Stan Van Gundy on Youth Basketball

In the video below, Stan Van Gundy, the head coach of the NBA's Orlando Magic, really hits the nail on the head in regards to some of the big problems in the youth basketball system.

Winning vs. Skill Development

The youth basketball system has become flawed, because some coaches and parents judge whether they've had a successful season based on wins and losses rather than if the players have improved and actually enjoy the game. Without skill development and enjoyment of playing the game, players will never succeed at the higher levels of basketball because they won't be good enough and/or they won't want to practice.

You could almost grab any group of kids with average athleticism, play a 1-3-1 half court trap, work on lay ups and offensive rebounding, and you'll win a high percentage of your games against similar competition. I can guarantee that. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that out and it doesn't take a good coach to do that. I can also guarantee that they won't develop the necessary basketball skills to be successful at the higher levels. I can't count the number of players that I've coached at the high school level that lacked the necessary basketball fundamentals and struggled to pivot, dribble, pass, and shoot. Not to mention, all of the terrible defensive habits players learned by using poor defensive fundamentals (swarming the ball, constantly lunging out of position) that allowed them to force turnovers, but won't work at the higher levels.

Stan also mentions an important concept of having different ball handlers. Many coaches don't realize it, but to improve a player's ball skills, all players need to be touching and handling the ball during games. If the player stands under the hoop and never touches the ball, he's never going to improve the necessary skills to become a good player. As Stan says, that's why we don't have more 6'8 guys who can shoot, pass, and dribble.

Since strength and coordination restricts the amount of development you can do with shooting for kids generally under the age of 12, you should spend a high percentage of your time improving ballhandling, footwork, passing (passing is even somewhat restricted), and coordination.

These are some reasons, along with many others, that I believe that players under the age of 11 (6th grade) should be playing 3v3 basketball along with plenty of 1v1 and 2v2. It allows for more touches to improve ball skills such as pivoting, ball handling and dribbling, passing, and shooting. It is simple math, you are not going to get as many touches with 5v5 compared to 3v3.

24 minutes divided by 10 (5 players each team) = 2.4 minutes for each player.

24 minutes divided by 6 (3 players each team) = 4 minutes for each player.

The Most Important Aspect of Youth Sports

Something not mentioned in the video, but it is probably the most important aspect of youth sports, are the kids having fun?!? If the kids are not having fun, why would they ever want to participate in the sport as they get older?

According to the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports by Michigan State, the top two reasons that kids quit sports is because it's not fun anymore and they are no longer interested.

Top 10 Reasons For Boys:
  1. I was no longer interested.
  2. It was no longer fun.
  3. The sport took too much time.
  4. The coach played favorites.
  5. The coach was a poor teacher.
  6. I was tired of playing.
  7. There was too much emphasis on winning.
  8. I wanted to participate in other non-sport activities.
  9. I needed more time to study.
  10. There was too much pressure.
Top 10 Reasons For Girls:
  1. I was no longer interested.
  2. It was no longer fun.
  3. I needed more time to study.
  4. There was too much pressure.
  5. The coach was a poor teacher.
  6. I wanted to participate in other non-sport activities.
  7. The sport took too much time.
  8. The coach played favorites.
  9. I was tired of playing.
  10. Games and practices were scheduled when I could not attend.
The youth basketball system has been flawed for awhile and we all need to put in an effort to help fix it. Our focus should be on needs of the children, not the adults need to win. Our focus needs to be on making this game more enjoyable.

Please meet with your league administrators and youth coaches to try to help them understand the glaring need for a revamped youth basketball system. If you have the opportunity, start your own league.

What do you think? What are your experiences? Do you have any thoughts, ideas, and suggestions?


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Shana says:
2/27/2014 at 11:47:21 AM

I agree with all above...however, the society today is so different and it does start with the parents. I coach a 6th grade girls team, and I have to constantly deal with other group activities. I feel if you are doing a travel team, then that is the number one thing not a band concert, etc...Also, coaches can go to a clinic that doesn't cost anything, Varsity Coaches in high schools should be the most supportive members as youth coaches are bringing these kids up to their levels. I believe that there should be a coaches clinic before the season starts with practice plans & an example of what they do and how to deal with parents. This year, I told the parents at the beginning because of league rules I have to sub 13 players in & out in the 1st half then 2nd half my time. I told them that I will do 5 in, 5 out every 5 minutes, however the last 5-10 minutes of the 2nd half is my time. I haven't had one parent speak to me about playing time this year. It is a little more at ease, but girls I feel are alittle more dramatic especially at this age, and most do not want to learn. Overall, fundamentals are crucial, that is what I did last year with this crew and won only one game, this year, still working on the fundamentals & skills, but progressed so much to be in third place overall in the league. So it does work, you just have to find it in yourself to accept it as a coach.


Ken Sartini says:
10/17/2013 at 5:05:46 PM

I would say at the 7th & 8th grade level.... as long as its now winning at all costs.

Youth bball is still about teaching the kids fundamentals and them having FUN!

Winning is a by product of a solid fundamental team.


M Thompson says:
10/17/2013 at 11:34:56 AM

i agree but at what age do we look at wins/losses. i would say high school. what is your take?


James Richards says:
1/20/2011 at 2:41:02 PM

Reply to:
Brian Allaway says:
1/13/2011 at 8:49:52 PM

I like what you wrote and agree except with one part... I believe it doesn''''t start with the coaches, it starts with the parents....

