USA Basketball Looks Ahead

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As more is being understood about the coronavirus, as vaccines become available, and once USA Basketball directors and staff believe the environment is safe, the organization intends to re-offer the types of programs it has run over the past few years. These include camps and tournaments as well as free programming such as youth skills clinics and 12-week open gym programs.

“We also have several initiatives that serve adults who coach and administer the game, so the ability to host our coaching clinics and women’s leadership programs while continuing to have folks adopt our online coaching certification will be extremely important in 2021,” says Jay Demings, youth and sport development director at USA Basketball.

Apart from the pandemic, Demings believes the biggest challenge now facing basketball in the U.S. is balancing organized team competition with unstructured play.

“Within the last 15 years, a major shift occurred from free-play, pickup basketball to more organized team basketball, which in most instances is a pay-to-play activity. While team basketball is important, kids now play year-round almost exclusively under adult-organized structures.

“The result,” he adds, “is that young people have lost opportunities to play their way and to do so in open environments that allow kids to figure it out without the pressures of making mistakes and being over-coached.”

He agrees that organized basketball is a great way to experience the game, but adds that “the challenge is to balance that with unstructured opportunities so that kids can play for fun and learn to think the game for themselves.”

While all levels of the game should prioritize fun, there has been a drop in participation among middle school kids ages 12 to 14, particularly among girls. Often this is attributed to the shift from rec leagues to middle and high school play.

“Once a young person doesn’t make their school team, there become fewer opportunities to play elsewhere. Again, this is particularly true in girls’ basketball where there are fewer gender-specific leagues outside of school teams,” notes Demings.

“So, a 14-year-old girl who loves the game but doesn’t make her school team either has to pay to play on a club team or perhaps join the local recreation league. At that age, those leagues will predominately be made up of boys, which unfortunately leaves the girl with fewer playing opportunities. For these reasons, it is imperative for those delivering the sport to place a premium on offering fun playing opportunities in addition to competitive events.”

Demings points out that despite a downtick in girls’ participation, overall participation in basketball posted a 2.4 percent increase from 2018 to 2019, according to SFIA’s 2020 Basketball Participation Report. And despite all of last year’s difficulties, Demings remains optimistic.

“Once leagues and events can return to normal, we expect the increase in participation to continue and perhaps even grow,” he says, “given the lost year of play for many in 2020.”

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