Improving Youth Basketball in New York City

Paul O’Connor, our director of KING Hoops program, recently attended the Jr. Knicks Youth Basketball Leadership conference. The event had the likes of Allan Houston, Kym Winter, Tiffany Chag, Don Showalter among other leaders in the basketball world. Topics ranged from how to keep athletes safe and the benefits of raising multi-sport athletes. Coach Paul came away from the event with a breadth of knowledge but also knowing that there is still a ton of work to do in the youth basketball arena. Here are some thoughts and questions Coach Paul had on the event and where basketball is headed for kids growing up in New York City.

At the Jr. Knicks event there was one question raised that stuck with me… How can organizations like the Jr. Knicks and USA Basketball have a greater effect on youth basketball?

The question alone doesn’t seem complicated. But as we all know or grow to learn, nothing about youth sports in New York City is uncomplicated. Between a seemingly unlimited market and “coaches” on every corner, navigating the youth basketball scene can be tough. I see two main issues that arise and that the Jr. Knicks and USA Basketball can have a hand in improving.

Issue #1 — Players jumping from team to team throughout the year.

I have seen kids in the 6th grade play for 3+ AAU teams in one season. I don’t see this to be in the child’s benefit. First off, the player simply cannot commit to 3+ programs and make all practices/games/etc. This also leads to distrust amongst the other players on the team. The players who are committed to one team start to learn how to play together and don’t gel with the players who are in and out. As a coach and director, it makes it very hard to teach them your beliefs, techniques, and overall organization mission. The biggest problem in my opinion is the lack of ability to keep players accountable. If a coach disciplines a player and that player doesn’t like it they can simply go play for another team the next day. This is a dangerous lesson that will hurt our children in the long run.

Solution — Adopt the GEVA Volleyball rules for committing to a program, see here:

USA Volleyball prohibits player transfers from club to club, which is necessary to protect players, their teammates, and their clubs. In choosing a club, carefully consider your goals with potential clubs’ emphasis on elite teams versus developmental, teams offered, cost, practice quantity and quality, number of coaches and their qualifications, distance to tournaments, length of the season, playing time, and tournament schedule.

Tryouts are during the same time period for volleyball — Please remember that once you have made a binding commitment to a club, you are committed to them for the season. They have reserved a spot on a team (possibly turning away another athlete) and you have committed to meeting your obligations per the club’s offer letter. Failure to meet a contractually obligated financial commitment to a club will mean that you can’t register to play for any USAV club the following season(s).

Implementing this would completely solve the issue of playing for multiple teams and help organizations and the kids we serve tremendously. It would raise accountability of our kids, parents, coaches and administrators.

Issue #2 — Anyone is a qualified coach.

This topic was raised by Don Showalter at the event and he made a great point. The term “Coach” is sacred and means a great deal. With the rise in social media and organizations popping up in every gym, almost anyone can be called coach nowadays. There is no standardized process that people have to go through to become a coach, making the difference in the level of coaching from organization to organization easily visible if you attend AAU tournaments. Don compared it to other industries, mentioning that they all have processes, standards, protocol. Why would basketball be any different? To become anything of significance is strenuous and includes multiple steps, something that coaching should not lack. USA Basketball offers an online course to become certified but even that is not enough. This is where organizations like Jr. NBA, Jr. Knicks, USA Basketball need to come together and create standards and requirements that coaches and organizations would need to meet in order to become certified.

Improvements do not happen over night and I would certainly like to continue this discussion with NYC youth basketball organizations and coaches to see how we can try and improve our players experiences.

To check out Coach Paul and KING Hoops in action at our Tuesday Night Middle School Clinics. Workouts are held from 6-7:15pm at Corpus Christi School 533 W. 121st St. New York, NY 10027 and our $15 per session or $100 for the remaining 7 sessions. Register here!