3v3 Basketball and Youth Skill Development

Flow, Learning, and Youth Sports

Originally published in Los Angeles Sports & Fitness, September 2014.

During the summer when I was in middle school, I walked to a halfcourt gym near my house and played basketball for as long as there were other children to play against. On some days, when the competition was good, I would play for three to four hours without realizing it, my only sense of time coming from my grumbling stomach as lunch time approached and passed. During these games, I played against a wide spectrum of different players; playing against older and bigger players forced me to learn new shots, similar to those that the San Antonio Spurs Tony Parker uses around the basket. Playing against smaller players forced me to work on my quickness to protect the ball. When I was the best player there, I would challenge younger children and play with a disadvantage, playing one against two or shooting only shots outside the key. Read more

Where is the development in youth basketball?

In the last two weeks, I have officiated 10 middle-school and freshmen basketball games, boys and girls. The complete lack of everything is astonishing. Many of the players are not fit (asking to come out after two minutes because they are tired). Basic coordination is lacking. Because the players are fatigued easily and uncoordinated, basic skills like dribbling and shooting layups become far more challenging than they should be for 13 and 14 year-olds, many of whom started to play on teams when they were six or seven years old.  Read more

Should every player hate to lose?

Originally published in Los Angeles Sports & Fitness, May/June, 2014.

During my first season as an assistant coach for a junior-college women’s basketball team, the head coach remarked that it was hard to coach a team and to win when the coaches cared so much more about every game than the players. It was an accurate statement; our livelihoods were invested in the team and the games, whereas few players had aspirations of playing basketball beyond junior college. When the game ended, we sat in the office ruminating over what went wrong; I left the gym and headed across the street to a pizza place and went over the game in my head. The players left the game and went to parties, the movies, or the library to study. In no way did I believe that the players did not play hard; they did. They gave a full effort when they were on the court. However, win or lose, the game did not change their behaviors once the game ended and they left the gym, whereas the game lingered and affected the coaches long after the final whistle. Read more

Importance of play: Learning from kindergarten and Bonobo apes

Originally published in Los Angeles Sports & Fitness, October 2012.

In Robert Fulghum’s poem, “All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten,” he writes, “Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sandpile at Sunday school.” In our attempts to make sure that no child is left behind or to qualify our child for the right pre-school to ensure eventual college and professional success, have we created a society where these lessons from the sandpile are no longer learned?

Later in the poem, he writes, “Live a balanced life – Learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work everyday some.” Of those qualities of a balanced life, how many are emphasized in our society, whether with children or adults? How many children draw, paint, sing, dance, and play on a daily basis? How much do we emphasize work over the other qualities of the balanced life?  Read more

The Purpose of the Off-Season

An assistant coach called and told me that the head coach met with the staff and insisted that the players should “hate September.” I don’t understand this mentality. Why do coaches want players to hate basketball and training? How do we encourage life-long physical activity if the goal is to make our youth hate training?  Read more

What is the Point of Youth Sports?

Originally published in Los Angeles Sports & Fitness, October 2011.

Youth sports are a billion dollar industry, but what is its purpose? Do we invest billions in youth sports to produce professional athletes? If developing professional athletes is the primary purpose, why are professional organizations uninvolved in the development process? The NBA, NHL, MLB and NFL spend virtually no money on youth programs, instead relying on the school system and other non-profit programs (YMCA, Parks & Recreation, AAU) to supply talented adult-aged players for professional drafts. Read more

Playmakers Basketball Development Leagues as a means to Increased Physical Activity

An oft-cited study by Gould, Feltz and Weiss of Michigan State University’s Institute for the Study of Youth Sports, found seven primary motivators for children’s sports participation:

  1. Fun
  2. Skill development
  3. Excitement and personal challenge
  4. Achievement and status
  5. Fitness
  6. Energy or tension release
  7. Friendship

Read more

Playmakers Basketball Development League as Physical Education Curriculum

For someone who played and loved sports as a child, I never really liked my P.E. classes. P.E. classes never seemed like real sports. Apparently, I am not alone. In an article titled “Student Activity Levels During a Season of Sport Education,” Peter A. Hastie and Stewart G. Trost write (Pediatric Exercise Science, 2002):

Sidentop has suggested that most sport within physical education rarely reproduces those features of sport that lead to its attractiveness, resulting in student claims of irrelevancy and boredom.

In the paper, the intervention measures the effectiveness of using a more sport or team-oriented approach to physical education which Sidentop called Sport Education; essentially imagining the block of time devoted to one sport as a mini-season. The intervention found that Sport Education can produce sufficient levels of moderate-vigorous activity, while not discriminating against lower-skilled players.

The Playmakers Basketball Development League offers an ideal Sport Education curriculum for the basketball lesson of a physical education class. The PBDL addresses the difficulties of playing basketball in a small gym with a large class and prevents numerous players from sitting out at any time. The PBDL teaches basic skills using a game-play model, enabling beginners and experienced players to play the game together.

If a physical education teacher uses a block practice instruction model for basketball, the teacher may focus on a simple skill like lay-ups or dribbling the basketball on the first day, but knowledge of lay-ups does not enable one to play a game or join confidently into a scrimmage. However, through a game-play model like the PBDL, beginners learn new skills like dribbling the basketball and making lay-ups while engaged in actual game-like play.

