Basketball 2012 – Some thoughts on the system

•January 1, 2012 • 7 Comments

There is a twitter argument about whether basketball in the U.S. is broken or whether the development of young stars like Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, and Blake Griffin suggest that it is as good as ever. I think that you can make either point equally well, depending on your perspective.  Continue reading ‘Basketball 2012 – Some thoughts on the system’

How to Make ihoops Effective

•November 18, 2011 • 5 Comments

In November 2010, I suggested ways for ihoops to change the culture of youth basketball, as was its stated mission when it was founded. This was an expansion of my original ideas which were outlined in the original edition of Cross Over, and included the Elite Development League and High Performance Centers. While I have yet to see anyone outline an alternative that is more practical or effective, I continue to hear from people who believe my ideas are flawed or impractical. As an example, here are excerpts from an article on the German Bundesliga.

In 2000 a Bundesliga report highlighted the major problems within its league.

In 2008, the NCAA and NBA agreed that there were problems with the development of youth players, which was the impetus for ihoops.

Clubs must now meet certain requirements in order to receive a licence to play in either of the first two divisions. For the Bundesliga, clubs must have development groups at all ages and a written development programme. This ensures that the clubs are providing their youngsters with a specific and effective football education.

This is similar to the Elite Development League proposal. “Forty-eight EDL organizations presently (30 NBA, 16 NBDL and 2 affiliated with the High Performance Centers).” Basically, this would mean that the teams in the top two leagues (NBA and NBDL) would sponsor youth teams. The original EDL proposal suggested u18 and u16 teams. The EDL could go further than my original proposal and require a written development program as well as programs for all ages, not just two teams.

There are currently 121 football centres around Germany, and at one stage €70m was being spent on youth development per year.

USA Basketball, according to Tom Farrey’s Game On, spends less than $150k/year on youth basketball development programs, while it is hard to see where the $10-million investment by the NBA and NCAA has been spent. The U.S. has no basketball centers comparable to the German football centers, and the investment by the NBA, NCAA, USA Basketball, and ihoops certainly is not 70-million Euros per year.

In my suggestions for ihoops, I argued that the money that starts at the top (NBA and NCAA) should filter down to the grassroots/amateur levels, as these levels (youth, parks & recreation, AAU, high school, etc.) develop, coach, and provide facilities for the future professional players without any compensation, beyond the nominal sign-up fees. My proposal would provide youth organizations who consistently develop players into college and NBA players the funds to start a basketball center. A school like St. Anthony’s that regularly worries about closing down and running fundraisers to support its basketball team would have a revenue source: the matriculation of its student-athletes to the NCAA and NBA. Why not reward those organizations and coaches who work with athletes at their most vulnerable ages and the age when most development occurs?

One of the biggest changes though, in my opinion was how clubs changed the training routines of youngsters….This lead to German clubs adopting the “4v4” method, in which kids under the age of 14 were not exposed to the more tiring version of the game. This saw players play on smaller pitches allowing them the freedom to use their skill, giving them more touches and more shots on goal. Tactics and positioning were thrown out of the window, and kids had the opportunity to develop and perfect the technical side to their game.

Similarly, I have suggested that young players begin their careers in 3v3 basketball leagues rather than 5v5 leagues. To that effect, I have started the Playmakers Basketball Development League  for like-minded coaches and administrators to use, and am engaged currently in two studies that examine the differences between 3v3 and 5v5 basketball games. 3v3 creates a more manageable game for young players to learn and practice skills to prepare for the 5v5 game, and a 3v3 league makes it easier to get every child involved in more action and more hours on the court.

Thanks to all of this German football is now thriving, with some of the most exciting talents on the planet currently plying their trade in the Bundesliga.

Once the NBA returns, it’d be hard to argue that the NBA and NCAA are suffering from a lack of talent. However, coaches grow more critical of players’ game awareness and fundamentals every season. Some of that could be normal “grass is greener” type stuff. However, there is some truth.

