That’s a harsh title: “10 Things I hate about youth basketball.” “Hate” is a strong word. Don’t get me wrong. In its entirety, I love what youth basketball has to offer. From learning physical skills like how to shoot a lay-up to the opportunity to acquire life lessons like understanding the power and magic of teamwork; the game of basketball has so much to offer kids. Still, in the spirit of trying to make a great sport even better, here are a few things that need attention.
10 Things I Hate about Youth Basketball
1. When opposing players shout at opposing players with the ball, “Ball, Ball, Ball, Ball, Ball!” or some other repetitive phrase. I’ve seen this annoying technique used to try to apply additional pressure at grade school games and even high school games. This needs to stop. Basketball doesn’t need to be as quiet as golf, but this is just bad sportsmanship. Officiating bodies: can we make this a point of emphasis this year? Referees should first give a warning to the offending player and that player’s coach. If the behavior continues, a technical foul should be called for poor sportsmanship.
2. Making no accommodation for players’ ages when establishing the length of free throw shots. Free throws are typically shot from 15 feet away from the basket. That works fine for older ages; but for younger age groups – say, the majority of players aged 11-years-old and younger – that distance causes players to break their typical shooting form and heave the ball. Free throws should be a reward. Move the free throw line in a couple feet or more as needed based on age. If the problem is court markings, referees or tournament officials could place a post-it note or just move players up. There will be fewer fouls if the corresponding penalties result in points.
3. The travel basketball starting age shifting younger and younger. Travel basketball in our community many years ago began for players at the 7th grade level. After a few years, the starting level to begin travel basketball was lowered to 5th grade. Soon, ambitious parents of 4th graders were having their players “play up” to the 5th grade level. After a few years, 4th grade was the entry point for travel basketball. Given the trend line, one can only assume that 3rd grade will be the entry point for travel basketball soon, and before you know it, could we be looking at pre-K travel basketball program in a few years? I hope not. I’m all for kids learning the game early, but I’m not sure if parents and families need to be traveling all over a metro area for travel basketball until players have put in considerable practice time in their local gyms and played local teams in a league setting. 5th grade is a great place to start for travel basketball, and I suppose a case could be made for 4th grade. However, I think we need to draw the line there. It seems like the lowering of the age is done more for the hopes and dreams of some parents than giving enough consideration to the overall growth and development of young basketball players.
4. When too much emphasis is placed on game play versus practice time. It seems like there are coaches in many programs who try to schedule scrimmages at virtually every practice. Most players’ parents and players love scrimmages too. But, the better basketball coaches know that quality practice time is vital for players’ skills advancement. It’s not just playing against great competition that elevates a player’s game. The biggest advancement in skills for a player comes from practice time. And frequently, the biggest advancements come from players practicing on their own.
5. When teams pile on. Scores like 68 – 6 shouldn’t happen in youth basketball games. With lopsided games in which one team is clearly better than the other and the outcome has been determined before the first half concludes, there’s a big opportunity for the coach of the team in the lead. Coaches should use this chance to put the ball in the hands of players who don’t typically have that opportunity. Give your better players more time on the bench, which might balance the extra time you give them during highly competitive games. By increasing the ball handling skills of some of your weaker players, your team will be better prepared when you play tougher competition. Slow down the game by passing more. Work on a new offense. Work the clock down more before taking the first shot.
6. When players play scared. Have you seen the type of coach who whenever a player makes a turnover, sends in a replacement from the bench as punishment for the error? When this happens over the course of the season, players start looking at the bench whenever they make a mistake. That’s terrible way to coach basketball and build confidence in players. When players play scared, it’s nearly always from adult pressure, either a coach or a parent. Even the best players at all levels make mistakes. Players need to learn how to play thru mistakes.
7. Poor officiating. Referees are easy targets; but there are some times when the criticism is valid. Here are the top offenses: a.) Calling too many “jump balls” instead of calling the first fouls – we get it, fouls slow down the game (and refs are not paid by the hour), but overly-physical play follows when no fouls are called, b.) When one officiating partner makes no calls relying on the other ref to make all of the calls, and c.) When refs make poor calls from being out of position because they’re not running the court.
8. When coaches stand the entire game from their position at the bench. The over-involved coach who stands the entire game places too much importance on himself or herself. This type of coach needs to understand that games are times for the kids to star. Sit down more, shout less, and let everyone focus on whom they came to watch perform: the kids.
9. When coaches and parents place too much emphasis on point production. It’s not all about who scores the most points. Players can contribute in a variety of ways including rebounding, defense, assists, hustle and more. As a coach, one of the worst things you can hear is when one of your players is being paid X amount of money for every basket made. It’s just not the right message for a coach trying to build well-rounded players in a team environment. Also, don’t be that parent who after every game leads with the question, “How many points did you have?” Instead, ask if the player had fun? How did it go? Players will answer with the things that are on the top of their minds, and it might be something very different than points.
10. Tears during the post-game handshakes. Part of learning the game of basketball, or any other sport for that matter, involves learning how to win and how to lose. Crying at the conclusion of a game because your team lost is poor sportsmanship. Losing players need to show respect for their rivals. Coaches and parents need to work with players so that they know how to handle disappointment.