The first organized basketball game I ever played in was when I was in the 5th grade in Indiana, against the 6th graders at our school. It was also the first time I had ever played 5 on 5 basketball, or with a referee, or with fans in the stands, or with a scoreboard keeping score. It was something I had looked forward to since the 2nd grade, because that was the first time I watched the older 5th and 6th graders play in that annual school contest. Classes always ceased on that particular afternoon and students of all grades went to the gym to watch this epic battle.
Each year in elementary school, as I got to watch the next “big game,” I dreamed of the day I would play in it. It was going to be the highlight of this Indiana grade school boy’s life. Oh yes, we had played basketball at recess and lunch time, almost every day at school it seemed, but never 5 on 5 full court in a gym. Usually it was 3 on 3, or 2 on 2, and even sometimes just 1 on 1, played on the outdoor courts. But the “big game” was played in the gym and it was “real basketball.”
Finally my big day came and we headed to the gym along with a couple of hundred first through 6th grade students and teachers. Our two teams of 5th and 6th graders got to wear old uniforms from the 7th and 8th grade teams and believe me, it was a thrill. Two teachers refereed the game, the 7th and 8th grade coaches organized and coached our two teams, and all the students were there screaming like it was a State Championship game. I don’t remember too much about the game itself anymore. I just know that the 6th graders “whipped us good.” Of course, they had Donnie Brown, a really good shooter who eventually became the best player at our high school and later got a basketball scholarship to Ohio State University. That helped.
Another interesting thing is, I don’t remember the game from my sixth grade year, but I’m pretty sure we “whipped those 5th graders pretty good too.” I do know that those were the only two games I played in until I made the 7th grade team and we had scheduled games against other junior high schools in our county. So Youth Basketball for me was pretty much self-directed, playground limited, and highlighted by the two games in 5th and 6th grade.
Today’s youngsters might not play basketball at recess on the outdoor courts as much as we did back then, but they certainly have many more opportunities to play 5 on 5, with referees, coaches, uniforms, and parents and friends watching. Even third graders have AAU teams that play organized games during various times of the year. Parents coach their teams, parents organize their leagues, parents drive or fly them to tournaments, and parents are in the stands cheering them on. That is certainly a different situation than I had, and I sometimes wonder if it is better or not.
The purpose of this personal story is to lead into my next blog article which will deal with a couple of questions coaches have asked me to write about:
- What can we do better to improve our Youth Basketball in the USA?
- Should third and fourth graders play 3 on 3 instead of 5 on 5?
- Can youth basketball be limited to playing only Man to Man Defense?
I’ll tackle those questions and give other thoughts about Youth Basketball in an article I will post soon. I might even throw in some more “Indiana stories” just for fun. Stay tuned.