In my last Hardwood Hustle post, I shared what I believe to be the 3 main problems with the youth basketball development model in the United States:
- Too many games (and not enough development)
- Too much focus on rankings and exposure
- Too little emphasis on coaching education (primarily at the younger levels)
That last post focused on the issue of playing too many games. The response and support I received was phenomenal!
This post will focus on why winning, rankings and the incessant need for exposure are killing youth basketball development.
If a player’s goal is to earn a college scholarship to play basketball, then the only goal they should have is to be the best player they can possibly be entering their senior year in high school. What they are ranked as a 10 year old is irrelevant. How much exposure they get as high school freshman is immaterial. Their focus needs to be on development.
“It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish that matters most.”
That quote sums up my thoughts on the fixation with Player Rankings in youth and high school basketball. Too many players use rankings as a barometer of their value on the court, parents wear it like a badge of honor, and coaches use it to pump up their own prowess.
Kids should play basketball for 3 reasons:
- They truly love the game
- They can use it as vehicle for a free education
- They can use it as a platform for unique life experiences
The Player Ranking cult is personified in news stories claiming a kid is the ‘best 10 year old player in the country.’
First off, how could you possibly claim a kid was the best 10-year-old unless you had seen every single 10-year-old play (and if you have, don’t you have anything better to do with your time)?
And what is the point of even trying to determine whom the best 10-year old is? Who does that benefit? What positive could possibly come of that?
Why would anyone want to burden a 10-year-old kid with the pressure of being ‘the best’?
Now, I am fine with naming All-American teams or even publicly ranking players right before their senior year in high school… but I believe in doing so as a way to recognize them for what they have already accomplished… not on hype and unrealistic expectations.
But even then it is a slippery slope, as success is never guaranteed.
Can you tell me what 2 things these 2 players have in common:
Shaheen Halloway and Kenny Gregory
- Both were the MVP of the McDonalds All-American game (Halloway in ’96 and Gregory in ’97).
- Both went undrafted in the NBA
Publicized Internet Player Rankings are polluting youth basketball.
If a player is ranked really high, they often become complacent and get enabled by a swarm of vultures and hanger-on-ers who see this kid as their conduit to riches and fame. Everyone in his or her entourage becomes a ‘yes man’ and kisses their ass. How does that help their development and growth?
If a player is ranked low or not ranked at all, they often become frustrated and question the hard work they have already put in. Oftentimes they become selfish players in order to ‘Go for mine’ when playing in tournaments and events.
They focus more on proving their game than developing their game.
Please read the previous sentence again.
This selfish mentality happens to highly ranked players too… they know that if they don’t fill up the stat sheets then their ranking will suffer. The result is selfish play at most youth tournaments, AAU events high school games. Too much dribbling, awful shot selection, and no extra passes – the exact opposite of how the game is supposed to be played!
If you want real insight to the dangers of player rankings, I highly recommend you read George Dohrmann’s book Play Their Hearts Out.
Hand in hand with Player Rankings is the need for exposure. After all, you need exposure to get ranked, right? How can you get ranked if no one ever sees you play? I get a dozen emails a week from players and parents asking, ‘What is the best way for me to get exposure?’
Become the best player and teammate you can be and the exposure will follow. If you can play, they will find you.
This video sheds some humor on my stance:
And for the record, most players who travel every weekend to gain exposure end up getting exposed instead. They end up shedding light on their weaknesses and deficiencies… that exact opposite of their goal!
Players, parents, and coaches… I challenge you not to get caught up in the Player Rankings. Focus on your development as a player. Focus on getting better every day. Focus on playing because you are passionate about the game and you want basketball to help you earn an education, make lifelong friends, and travel to new places. Focus on the purity of the game. If you do that, everything else will fall into place.
As the legendary Morgan Wootten used to say…
“Make sure you use basketball, don’t let it use you.”
If you agree that our culture is too caught up on rankings and exposure, please share this blog via the social media ‘share’ buttons in the left margin.
I appreciate you supporting the movement and helping me fight the good fight.
My next post, and the final post of this 3-part series, will share my thoughts on a standardized coaching certification.
Train hard. Fuel smart. Get better.
Hardwood Hustle Blog
PS: At the risk of sounding hypocritical, I support companies like Nike for hiring educated and experienced evaluators and scouts to rank players for internal purposes only. They use these rankings as a means to decide whom they will invite to their camps/academies as well as whom they will provide additional developmental opportunities to. Identifying the top high school talent in this regard serves a very positive purpose and is completely contrary to everything I mentioned above.