Youth Basketball Schools Initiative

Originally published in Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development, Volume 1 & 2.

Beyond the Academy, High Performance Centers and the Elite Development League, how can we improve the development system for all players, regardless of level? The above changes cater to the elite players: how do we improve the system for the recreational, developmental and competitive players who have yet to transition to “elite” or perhaps never will? 

The public school system offers the best and most economical way to reach the most players. However, change is necessary to maximize these players’ experience. Each school district approaches sports differently, often because of financial issues. Some districts offer elementary school teams, while other districts no longer offer physical education classes. In order for the development system to work, we must standardize school sports to ensure adequate opportunities are available in every district.

The Youth Basketball Schools Initiative starts with the varsity high school coach. While some criticize the EDL because it “eliminates” the high school coach, the YBSI increases his or her role and creates a position more in-line with his or her profession (teaching), as opposed to the current system where winning is the sole criteria upon which a high school coach is judged.

In most areas, districts are set-up with an elementary school which feeds a middle school which feeds a high school; most high schools offer two or three teams, usually junior varsity and varsity or freshmen, junior varsity and varsity. If one views each varsity team as the top of the pyramid, a varsity coach oversees an entire program down to the elementary school level. This shift creates a true development program using the schools, as the varsity high school coach is the leader within this pyramid and takes responsibility for the entire program, not just the varsity’s success.

Recently, a friend and high school coach questioned his priorities and expectations: how can a coach be expected to win (because league standings are in the newspaper every day), while also developing players’ basic movement skills and fundamentals? The answer, I suppose, is he cannot, in one season with limited practice time, do everything. Therefore, the lower levels must prepare players for the varsity team so the varsity coach is not stuck with players with remedial movement skills and fundamentals.

In the current system, with the Peak by Friday mentality and no continuity of programs, this may or may not happen. However, through the YBSI, the varsity coach is responsible for ensuring players are prepared for the varsity level.

An example of programs:

Elementary School

  • After-school skills program
  • Saturday AM Recreation League
    • 1st-4th graders play 3v3 (mini-hoops)
    • 5th-6th graders play 5v5
  • No cuts
  • Runs late November through February
  • Minimal game coaching: players use concepts/skills learned during the week at the skills workouts
  • Instruction-based
  • Man defense only
  • Encourage players to play other sports in the off-season
  • March-October: fee-based skills program at high school to support high school program

Junior High School

  • 7th grade team: 3 practices per week plus one game: focus on development in line with Cross Over model
  • 8th grade team: 3 practices per week plus one game
  • Any player cut from either team eligible for a developmental program.
    • Skill-based program like elementary school program
    • 1-2 days per week with a weekend game
    • Combine with other district schools if necessary
    • Opportunity for every player who wants to make the commitment

High School

  • 9th grade team: November-March season with 30 games
  • 10th grade team: November-March season with 30 games
  • Varsity: November-March season with +/-30games
  • Sunday afternoon informal recreational league for any players in district cut from a team. All high schools cooperate to organize, promote and assist with the league, possibly rotating sites every year.
  • Fall/Spring: Limit organized basketball activities to promote multi-sport athletes, rest, weight training, plyometrics, etc. Allow open gym skill training and informal pick-up games, but no direct team coaching and/or games/tournaments against other schools.
  • Allow limited training and competition during summer, but prohibit teams from playing 60+ games in the six weeks from the end of school until July 31. Out of season emphasis on training, not competing.

A change incorporating the Youth Basketball Schools Initiative, Elite Development League and High Performance Center provides the framework to enable the implementation of a long term athlete development like the one proposed in Cross Over. However, the framework and template only work if parents, players and coaches buy into a new model. As long as the Peak by Friday mindset penetrates youth sports and exposure dominates high school basketball, no framework or model is sufficient. The framework creates an instructional, developmental, progressive environment: coupled with a learning orientation and growth mindset, this framework will create a profound change for youth basketball players, putting the youth back into youth basketball, while providing better preparation for elite players.

By Brian McCormick
Brian McCormick Basketball
Author, Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League

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