Where has all the player development gone? Part II

Earlier this week I began visiting an issue that knowledgeable coaches and others have been discussing for the last few years – one that has become increasingly a problem: the lack of development of young basketball players.

Indeed, there are fewer experienced coaches available to impart knowledge to youth, for a variety of reasons. But an even bigger issue is that the ancient art of skill development seems to have given way to the quest for college scholarships.

Zina Jones coaches basketball at Hawthorne Middle School in Southern California, and has been a Los Angeles City Section referee for many years. She characterized modern-day youth basketball as a quick fix.

“It used to be where young people were groomed and developed to become great players, but now it’s more like, ‘Can you play? OK, you’re on a team,'” Jones said.

Longtime LA-area basketball trainer Sherrise Smith said kids are pushed to play as many games as possible so they can be seen by college coaches. The time they used to use for skill development is now playing time.

“In the off-season when your (high school) team isn’t in the playoffs, why are you not working on individual development?” Smith said. “It’s because you or your coach wants to be in a spring league. Then you’re in a summer league.”

“Kids are constantly being coached to win games instead of developing as players. That’s why people like me stay employed, is to supplement what young people aren’t getting in practices.”

The result of this “coach to win” approach is that more and more young players seem to lack fundamental skills: layups, screens, proper footwork. Another LA-area basketball trainer, Wayne Slappy, said fundamentals aren’t media driven.

“There’s a correlation between what a player is taught and what you see on the court,” Slappy said. “The game is much more than tricks, but it’s the tricks that you see on the news highlights. That’s what it seems like people are into, but that’s not what wins games. Real basketball is not like a pick-up game.”

Both Jones and Smith also pointed to the increasing lack of opportunities in big cities for girls to practice their craft.

“There are no more open gyms, mostly due to budget cuts,” Smith said. “So unless girls want to go out and play with boys, there are very few opportunities to just go play.”

Another reason for the decline in the quality of LA city basketball is tied to education: many parents are sending their kids to private schools, or school districts outside the city.

“The educational aspect is very important to parents, who don’t want to sacrifice one for the other anymore,” Slappy said.

The result of the lack of development and participation can be seen in the scores: two nights ago was the first round of section and city section playoffs, and there were many incredibly-lopsided scores.

“There was one game the other night that was 89-4 – 55-0 at halftime,” Jones said. “You never used to see that.”


  1. Hi Sue,

    The reason AAU coaches keep pushing girls to play in spring league, then summer league, then recruiting circuit, etc. is so they can get more money from the parents for gym time and practice (does not equal skill development) and tournaments and travel. The strange thing is the parents never see an expense report. When you ask for one many coaches become very defensive and feel they don't owe you an explanation.

  2. Nice op-ed Sue. I agree with everything you have stated. At the risk of further alienating club programs I believe that the "old system" was the best. What was the traditional wisdom – send your best kids to club and then let them play against the other top kids nationally. Keep your developing girls at home with high school coaches and work diligently every day on skill building. I still believe that 70% of kids playing today profit little from club ball and would be better served practicing every day in their local gym with quality coaches stressing fundamentals. The 30% of our kids who are advanced players – they are the ones who should be campaigned on the club circuit. This is not a popular opinion with many club coaches because it does alter the cash flow. Parents paying thousands of dollars to enroll their kids in a club program better hope that they have the requisite skills to wow the recruiters. If they don't – have them go to private skill building coaches and also have them practice in their high school program until they have developed their skill set so that they profit from the various club programs. Just my opinion. Jeff Sink

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