Arrested Development – Is its own growth forcing women’s basketball to leave one of its founding principles behind?

You may remember my favorite Division I assistant coach for his previous analyses here, including this piece, which turned out to be prophetic last year.

He and I have been discussing player development – or rather, the lack of development in the high school and college ranks the last several years. It’s a trend that deeply disturbs both of us.

Here, he addresses the issue in detail on the college level:


Newly-focused attention on college women’s basketball has spawned new generations of fans and unprecedented growth. Increase in television opportunities, more and more funding by colleges and universities and ramped up media coverage has signaled the undeniable expansion of the sport of women’s basketball over the past thirty years. And as with most endeavors, with unprecedented growth comes the problem of unprecedented growing pains.

As I’ve had conversation with various college and high school coaches and parents this season on of the most disturbing ‘growing pain’ seems to be a recurring theme that seemingly has become more prevalent in women’s basketball: Lack of player development.

Blame Game

First, let’s get thing out in the open: There is plenty of potential blame to go around with deficiencies in development.

Often college coaches, off-the-record, will state that high school coaches are at fault for not developing student athletes well enough prior to arriving on campus and kids are too far behind as first year college athletes. But, with a reduction of budgets and a de-emphasis on the importance of physical education in schools, high school coaches get less floor time than ever to teach players. For those high school coaches, there’s becoming more and more of premium of putting in schemes or systems and less time devoted to practices and developing on court habits.

High School coaches are losing more access to their own kids during summer as well as many are now playing AAU basketball and not with their own high school teams. Which leads to an additional shifting of blame by many college coaches lamenting the growth of AAU and summer exposure events.

Many college coaches also find cause in the increasing influence of girls’ AAU and travel teams, stating that they do not providing a proper foundation to prepare young women adequately before they get to a college campus. Some college and high school coaches believe rather than teaching young players the skills necessary to be successful players and students at the collegiate level, these teaching concepts have been forsaken of exposure and winning games at spring and summer basketball events.

Perhaps there is merit to that argument, the “exposure vs. teaching” debate, but it’s currently something college coaches can’t control. There are larger questions that young coaches should be asking: What should we as college coaches be doing develop student-athletes within the confines of their own programs?

Is an assistant’s focus simply on advancement or is it developing student-athletes that we’ve helped bring on campus? Do head coaches focused just on winning games and winning percentage, or are we also genuinely interested in advancing or our game by developing the assistants, support staff and young people who make those wins possible?

Foci of Development

Those involved in college athletics is in the unique position of influence. The typical college age of seventeen to twenty is often the last opportunity for educators to influence young people before they are independent and out into the real world. As athletics is an extension of education development of student-athletes should consist of four areas:

· Court Development – Skill work with and without the ball and mental aspects of the game of transferring those skills on to the court to solve problems created by an opponent

· Academic Development – Progressing to an academic degree that will be functional in society

· Career Development – Nurturing the requisite skills and networking opportunities to have a career post graduation and playing career

· Social Development – Expanding young people’s perspectives about how the world works around them beyond what they came into college understanding to add to society upon graduation

An honest self-evaluation of where a basketball programs stand in these four areas may a go a long way in determining where they may be deficient and doing a disservice to student athletes and help a program move forward in developing concrete strategies in improving.

Who’s developing the developers?

Another consideration in improving development for student athletes in women’s basketball is cultivating the coaches that are doing the daily developing of players. Head coaches are charged with the responsibility to recruit, raise funds, manage budgets, and perform public relations duties AND win games. But at its core, a head coach’s job should be to develop the people he or she leads (student-athletes and their staff and support staff).

As I talk to high school coaches, more and more they’re mentioning a trend with the younger generation of coaches as being great recruiters and relationship-builders. But the feedback they get from their former players is that these same coaches are lacking when it comes to skill development on the court and post-playing career development in terms of employment.

The WBCA-created initiatives like the “So You Want To Be A Coach?”, and Assistant Coaches Roundtables programs at the Final Four seem the best way to develop future coaches and staff. Head coaches provide a crucial link in developing staff around them, and it is a critical link in becoming caretakers of our game. Eventually these assistants will become head coaches and the habits and attitudes learned as assistants will serve as their templates for leadership when they become head coaches.

Tipping Point or Pivot Point

As women’s basketball has evolved, it’s producing more talented athletes and coaches. And as it evolves, challenges have arisen that all involved with the sport should take a critical and objective analysis of its issues. The majority of problems on the horizon (the unsustainable economic model in coaches’ salaries, tournament attendance/seeding, recruiting access and reform, etc.) are all complex and will require agreement amongst all coaches and conferences to solve.

There are some problems, however, that coaches can address within their own programs. There’s a potential danger of coaches that are seemingly more interested in recruiting talent than developing talent, and who are focused more on strictly winning rather than winning through developing the student-athletes under their care. Fortunately, we’ve reached not yet reached a tipping point as a younger generation of coaches begin to take the reins from some of long-established icons in our sport who are nearing retirement.