Youth Basketball has changed a lot in recent years. What was once done on the playgrounds, then changed to short season Recreation Leagues, has now developed into a massive business dealing in year-around competitions. Playing full court games and traveling to tournaments all over the country has become a norm for many young basketball players today. And parents spend “big money” not only on these tournament adventures, but also for individualized training sessions too. So now I ask the questions: “Are we doing things the right way in the USA?” Or has the country that invented Basketball in the first place lost its way when it comes to developing its young participants?
I will look at those two questions in a Three Part Series featuring first the Parents, then Coaches, and finally the Young Players. I will be sharing my thoughts, experiences, and ideas from more than 50 years as a parent, coach, and young player myself. I don’t expect everyone to agree with my analysis and suggestions, but hopefully this will start people thinking about how we are teaching basketball to our Youth, and how we can improve our methods.
Part 1 – How Parents Can Get Things Started Right
Moms and Dads are responsible for raising their children. They teach them the basics of life and how to succeed in the family, at school, and eventually out in the world on their own. Parents also are often the prime motivators of activities that their children become involved in and eventually pursue in depth. Basketball can be one of many activities they introduce. How is that done? Maybe by watching another family member play basketball. Or seeing a high level game on television or in person. Or maybe just shooting around on a hoop in the driveway or at the park. Eventually, parents may consider a higher level of participation for their child. Deciding when it’s the best time to start this is often debatable.
When should youngsters start receiving skill training and/or play in an organized setting?
In my opinion, it’s when they show enough interest and have a desire to learn how to play better. Young kids may be able to learn the game from others in the neighborhood, older siblings, or from a parent who has experience in playing basketball. If a child is lucky enough to have a really skilled Dad who has played at a higher level, they can have a real advantage. Just ask Steph Curry or Clay Thompson. But for most young players, somewhere along the line a parent may not be able to meet all the needs and outside sources will have to be used.
Caution to parents: Dragging Little Johnny away from his video games and forcing him to be in a league or with a trainer when he hasn’t shown any interest in playing basketball, is not a great way to start. If Johnny spends much of his time outside shooting and dribbling a basketball, then maybe he is ready for more. He might enjoy a short, introductory skill training clinic with kids his own age. Or he might be ready to try a short season, once a week, recreational league with his peers. But it should be something he wants and asks for, not what the parents think he needs.
What are some other signs a youngster might be ready for more basketball?
As I mentioned before, if they like shooting a basketball as an outdoor activity, that’s one sign. If they enjoy watching older kids playing basketball or even college and Pros, that could be another indicator. If they ask to play in a league with friends, this could be an important sign too. Parents need to encourage activities where their kids show interest, but they need to proceed slowly. Start with a local one day or one hour basketball clinic, if there is one in the area. Players need skill training besides just shooting and dribbling. A clinic or camp will expose a young player to the fundamentals of the game and help them decide if organized basketball is for them at this time.
The next step could be a short season, youth league run by a local Recreation Department, high school, or service organization. These leagues usually have one game a week and one practice a week, with everything lasting about 6 weeks. This is enough of a commitment the first year for a young player just starting out. They will pick up some basketball skills, learn about defense, and see what it’s like to work with teammates. There will still be plenty of time left in the year to pursue other activities and sports as they wish.
Parents are the most important support group a young player can have. But a “hovering,” super-involved parent can often times be a detriment more than a benefit. Moms and Dads should stand back and give their kids a chance to enjoy participation in a sport. Pushing a child to fill a Dream that is not their own, can be a rough adventure at best.
Tips to Becoming a Considerate and Supportive Sports Parent:
- Talk over with your child potential activities they might like to try out. But let them pick the ones that interest them.
2. Discuss the meaning of “commitment” and the time and responsibility that comes with signing up for a team or activity. Once they start, they stay with it till the season ends.
3. Keep your distance at practices and games. It’s nice to be there and show your support, but don’t be an “Up Front Super Fan.”
4. It’s OK to not attend every practice or every game that your child has. There are other family obligations that come up and it’s not necessary to always be there.
5. Don’t be loud and obnoxious when your child does well and don’t sulk and show major disappointment when they have a tough day.
6. Never yell out at officials, coaches, or opponents during contests. And don’t try to coach your child from the stands. Let them listen to their coach only.
7. Keep your distance until games are over. Don’t talk to your child or bring them drinks during games. When they are with their team, let them experience and enjoy the moment.
8. After games, during the ride home or at home, be positive but be honest. When things haven’t gone well, acknowledge it, but help a child to be realistic in self evaluation. The same goes for times when things have gone well.
9. Ask if your child had fun after a contest or make the comment, “That looked like fun out there.” Complement them on hustle, rebounds, assists, defense, or teamwork; not just shooting and scoring.
10. Don’t push expectations or extra practice on young players. Let them seek their own level of involvement, improvement, and enjoyment.
Parents can have a definitive influence on the success or enthusiasm their child has for a particular activity like basketball. Mom and Dad should suggest, not force choices. They should be positive as supporters, but realistic in expectations. And if their child chooses to no longer pursue a sport, parents should respect that choice and let their child move on.
Note: Your comments and discussions on this subject and article are encouraged and welcomed. What other things can we do as parents to make the basketball experience better for our young kids?