BASKETBALL’S “LOST IN TRANSITION”

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I have been holding off on writing this week’s blog topic for some time now.

It was not an easy entry to write and one that I frankly didn’t enjoy writing.  I also know full-well that some people might take offense to it.

But, for people who REALLY care about our kids, its’ time has come.

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I have been around basketball a long time.

I grew up watching local legendary head coach Dick Tracy teaching the game… which included a close-up view of his state championship winning team (somewhere in my parents basement, I still have their title win’s T-shirt).

I spent my college and early career years having the privilege of seeing another legend, John Chaney, work his magic during his famed early morning workouts at Temple University.

When I covered the Philadelphia 76ers for Sportsradio WIP, I had the opportunity to witness shootarounds under the watchful eye of Hall of Famer Larry Brown.

I currently have the good fortune of being around some of the best high school and college coaches every winter and summer…and I’ve spent a good amount of time listening to all of them.

For several years now, I have heard coaches at higher levels comment on the problems they have with the way the game is being played.  The three most fundamental issues that I hear these coaches say are…

Kids don’t like to play defense

Kids “fall in love with” and shoot too many “three-s”

Kids don’t utilize the bounce pass

In full disclosure, I was not a great athlete and never played varsity basketball myself, but I do listen to people.  Based on the individuals I have been and am around on a regular basis, my experience does tell me that you won’t get many tried-and-true basketball minds ANYWHERE to disagree with any of these three statements.

I have also spent a good amount of time in recent years watching youth basketball.  Again, based on my experiences being around the game and by listening to many coaches, officials and other knowledgeable people who watch our youth basketball in Eastern Pennsylvania, I constantly hear the following three statements more than anything else…

Kids don’t like to play defense

Kids shoot too many “threes”

Kids hate making bounce passes

See any similarities?

I’ve been expressing these sentiments to a lot of people this past winter and I have gotten very interesting responses and some great ideas. One suggestion made by RCN-TV’s own statistician, Jack Ebner, was to eliminate the “three point shot” all the way up to the ninth grade level.  That way, kids can actually learn to play the game from inside the arc and not rely on just shooting long-range jumpers.

The response to that idea (and other, similar suggestions) from the youth coaches and organizers I spoke with the last several months? “Oh, the kids will NEVER go for that.”

Now, I want to make it clear that coaching youth programs is not an easy position.  There are many great local youth coaches that put in more time, energy and quality teaching strategies than others.

Many (including myself) are not paid for their services.  Also, parents paying money for their kids to play at youth programs hold a great deal of weight and influence into a program’s execution.  Most youth coaches don’t have a lot of support to stand their ground when dealing with these “paying customers.”

But there seems to be a growing disconnect (and it’s getting worse every year) between learning the game in youth leagues and properly executing it at higher levels.  There’s increasingly less coaching and more coddling going on in youth sports — and, in the long run, it’s not good for the kids’ benefit.

At some point, if you want young people to learn the game of basketball, you have to TEACH the right way to play it.  Just because it’s “not something they want to hear” doesn’t mean it’s not something you tell them.

The game that Coach Tracy, Coach Chaney and many, many great basketball minds loved and cherished has truly evolved…our society now dictates that if you (or your kids) don’t like what one coach says or does, you just go find someone who does–or at least one who will tolerate an ignorance for the game.  And the more athletically blessed you are, the less you need to listen…and the “higher” the level you can do this at.

Is this really the message you want young people to learn?  Shouldn’t youth sports really be about teaching the way the game should be played?  Don’t you want kids learning how to develop good listening and application skills and having coaches stress things like fundamentals and teamwork?

Unfortunately, I think we all know the answer to these questions.

Chris Michael About Chris Michael

Chris handles play-by-play for RCN sports events, including baseball, football & basketball games and produces/hosts the station’s 60-minute live call-in show. Among Chris’s other responsibilities include reporting on local news & sports stories, conducting “Take 5” interviews with community and political leaders, producing commercials, voiceovers and promos; and generating blog entries and videos on the internet. Click here to listen to the weekly Sports Talk podcast.

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