What’s the objective of youth basketball leagues?

On the Forum, there is a discussion of 1st and 2nd grade basketball leagues. Personally, I find no reason for 1st and 2nd graders to play organized basketball and suggest martial arts, gymnastics, swimming and/or soccer as sports which provide a better initial sporting experience.

However, if one runs a league for 1st and 2nd graders or puts his son or daughter into such a league, what’s the objective? Why play?

As noted in the discussion, the children enjoy playing with their friends. Therefore, socialtivity (my own word; feel free to incorporate it into your daily vocabulary) is a primary objective of these leagues. A secondary objective might be skill development or learning.

If we look at the way that the leagues are modified to accommodate unskilled, novice players, are the modifications aimed at promoting socialtivity and/or learning/skill development?

One modification was to force defensive players to keep one foot in the key. Another modification has parents on the court directing all the action and children standing on x’s. These rules are meant to promote competitive balance and to make the game easier for unskilled players. However, when parents are on the court directing all the action, does that promote socialtivity among the players? When defenses stand with one foot in the key, are they learning anything? Are the offensive players developing skills?

Adults complain and tell me that children do not want to play 2v2 or 3v3 games because it isn’t real basketball. However, how real is the game when parents are on the court directing the action or when players have to stand on x’s or when defenders have to stay in the key? Is that more real than a 3v3 game because there are five players on each team?

When the league forces the defense to stand in the key, the modification is aimed at giving offensive players more time and space to execute a skill. Reducing the number of players on the court achieves the same objective while not limiting the performers. A 2v2 league gives players plenty of room to dribble or run to get open to receive a pass.

A typical recreation league has two teams playing at once often with 10 players on each team. Therefore, 10 players play and 10 players sit on the bench. Players play roughly half the game and a game takes roughly one hour of real time.

Imagine a 2v2 Jai Alai rules. Divide 20 players into 10 2-man teams. Send five teams to each basket. Play a game to one point. Winner stays at the basket and plays the first team in line. Loser runs to the end of the line on the other end of the court. At any one time, 8 players are engaged in the action. In a typical league, are 8 of the 10 players on the court frequently engaged? Using additional baskets, you could add teams (reducing the overhead costs of renting the gym for additional hours) and reduce the wait time per court.

Would this reduce the socialtivity of the league? No. Players play with and against friends. Would this reduce learning/skill development? No. Players get more touches on the ball and concentrate on the basics without having to worry about irrelevant cues.

In a typical league, let’s say that the goal is for players to learn to make a lay-up in a game situations. In a 5v5 league, when a player dribbles past his defender, there is another defender there. If all five defenders stand in the key, shooting a lay-up is an impossibility. In a 2v2 league, when the player dribbles around his defender, the other defender is not likely to be waiting for him. He has a chance to shoot the lay-up without worrying about other stimuli like help defenders, teammates, etc. He practices an important skill and concentrates on the skill execution.

I understand the reason for game modifications for young and novice players. However, i fail to understand the specific modifications. I do not understand how making up rules maintains the integrity of the game, but reducing the number of players somehow makes the game unreal.

If the goal is learning and socialtivity, opening the gym and allowing players to run around without being encumbered by rules and traditions and expectations is probably the best environment. However, since such a “league” would probably be labeled as a league for hippies, and therefore fail to attract any serious players, a league using jai alai format or a Playmakers Basketball Development League provides an alternative environment that promotes learning and socialtivity through small-sided games without creating rules or habits that must change in the future.

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

4 thoughts on “What’s the objective of youth basketball leagues?

  • I agree with you Brian. But to make changes, you’re going to have to deal with the most irrational creature on the planet – parents of school-aged children. I have parents on my fourth grade team who have asked me about the possibility of Div I scholarships for their kids. I’m not joking. And these are educated, level-headed people, with whom you can have a normal conversation about anything else. But they (moms and dads) can blow youth sports out of proportion in a way that would make your head spin. I’ve suggested for years that we form a 3on3 league. People think I’m kidding. I’ll be honest that I’ve tossed around the idea of a PDBL, and a lot of people have a hard time with that too. Everyone thinks that by the fourth grade, their kids already have the skills they’re going to need.

    Flag football is like this too. My kids played that for awhile until I said “no more”. There were four or five dads/coaches on the field calling out plays. They would argue that they had to keep the same kid as QB in order to get any sort of offense going. And by the time the game was over, probably a total of four kids had touched the ball, the rest of them sort of stood around pretending to be on the line. It was a total waste of time but not a single parent said, “This is utterly stupid – my kid isn’t learning anything”. There was no teaching going on. The pre-game warm-ups were, “Hey, go find a buddy and pass the ball back and forth”, and then the coaches would go yuck it up on the sidelines.

    And while I’m on this rant, I’ll extend it to baseball as well. I’m coaching a 4th/5th grade team this year – we had try-outs this past weekend and the chatter on teh sidelines with other coaches was laughable. Not a single person is talking about how they’re going to teach these kids. The chatter is all about how they can get strategic and draft some thoroughbreds. I reminded them that those same thoroughbreds last year got shelled on the mound and couldn’t hit after the first couple months of the season. I’m ready to chuck it, skip the draft and just say, “Give me kids who want to learn. I can teach them how to be better ballplayers.” But then parents think that if you don’t focus on winning, that your players will have their feelings hurt or they’re self-esteem crushed because they might lose some games and feel bad.

    I guess what I’m getting at is that we’ve created this environment within youth sports where the parents use it as social time for them, grown men and women have totally lost perspective, and there is little emphasis placed on teaching. How do you get the teaching back as a focus of youth sports, but not in a way that allows parents to micromanage every little step of the process?

  • I know that parents can be irrational when dealing with their children. But, it seems that there are people who are starting to get it. Some of the PBDLs have been really successful, mainly because the coach running the PBDL has the parents’ trust because of his previous success. Obviously, the Peak by Friday is one of my primary focuses, and my feeling is that leagues need to craft a philosophy and have parents agree to the philosophy when they sign up their son or daughter or they go to another league.

    I just don’t see how playing a game with a bunch of adults directing the action is anything different than the adults playing video games. The drafts are like the coaches playing fantasy baseball with real children. I really think leagues need to step up and do more than facilitate sign-ups and locate facilities. A director of coaching or something to mentor coaches, educate parents, oversee competitive games, etc.

    As consumers, we simply need to demand more. Ultimately, youth leagues are what our dollars say what they want them to be. However, we need to provide alternatives so those who want something different can vote with their pocketbooks and sign up for a 3v3 league or a league with a solid LTAD philosophy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.