LTAD, LeBron James and Team Handball

The above slide is from my presentation at GAIN IX, an athlete development conference started by Vern Gambetta that takes place in June at Rice University. I created the slide before Team USA had been finalized, and I guessed who would make the team; this slide, which followed a slide with the 12 who I expected to be on the team, presented the idea that the U.S. could transform basketball players into Team Handball players if winning medals at the Olympics was the ultimate goal of sports in the U.S.

This week, U.S. national team-handball coach Javier Garcia-Cuesta, when asked how long it would take for LeBron James to become the best Team Handball player in the world, said:

“Maybe six months,” the coach said. “This is just a hypothetical. He has everything. When you see him playing, your mouth drops.”

My presentation at GAIN was titled “Long Term Athlete Development: Beyond 10,000 Hours”. I started by discussing the presentations that I saw at the USOC Coaches Conference in 2013. At the conference, various leaders of various National Governing Bodies said that the U.S. was not performing as well in the Olympics, and consequently, the U.S. needed to adopt an LTAD program like Canada. Despite having written a book on LTAD for basketball (Cross Over), I thought that their opinions were misguided, as I wrote last week.

When I looked up the reasoning behind the Canadian LTAD, one document that I found said that Canada created an LTAD plan because:

  • Declining participation in recreational sport and physical activity.
  • Marginalized P.E.
  • Declining international performances.
  • Difficulty identifying and developing future international athletes.

From my viewpoint, an LTAD plan probably could not address the first two, and I argued that the second two were not a problem.

As the slide above illustrated, the problem is not that the U.S. cannot identify or develop athletes to compete in various Olympic sports; instead, the problem is that athletes who could win a media in a sport not played popularly in the U.S. play professionally in basketball. An LTAD program is not going to change this, unless the U.S., as a society, decided that winning more Olympic medals was the most important outcome of sports participation as a society, and the government paid athletes to forego professional basketball careers to play team handball.

The U.S. has a high percentage of its top athletes concentrated in team sports (soccer, basketball, volleyball, football, hockey) and a few individual sports (track & field, swimming, gymnastics, MMA, skiing). Winning Olympic medals should not be the #1 measurable outcome of sports participation and success in the United States.

By Brian McCormick, PhD
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League
Author, The 21st Century Basketball Practice and Fake Fundamentals

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