For a couple weeks, I have followed a fairly one-sided argument about AAU vs. high school coaches. Obviously 95% of those partaking in the conversation were high school coaches or former high school coaches, and they were not fond of AAU/club coaches or AAU basketball in general.
High school coaches generally argue that players return from AAU/club basketball with bad habits or they are harder to coach. Of course, I read another coach who posted on another site about high school games that he had watched recently and the litany of basic fundamental errors plaguing high school games.
My purpose is not to take sides. However, I think there is an important point to be made:
When a player develops good habits or learns to play the game the right way, he maintains these lessons and habits. A good coach, imo, develops players who not only fit his system or play well in his system, but who fit and play well in any system or situation.
After 8th grade, I played in a summer league with very little coaching. It was mainly an opportunity to play pick-up games in a gym with the same teams each day. Despite the general lack of coaching and structure, I did not forget the lessons that I had learned. I found the open man, made open shots, got back on defense, etc. I used all the fundamentals that I learned from my school coaches in 5th – 8th grade.
I played recently with a bunch of guys in their 20′s and 30′s who grew up in the same 5th – 8th grade league, the Sacramento PAL. The group featured no high school basketball stars, and some guys who never even played basketball in high school. However, every player had good fundamentals – we hedged on ball screens, made left-handed lay-ups, made the extra pass, etc. If some high school players had played with us – as many of us did when we were in high school – the kids could have learned some things in terms of how to play the game.
My point, however, is that just because our basketball playing careers are reduced to pick-up games in the park or recreation leagues, we have not forgotten all the lessons that we learned. We take some bad shots and foul more, but that says more about a loss of athleticism and conditioning than selfishness or diminishing basketball IQ.
Several years ago, on the site where I followed the high school coaches’ discussion, I suggested that, in a sense, I would like to develop players with the basketball IQ to fit into pick-up games. I wrote this after growing frustrated with the games that I was playing with younger players because they did not know how to play the game – they did not talk on defense, box out, make the extra pass, use their weak hand, etc. The high school coaches found my comment to be laughable. Who cares how a player plays on the playground?
If a player plays well on the playground with other good players, he likely has a solid fundamental base. With this base, he can fit into different systems or play for different coaches. A well-coached player does not lose his fundamentals in a summer of club basketball or by playing a couple afternoons of pick-up ball at the park. This player uses his learned skills and awareness on the court regardless of setting.
The problem, in my eyes, is that in this era of win-now, year-round basketball, many coaches expect someone else to be the coach developing these fundamental skills. There are many great coaches as well. However, there appears to be many coaches – club and school – focused so intently on winning games that they do not demand the same type of fundamental skills and knowledge expected of players of my generation in the PAL.
The issue is not club or school: The issue is philosophy. Players, parents and coaches lack patience. They want to win now. They want to be good now. They want their kid starting on varsity now. It’s hard for a coach to make a stand and emphasize proper fundamental execution, possibly losing a couple games in the process, because the top player might transfer schools or switch clubs. We are stuck in an environment where coaches often have to choose between holding firm to their beliefs and risking losing their top talents, or sacrificing to accommodate top players in an effort to win more games.
The Internet, of course, does not help, as parents use anonymous message boards to criticize coaches for any number of reasons. One local school ran out a varsity head coach who a college assistant coach said ran the best practice of any school that the assistant visited this year. However, in a tough league, he had a mediocre record, so the parents pushed out the coach in an effort to win more next season.
How? How does a team win more by getting rid of a good coach? The answer is easy: Hire a coach with connections to more good players. It’s not a matter of finding coaches to develop the school’s talent – instead, you’re better off finding a coach who can attract better talent into the school. It is college coaching gravitating to the high school level in the club and school sides.