The game is over coached, and under taught. That was the message from Coni Yori, the head women’s basketball coach at the University of Nebraska in an article I read about the current state of young basketball players. It accompanied an interview her colleague on the men’s side at the university, Tim Miles, who bemoans the fact that so much time is spent playing games in the summer on AAU teams with little if any attention paid to the developing the fundamental skills of the game. Along with Rick Pitino, coach of this year’s NCAA champion Louisville Cardinals, who says the game suffers because of the lack of fundamentals, Miles also points to a decrease in scoring in the college game because players simply don’t have the skills to score.
Coach Yori, who may be familiar with some of you “hard core” Iowa girl’s basketball fans because of her amazing career as a player at Ankeny High School a number of years ago, comments about a conversation she had with a young camper who shared that she had played 100 basketball games that summer and according to Yori, didn’t think she really needed to work on her individual skills. She described her as “a kid playing all of these games and basically thinking she has it all figured out.” Yori scored 3,068 points in her star-studded career in high school, and only played 25 games in a calendar year, all of them with her high school team because there were no club or travel teams.
We live in a sports obsessed society right now, and it only seems to becoming more so when one hears about the billions of dollars that are being poured into various events. At one point I thought that perhaps it would come around and common sense would come into play, particularly in college athletics, but that does not seem to be the case. There is simply too much money. There are a number of things I do not like about high school athletics, but overall, I still believe that it is the best place for young people to get the experience of playing these games. Even though there have been changes over the years, there are still strong structures in place and high standards in regard to coaching qualifications and expectations.
As a family we have also been involved in the club, travel, or select world of sports. I do see a lot of positives out there for this kind of experience. In fact, I believe that there are some aspects that far exceed scholastic sports. However, I also see first-hand what Miles and Yori are saying. Now I will say that there are some fundamental differences between the sports, as the two that my kids have played – softball and soccer – tend to be those “suburban” sports where private instruction accompanies membership on a team. That is different from a lot of the AAU and club basketball programs out there that exploit poor kids from inner cities, usually for the personal gain of the coaches. However, there is a common theme with these programs and that is the fact that nearly all of the players are playing for themselves, not team, or like scholastic sports, the school. Their motivations are different. They want the scholarship and to do that, they have to stand out as an individual. And to do that, they often ignore some of the fundamentals of the game.
What we have today is a choice. With the exception of football, a club alternative exists for every sport we offer in high school. There are already kids in Iowa that choose to play club for a number of reasons, and opt to not play for their high school team. We see it in soccer and softball right now. But I think there is something to read between the lines with both Coach Yori and Coach Miles, and that is the fact that they would rather work with the high school coaches and believe that at that level, education does take place. Not only teaching on the basketball court, but also in the classroom. Sports in our schools are an extension of the classroom, and it is for that reason that we really need to keep them in proper perspective.