I have seen firsthand basketball phenoms at various AAU tournaments that I have attended. Some of these kids are blessed with incredible physical gifts and abilities that go far beyond their age. If you happen to go to any respectable AAU tournament you may actually catch a glimpse of the next Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, or Chris Paul. Those kinds of athletes are unmistakable in their abilities and how they carry themselves on the basketball court. I root for them to succeed as it will only continue to make my beloved basketball that much more enjoyable to watch in the future.
AAU sanctioned events are closely guarded and rules are put in place to protect the integrity of the game. There is a system in place that allows coaches and parents to challenge an athlete’s age. This helps prevents a 17U (17 years old or younger) player from competing against a younger 15U (15 years old or younger) team. Sometimes the differences in ages can translate into several inches of height and several pounds of weight leading to significant advantages against smaller youths. AAU sanctioned events have the proper safeguards in place to promote fair and equitable competition. At any given moment proof of age can be requested and reviewed by an official and it is the responsibility of the AAU coach to have proper documentation on each of his/her players. With that said, I’m not too thrilled about the way non-AAU sanctioned events are run.
My personal experience is that most AAU programs are run by respectable organizations that will comply with the rules of common decency and fairness when putting their teams together. AAU coaches are expected to give a fair assessment of their teams ability to compete against similar competition and rate their teams as A, B, or C level players with A being top level performers and the C ranking designated to developing youths. However, the directors of these AAU events are not always diligent in their review of participating teams. A majority of the time it is expected and assumed that the organizers of an AAU program and their coaches are doing the ethical thing when putting teams together. I recently had an event where 6th and 7th graders were allowed to play together on a team and compete in a weekend tournament. The ages ranged from 11 to 13 with an occasional 14 year old participating due to a late birthday or grade retention. All of my kids are on the seventh grade or lower. We were playing up due to the nature of this particular tournament. I don’t want to make this about my team personally or sound like a guy with sour grapes; rather I am more concerned about the state of the games if this is more common practice then an anomaly.
My kids competed hard but eventually were overcome by a team that had a 15 year old seventh grader. I understand that he had his academic struggles and I was glad to see that playing basketball was being used as a motivator for academic success. However, I was also made aware that this young man had bigger aspirations for playing basketball including eventually overcoming his academic struggles and competing in his high school team and eventually college. Here’s my question to his parents and his coaches. How does his playing against much younger kids help his game? I can’t imagine that a game where he is so physically dominant and overwhelming will prepare him for the rigors of basketball. Why not play him in his actual age group thereby placing him in a team of similarly skilled and developed players? I would think that developing this athlete’s game would be much more important than securing victories against 12 year old seventh graders. Is it ethically correct to let a 15 year old compete against 12 year olds just because the rules didn’t specifically say you couldn’t? (Rules stated that if you were in the seventh grade per your school you were eligible for that team.) You should have seen the on-court celebration after they won the championship game against my young kids. You would have thought they just won the NBA Championship.
I am not against winning, I am not against celebrating, I am not against exuberance, and enjoyment, but I am against the winning at all cost mentality that a lot of these AAU coaches seem to embrace. At some point you have to decide what kind of coach you want to be. One that wins at the expense of the rules and integrity of the game, or one that teaches the kids that it is not OK to bend the rules a little bit just to get what you need. I would rather win and feel good about myself in the morning and I think that parents can appreciate that mentality but maybe I’m in the minority. All I know is that I will put a fair team on the floor each and every time and watch them develop and grow into respectable men in the mold of their parents and (in some instances) their coaches. By the way, my kids are good players and win plenty of games and have at times prevailed over those aforementioned challenges. Those are usually the sweetest victories for us personally because we know what we had overcome.