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Exposure vs Getting Exposed

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:

  1. Too many games (and not enough development)
  2. Too much focus on rankings and exposure
  3. 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:

  1. They truly love the game 
  2. They can use it as vehicle for a free education
  3. 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.’

Exposure vs Getting Exposed

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

  1. Both were the MVP of the McDonalds All-American game (Halloway in ’96 and Gregory in ’97).
  2. 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!

Exposure vs Getting Exposed 2

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?’

My answer?

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.

Alan Stein
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.


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39 Responses to Exposure vs Getting Exposed

  1. Veronica J says:

    I agree with what’s being said! Often times players think that certain stats go unnoticed, and they then begin to question whether their number of assists really matters, which is detrimental to their contribution in the game, or they worry too much about being a certain type of player, like one who is always scoring, because average points per game is a well reported statistic. I also agree with the part of this article saying that players focus more on proving their game than developing. A lot of times players want to be better, but have a negative attitude toward team practices. After hard work is put in at practice, the hard work will be noticed (whether or not the player knows) by a scout or someone who may have an opportunity for the player.

  2. Maverick Coach says:

    Coaches are not only exposing the student-athlete, but themselves as well. I am a big supporter of coaching education. I am talking about the coach educating themselves and also being able to teach the game. Too many times we see the coach that clearly overemphasizes the athletic talents of a player versus their basketball IQ. The question I have is how can a coach teach players when they themselves refuse to learn?

  3. D J King says:

    Alan – I love the article and assisting with “fighting the good fight.” As a parent of a passionate baller, I like the idea of his goal being the best player he can be as a senior. That being said, if everyone else’s goals are playing as many AAU games as possible and getting exposure, how can we expect to be at the top of a college coach’s list? My point is nice guys tend to finish lowly ranked in today’s system because the system is wrought with ne’r-do-wells. Do I sacrifice my son’s opportunities on principal?

    • jschmitz says:

      DJ King-There are other ways to get “exposure”. As a high school coach, I sit down with each of my players after our season. We talk about realistic goals and how to go get them. With the players within our program that have the will and ability to play beyond high school we put together what I call an athletic resume. We then send it out to appropriate schools that match their level of ability. For example, this season we graduated a young man that never played 1 AAU game in his entire career and he was offered nearly a full ride to a junior college in our state. Instead of AAU he rarely missed a skill development open gym (2-3 days/week). He met with me 1 on 1 to work on ballhandling throughout the summer before his senior year. Then he played on his own as much as he could. Basically he developed his game and then went out and helped us get better as a team. Hopefully this helps! Good luck.

  4. Heather Graham says:

    Yet again, great post. I can’t wait to share with my high school kids. I had a player tell me last week “I’m not playing ball unless its D1″. My first thoughts were “what about a free education or love of the game?” Broke my heart!

    Thank you for the post. Can’t wait to read part 3.

  5. Bob says:

    Stick with the basics and players will neve have to go back to the basics. Shooting and passing are lost arts. Do what few will, play like few can. Great players become great when nobody is watching. It’s the parents who are responsible. Otto Porter gets my vote.

  6. Alan Stein says:

    Thanks gang, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your support! Keep helping me fight the good fight!

  7. Kaushik says:

    Great post! Spot on about everything!

  8. gavin tang says:

    Otto Porter Jr was the #3 overall pick and he didnt play AAU ball AND he played at Georgetown. That by itself should put the exposure argument to rest.

    • Charles Lucas Shabazz says:

      Rodney Carney was another good NBA player that never played for a shoe-company club. For one thing, anyone that says that playing in shoe-company tournaments is the only way you can get a scholarship overlook the fact that if you can play, recruiters are going to find you. Furthermore, with social media (twitter, facebook and myspace) and video media (YouTube and vimeo), coaches are going to find you. How about the famous Five Star Camp? If you ever go to their website, the costs is less than what parents spend on their children playing on club teams, though it’s still not cheap. Five Star provides more quality for young players who want to improve their game, this includes fundamental stations and games.

  9. Paul Niland says:

    I just became an Otto Porter fan.

  10. Victoria J says:

    This is all too true. I know girls who think that they are under appreciated because they don’t have high point averages. Little do they know that they are getting noticed because of the smaller things they do that contribute to the whole team. They are great players and most likely get more exposure than the scorers because theses players do more. These girls need more confidence, while the scorers need to improve themselves before thinking of their rank. Exposure will come to those who focus on themselves. I completely agree with this article.

  11. Fantastic stuff. It’s an uphill battle but one worth fighting. Basics has 51 program grads now at the college level, including 7 D-1. We never travel. We do not play AAU. Whoever said “If you can play they will find you.” is 100% right. Just play hard and try and get better everyday. Save the travel $$. Oh, and hit the books too!

  12. Tom Otstot says:

    As a Middle School and Club Coach, I couldn’t agree more with this article. It is shameful to see what Youth Basketball has become, and I am a kindred spirit, Alan. My goal – my responsibility as a coach to young players – is always development. Not just player development, but, more importantly, character development. None of my kids are going to play in the NBA, but through good coaching the life lessons that come from lessons on the court and in the gym my guys can become good men with the resiliency and self-confidence to handle whatever comes their way.

