What's Wrong With Youth Basketball Leagues

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There are so many youth basketball leagues that are win-loss leagues which focus on the end result of whether the kids win or lose the games and that's it. They play zones, have unequal playing time, and create a stressful environment with coaches yelling at the kids and placing the unwanted pressure of winning & losing on them.

This needs to stop!

You want to know what happens with these kids & teams in 5 to 6 years:
  1. Kids Quit the Sport.

    The number 1 reason kids quit sports is because it's not fun anymore. So why are we making it so stressful for them?

    Don Kelbick informed us about a recent study by AAHPER revealed that over 80% of kids who play in organized youth sports no longer play that sport after the age of 13. THAT'S TERRIBLE!!!! Back in the day, kids did not start playing organized sports until they were 13.

    Why does this happen?

    Kids respond poorly to stress at a young age.

    Kids prefer to have fun & play freely!! Placing an emphasis on winning, having unequal playing time and yelling at the kids create stress which is why so many kids turn to the Wii & playstation. This is part of the reason why we have an UNHEALTHY nation.

    Why do you think AND1 basketball has become so popular?

    The stress levels are low and the kids are allowed to have FUN. I used to be opposed to AND1 basketball until I learned why kids were turning to it.

  2. The other teams that focused on the fundamentals & practiced game-like situations are better!!

    They didn't get caught up in the wins and losses. Rather, they focused on creating fun, relaxed atmosphere while teaching the fundamentals. Since they have solid foundation on making lay ups, dribbling, passing, shooting, and playing man to man defense, they now can handle the other teams that spent less time on the fundamentals and focused on the insignificant stuff that won't work at the higher levels.

    It's also VERY IMPORTANT to apply the basketball fundamentals & skills in competitive game-like situations. If you never put them in situations that make them use the new skill in a game-like environment, it'll be very difficult for them to apply it to the games. All of the sudden, defenders are there and the newly-learned skills go out the window because they had few repetitions practicing the fundamentals with a defender guarding them.

    Practice the skill WITHOUT the defense to LEARN the skill.

    Practice the skill WITH the defense to APPLY the skill.

    Also, if the high school coach of these same kids decides to run zones, traps, and presses, they are that much more effective because the players have a solid foundation versus a group of kids that just worked on presses, traps, and any other tactic that took advantage of a flaw in the youth basketball system.

  3. Kids that could have been great never got the playing time to develop.

    A 6'0 mature 13 year old may be good now, but the 5'9 skinny, uncoordinated kid that is going to be 6'9 may be the best in the future. The timid, smaller player with great decision-making skills loses playing time to the more aggressive, bigger player.

    If these players don't get playing how time, how are they supposed to get better? If they don't play, they might QUIT!!

I'm not saying that you don't want your kids to win. The kids should still play to win. I'm just saying that YOUR focus should be on developing the players, so it gives them the best opportunity to win when they get older.

Here is an example of a development league progression:
* Updated on 11/8/2016

8 to 10 Year Olds (3rd & 4th Grade):
10 to 12 Year Olds (5th & 6th Grade):
  • Start to introduce 5 on 5. (Still use 3 on 3 and other small sided games to teach basketball concepts in every practice.)
  • No trapping defenses, zone defenses, or full court zone presses.
  • Half court man to man defense in 1st half. Full court man to man defense in 2nd half.
  • Equal playing time for players that give their best effort and follow team rules. Players that violate rules may get reduced playing time.
  • No 3-pointers (or move in 3-point line - 15 feet to 18 feet)
  • Height of Rim - 9 to 10 Feet
  • Intermediate Ball - 27.75 - 28.5" (9") - International Size 6

12 to 14 Year Olds (7th & 8th Grade): If you would like to find out more about a successful league, that encourages development of our youth the right way, I highly advise you to visit Martin Spencer's site on Mini-Basketball. It's great!


All of the leagues should be required to place a heavy emphasis on:
  • Teaching skills and concepts.

  • Placing players in competitive, game-like situations to practice the skills. You can also use fun, youth basketball drills.

  • Creating a relaxed, fun environment. Higher stress levels slow the learning process and cause kids to quit sports.

