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. 

Teams have multiple defenses and multiple plays, but the players cannot play. I cannot recall the number of times that a team has had a player wide open under the basket on an underneath out-of-bounds play, only to have the player run away from the ball to set a screen in the play. Worse, one time when the players recognized the open player, the player missed the layup, and the coach screamed at her to run the play! What play are you going to run to get a better result than an open layup?

In this area, with players as young as seven receiving private individual coaching, and teams available for five year-olds, every league is a 5v5 league. Practices focus on sport-specific development. A couple teams do a dynamic warmup during their pre-game routine, but there is no focus on the exercises.

What’s the purpose? What is the purpose of a league for 5-11 year-olds when the players arrive at tryouts for their sixth grade team and look like they have never played basketball? What is going on in 6th and 7th grade when girls show up for 8th grade tryouts and cannot dribble with their head’s up or pass off the dribble or shoot outside of 8 feet? What’s happening at these practices and during these games that players are devoid of most skills, and basic coordination, after 5+ years of exposure to the game?

Why do 5-11 year olds need to play 5v5 fullcourt games? Why do they need to engage in sport-specific practice for their entire practice and game and ignore the development of basic movements? I worked with an 8th grade teams, and many players did not know how to skip. They had never heard of a squat. No 8th grade girl could do a single pushup.

What’s the point? What are these children receiving from these leagues if they are not developing basic basketball skills, they are not learning to play the game, and they are not developing physical fitness?

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

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