If ihoops, USA Basketball, the NBA, and NCAA are seriously interested in changing the culture of youth basketball, as they say, these are the types of changes that need to happen. The filtering of money from the top to the bottom would allow the organizations at the top (NBA, NCAA, USA Basketball, and ihoops) to have some authority over the organizations to push through the reforms. If an organization wants to be eligible for the money, for instance, the superpowers could dictate that for 8-10 year-olds, children only play 3v3 leagues. Other leagues outside of the power structure could choose to run leagues as they want, but they would be ineligible to receive the payouts should any of its players make the NBA or NCAA Division-1. The financial incentives could also be used to ensure proper coach education programs for all coaches, and the financial payouts could help finance these programs, as the organizations could pay the youth coaches or pay the coaches to attend a coaching clinic.

Right now, the NBA, NCAA, USA Basketball, and ihoops exert no influence over the game at the grassroots level. By using its television riches, and rewarding the coaches and organizations who do the best job, the superpowers could improve youth programming throughout the country, push through reforms that benefit the players and the game, and create ways for organizations to reduce the up-front cost of programming for children. Instead, schools, community centers, etc. lose money on athletics with poorly-paid or volunteer coaches and virtually no quality control while developing future NCAA and NBA players for free.

Cross Over, George Raveling and the Nike EYBL

•July 27, 2011 • 1 Comment

While packing up my apartment, I found this letter from George Raveling in 2006:

I did attempt to meet Mr. Raveling in Las Vegas in 2007. After a week of phone calls, and a five-hour drive, he refused to meet me and refused to pay for the books that were sent to him on condition that he would meet. He has refused to answer my calls ever since.

However, this chapter of Cross Over: The New Model for Youth Basketball Development, 1st Edition reads very similar to the Nike EYBL. I wonder what the “variety of individuals” at Nike did with the book…

A Development Approach Mixing Schools, Clubs and Regional Associations

•February 9, 2011 • Leave a Comment

After writing about U.S. Soccer and soccer development in Japan, I found an article about soccer in Poland. Poland is not a world power, but the article explains how it uses the school system as a means of developing soccer players. Since the U.S. sports system and U.S. school system are inextricably linked, any models that incorporate the schools into the overall development scheme are more likely to take root in the U.S. The article looks at one region within the Polish system, the Southwest region.

71 primary schools host classes within the extended football education programme which contains 6 hours of physical education per week, combined with 4 hours of general physical training.

In most school districts with which I familiar, elementary and middle school sports have been eliminated and physical education classes have been reduced. During every NFL and NBA game, the leagues promotes their fitness initiatives, NFL Play and NBA Fit, and show clips of players visiting schools.

The problem is that players make  one-time appearance. If the majority of the money pays for these one-time appearances and camera opportunities, the NBA and NFL can pat themselves on the back, but do these one-day events accomplish anything?

What if the professional sports programs started a fund more like the old Nike PLAYCorps program that scholarshipped college students who worked with youth sports programs and provided equipment? While seeing an NFL star is an amazing experience for the afternoon, wouldn’t a semester of programming with a trained volunteer be more effective?

After coaching in my local school district last year, I asked the school district about starting a private, but affordable after-school program for the district students using the Playmakers Basketball Development League model. Students reached high school with virtually no basketball experience. The AAU players attended one high school, so the district had one good program and five lousy programs. The district was 100% not interested in engaging in discussions about the possibility of providing more physical activity programs after school. I approached two other coaches in the district about starting a mini-league for all the middle school students that fed the district, and the coaches were unwilling to cooperate (yet they were willing to complain when their team was losing by double-digits).

Beyond skill development, how much would children benefit from 10 hours per week of physical education and after-school sports activities? Imagine the benefits if the professional leagues supported programs for k-2nd graders to provide an active start and augment their academic activities. Play-based learning activities to develop basic coordination, agility, balance and all the general skills that form the foundation of any sport. Instead, we are cutting physical education programs while bemoaning the childhood obesity epidemic and blaming TV and video games.