But I do agree the coaches also need to create a positive, encouraging and safe atmosphere to teach the kids and I think most do from my observation. I guess we all need to continue to improve and discussions here do help.

Hope to hear back from you.


James Richards says:
1/20/2011 at 2:34:40 PM

In reply to:
Sky155 says:
1/6/2011 at 9:13:28 AM

Yeah i hear what you're saying about keeping it positive, and we do at the practices and games always. Sorry if I sounded so in my remarks but its hard sometimes to find an outlet to discuss these things. Its hard sometimes to see and perhaps you have not experieced it before, such things as:

1. Kids consistantly showing up to practice late and wearing UGG Boots. Had two do that the other day and one in little princess slippers.

2.Kids not showing up to games and no calls from parents or players. So having to rework a rotation schedule and then they show up halfway through the first quarter so you have to rework it again to meet league rules.

3. Very low self esteem and lack of effort with individual players at both practices and games. Now I can take some blame for this but honestly i think it stems from the home and our society because we foster this attitude.

I say this because its very dissheartening for me to see this when the kids are being offered a fantastic opportunity to play equally no matter what there skill is. But it does more than that. It affects the whole team and The league. The other players feel dissappointed when they can't play a decent game due to another child on the teams lack of effort (not skill). Its a drag..

As a finaly note. I am a Double Goal Coach and member of The Positive Coaches Alliance. I encourage all coaches and parents to register there and go through the training. It has helped a great deal for me. So perhaps if more parents are using it more we could make a difference.

please continue to comment.....


Brian Allaway says:
1/13/2011 at 8:49:52 PM

Winning is nice, and in a very competitive game a coach would do what he/she can to win the game. Face it, the kids love to win also, but in youth basketball, most kids have forgotten about the loss within five minutes of leaving the court. It's more the parents and coaches that concern themselves too much about the win.
We have to remember that it is about the kids having fun, and developing the fundamentals they need to become better ball players; not kids that play ball.
It starts with the coaches to create that atmosphere. Practices are made for skill and fundamental development, but game situations are better, because the kids get to go up against other kids and see how good they are against them. That's why every kid needs to play. Win or lose!


Winna says:
1/13/2011 at 9:09:11 AM

You play to win the game!


Sky155 says:
1/6/2011 at 9:13:28 AM

My problem with the majority of people today(including people who have commented on this site) is exactly what is going on here. People in general tend to focus on the negative and not on the positive. Everyone likes to point fingers but yet don't do a dam think about it. Cash cow comment is ridiculous. I ask you Golfman have you ever been involved with the expenses of what it cost to run these league's. I assume not or you would know there is barely enough to pay for uniforms, Referee's, gym space, administration and most of all Insurance for the league. If some of you have a problem with your league you should do something about it. Like get on rec. board, ask to run league or ask person running if you can assist. Obviously, you all are involved to some degree just take care of your house. We all know there is nothing more annoying then the parent who wants to put his 2 cents in when your coaching about what you are doing and my response is always listen " if you have so much too say why didn't you coach I am the one dedicating my time and effort". Not to mention I love it. Reason I am saying all this, I am guilty also. There are things I don't like but, I have not gone the extra mile to get involved in decisions so who am I to be critical. It is hard enough to get enough parents to volunteer for these jobs my league was short 8 coaches out of a 16 team league. Then we are going to force them to take classes and classes are not free you know. But, on a happier note one of my favorite things to do is see the big smile on my worst players face when I end a practice or a game and tell him "hey John you helped are team the most tonight with all those awesome picks you set for your teammates and those rebounds were great too" So Just have fun and be positive stop pointing fingers.


Golfman25 says:
12/25/2010 at 6:51:40 PM

James, you hit the nail on the head. Our "league" has the same issues. It is almost as if the league is a cash cow for the park district. Get as many teams and players at $100 ea as possible. To me there needs to be some minimal standards like the kid shows up at practice. Half the coaches don't know what to teach. For them not to even have a basic coaching clinic is inexcusable. Good luck.


James Richards says:
12/22/2010 at 5:28:04 PM

Great Subject and comments....But here is my take on why it isn't working well.

I have been coaching youth basketball for over 12 years. I have mostly coached ages k-6 (5-12 year olds) in both rec leagues and a few years in Club team. I have coached in 4 different leagues and have seen differences in the approaches. For myself, I have focused on fundamentals over the years with my players. However, this has been very difficult to coach for several reasons.

1st: I find the majority of kids just don't want to try hard. They seem very dissinterested in physical development of skills. This is coupled with the problem of them not even getting to practice. So the parents are either overlaoding them with activities or they just aren't making any committment. My last two games i had only 4 players show up at game time. Had to borrow players from the opposing team. So working on skills as a team is impossible and because of league rules i can't sit the players out for lack of being responsible (see the problem growing in our society?).

2nd: I have also noted the leagues hand out rosters just a few days prior to games starting. so it gives little chance to get a team together. We are approaching game 3 and still have not seen one of the kids on our roster at practices.

3rd: Due to the fact there are usually shortages of coaches. the league allows anyone pretty much to coach. And there is hardly any mentoring or training for coaches. So what do you expect?

4th: The referring has got to improve. They are good people out there it's just that they are being told by the leagues not to call certain things. I see refs call double dribble in the back court yet they let aggressive fouls go uncalled when a child is shooting or double team (trapping at top) in leagues that require m/m defense only. So if you are going to set the rule, let the kids actually learn them. Again what are we teaching our kids? here are the rules but you really don't have to obey them?

just my thoughts.....


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