U.S. Soccer Mandates and Youth Basketball

U.S. Soccer has recently released several mandates that it hopes will improve the way youth soccer is played and organized in America.  Author John O'Sullivan wrote a great piece about two of the specific mandates.  You can read his full article by clicking here.  Personally, I am a huge fan of these changes and wish U.S. Basketball would begin to organize and initiate some of these changes in youth basketball.

Anyone who has ever watched a 2nd grade 5v5 youth basketball game will know why I want this for youth basketball.  Here is how the average 2nd grade 5v5 youth basketball game plays out. Defensive players form the standard five-man pack that follows the ball around everywhere it goes.  Usually there are one to two players that are significantly more skilled than the other players and they try to dribble around and through this five man pack.  They are really the only ones that touch the ball.  The other players run around with their hands up in the air like they are being chased by the police, all while yelling, "Pass!  Pass!  Pass!" The ball they use is so big that it looks like the player is trying to dribble an elephant and when they go to shoot the basket is so high (along with the ball being so big) their face literally looks like they are about to drop dead from aneurysm.  What is the final score?  6-2.  Of the 16 players that played in the game, 12 of them probably touch the ball less than 6 times.  How can our youth really get better in that scenario?

Two of the main mandates that U.S. Soccer is asking its member organizations to institute are more small sided games and changes to the age classifications.  Both of those mandates would significantly help youth basketball in America.  

Playing small court 3v3 games for youth basketball players in grades Pre-K to 3rd grade would be a great start.  In O'Sullivan's article he referenced a Manchester United study which cited statistics comparing an average 4v4 game to an average 8v8 game.  In the average 4v4 game, players completed the following:

  • 135% More Passes
  • 260% More Scoring Attempts
  • 500% More Goals Scored
  • 225% More 1v1 Encounters
  • 280% More Dribbling Skills (Tricks)

DOWNLOAD:  Manchester United Study

It is rational to believe that you would see similar results in comparing a 3v3 small court youth basketball game to a 5v5 youth basketball game.  All players would get more touches on the ball, have more space and freedom to develop creativity and if team sizes are kept to 5 or 6 all players would benefit from more playing time.   If you also factor in smaller ball size mandates and basket height mandates you would see a significant improvement in skills, and proper shooting technique.  So many bad habits are developed by young players just trying to control a ball that is too big and a basket that is too high.

The other mandate referenced in O'Sullivan's article is the changes to the age classifications that will now coincide with school age/grade classifications.  In youth basketball all the way up through club and AAU, they use grade classifications or completely absurd age classifications which result in players who are often 18 months older (sometimes more) than some of their opponents.  

Regarding U.S. Soccer's registration and age classification changes, USSF Youth Technical Director Tab Ramos said, “It makes the process easier. Over the years you go through coaching youth soccer and you are constantly finding parents and players confused about what age group players belong in … It also puts our players on the same age-playing calendar as the rest of the world so they will be used to competing in the right age-group. That makes it much easier for us to scout for the national teams and find players ready to compete internationally.”

Recently, one of my coaches at Colorado Premier Basketball Club sent me the Tweet below.

It's funny, but true.  I can't tell you how many basketball games I have attended where I have said to myself, "There is no way that kid is in 6th grade."  Well, she may have been in 6th grade, but she was 15!  I remember one tournament specifically where my 6th grade girls were watching the team we were going to play in the game before ours.  These "6th graders" were clearly more developed than my girls.  I over heard my girls talking about this and one of them said to the other, "Look at her chest.  It's bigger than my moms!  I am only in a training bra."  I could only laugh.  And, we all know those parents who specifically start their kids later in school so they can be the older, more developed player on the court.

It would go a long way in youth basketball if we segmented divisions based on U.S. Soccer age classifications versus going off the grade of the student.  It would improve competition, fair play and create an environment where skill was king, not physical development.

Maybe it is time for U.S. Basketball to take some pages out of the book of U.S. Soccer.  The model is already there.  We just have to follow it.  

-Keith Van Horn - I'm a husband, father, entrepreneur, coach, writer and former University of Utah All-American and NBA Basketball Player.  I blog about youth sports policy and issues, parenting young athletes, college basketball and occasionally a little more.

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