AAU Basketball – Pros and Cons
By Timothy Ribadeneyra
My daughter started playing AAU basketball in 6th grade (I think). I love basketball and growing up we didn’t have access to AAU. I thought how lucky these kids are to be able to play basketball almost year round and how I wish that had been available to me. She played travel basketball and her goal was to make her high school team as a freshman. This program was an excellent way for her to reach her goal (which she did). The coach focused a lot on skills, especially ball-handling, and expected all the girls to master all of the skills no matter what position. I liked that because some girls that may be centers in 6th grade end up being guards in high school (and vice versa). The tournaments were generally fun, especially when we stayed overnight, and the girls really developed some great friendships.
However, looking back now there are some things I think AAU can do much better. A short list I have comprised includes:
- Too much focus on winning – many coaches, understandably, are trying to make a name for themselves and leverage a good record into a permanent position at a school. With the pressure to win some kids don’t play as much as others (everyone should play similar amounts) and with that pressure the kids focus on what they do best (i.e go right, shoot 3’s) rather than working on their weaknesses. Coaches should emphasize trying different things and experimenting in order for the kids to become more well-rounded players.
- AAU refs don’t call enough fouls – understandable again due to all of the games scheduled there is pressure not to exceed game times. However, I see kids not understanding what a real foul is so when they play in high school they are constantly in foul trouble and don’t understand why.
- Coaching to draw contact – I was taught that you need to create separation in order to get off a shot. If you are on a breakaway with one person in front of you who is taller and backs up all the way to the basket, the correct move is to pull up for a short jumper. I think this is preferable to throwing your body into the taller defender to try and get a foul call. First it is a tougher shot, in my opinion, and likely just to get blocked. I don’t remember any coaches supporting this. All seem to like the aggressive play.
- More focus on skills – not totally familiar with the European way, but am always impressed with the skill set of international players around the fundamentals of the game. You don’t always have to be the most athletic to be successful if you have good footwork and are fundamentally sound.
- Repetitive motion injuries – seems like there are a lot of injuries, especially knees of kids whose bodies are still developing.
- Burnout/Not fun anymore – I remember when I played that when March rolled around I had enough of basketball and was ready to move to the next sport. Once the kids are older and the pressure of trying to impress college coaches takes hold, it isn’t fun anymore. I know my daughter didn’t think it was fun and stopped playing. I also see kids who do go play in college and quit after 1 year as it takes too much time from other college things they want to enjoy.
I am sure many will disagree, but would love to hear other thoughts.