Furthermore, 5 of the most talented boys from each year group take part once a week in a ninety minute individual session with the district head coach.

Interesting. When I coached in Ireland, I held the title of Development Director. This was my plan. I asked the Board to find one night of gym time and invite the top 2-3 players per age group to work out with me, the coach of the professional team, for two hours. I wanted to create a trickle-down effect – if the top 10 and 12 year olds practiced with the top 16 and 18 year olds, they would see the difference in skill level and practice habits. Hopefully, they would return to their u10 and u12 teams with these improved practice habits, and elevate their teammates’ practice performance. Meanwhile, the better players would receive additional coaching and training to further their development, rather than having their development stifled by the typical demands of youth coaching, where much of the time is spent catching up the lower-level players rather than challenging the higher-level players. The Board did not value this idea.

The best young players are placed in the 5 high-schools with the strongest football profiles, so that the elite can easily be monitored and help the selection process when choosing those to represent the South-west region of Poland.

In a sense, this exists to a certain extent in high schools in the U.S. However, here, people complain about recruiting when it happens. In one sense, it is unfair; in another, it is practical. However, often the top programs do not necessarily have the best coaches, especially from a developmental perspective. They may win a lot of games, but if they sacrifice the players’ development to pursue those wins, is that the best spot for a developing player? Many school districts have magnet programs for different academic subjects. Why not use the same idea for high school athletics? Each district has a basketball magnet and a football magnet, and the magnet schools play each other, while the rest of the schools play each other. Put the upper-echelon private schools in with the magnet schools, and the less athletically-drive private schools with the regular public schools. It may seem unfair, but is it any more unfair than the current system where this tends to happen anyway, yet everyone competes against each other? Is it fail that Los Angeles Westchester High School (Amir Johnson, Trevor Ariza, Hassan Adams, Gabe Pruitt, Dwayne Polee, etc.) competes for the same championship as Garfield High School?

Now, let’s analyse the profile and training programme of one of Warsaw’s top youth football clubs –MKS Agrykola. Agrykola was founded in 1908 and can be called a cradle of sport in Warsaw…Nowadays, it possesses the complex of football pitches and the modern sport pavilion. Young footballers are trained there from the age of 7 and can stay at the club till they are 18. As far as the recruitment for 7-year-old is concerned, every keen kid is accepted. Agrykola rarely draw kids from other clubs and at an early age put their focus on the kids who are enthusiastic to join their setup.

I frequently read advertisements for “developmental” clubs who only need a 6’0 12-year-old. How developmental is your team if you pre-select for the best? I like the idea of taking every interested and enthusiastic player who wants to join and agree to the club’s philosophy. I think one of the issues with club basketball today as opposed to 10 years ago is the ease with which one can start a team: there are fewer and fewer true clubs, as most are one-season teams to showcase one or two players. The idea of developing in one club from 8-18 seems to have disappeared, and few coaches want to invest the time and energy on this process, when the coach of players as they move to college get all the credit. Why bother working with a 7-year-old for no money and no credit when you can recruit an already talented 17-year-old and take credit for his scholarship and use his name to acquire a shoe sponsorship or to entice other players to sign up?

MKS Agrykola uses a progressive development plan, adding more load and complexity each season:

Age        Football training programme
  • 7-8 Fun-games to get kids comfortable with the ball
  • 8-9 Skill and technique focus: dribbling, shooting, passing, control
  • 9-10 Introduction of defending and attacking with a focus on 1v1
  • 10-11 Introduction of tactical exercises, 2 v 1, 3 v 2, etc.

In basketball, we ignore this progression. Practice time and volume depends solely on gym availability and maximization of profit, while every age group engages in 5v5 play emphasizing team offense and defense. There is no system of development. Each season is a Peak By Friday season.

