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May 1, 2014     Newsletter #36

Dear Coaches, Players, Friends,

Today's Quotes
"One of the highest compliments you can be paid is that you are a person of your word." - John Wooden
"Have character. Don't be one." - John Wooden
"Character consists of what you do on the third and fourth tries." - James Michener

Today's theme is "Playing AAU or Club Basketball".

The first question is, "Should my child play AAU, or club basketball?" This is off-season basketball (off the usual school basketball season). You have to consider your schedules, time-constraints, priorities. Family and school should always be more important than club basketball. Conflicts can and do occur, especially if your child plays more than one sport. For example, you may have an AAU tournament event scheduled for the same weekend that there is a volleyball, softball, or baseball tournament, or maybe a summer football camp. High school basketball programs usually also have their own summer camps and tournaments. So how much time do you and your child have... and still have time to go to the beach, family picnics, a family vacation, and just have fun?

You can find many arguments for and against AAU and "club" basketball programs. I will not get into all those arguments here, except to mention a few things and describe what's involved with playing on or coaching an AAU team.

What is AAU? AAU ("Amateur Athletic Union") is one of the largest, non-profit, volunteer, sports organizations in the United States. It was founded in 1888 "to establish standards and uniformity in amateur sport". In 1996, the AAU joined Walt Disney World and relocated its national headquarters to Orlando, Florida. More than 40 AAU national events will be conducted at the new Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando. There are many regional or state-level organizations, and probably your own state has both a girls and boys AAU organization.

Many AAU programs, and "club" teams, have teams for different age groups, girls and boys. They are coached oftentimes by former players, parents and occasionally high school coaches. Some high school coaches argue that AAU is bad and they don't want their players playing for another coach and in another system. AAU coaches sometimes argue that the high school coaches are inferior and got the coaching job simply because they are in the educational system. So you can see how the arguments could get nasty.

The fact of the matter is that coaches are people, whether AAU or high-school... some are excellent (in both programs) and some are awful (in both programs). I think a club team (AAU) is what you make it... it's what the coaches, players and parents want it to be. It should be a fun-thing, not something the kids should feel compelled to do. And it rarely hurts to play for another coach... just playing, getting your hands on the ball in the off-season is helpful, whether you are just playing games or doing fundamental drills.

There are two general types of AAU clubs based on philosophy. The first is a participation type team, where all players are expected to play. The second is a performance type team, usually an "all-star" selected team, where the best players play and teams go to win games and events. So with your own child, find out about your local clubs, and pick the club that suits your own philosophy. Of course, the kids usually want to play on the same team with their best friends, so perhaps that it the most important thing. Also, find out what the time commitment is... many AAU teams just play or practice on the weekend, but some performance teams will practice a couple times during the week as well. Find out what your costs will be... club teams have costs and are not free generally.

I have personally coached both AAU and high school basketball, so I have been on both sides of the fence. I love high school coaching because of all the practice time you get for teaching fundamentals, individual and teams skills. A frustration of mine with coaching AAU was the lack of practice time, gym time, and kids not showing up for practices. In AAU, it's often more difficult to get gym time, and kids are usually busy during the week with school, family or church activities, making it hard to have weekday practices. So you end up playing games and tournaments on the weekends, which is what the kids like doing anyway... but you don't get much time to teach individual fundamental skills. But... I had lots of fun coaching AAU... getting to work with the kids, getting to know their parents, some fun weekend trips, etc.

The club that I coached was pretty good, but more of a participation type team. We would scrimmage other local clubs on weekends, and would go away "downstate" to three or four weekend tournament events each season. In retrospect, three was probably enough as usually by the time of the fourth tournament, the kids and parents were pretty "burned-out" and the thought of going away for another weekend (travel, hotel, etc), lost it's initial excitement and appeal.

There are performance type teams that might practice two nights during the week and then play a tournament event each weekend. This requires a big commitment from players and parents. Often these are players that think they might be good enough to someday play college basketball. It is true that playing AAU often does help players and coaches get more "exposure", as some of the larger events are attended by college coaches or scouts. It can be a good experience meeting and playing with players from other school-systems... or it can be a grind. Once again, I think it has to be fun for the player, not something that he/she is forced to do or feels compelled to do. See this article, "Are We Pushing Our Young Athletes Too Fast". I have seen good players turn away from the game, because they simply "got sick of it"... too much time, commitment and pressure, and not enough time just "being a kid". So there are advantages and dis-advantages, and you as the parent know your own child better than anyone else.

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Till next time...
Best wishes,
Dr. Jim Gels, aka "Coach Gels"
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