Starting today, we’re going to introduce a new segment which we will feature after each tournament we cover. “What We Learned” will attempt to fill in the gaps of our traditional post-event coverage by highlighting various aspects of the event and basketball in general. It should be noted that we borrowed this concept from our good friend Mike Melton, the founder of Basketball Spotlight.

Ok, where to begin!  Although the Adidas Spring Stripes tournament was more of a local event, the Bleacher Republic-sponsored event attracted several top teams and programs from around the region, in what might have otherwise been an off weekend for some teams. Only a couple of years old, Bleacher Republic brand, the brain child of Dave Mirgon and the Mid-Ohio Pumas organization, is quietly carving out a niche in a very crowded tournament market. Once limited to All-Ohio, Ohio Youth Basketball, the Buckeye Prep Report and a few other organizations in the Central Ohio market, Bleacher Republic has continued to grow both in numbers and prestige, and is now a force to be reckoned with.

As most basketball fans and observers understand, there are several levels to this basketball game, both from a team and individual perspective. This fact was on full display this past weekend. As an example, a team may participate in local or regional events and have a lot of success, but get totally dominated in more competitive events. This weekend, as is the case at many tournaments, there were numerous blowouts. As an example, some of the results in the division we watched included final scores of 58-13, 49-8, 62-17, 47-23! This situation suggests that when elite players form/join elite teams, there’s often times a big contrast of talent on the court. Moreover, some of theses teams are really good teams with talented players and are coached well, but the results show there is always a broad spectrum of talent to this game.

Because of this disparity, there is often a lot of head scratching, hand ringing, anger and frustration from players, coaches and parents because of blowout situations. In terms of advice, we think teams should develop schedules that offer a good mix of competitive tournaments and events where their players have a good chance of success.  Moreover, we know that for many teams, some of whom take a lot of pride in their win/loss records, intentionally avoid attending competitive events where more talented teams are likely to be participating. This may feel good to coaches, players and parents in the short term, but it allows for unreal expectations for all involved and can hinder player development. Bottom line, players and parents need to know the various levels of play out there so they can manage expectations, maintain motivation, and start to make adjustments in their child’s preparation.

Some of what we saw this weekend to varying degrees was just how some kids and teams are continuing to develop, while some appear to have stalled out and lost ground. There could be many reasons for this situation, including the volume, intensity and relevance of team practices and individual workouts. For a number of teams, practices routinely consist more of scrimmaging than actual skill work, game planing and strategy. In our opinion, not only should practices promote team-oriented development, but they should also promote individual development as well. Moreover, parents should be more concerned that their child is being taught sound fundementals than winning and/or developing social media content.

The same thing goes for individual training! So many of our kids are being taught NBA pro-type moves that are inconsistent with their current age, skill set and team dynamic. For an example, we consistently see trainers teaching kids euro-steps and other complex moves despite the fact the kids can’t dribble with their left hand, can’t make left hand layups or shoot the ball. Also, if your child is in a group workout with multiple kids of multipe ages and skill levels, that could be a big problem as well. In our opinion, any good trainer will tailor their workouts to the individual kid based on the child’s age, current skill level and to what the child’s team is running and emphasizing in games and practices. Just paying a trainer once or twice a week is not enough for your child to fully develop! Not to mention the fact that many of these trainers are charging anywhere from $45-$75 per hour! If a parent is paying those type of prices, they better be getting value for their money! As a parent, before I committed to a trainer, I would have my child work out with multiple trainers until I was confident that they were receiving quality training.

In terms of teams, much like most tournaments we attend, over 95% of teams are running zone defenses the entire game. Now we understand zones are an important part of the game, but we believe there should be less utilization of zone defenses with younger kids. At an early/developmental age, we believe that kids need to understand the principles of man-to-man and help-side defense, while being able to sit down in front of their man and guard them effectively. Although zone defenses can give a young team an advantage, mostly because young kids are not consistent shooters and are not strong enough to make long passes, running zones entirely can stunt a player’s overall development. At the next level, players will need to be able to play solid defense if they want to see minutes!

Another consistent theme we saw this past weekend, and every weekend for that matter, is the amount of full court pressing and trapping that goes on in travel basketball. Again, we understand the need to apply defensive pressure to an opponent; we just believe a team should not be pressing and trapping an obviously inferior team while up 20+ points with 2 minutes left in the game! Not only is this practice unproductive, it breeds anger and contempt from parents and is not conducive to teaching and executing good defense long term. We suggest that teams employ full court pressure just long enough to insure the win. After the game is all but put away, we think a team should pick up at half court and learn how to play good fundamental man-to-man defense. In our opinion, some of these coaches are a bit power hungry and egotistical, have little regard for their own player’s development or the development of opposing players. In some cases, coaches don’t understand how to do anything more than press, trap and play zones.

As we move forward, this segment will focus more on team’s and player’s success, with highlights and observations that are more positive in nature.  Also, we know not everybody will embrace what we’ve said in this article, and that’s ok, but there has to be a voice of reason for the good of the game and for the development of these kids. Finally, parents, take control of your situations and demand the best from your child’s coaches and trainers. Educate yourself about the game, ask probing questions, and look for opportunities for your child to develop and prosper.