While the system appears to be in place to provide for good development, the coaches lack the philosophy or training.

What I have spotted is that coaches in junior categories are focused from early age on getting positive results in youth leagues rather than developing skills of their pupils. To give you an example, young defenders are often instructed to clear the ball in every single slightly dangerous situation. When one tries to control the ball and distribute it instead, he gets a very harsh reprimand. Also, coaches do not sacrifice enough time on individual approach to each player, which in my opinion, is very important at a young age. Such a state is easy to explain with youth coaches salary being determined by the club’s position in the league rather than being encouraged to develop the proper technical side of a young player’s game. There is no financial incentive if one of their former pupils is transferred to a big club in the future.

The same situation occurs in the USA. Coaches are judged on their won-loss record, not the development of their players. We constantly compare players and teams, based primarily on the scoreboard and the standings, rather than contrasting players and teams to their former selves. Coaches focus on results and often sacrifice development in the process. Rather than allow a post player to dribble down the court, the coach yells at the post to pass to the point guard. Rather than allowing dribble penetration and kick, the coach runs set plays. The focus is winning, not developing skills that will assist the player beyond that season.

The Polish Federation is trying to remedy this issue in Poland, while the Youth Basketball Coaches Association and The Crossover Movement remain among the loudest supporters of change, an LTAD approach, coach education and small-sided games in the U.S.

What U.S. Soccer Gets that USA Basketball Can’t Fathom

•February 7, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Jeff Kassouf writes about U.S. Soccer and its mission to improve player development. Some highlights:

As 10,000 of the nation’s top soccer minds emerged upon Baltimore at the NSCAA convention in January

Does USA Basketball have a convention like this? I know Nike hosts big basketball coaching conferences which serve more as networking events than educational opportunities, but does USA Basketball sponsor anything with 10,000 of the top basketball minds? If not, why not?

Enter April Heinrichs and Jill Ellis…Ellis will take over as development director after 12 years at UCLA, while Heinrichs, the new U.S. women’s national team technical director.

Does USA Basketball have a development director or a technical director? If so, what do they do? How is their performance measured? What or who do they influence? If not, why not? Why do we assume that players will develop just because?

It begins at the youngest levels of competition, where too much emphasis is placed on winning matches rather than actually training and giving players the freedom to develop. Both Heinrichs and Ellis stressed that half of every training session should be focused on technical development.

Ah, so U.S. Soccer suffers from a Peak by Friday environment and the solution, at least in part, is more focus on giving players freedom. The Playmakers Basketball Development League is a reaction to the same environment in basketball. Players need the general before the specific.

The ECNL looks to be the best up-and-coming development system for young females with its emphasis on technical training, reduced fixture congestion and national competition among the superior clubs.

The ECNL is essentially the Elite Development League for girls’ soccer. An organization designed to implement a philosophy while using the best of what’s available now and attempting to make it better through the singular philosophy, better organization and more coach education, especially as it relates to training.

What needs to happen is harmony must be established among the leagues. It might be a pipe dream, but if WPS — which stands alone atop the club pyramid — could get on the same page as the W-League, WPSL and the female youth system to create a unified — or at least more productive — system of player development, women’s soccer could truly take the direction Ellis, Heinrichs and others are now trying to find for it.

Again, this is my pipe dream for USA Basketball, where the NBA and NCAA would use their resources to find development at the lower ranks, and USA Basketball would use the financial leverage to push through reforms and take a greater role in the player development process. By using the financial leverage, USA Basketball could weed out the really bad club coaches (see Joe Keller in Dorhmann’s Play Their Hearts Out), elevate the great youth coaches, reduce recruiting at younger ages, emphasize training over competition at younger ages and more.

Youth leagues and amateur leagues are working against each other to promote themselves as the “right” way to develop players. The only way everyone will even come close to agreement on defining the correct approach is for the USSF to step in and define exactly what should be happening on a national level. Heinrichs and Ellis will look to do that, but they have their work cut out for them in a U.S. system that still lacks cohesion among its own leagues and clubs fighting for the same goal of developing women’s soccer.

