Square Peg Kids: An NBA Player’s Perspective on the Crazy World of Youth Sports

One coach’s opinion

Having played basketball from fourth grade through 16 years in the NBA, and now coaching youth football, basketball and lacrosse, I am frequently asked about the state of affairs in youth sports.  So I thought I would share a few observations about the crazy world of youth athletics:

Kids and scheduling

Kids today are often overscheduled; they are kids and should have free time to enjoy being kids.  More is not always better; make sure that you give them a balance and a break.

Is this sport their passion or yours?

Be clear that your kids are involved in sports for the right reasons.  There’s nothing wrong with pushing your child and helping him or her to get better,  but know that you are doing it because of their passion for the sport, not yours.  My father never pushed me towards any one sport, but when he saw my passion for basketball– he fully supported it.  You could not keep me out of the gym.

Keep them moving

Parents should encourage their kids to play sports– including dance or any activity that keeps them moving.  Sports activities improve your health, teach you how to interact with others, encourage hard work, and foster countless life lessons.  My wife and I have told our kids that we do not care which sport they choose, we don’t care if they are a star, but they will participate in some physical activity and they will finish whatever they start.

Remember they are 12

I was reminded of this recently while coaching a football game.  The game was a back and forth battle and you could feel the tension on both sides of the field. Coaches on both sides were yelling at players and even at the officials.  When the tension was at its highest, and the opposing coach was at his loudest, I could feel my blood pressure rising.  All of a sudden I heard a voice out of the crowd yell at the opposing coach,  “Hey coach, they are only twelve!”  All of a sudden the stress evaporated and reality was restored.  They are only 12-year-old kids! Chill and enjoy the experience.

Teach the game, it’s not just about who wins

I see this far too often, coach’s devise the zone defense or the press that they think will help them win, but may not spend enough time working on the fundamentals that will make the players better over time.  Who remembers what your record was in third grade?  Help them improve as players and enjoy the game.

A winning record is great, but was it fun for the kids?

I believe coaches should not be judged on their win-loss record, but rather on the skills they teach their players and by how many players return.  You want all your players to improve and enjoy the game, not just your best player.  Successful youth programs are the ones that have a high level of participation.  You may lose a few games along the way because you played and taught everyone, but in the long run your program will be more successful for it.

You never know: that awkward, uncoordinated kid may someday make it to the pros  

You really never know who will ultimately turn out to the best player.  I barely made my eighth grade team, yet four years later I was the best player on our team, and the eighth grade studs had either gotten cut, or were just average players. Everyone matures at different times.  There were kids I played with who were starting to grow mustaches in eighth grade, but never grew an inch taller.  Make sure you work with and encourage everyone on your team because you never know…they may be a pro athlete or they may just love their time and experience.  Sports are invaluable for our kids, and should be a great experience, as long as the adults do not screw it up.  Remember it is their experience–  not yours, let them enjoy it!

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One Response to Square Peg Kids: An NBA Player’s Perspective on the Crazy World of Youth Sports

  1. Spencer says:

    How cool you have a REAL athlete sharing information like this! SO cool!

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