By Hoops

For the second instalment in our look at Long Term Athlete Development and how it affects the game of basketball, I thought we would look at a subject that is becoming a popular topic in our game - the question of whether we are having too many games for our younger athletes and too few practices. In LTAD lingo, this means too much emphasis on competition and not enough on training.

Before we go any further, we should clarify that we all agree, even the LTAD authors, that competition is a good thing and we should be making our practices as competitive as possible. Long Term Athlete Development defines competition as regularly scheduled games with officials. If you talk to the assignors for basketball officials in Manitoba they would all agree that the number of games scheduled has increased tremendously over the past 5 years. It now seems that there really is no basketball off-season. Is this a good thing ?

It is Hoops' opinion that we often make the assumption that kids will learn from playing and, too some extent, that is true. However, there can be no substitute for quality practice time especially for younger players. LTAD states that, ideally, the ratio between practices and games should be about 3:1, i.e. three practice sessions for every one game. I wonder how many teams out there are meeting that goal?

Awhile back, I was reading an American college basketball magazine and, based one article, it appears that this situation is of concern there also. Veteran NCAA University of Miami coach, Jim Larranaga, is quoted as saying "Kids don't develop their skills anymore. They're too busy playing games and they don't work on their skills." To back up his argument he cites statistics showing how field goal and free throw percentages have declined substantially in the past ten years. He adds, "The amount of practice time it takes for a player to become a good shooter is hours and hours every single day and kids aren't doing that anymore - they are playing too many games in numerous leagues." When you look at the fact that many of our young players here are playing with a school team, on club teams, in the WMBA, in other leagues, and possibly with our provincial teams, it is no wonder that there is little time left for practices.

It should be mentioned that a part of the problem is the difficulty in accessing facilities to hold regular practices, a topic dealt with in some of my earlier writings. However, it has been stated by more than one veteran coach that one reason coaches may schedule more games than practices is that, sad as it may sound, it is much easier to coach in a game than in a practice. After all, in a game, one only needs to substitute at times and yell occasionally at players and referees, but to hold an effective practice requires planning, teaching and giving players necessary feedback.

One last point that the philosophy behind LTAD states is that this situation is often affected by an increasing problem in youth sport and that is the imposition of adult values on that sport. Parents, especially those who may pay a substantial amount of money for a child to play on a team, may view the number of games as a return on their investment and may not see time spent on training as valuable. As usual, I welcome all comments. We will look at LTAD and specialization next time.

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