Great American basketball players achieved greatness through inner determination and a drive to succeed. This drive and determination led to hours of practice time mastering new skills. All the great players are notorious for their work ethic, as Magic Johnson said, "Talent is never enough. With few exceptions, the best players are the hardest workers." Larry Bird was known for his summer workouts, shooting thousands of shots every day during the summer. Michael Jordan was known for working on a weakness every off-season, perfecting a new skill and entering the next season with something new he did not possess the prior season.
Now, this dedication to fundamentals and the great American work ethic have been usurped by the Europeans to such a degree that fundamentally sound basketball is now "European basketball," and it is someone like Peja Stojakovic who quipped that his shooting prowess was due to taking thousands of shots a day in his teenage years.
While European players perfect their shooting strokes and master new moves, American players are caught in a fight for scholarships and mythical club championships leading them to games and tournaments throughout the country. The high school season, in many ways, is irrelevant. Great players only rarely match-up against or play with other great players, so the competition is minimal from game to game and great players compile obscene statistics.
In an article about the Spanish Federation's Youth Basketball Program, Carlos Sergio describes the use of Player Development Centers for players ages 14-18. The Spanish system starts with summer camps for 10-14 year olds where coaches teach and evaluate potential prospects, which they watch throughout the year with their teams. Certain individuals are selected to join the Player Development Centers where "the goal is to help basketball players between 14 and 18 years of age train in the most efficient way so basketball is compatible with their studies and personal development," (Sergio, 19).
Is that the mission of a typical AAU program? To train 14-18 year old players in the efficient way so players have a life outside the court as well? How does the "summer circuit" fit into a model of efficient development?
One key component of the Centers is its emphasis on "long-term training." In Brian Grasso's book Training Young Athletes, he emphasizes "long-term athletic development." In England, sports centers emphasize the long-term athlete development. However, in the United States, coaches focus on now; a freshman coach wants to win all his games; a junior varsity coach all his games and a varsity coach all his games; an AAU coach is judged by how many tournaments he wins. Everything is immediate and based solely on winning percentages. Little thought is given to long-term development. We live in a fast food society driven by immediate results; but, should fourteen year olds be treated like mini-professional athletes and coaches of fourteen year olds judged as harshly as NBA or WNBA coaches?
The Centers focus on three aspects of development: "physical, psychological and technical-tactical," (Sergio, 20). How many high school programs truly focus on development beyond the basketball court? I have seen basketball coaches using plyometrics without any knowledge of what they are doing or how they might be harming their athletes; plyometrics is just a buzz word and so they use these exercises seem cutting edge. Again, few programs utilize periodized strength and conditioning programs with long-term athletic development as its goal.
At the Centers, "players are taught simple movements and situations and then move up to situations that are more complex," (Sergio, 20). How many programs, in a rush to prepare for the first game, focus large quantities of time on simple movements before implementing their full court press or half court set offense?
At the Center, "we think this part of the program [small-sided games working on collective fundamentals] is an essential step that allows the player to learn how to play together with his teammates and develop his strategic intelligence," (Sergio, 20). I agree. Small-sided games are essential to development, as they allow players more time with the ball in a competitive environment. Too many practices go straight from drills to five-on-five play without training the new skills with competition and more repetitions.
These Centers provide an excellent model of a development program, but American coaches have to commit to long-term development before anything resembling these centers would work in the United States. As long as parents, coaches and players are fixated at earning college scholarships through playing as many games as possible, as opposed to improving one's game, these programs will face an uphill battle. However, as a means to develop players' ability in a sane environment tat is compatible with academic and social development, this model is far superior to the current out of control high school athletic experience which now dominates American basketball.
About the Author:
Coach McCormick runs High Five Hoop School in Sacramento: http://hi5hoopschool.tripod.com. With cooperation from a local facility, he will introduce his development model for high school players within the next year or move to another, more cooperative area that values long-term basketball development.
Grasso, Brian. Training Young Athletes; The Grasso Method. www.briangrasso.com
Sergio, Carlos. "The Spanish Basketball Federation Youth Program." FIBA Assist Magazine. Winter, 2003.
Brian McCormick, CSCS, Director
High Five Hoop School, Sacramento, CA
Contact Coach McCormick by email.