Basketball is an entrepreneurial system in the U.S., so each league or club or school uses its own marketing to sell itself to the paying customers. Some entice players with trips to nationals; some use buzzwords like “developmental,” while others focus on being “elite,” “finest,” or “super.” These words do not mean anything any more; they are just marketing buzzwords used to attract paying customers. Anyone can call themselves elite; anyone can call themselves a developmental program, even if no development actually occurs.

There is no defined right approach, except what sells to the paying audience. There are no experts directing development through the important youth years. There is an absence of leadership and education through these years and this process, leaving development in the hands of volunteers or entrepreneurs with parents forced to make decisions based on flashy web sites or slick-talking coaches who promise the world.

Just as U.S. Soccer has hired Heinrichs and Ellis to provide some direction, USA Basketball needs to exert its authority and do the same, and I am not talking about Len Elmore’s part-time job “running” ihoops.

Japan’s Development into a Soccer Powerhouse

•February 6, 2011 • Leave a Comment

When people think of dominating athletic nations, Japan is not the first or second nation that comes to mind, except in some sports like Judo. In soccer, Europe and South America dominate the discussion, not Asia. However, Japan is now among the world’s top 20 nations in soccer. A New York Times article after their Asian Cup win explains the process of developing a nation into a powerhouse:

  • The federation…has created national training centers throughout the country dedicated to soccer and has a well-organized scouting program to track the most-talented young players.There are nine training regions that have been set up that are made up from the 48 states, or prefectures.
  • The federation also has two full-time academy’s for junior and senior high school players called the J.F.A. Academy.
  • All 38 J-League teams from both the first and second divisions are required to have U-12, U-15 and U-18 teams as part of their organizations. The clubs are trying to develop players from a young age.

Japan’s path to international success features the same basic ideas that I have proposed in the Elite Development League and High Performance Centers. The J-League (the professional league) is responsible for funding and assisting with the development of the next generation of players.

The United States does not need to create new development models to remain competitive internationally, but with the money invested in the game, a better model would create a better experience for all players and potentially do away with some of the shadier elements of youth basketball covered by George Dohrmann’s Play Their Hearts Out.

What is Wrong with Girls’ Basketball?

•November 16, 2010 • 1 Comment

I picked up the following on another web site that covers primarily southern California prep players and teams. However, it closely mirrors many points made on this site previously (I deleted the player’s name and school):

As the negative stories started filtering out of the HAX tourney, perhaps the most significant was the oft-repeated observation that [D1] recruit K.S. has no desire.  She’s a player with all the gifts to be a collegiate AA, yet, she plays as if she’d rather be anywhere other than the basketball court.  If this were a reality show, a judge would have already put the question to her, “Do you really want to be here?”  My belief is that she wants to come to [college] and if she has to play basketball in order to do it, so be it.  During the tournament, numerous observers felt that she was content to let others do the dirty work and if the ball got in her hands, then the magic happened.  Unfortunately, she was not the only player at the tournament who had that attitude.

Have we burned out these girls?  Playing every day, every month of the year.  Even though this is the first big high school tournament in the Southland [technically it is before the official start date of high school basketball practice], scores and scores of concerned fans were noticing that the girls were disinterested and unenthusiastic.  Also, the girls were better athletes, but not better basketball players.  Playing all those games hasn’t translated into higher skills because there’s no teaching or coaching. Watching player after player incorrectly perform a basic skill like a bounce pass or totally ignoring others like a close out,  and you can only start wondering what these parents are paying the big bucks for.  Oh, I know, it’s for the college scholie, and a lot of girls at the tournament have gotten that.  Good for them.  But have we lost a generation of players because of that single-minded goal?  Watching some of the ghastly games that WBB put on during their first week, I’d say the prognosis is not encouraging.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 45 other followers