    Coaching certification is a good first step. Unfortunately we don’t have that right now although there are many “certification programs” being peddled on the internet (and they are not bad, just not universal). I am in the process of setting up my own “Coaching U” business to work with Youth Coaches to give them the tools to make a difference with young athletes, regardless of their skill level. Kids that develop a love for this game, who gain self-confidence and mastery of skills they did not previously possess. that learn how to fill a role on a team – in a family, an organization, a community – and identify their strengths and gifts that they can share with the world – these kids will prosper and be lifelong fans while at the same time becoming responsible members of their communities and good role models. This is much more important than padding my win-loss record as a coach.

    • William Everett says:

      Most AAU coaches do not development (character, skills, mental) their athletes. You are to be commended.

  13. Alan Stein says:

    I am so appreciative of all of the support, thanks gang. Together we can make a difference!

  14. Michah Davenport says:

    I agree fully. I do both basketball workouts and run a AAU team. I believe that if you train hard you will get the looks you need. I not worried about going to different state I want my players to be able to use their weak hand and get an IQ for the game. Players that dont work out start off above the others and the become average players

  15. Roger Smith says:

    I read the book “Play their hearts out” about two years ago and it opened my eyes to the ugly side of basketball. The side of basketball where kids are used as pawns and commodities. I believe a kids talent should be used by his parent to advance his/hers education and set them up for a successful career after gaining a college degree. I have watched a lot of highly ranked players and unranked players and one key behavior pattern that puts them in the “CAN NOT play for me” category, is the “entitlement” attitude. Your ranking dont mean a thing once you hit the court.

  16. William Everett says:

    Apparently Stephen Curry didn’t play AAU ball either. All the ACC programs in his “backyard” ignored him despite his ex-NBA father.

  17. Lindsey G says:

    I think this is a great post. Most coaches focus on getting in more games, so their players and themselves can be seen, when in fact their players could be better if they focused more on their own skills and their team skills. Its sad that many kids don’t play just for the love of the game anymore. ITs all about gatting noticed.

  18. Pat W says:

    Alan, you hit the nail on the head with this article. Player development not only on the court but more importantly off the court is essential for young basketball players. The problem isn’t exposure, that’s what the tournament directors will tell you but more importantly the money these tournaments are generating at the expense of these young athletes. It really is a big business and unfortunately the athletes play too many games and have little or no skill development. As a high school coach I see the “club” team coaches hang around at every high school game and promise the players and their parents everything in the world. Their big claim to fame is “I have players at this school and that school” and I will do the same for your son/daughter while all they are doing is using the kids for their own egos and the tournament directors make money at the kids’ expense. Unless the NCAA changes the evaluation and recruiting process not much will change because many parents and players are chasing the all mighty scholarship. Keep spreading the word and progress can and will be made.

  19. Roy Green says:

    Great post! I think this is more on the boys side of the game than the girls side. That is not to say this is not happening on the girls side of the game. Just like anything in life you have “really good AAU coaches and you have some bad AAU coaches”. I think over-all on the girls side coaches do a good job. One of the greatest coaches in the history of the game Pete Newell said “Basketball is over-coached and under-taught”.

    I think the emphasis should be on skill development, fundamentals and basketball IQ! You can see the coaches that teach skill development and fundamentals “just watch their teams play”. The million dollar questions is “most parents, players and even some coaches don’t see the need to go through the process”? You can try but you can’t ignore the process. It is a process!! No one really cares about what you did in the 7th and 8th grade. We all have seen players in the 7th and 8th grade that could really play and in high school just become average!

    I believe there is a place for ranking systems and evaluators if it is used for Outcome based education (OBE). A player is required to demonstrate they have learned the skill set through measureable tasks! The great thing about our great game is this “If you have any weakness basketball will expose you”. The college coaches can see in five minutes if you play or not. They are looking for the right player not the best player. Thanks

  20. Paul Koepke says:

    Great information! More training! less games! Playing in a tournament should be a reward for working in weight room and putting in gym time and working on fundamentals. Roll Pride! “Hustle and Heart will set you apart”

  21. Alan Stein says:

    I just want to thank each and every one of you for taking the time to share your thoughts, raise additional points and for your support.

  22. Tommy Murray says:

    Great article….helps keep me focus as a coach as well as a parent. I told my son who is 11 each season (Spring/Winter/Fall/Summer) we want to improve in one area of your game and add something new to your game as well as continue to review the basic. So far this is working and will stick to it.

    • Lee says:

      Love the article. I got killed many years ago for saying these same points. I think people are now ready to hear it. I wrote a letter to the editor of a big paper in a major city of basketball about 10 years ago for ranking a 4th grader as the best player in the country for his age group. I was so upset by this because that young boy was set up for failure…where does he go from being ranked number 1. Thank Alan!

  23. Janelle says:

    Thanks Alan for an awesome article, I can’t wait to share it with my boys and many coaches I know. I have witnessed first hand what you speak of with one son in a club team that has torn him down mentally and physically with focus in all the wrong places and another son whose team was so bad that in multiple games the score was shut off yet they just keep playing more games instead of learning how to dribble, pass, and shoot correctly. This article was just what I needed! While basketball is a great love of many in my house it saddens me greatly to see what has become of youth basketball as well as youth sports in general. I want my kids to play simply because they love the game. Your vision is inspiring and appreciated.

  24. Essie l Haney-Washington says:

    You hit the nail on the head on this one. I played professional basketball ball purely on your belief system. Granted this has been more than 20 yrs ago. I agree that parents and AAU coaches are missing the mark here. No, it’s not the same game I played, however the the same skills apply, if you don’t have them along with good grades, no amount of exposure will help you. Don’t believe the hype!!!

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