  • Treating competition like fun scrimmages. Too many coaches get caught up with what's happening on the scoreboard rather than teaching their players how to play.

Do you have any questions or suggestions for this article? Let us know by leaving your comments...


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Justin says:
11/22/2019 at 5:03:17 PM

My son is in 5th grade. Does anyone know the rules on the grade checking? I thought they were checked every semester. His school checks every week. He had a Dt on his progress report and next day they did grade check, he had an F so they deemed him ineligible to play for the week. Is this right?

  1 reply  

Jeff Haefner says:
11/24/2019 at 9:23:16 AM

It varies depending on where you live and I believe it varies based on the specific team rules. Check with your local school district on the rules for your son and with the coach or athletic director.

With that said, it seems like a good rule. Grades come first. I of course do not know the situation but seems like in most cases a good lesson for kids to learn priority, in my opinion. Get grades up and problem solved!


Liz says:
11/19/2019 at 10:14:49 AM

My daughter was cut from the town travel team. She’s in 6th and going to play rec this year. Level of play is much lower. She rolled over the other girls in evaluations. Travel coach stated that although her shooting skills are better than some chosen she needs to play under pressure. Hindsight he really likes the aggressive roll on the floor kids. Tips? She really wants to keep playing and has decent skills. She’s athletic but is behind most puberty wise. It was a surprise to us and other teammates parents that she was cut. I can’t say the coach doesn’t develop but he is very much into winning and admits he hates to lose. I get that to a point. How do we use this to up her play and not get further behind? Not trying to be a whining parent but it’s been a rough few weeks around here.


Wayne Johnson says:
11/11/2019 at 9:32:23 AM

I concur with the articles analysis. When player development takes a back seat to winning you have a fatally flawed program. I think game time experience with the ball is crucial. All players should spend some time playing all positions. Post players of today may be guards of tomorrow. I see post players getting the least amount of touches in game situations even though they may be better skilled and suited for guard play....all because of height. Makes no sense. I see guards controlling 90 percent of the play and having a vastly disproportionate number of the points. Even though often times their turnovers and poor decision making leads to a negative personal stat sheets. I’m not a coach but believe I have sound common sense and it appears to me that as a whole youth sports in the United States has some real problems in so far as player development.


David Fredrick says:
11/11/2019 at 6:21:01 AM

I run a Recreation Basketball program and we have a parent that feels the games are too rough. The parent''s child is in 5th grade and has sent us videos of the games to try and prove our her point.

We have reviewed her videos and do not agree that it is anything out of the ordinary other than children playing hard and not being in total control of their bodies. Most if not all of the plays she refers too are being called fouls.

How do we explain to this parent, they are being over the top in their analysis of the games?

  1 reply  

Jeff Haefner says:
11/12/2019 at 4:01:57 PM

Other than respectfully communicating your conclusions upon reviewing the feedback, I'm not sure there's much you can do. You could point out that fouls area already being called and see if they have a solution? Because I don't know what else you can do other than asking officials to emphasize and watch for certain things. But I don't know if you want to open that can of worms.


Maria says:
10/29/2019 at 9:21:00 AM

I thought this was a recr league. Who cares if the kid never player before and his poor abilities wreck the out come of u standings. What about looking at it as exercise for health for the kid during the basketball game. Who cares if u team wins or losses in a rec league? I have played both high school and college sport with teams that have won many on champions. When u actually grow up, u will realize winning isnt everything. trophy get thrown away after decades in the attic. maybe u should not be coaching in a rec league


len says:
10/17/2019 at 9:11:01 AM

dear coach chris, you appear to be a caring coach that takes this seriuos. you appear to care about all the players on your team. I appplaude your volunteerism. I think you are putting too much pressure on yourself. This league you are coaching is a rec league with mandatory playing time. These are the rules to make sure all kids play. Dont beat yourself up, and dont take any nonsense from the parents of the good players. Once again. This is a rec league with mandatory playing time. It is set up this way on purpose to give all kids equal playing time. If someone doesnt like it they should sign up their advanced skill player/kid on a travel team where you try out and have to be picked for the team. It is... what it is.


