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Should AAU Basketball Tournaments Be Banned?

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A few weeks ago I happened to be in Portland where I met up with an old friend to watch his son play in a 13 and under AAU tournament. Now before I continue I must admit I was a little skeptical at first since it had been a couple years since I had watched that age group play, but after watching a few minutes of the opening quarter I was somewhat surprised!

After watching two of K.C.'s games I began to notice a common theme. The teams that won pressed and pressed often. The teams that lost either didn't press and/or couldn't break their opponent's press.

Obviously, pressing is a sound defensive strategy and it is even more effective at lower levels of play for three primary reasons:

1) Players that age for the most part haven't developed great handles.

2) Players that age often aren't strong enough to throw the deep cross court pass.

3) Players that age don't have the experience to remain calm and break a press.

All of these things together contribute to a high amount of turnovers and wins for the pressing team.

In between games I got talking to a few parents whose sons played on the same team as my friend's son. I began to ask questions about the team's execution in their half court offense and defense. To my surprise one of the parents answered, "We don't really have a half court offense. We have a full court offense" referring to getting layups from their press. Another parent chimed in and said "We don't really have a half court defense because we're either going to get a layup or they are." What was even more astonishing was the fact that no one really saw anything wrong with this! From my perspective it seemed as if the parents didn't care what their child's team ran on offense and/or defense as long as they won the game.

As I was driving home from the tournament that night, I found myself thinking about the relationship between pressing and winning and how it is one of the things that is affecting the overall development of players. Many lower levels of basketball pay large amounts of money to play in double elimination tournaments on the weekends. Coaches, players and parents want to win games to ensure that their team advances in the tournament, ultimately giving them the opportunity to play more games and "get their money's worth." Simply put, to ensure the victory, teams are resorting to various full court presses.

On that drive home I came up with an interesting question. What if instead of weekend tournaments, teams played in round robin types of events? This way the emphasis wouldn't be on winning at all costs because everyone would be guaranteed the same number of games. This type of event would place a bigger emphasis on teaching younger athletes how to play the game instead of just winning the game.

Personally I am torn between the two options. Before now I have always been a big believer in instilling a competitive mindset in athletes as soon as possible. However, after watching this tournament part of me feels sorry for these kids. Coaches and parents seemingly would rather have their kids win than to thoroughly learn and understand the game. In the short term that's great but is it really best in the long term?

Could these tournaments be contributing to the current trend that as athletes get older many of them become more competitive yet remain under skilled? Could this increased "ultra" competitive spirit contribute to the massive egos possessed by many of today's players?

I want to end this article by asking you for your opinion. If you coached a lower level team should you focus on teaching athletes how to play the game or on how to win the game? Can the two options work together or are they completely independent? Please comment below or email us your input at info(at)hoopskills(dot)com and we'll discuss the best ones in an upcoming blog post.

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