Recently, I went into the principal’s office, Mr. Belding, at my daughter’s school to complain about the slow development of her daughter academically within his school. Keep note, I have worked at same school for the past 13 years as a teacher but that didn’t stop me. See, my daughter is academically gifted and has far more superior intelligence and potential then her peers! I stormed into Mr. Belding’s office asking him why my daughter has to take Algebra 1 when she can clearly handle Geometry and Trigonometry! Falling on deaf ears, Mr. Belding gave me the run around on how it was developmentally appropriate for her to stay on an academic progression, and it was ok for her to master her grade level as part of her progressive development. What am I to do? Well, hell with him! I am going to pull her from the school and put her in a school that will challenge her!
Was the above story true? Well of course not. I would never do that to my daughter, or have the audacity to disrespect an educator and question the years of mastery in their education field. The reason why I made up that story is because the above example represents a metaphor of a more common problem that is occurring with grassroots basketball, primarily with AAU traveling teams. Parents are becoming way too involved! Parents have always been involved, however, now they are overstepping their roles and trying to force their players to play at a higher grade-level then they should be currently performing at. Therefore, players are skipping important steps of learning time/score situation, how to run a team, how to make interior passing, making proper reads, how to control a press, how to compete and dominate, etc.
I am all for players practicing and training with players that push them out of their comfort zones, allowing them to work harder. That is called an increase in OVERLOAD. The increase in overload causes a reaction to the body, forcing it to break down, so the body can rebuild it with rest. The key word here is rest. What is happening on the AAU circuit is parents are forcing too much overload on player’s minds, ability levels, and bodies, not allowing them to grow naturally. This can lead to players losing confidence in their skill; lose confidence in their mental game, burnout, and expose weaknesses too early for those players that are more highly ranked. Players then begin to chase rankings, or players ranked above them by increasing the OVERLOAD or their competition level. A great analogy to my point is the 1-Rep max for the bench press. If a person cans only bench press 135lbs, then it doesn’t make sense to try and increase the overload and bench press 150lbs when obviously the person wouldn’t be able to do it. That person would need heavy doses of progressive weight and repetitions, followed by adequate rest for the muscles to grow and adapt. Please tell me I am starting to make sense?
Why do parents get involved so frequently? Well part has to do with ego but also because of the dreaded parent peer pressure. Parents become more worried about what other parent’s kids are doing, or what people will think of their kid if they do not. This has caused an epidemic of families forcing their kids to play up, or they will pull them from the team. Little Johnny has to play Varsity as a freshman or played 17-Under as a freshman or he “will never make it to a D-1 Scholarship”, or “make it to the league”. They honestly believe their child will be developmentally falling behind, or will be publicly looked down upon for not playing one, two, or three grade levels above their age.
As I look back to my basketball career, I didn’t start organized basketball until the 6th Grade. Travel basketball…….It didn’t exist, so my dad always pushed me to train on my skills and go play against competition at my school. Sounds appropriate right?
It is ok to dominate your age group. I tell players repeatedly to learn to dominate your age group before moving up to the next age level. It is great to train and practice above with moderation, but to fully master certain skill levels; you need to have success at performing those skills. Once you develop success in a game situation repeatedly, you will now have the confidence to try more skills and patterns against better talents.
In regards to a highly ranked player, competing at your age group will allow your ranking to increase or rise since you will be dominating your age level. The talent scout will then see what you CAN DO WELL, rather than evaluate what you DO WRONG. Dominating your group level will leave a much better impression; therefore, players should use their grade level for their own marketing purposes.
Just because your friend is 5 inches taller, 20lbs heavier, and has a 5 o’clock shadow, does it mean you need to mimic his development because you DO NOT WANT TO BE LEFT BEHIND?
Players and Parents; you will not be left behind. We all mature and develop at different ages. Basketball is a journey and not a sprint. Players need to quit sprinting to 17-Under AAU basketball and learn to dominate your age group first. In the long run, it will be better for their career going into middle school, high school, college, etc.
In summary, a parent would never force their children to pass needed steps in education and parents in grassroots basketball shouldn’t be any different. Let’s get real parents and players! Please do not quit your teammates cause you want to play above your grade level. Please do not skip Algebra! You will need it, especially when working a 9-5pm job like the rest of us in the future.