Thinking Out Loud: Two Thoughts about Youth Basketball

I played in an old junior high school gym this week. It is easy to forget how small those courts are. The major change from youth basketball to the NBA is the length and width of the court. Most of the rules and other measurements (basket height, free throw line) remain the same, but the court gets bigger.

From a physical perspective, this seems logical. As players grow, they need more space, and they have a greater ability to run up and down a longer court.

However, from a skills and learning perspective, young players need the bigger court. Younger and beginner players need more space to make their moves and more time and space to feel open for a shot. Older, more experienced players require less time and space to make a move or attempt a shot.

While the size and athleticism of adult players compensates for the bigger court, I think we ignore the needs of young or inexperienced players. When we played on the junior high school court, we played 4v4 because of the lack of space. Why do we make young players – players who need more space and time than adults – play 5v5 in the same area?

Second, I was thinking about a modern day, basketball version of the chicken-and-egg argument:

Do young players travel all the time because officials do not call it or do officials not call traveling because the players travel so often?

It is hard to know which came first: the terrible footwork or the blind eye turned toward the terrible footwork.

Coaches and parents yell at the officials for not making the call, but if they make all the calls, the coaches and parents tell the officials to let the children play. Therefore, officials grow more and more lenient with their interpretation of a traveling violation, and consequently, coaches spend less time focused on footwork.

If officials whistled every traveling violation in a game, regardless of the coaches’ and parents’ outcries, would coaches spend more time focused on footwork in practice? Would coaches reward the players with good footwork with playing time ahead of those players who frequently travel and currently get away with it?

By Brian McCormick
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League

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