Monday, April 13, 2009

Start Your Own "Playground" Association

I was reading a topic on the X's and O's of Basketball message board (link on the right) about kids not having "basketball sense" because they do not play enough pick up basketball on their own anymore. It may sound strange to some people but this is a very valid point in my opinion. The more you play without structure, the more you learn to free lance and make reads/plays. Along with basketball IQ, kids lose organizational and leadership skills when they don't play pick up because an adult is leading and organizing them. Pick up and playground basketball has been replaced by more structured outlets such as AAU and summer team ball. I do think as a coach it's important to push kids to play unstructured pick up on their own as well as the structured situations. I am not trying to say kids should go And1 and am not saying kids should not play AAU or summer team ball, but should engage in some pick up situations also.

As I got to thinking about the topic, I remembered the genius idea that the Houston High School (MN) basketball coach put together. It was called the HBA for the Houston Basketball Association. Below is an outline of how the program worked.

The league was run by the players. The seniors to be were the "coach/GM" of each team. Each senior had their own team, unless there were not enough kids, then there could be two senior leaders per team. Before the season, all the players that wanted to play signed up for the "draft". The draft was open to basketball and non basketball players entering grades 7-12. It was open to non basketball players so there were enough players to play and were more than 2-3 teams. Each team had 7 players which was enough so that everyone played a lot but also guarded against players not showing up or being injured. If there were a few players that did not sign up to get drafted, but wanted to play, they became "free agents". Free agents still came to all the games and were thrown on teams when players were injured or did not show. Even if everyone showed we usually found the free agents a team and some minutes. By the end of the year, all the free agents had found permanent homes with one team or another. The seniors got copies made of the rosters so everyone had a copy. There was also a team in the league of alumni who wanted to play.

After the draft, the seniors had a meeting and set out all the rules and regulations for the league. They then shared those rules with their individual teams, in a team meeting (very informal). The rules, as I remember them, were:
1. Play full court
2. Play to 21
3. No cherry picking
4. Call own fouls
5. Arguments about fouls equal ejection for the game
6. Home team in dark shirts, away team in white shirts (or go shirts/skins if someone forgot colors)
Those were the ones I can remember. The games themselves were played on the blacktop court outside the school. The seniors set the schedule for who played who, what time, and who was home and away. The seniors got copies of the schedule and gave them to the players on their teams.

Seniors also got to pick the type of offense they ran. And it was interesting how that helped the basketball IQ. I remember a team of all guards who basically ran Grinnell style and another team who had two bigs and ran a slow down high-low type offense. Of course the offenses were extremely simple, and usually became free lance at some point, but at least the thinking was there. They tried to push all man defense, didn't always work, but did for the most part.

We played two nights a week and one game a night. It was funny how the competition grew as the season progressed. They kept an official standings board where they displayed the records and who was where. The last few weeks of the league were playoffs were a champion was crowned. All they won was bragging right but it was worth playing for.

The league was great for us. It made us competitive, taught us how to play, and taught the older guys how to lead. It gave us a chance to just get out, play, and have fun. And most importantly it was player directed - we set it up and ran it because we wanted to. This is something that does not happen enough anymore, in my humble opinion. Kids don't get to just play for the joy of playing. But this was an opportunity for a lot of kids to get that joy. I also think it helped a couple of kids who didn't play basketball before go out, and that is important in a small town.

The only major thing I would do different, maybe, is expand the league to kids in the immediate area so you could have more teams and a little more talent to play against. Have all the kids from your town on a few teams, and then bring a team or two from each of the neighboring towns for variety. I would also have the league run shorter. Ours ran I think from beginning of May through the middle of August and it was too long. I think a two month season would be perfect with the possibility of a second season if enough kids wanted to reup and reshuffle teams.

I would recommend this program to any coach, especially one that coaches in a smaller community.

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