L Matthews says:
10/16/2019 at 10:39:43 AM

We have a board that allows stacking teams that leave kids that have never played on one team. One coach had all the kids that had never played with the exception of two and worked with them all year and they got pretty good. He taught them fundamentals of basketball as well as shooting. But the one thing he did was to allow the kids to have fun and laugh. We had one couch that put this one child on the court and told him to stay in one place and never move. That he was only playing because he had to. His mother asked him why he never moved and he said the coach told him not to. How sad is that. What is wrong with people today.


Coach Ken says:
3/8/2019 at 2:10:50 PM

I just finished our season coaching my son''s 7th grade travel team. We were the "C" team. We are the only town in our league that fields a third team so we only won 2 games. That being said, all of our kids got better, we were competitive in most of our games and we have a few players that developed enough to have a good chance to move up to the "B" team next season.
In terms of playing time most of our 10 kids played a half to 3/4 of the game. In our town, there is also CYO where 7th graders play a minimum of 3 quarters and town rec where everyone plays half the game. As the most competitive town league that also helps kids prepare for HS, the playing time is designed to gradually get to the HS level. Travel skews the minimum playing time as the kids get older from relatively equal in elementary school to 1/2 of a quarter in 7th grade and no minimum in 8th.
Our travel team has cuts and the dad evaluators typically make a handful of evaluation mistakes at each grade.
On my team there was a boy that should have been in rec not travel. He couldn''t shoot, dribble rebound or play defense and when pressured typically turned the ball over. In order to keep the games competitive against our mostly superior opponents, I needed kids who at a minimum played some defense, maybe rebound and weren''t turnover machines. I played man to man D and unfortunately, this boy would get beaten regularly for easy layups. He also only picks up a basketball during travel season. It was difficult to find playing time for him at all but I always gave him more than the minimum of 1/2 of a quarter our league required.
Needless to say, he and his parents were not happy at the end of the season. I have been a long time fan of your sight and your values so I regret not having played this boy more. If I had read this article before the season I would have. That being said, there were kids who were cut that are much better players and much more deserving of a spot on a travel team. In our town there''s a team for everyone and I think this boy is better served in either CYO or rec. where he wouldn''t be as overmatched and could play more.


Coach Vic says:
2/26/2019 at 11:46:47 PM

I currently run my own Basketball Development League in NYC. It is full court 3 vs 3. No racing up and down. We play three 8 minute quarters running time. No score is kept. Fouls are called as well as traveling, double dribbling, 5 seconds to inbound. Only 3 players on a team. Every player takes a turn dribbling the ball up and inbounding. Players are assigned to a side of the court. Right side and left side cannot enter into the 3 second area at all. The player in the middle cannot come outside the 3 second lines. I do this for spacing. It''s an interesting concept.


Chris says:
1/18/2019 at 10:04:16 AM


We have a team with 11 plays for 8th grade basketball. 5 players are 8th grade, 6 are in 7th grade.

The coach only wants to play 8 players a game because he says it's easier for him to manage and players get more playing time per game. He did this last year with the 5/6th grade boys team.

The 8th graders have never had this situation before, always about 7-10 players in the previous years, so the parents of course objected.

I believe that all players should be available for every game since:

1. Everybody practices the same amount of time
2. 8th grade basketball is vastly different than 6th grade basketball and you need all the bodies you can get.
3. By randomly sitting 3 players a week, how does that help your team if you sit the wrong 3 players based upon the matchup?

  1 reply  

Jeff says:
1/18/2019 at 11:18:20 AM

I actually like this as long as everyone gets equal opportunity during the year. This is a great way to develop players. When you have 10-11 on the bench, it is difficult to find enough meaningful playing time for each kid. Not to mention, if you travel it's frustrating for parents to travel and then watch you kid play for only a few minutes each game. If you know they will get plenty of playing time, it's a lot more fun to travel an hour or so and invest that time. And it's more fun for the kids to play more. With 11 kids... how much time does that 11th kid spend sitting on the bench? If it's completely equal playing time it wouldn't be too bad but if the better players get more minutes, then it could be pretty frustrating because there just isn't much time on the court for #11. I have found 8 is a good number of players to have in a game, get an effective rotation going, and get everyone lots of minutes. Depending on how the coach handles it, this might be a good thing.


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