Why my son IS playing AAU Basketball

Why my son IS playing AAU Basketball

This is one of many letters I received about the video and podcast I did concerning my son not playing AAU and summer basketball.  I thought I would share



Appreciate your views on this and agree with much of it.  However a few observations:

I train my son  and his skill development has exploded in the last few years.  But, as you know, there are tons of kids who can “kill a drill” but can’t perform when there’s 10 guys on the court.  When you have defensive pressure and lots of decision-making in a game situation, those skills can all of a sudden look a lot different.  You just can’t simulate that environment in the quiet of a gym while developing skills.  I know every good trainer tries to develop an athlete’s skills while doing “game-like” drills.  But it is just not the same.  Actual “games” must be played and it’s becoming really hard to find them outside of the AAU tourney scene.

In AAU ball, my son has learned “toughness” that he never had before, and would have never developed, in a training session in any kind of drill.  There’s a clock, there’s a scoreboard, there’s fans, there’s referees, and there’s personal “pride” at stake.  When he was getting beat up in an AAU game, he either had to fight back or get crushed.  He chose to fight back and it has served him so well.  He hasn’t turned into an aggressive maniac, but acquired just the right amount of toughness and aggressive mentality that will enable him to play high school basketball.  I guarantee he would not be in the same place at this moment without AAU basketball.  (He’ll never be a college recruit, but he setting himself up to have a ton of fun playing HS basketball.)

It’s really difficult to supplement skills training with “games” without having a place to actually play games.  You and I know there aren’t a lot of parks or gyms that young athletes use to play meaningful “pickup” games that aren’t tied to their schools.  We’ve tried playing in the local clubs and the games are mostly garbage for development purposes.  Please don’t take this personally, but being a father who is a head coach gives your son access to a gym and I’m only assuming a place where players can get together to play decent pickup games (if WIAA allows, which I believe it does) during the summer.  Not everyone has that.

I do agree that AAU travel is ridiculous.  I myself coach a boys AAU team  and my HS daughter plays AAU and I see that the competition 1 hour away is not substantially different than competition 4+ hours away.  I also agree it’s way more games in a weekend than necessary.  But of course, the tournaments are making money and they aren’t going to set up tournaments where you only play 2-3 games — which in my opinion would be plenty to supplement skill development.

AAU is ridiculous for kids under 12 years of age (and maybe that’s too young).  The most physically mature kids dominate and nothing real productive gets done an AAU format for those young kids.  But parents are feeling good that their kid “played AAU”.

I assume the birth of AAU must have been to get the very best players exposure for college.  And it probably then trickled down to younger and younger age groups.

Bottom line — I think there’s value in AAU but I think it’s overhyped.  At the same time, in order to become a better basketball player, it takes more than reps in the gym.  Those skills have to be tested in a game format.  I played DI college baseball and there was plenty of guys who hit .300+ in “batting practice” but in a game, for some it was a completely different story.  It’s all a “balance” (skills practice + games) which I know is what your message is all about.

Thanks for making your video and providing quality content on Teachoops.com !!!


Concerned Father

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3 Key Intangibles for Young Players to Develop in the Summer

3 Key Intangibles for Younger Players to Develop in the Summer
Brett Pickarts

One of the many challenges as I have faced as a coach who has coached at lower levels is keying on the skills younger players need to develop over the summer. The Dog Days of Summer bring family vacations, traveling baseball and players expanding their game through AAU teams and individual workouts with personal trainers. In today’s coaching world, it is important to encourage our players to participate in these activities, but developing the mental skills for our younger players preparing for the varsity level is crucial. This article will focus on 3 principles you want to key in on as a coach to help your players prepare for their next season at the lower level, and prepare for the grind of the season.

1. Being Coachable
This is the most overused phrase in coach’s vocabulary but it is one of the most important traits for my players to have when the season rolls around in November. As coaches, we have all been at the summer league game where two fouls are called all game or the ref leisurely gets across half-court because they have worked several games in a row. The importance of these games goes beyond a few bad calls or getting into the gold bracket. Don’t get me wrong, success in these games is important, but summer brings a unique opportunity for us as coaches to teach our players what it means to be coachable. The most important key as coaches in a summer league atmosphere is to teach our players through mistakes and help them understand how to be responsive to constructive criticism. In summer league, and in regular season it is imperative to talk, respond, and give our players positive feedback to enhance their skills physically, but build rapport and install the understanding that being coachable is a win for our team, themselves, and for their teammates. Rewarding coachability in the summertime builds better relationships, will get you the most out of your players, and build a culture that creates accountability and understanding.
2. Accountability
Building accountability within your players is a necessary skill for the most successful teams. As I alluded to previously, guys have a lot going on in the summer. One of the more frustrating challenges as a coach is having different guys every weekend or having 6 guys for a whole weekend. We understand as adults, that life happens, families travel and kids need to be kids. As a player and young coach, I have found that players become very frustrated when their teammates are no shows without communication. I tell my guys that your summer success and how successful you are in the season, is how hard you work when no one is in the gym. This principle applies to showing up and being accountable as a player. I tell my guys I am a reasonable person and my family traveled a lot when I was a kid too, but the idea of not showing up without notice or communication is a slap to the face to your teammates who come to work every day. Hey, I know if I didn’t show up teach my class without calling in or communication I would be in hot water, so this is a quality to teach your players for success on the court and success off the court later down the road. But, holding players accountable cannot just be on you, it is our job as coaches to teach and develop our players into leaders. Inspire your players to hold each other accountable to show up and work, rather than you calling, tweeting, or tracking down your players to work.
3. Communication
Teaching communication comes from multiple angles in the summertime. The most important key of teaching communication is teaching communication on the court. The most successful programs teach communication. Summer league can be frustrating because of the factors discussed above but it is important as the leader to facilitate and stress the importance of on-court communication despite the unusual circumstances of summer basketball. Good teams communicate, and that is essential to tell your guys, demand that they talk through on screens on defense, pick each other up on the bench, and communicate with you during the game. The second angle of communication that is necessary to focus on is player-to coach communication. Educators and coaches know the importance of positive relationships in motivating players to get the job done. Relationships cannot just be a 6-month season but rather a 365-day commitment by us as leaders. Don’t be the coach that needs to be the “LaVar Ball” of the gym. Be tough on your players, but understand the situation, summertime is supposed to be a time for players to refine their skills, build rapport and develop player confidence for the upcoming season.

Not every player is going to be able to develop an opposite-hand, a floater, or add 25 pounds to their frame in the off-season. Something I learned as a coach, is to have systems in place for the summer to develop these physical skills, but focus on developing young players’ intangibles. The mental development is just as important as the physical skills developed in the off-season. The teams that work on and develop communication skills, accountability, and coachability in the summer find ways to win on the last shot, dive on loose balls, take charges and are willing to go the extra mile to win basketball games when it matters.
Brett Pickarts <pickartsbrett@gmail.com> / @Coach_Pickarts

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