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How to Save High School Basketball (HSB)

All organizational failure begins, and ends, with leadership failure.

Some predict the death of high school basketball in 10-years; I believe this is definitely true in girls BB especially, and most likely true in boys hoops. To save HSB, the most important place to begin is at the top, the Athletic Director (AD). The AD must create and staff a new position, to report direct to AD, called a Development Program Director (DPD). The DPD is also matrixed to the respective girls and boys high school basketball head coaches.

The DPD is a heavy part-time job, set forth on the ECA schedule as is the case with most sports positions within a school corporation. The role of DPD is to be fully funded by the school board. The work of the DPD is 4-fold: First, to bring new kids into the sport, beginning in 3rd grade. Second, to recruit and train volunteer parent-coaches. Third, to create an area league of teams in which student-athletes play competitive, organized team ball. And, fourth, to align the sports teams generally to the style of play of the sitting head coaches. I note “generally” because the key is player development, not running systems or memorized plays. Kids need to be trained as athletes, not programmed as robots.

The greatest weakness of AAU basketball can become the greatest strength of school-based basketball—the development of player skills, which are essential to improvement and advancement in higher levels of competition in this sport. This AAU does not do, or at least, does not do well. Sadly, many school systems are failing also in this crucial piece of basketball. Yet with simple adjustments, schools can reclaim this high ground.

The challenge is to bring players into the sport, then to train them in creative ways to get them to know how to play each position on the court, in defense, in offense, in transition, in full court press situations, and on the free throw line. This starts with the philosophy to build each kid from the court-up, on how to stand, how to pivot, how to dribble, how to screen, how to play helpside defense, etc.

Schools must reclaim the mantle of being basketball development experts. If we in schools do this, we will save our school teams (and jobs). If not, we will soon lose this entire sport to private clubs, and private trainers.

The basketball DPD must continually cast his/her net broad to find, then develop, volunteer parent-coaches. I suggest USA Basketball youth coaching licensure program as a place to start, though the customer service of USAB is among the very worst. Joining Positive Coaching Alliance and National Association of Youth Sports are good ideas, as is joining solid basketball coaching websites like teachhoops.com.

The state of Indiana boasts the largest girls travel basketball program in the country. Called Indy Girls Hoops League, it may serve as an excellent model for forming a similar league in your area of the country. Teams run from 3rd-8th grades, with three levels of competition (A (best), B, C(weakest)) in each grade. All girls on an IGHL team must be from the same school corporation (to keep from recruiting players to your team from outside your school district). Games are officiated by real referees. Teams play every other Sunday, and there is a Fall League, Winter League, and Spring League (a team can play in 1, 2 or all 3 of these if they wish). Almost all teams are coached by parents.

With IGHL there are generally 2 models followed by school systems. Either the school system “owns” its IGHL teams and appoints subordinate coaches, while dishing out gym times at area schools. Or, parents do their own thing, while wearing the name of that school corporation on the kids’ jerseys. Each model has its strengths and weaknesses.

The second major requirement to save HSB is to professionalize and broaden the skill sets of subordinate middle school coaches, many of whom have been coaching the same school grade teams for many, many years. Schools must eliminate family members of coaches from becoming assistant coaches, as this is leading to a death spiral of poor quality in middle school basketball. The DPD can create a basketball curriculum across grades, based on LTAD in Canada or the work of USA Basketball. Practice plans can then be organized from the curriculum. Also, player development and mastery of skills can be recorded each year in a simple, digital format. Statistics can be kept, and videos taken of practice and/or games.

The DPD must also use all means permitted within your state’s high school athletic association, to make basketball fun again, particularly outside traditional “basketball season.” This includes 3-v-3 tournaments, particularized clinics taught inside area elementary schools, basketball sleepovers with high school players inside a high school gym, field trips to area places of basketball interest, and special guest speaker events hosted with other school systems of current players at the collegiate and professional levels. I also advocate aggressive use of college tours, and behind the scenes player meetings with college players in your area.

Other local efforts of the DPD include branding and merchandising your school program, hosting special tournaments for other teams to come to your facilities, and creating buzz for your school system’s combined basketball programs through social media. I suggest the DPD not be a coach, but instead someone whose skills sets range from project manager on one side, to marketing and sales guru on the other. Coaches, I find, are too limited by ancient thought forms, and narrow, crabbed definitions of team, player and program.

The point is to make HSB (and MSB and ESB—i.e., middle school & elementary schools) the greatest developer of basketball players in the world. If we do this, we will save high school ball. I frankly do not care if our players wish to play AAU after us; I just want them to be able to, should they so decide.

Terry Boesch is a teacher in Martinsville, IN (home of John Wooden), and also coaches girls basketball. Feel free to email him at terryboesch@gmail.com, or call/text at 317.643-6042

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