Looking Outside the Box to Improve United States Basketball

In the 20th Century, the USA ruled International basketball and our way appeared to be the best way; there was no reason to evaluate the methods with which young players developed, as Team USA always won, which provided enough proof and ended all arguments. In the 21st Century, due to the mounting losses, information superhighway and poorly played NBA games, the American basketball public is willing to evaluate and examine other methods, which may help improve the game.

One reason other countries continue to close the talent gap is the long term athlete development plans implemented by their respective national governing bodies. While United States youth develop through a hodge-podge of recreation leagues, AAU programs and school teams, all fixated on winning the next game, European and South American youth develop through youth programs overseen by professional clubs and junior national programs intent on developing future professionals for its club and senior national team players for its country; while many United States teenagers peak early in their teens, International youths develop in order to peak in their early twenties.

I search everywhere to find ideas to incorporate into basketball development, and many of these ideas are from outside the United States and drawn from other sports. For instance, Gary R. Allen, Director of Coaching, Virginia Youth Soccer Association, wrote: “We must focus on the long-term and intrinsic development of players, guiding them, but more importantly, allowing them, to think for themselves, to make their own decisions. This will enable them to have the tools to adjust and exploit a vast array of situations, in many cases, all in the same game. This is neither an easy nor a short-term learning process. The fact that we are dealing with pre-teens and teenagers further complicates the matter.” While written about soccer, the very same idealogy is necessary to advance the skills of basketball players, as too many players appear robotic on the court, following the dictums of the coach, not thinking about the best move or approch given the situation.

Allen continues: “I remember when I was a freshman in college, playing varsity at a very successful Division 1 school. I was one of two Americans on the team. The rest were Brazilian, El Salvadoran, Israeli, and English. Some of the greatest learning experiences for me as a player that year did not occur in college training sessions. Instead, they occurred on Saturdays when many of us played small-sided pick-up games in a local park with Portuguese fishermen who were in port at the time. It is in this type of environment that players have the opportunity to truly learn how to play and adjust to many types of situations and players.”

The same could be said of my own eperience; I learned more playing pick-up games on Sunday nights with older high school kids than I did at my own practices. Moving without the ball, cutting, help defense, shot selection, finishing over and around bigger players; these lessons are invaluable, yet hard to teach in an organized practice session.

On the FA (Football Association) web site, I found information presented by its Technical Department. To insure the continued development of its best talents, it found that: “Young gifted players are exposed to too much competitive football and too little practice time; competitive matches as part of an integrated development programme; and better qualified coaches to work with elite young players.” In the United States, basketball development is similar; young players play too many games through extended AAU season and many teams are coached by unqualified coaches. Because basketball is such an accesible game, and in many ways the game of the masses, almost anyone believes he is qualified to coach a team. Some people turn out to be great coaches; others do not. However, more coaching education programs or stricter requirements for coaches could help.

For instance, in Lithuania: “Basketball coaches attend 40 to 50 hours of coaching seminars and lectures each year…The LPEA (Lithuanian Physical Education Academy) graduates 10-15 basketball coaches each year…Approximately 80% of Lithuanian basketball coaches have graduated from LPEA, where they have had 600 hours of basketball studies, while students work as coach assistants during training sessions, developing their first coaching skills” (Mindanaus Balciunas, FIBA.com). How many seminars does the average coach attend each year? What type of training in physiology, psychology, motor learning, learning theory, etc does the average coach possess?

In my discussions with others about developing basketball players, I researched coaching opportunities through different governing bodies in the United States. On the USA Basketball web site, there is not a single word about coaching education or any kind of continuing education curriculum for basketball coaches. On the other hand, US Soccer has an extensive certification process.

Recently, I attended a Sports Performance Coach course through USA Weightlifting. This was a basic course, yet there was 12-14 hours of instruction including practical instruction and lectures covering basic exercise science, psychology, weightlifting theory, etc.

If almost every other sport in the United States has education sponsored by its national governing body, why not basketball? Basketball is arguably the most wealthy sport in the country (probably second to football) and it has the most prominent national team program, yet it fails to offer coaching education. Maybe if coaches had to go through a certification process, basketball coaches would have a greater understanding of concepts such as periodization and basic movement concepts that would promote greater player development, and, a more efficient means of developing players.

Finally, from New Zealand I found this:

Playing a range of sports is more likely to generate world winners than specialisation very young says the Talent Identification and Development Taskforce report released in July 2004. The taskforce, chaired by Sir Ronald Scott and commissioned by SPARC investigated whether it was possible to predict future talent based on their current performance.
The taskforce found:
� Talent is dynamic and multidimensional and cannot be accurately or easily predicted
� Gifted athletes can emerge at any stage of development
� Environment, genetics, mental ability, physiology and support are all key to developing talent
� Environment is the easiest element to influence
� Some common attributes of top performing athletes are
� they were very active as children
� they specialised in one sport later in development
� they were motivated by the joy of sport rather than winning
� they had access to coaching from an early age
� Playing a range of sports developed a more advanced skill set for an athlete rather than concentrating on one sport from an early age
� Lack of social and financial support, and fathers who demanded success were inhibiting factors.

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