Gatherers vs. teachers in youth basketball

While in Las Vegas, I met with some AAU coaches who called the programs who recruit to fill their needs “gatherers.” In the recent online arguments about AAU vs high school basketball, the true argument has centered on gatherers vs. teachers. The perception, especially on the high school side, is that high school coaches are teachers and ALL AAU/club coaches are gatherers.

The perception, of course, is untrue. There are gatherers coaching at high school programs and teachers coaching AAU or club basketball. Therefore, the question is not AAU or high school, but how to influence more teaching and less gathering.

To explain, a gatherer is a coach or program who finds players to fill holes rather than developing his or her own players. For instance, when I coached AAU basketball, we were headed to the u-10 AAU Nationals. As per rules, teams are allowed to add players to their roster before Nationals. Four teams were headed to Nationals from our region, but two of the best players in the region played for other teams. Therefore, everyone wondered which team would acquire these players.

One player attended one of our practices. Our program director asked the player and her father to commit to playing with our team the following season: she did not want to rent a player for two weeks at the expense of our home-grown players. she also assured the father that there would be no free trips and he would not be joining the coaching staff.

Both players ended up on a different team. That team had a need for players at their position and rented the players for the National Tournament. The team did very well, finishing in the top 16, I believe. However, the two players left for another program during the following year and some players from the team left the program after they did not see very much playing time at nationals because of the new acquisitions. During the following year, the program was not very competitive and may have dissolved entirely.

This is the gathering mentality. If I start a program and want to be competitive, I find the best talent for this season. Next year, if there are more talented players who I can convince to play for me, I invite them at the expense of the players from the previous season. I never have to focus on teaching or developing my own players because when they are not good enough, I find better players.

Teachers, on the other hand, work with the players who walk into the gym. Rather than scouting and recruiting new players, they work with their own players and develop their skills.

Most of the top high school club programs – with some exceptions – are gatherers: they do not run programs for youth players and instead pick and choose the top high school players and recruit them to their teams. Some of these gatherers do a good job of developing players once they pick them; others do not.

If people want to fix the fundamental problems with youth basketball, we need a greater emphasis on those programs and coaches who develop players rather than those who gather players.

Parents need to know which programs help players improve and which programs primarily showcase already talented players. Oftentimes, there is a perception that a player has to play for a certain high school or a certain club in order to get a scholarship. These clubs or high schools tout the players who received scholarships from their programs. However, in many cases, the players played only one year with the program or school – they improved and developed the skills to play in college somewhere else.

When parents choose this school or program because of the previous scholarship recipients, it may or may not work for their son or daughter. If the player lacks the tools and potential to play at the next level, that program might not be the best fit for what the player needs. The name on the jersey does not get a player a scholarship – the player’s skills, talent, size, grades and attitude determine scholarship offers. Until the player has the right mix of those qualities, he or she will not get a scholarship, regardless of where he or she plays.

Before the player needs exposure, he or she needs to be good (great). We need a greater emphasis on those programs and coaches who offer this aspect of the puzzle and who work with players who are not already stars and help them make high school teams or improve to a level where the exposure matters. Unfortunately, in the rush for player ranking, trophies and scholarships, many people ignore these coaches and programs, or leave them too quickly when another coach or program offers a better deal in the gathering process.

By Brian McCormick, PhD
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League
Author, The 21st Century Basketball Practice and Fake Fundamentals

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