kids are 11 or 12 years-old, playing time should be close to even. Again, scholarships aren’t being handed out at that age, so we should be more focused on the player development aspects, not winning.
On top of that, you mix in that coaches go out and recruit kids constantly to play for their travel teams, only to hurt kids that committed to them earlier in the year, and the competitiveness at such a young age begins to clearly be a problem.
To combat this, we need coaches that don’t focus on winning at such a young age, and parents that are okay with that. I’d rather see a lot of kids going to skill development workouts and playing in games with their friends for a few months out of the year than the atrocity that we see these days.
You don’t have to scour the internet for too long to hear of a story of entitlement in youth sports, particularly basketball. To my disdain, we’ve created a culture of entitlement where kids think that they are above authority. As parents and coaches, we’ve helped to foster an environment that is okay with this entitlement.
For example, look at this story about Lavar Ball pulling his team off of the floor because he didn’t like a call that an official made. What does that teach the kids on his team? That when something isn’t going their way to flee? That’s not how life works.
But it also creates a sense of entitlement with each of his players. That they are above that official and their team is entitled to something better. It’s a terrible message to send.
Yet we see it everyday.
Again, this is a problem that is going to take efforts from both parents and coaches. We need to work together to stop the sense of entitlement that our youth athletes feel.
Ultimately, we could go on and on and on about the issues in youth basketball. We are talking about this because basketball is a game that we love dearly, and we hate to see it continue going on the path it’s on, especially at the youth levels.
And don’t get me wrong, there are excellent youth organizations and coaches, but they are unfortunately few and far between currently.
Together, we need to make a positive change with youth basketball, and it’s going to start with us as coaches.