A P.E. teacher has two goals: (1) increase physical activity (fitness) and (2) teach/develop sport-skills. The concept of Sport Education enables instructors to meet these goals simultaneously, and the Playmakers Basketball Development League is a planned, organized six-week curriculum that uses the same ideas as Sport Education as a means for player development, learning and fun with youth basketball players.

By Brian McCormick
Author, Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League

The First Step to Athletic Greatness and Lifelong Physical Fitness

Originally published in Los Angeles Sports & Fitness.

At the gym this week, I watched a seventh grader work with a personal shooting coach for an hour. After his lesson, his mother spoke to another coach and had the coach watch her son and offer pointers. Then, the child shot for another hour as his mother watched and critiqued every shot. After the child had shot for two-and-a-half hours, he started to whine. He wanted to go home. His mother told him to make 20 free throws in a row. Eventually, a team had practice and kicked him off the court.

When I was young, I imagine there were days when I shot by myself for two hours. I know I set goals like making 20 shots in a row before going inside. However, I made the decisions. I initiated the practice, I set my own goals, I decided when to finish. My individual practice was child-initiated and based on my motivations. I practiced because I enjoyed shooting.

The mother initiated the child’s practice, setting goals, hiring trainers and talking to coaches. The child did not want to continue. He was not enjoying the activity. His body slumped after every missed shot that prolonged his practice, he whined and he threw the ball. Maybe the mother wanted to teach her son a lesson about practice habits, work ethic or discipline. However, I saw a child starting to hate basketball.

In the United States, we face an obesity epidemic. Children are fat. However, we also have turned childhood sports into a scholarship chase. I believe the obesity issues stem from the same misguided philosophy which turned youth sports into the pursuit of the ephemeral dream, rather than a time for fun, activity, learning and exploration.

Parents rush their children into competitive athletics because they do not want their son or daughter to fall behind. These efforts are misguided. K. Anders Ericsson, author of The Road to Excellence, believes “when it comes to choosing a life path, you should do what you love because if you don’t love it, you are unlikely to work hard enough to get very good.”

Ericsson believes a person needs hours of deliberate practice to become an expert performer. In a sense, the mother provided an environment for deliberate practice. This is the approach parents take. They know their child needs to practice and work hard to be successful, so they start the child down this path at earlier and earlier ages, like the mother of the six-year-old. However, the parents miss the first requirement: kids must love what they are doing. Pushing a child into an activity too hard and too soon often has the opposite effect, turning the child against the activity.

When a child quits sports at an early age, he is less likely to resume these activities later. Kids love to learn and explore. They do not compare themselves to others. They enjoy playing and learning. However, as we age, we become more self-conscious and more aware of others.

A teenager is unlikely to try a new sport because he does not want to fail. People associate a failure in an activity with a character flaw and worry others might like them less just because they cannot shoot a basketball or catch a football. While it is easy to dismiss these feelings, how many adults actively pursue activities in which they are not very good or have never tried? Now, imagine doing so during adolescence. No wonder P.E. is the worst class of the day for many kids.

Once upon a time, children played hopscotch at recess and jumped off swings at the highest peak. They jumped over (or into) puddles and skipped just for fun. Jumping rope was a game children played to song.

Now, as recess disappears and the pursuit of a scholarship grips parents as soon as their young prodigy takes his first steps, personal trainers painstakingly count the number of foot touches in a plyometric workout to prevent over-training and burnout. Depth jumps are prohibited for all but the most advanced children. The play activities of past generations are regimented training activities used to prepare young athletes for sporting success.

In The Art of Learning, Josh Waitzkin, a world champion in chess and Judo, writes: “the most important factor in these first few months of study was that Bruce [his first chess coach] nurtured my love for chess, and he never let technical material smother my innate feelings for the game.” Eventually, Waitzkin moved to more intense levels of training and instruction. However, this occurred after he developed a passion for chess and a desire to pursue the sport.

In the gym, the mother failed to nurture her son’s love for basketball though her efforts stemmed from a good place. As we change physical activity from fun games to training activities, we lose children who are uninterested in or psychologically unprepared for the competitive nature of youth athletics.

The media points to the dedication of Tiger Woods at an early age to illustrate successful athletic development. However, how many young prodigies never make it? These are the stories left untold. Parents and coaches latch onto the Tiger Woods’ story, but nobody learns from Todd Marinovich or Jennifer Capriati or the dozens of others who quit sports altogether before they reached any level of noteworthiness. Rather than looking at Woods as the rule, what if he is the exception? What if he developed in spite of the pushing, not because of it? What if Woods, like Waitzkin, developed the passion for the game first and then engaged in the deliberate practice which elevated him into the world’s greatest golfer? The media only captures part of the story; maybe the real story is the fun games that he played with his father when he was young which generated his intense interest in golf.

Youth sports are not the pre-minor leagues. Children are not miniature professionals. Whether the goal is to develop your child into an All-American or just to keep your child active, the method is the same: youth sports should be fun, child-centered, exploratory and learning-oriented, not a competitive cauldron or pre-professional training.

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

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