Written by Darren Douglas
When I saw this AAU topic, I truly wanted to write on this because I started growing into my coaching career as an AAU coach and for the last four years, I have been a high school coach. By having experience with both, I think I can offer a viable insight into how they compare and contrast and the role both have played in my basketball career. When I tried to break into high school coaching I had many doors shut on me and it would always come down to some version of “You’re just an AAU Coach, you need a little more experience.” This helped me to understand that many people stigmatize AAU for many trivial reasons, but the reality of the situation is there are good and bad coaches on any level. I believe the sooner the basketball community realizes this and works to build bridges between schools and programs the kids will benefit exponentially.
Pros / Cons
In my experience, there are numerous pros and cons to AAU. The key is to find ways to maximize the pros and eradicate some of the cons.
Pros of AAU:
- More chances for kids to be exposed to the game.
- The legit programs play a huge role in the recruitment of student-athletes.
- Kids get to see non-local competition.
- Kids get an opportunity to travel with friends and make lifelong memories.
Cons of AAU:
- Not a lot of emphasis on player development in many cases due to time constraints and lack of access to gyms.
- Too many games.
- Extremely expensive, low return on investment in many cases.
While there are pros and cons to AAU, it seems to be how kids play the game now. It will never return to the days of outdoor play and this seems to be the way kids will play for now until the next way becomes the norm of how basketball is played among the youth.
What have I taken from AAU that has helped my high school coaching career?
When you get down to the basics of it, Basketball is Basketball. It is generally the same game played in 4 phases (Attack/Defend/Attack to Defend/Defend to Attack)whether it’s high school or AAU. I don’t say this to say I didn’t learn valuable lessons from the AAU world. One of the biggest lessons I learned from AAU is to be flexible. Sometimes as coaches we tend to worry about things out of our control and being in the AAU world and sometimes playing 3-4 games in a day will erode your anxiety over things outside of your control and in turn, you will become more flexible.
I also developed major relationships in AAU that I still hold dear to this day. There are numerous coaches that I still keep in contact and share ideas with from the AAU world. Through these relationships, I realized that there are many good coaches in AAU that can’t or don’t want to coach high school basketball and no one should put stigmas on coaches because of where they coach.
Lastly, I learned how to run a team from my time coaching AAU. I was a coach, who could not get a high school job anywhere for years and had a lot of trial and error on early Saturday and Sunday mornings and it definitely helped me in my coaching development. It was a more beneficial process for me to make mistakes this way instead of in front of a few hundred in a big game. Not to say I don’t still make mistakes now, but some of the mistakes were better off made in front of a few.
Envision a best-case scenario of AAU development, environment, and platform- what is it?
A best-case scenario of AAU development would model the academy format from Europe. Programs would place heavy emphasis on development in all age groups and would teach kids more than just plays. In my experience, some programs are close to this format, but there are many more that practice 1-2 times a week and play a heavy amount of games on the weekend. In my opinion, this model is not fruitful and in many cases dangerous due to the wear and tear on the athletes’ bodies.
When there are kids involved, I think all stakeholders (parents, AAU Coach, school coach) in the development should be in contact and on the same page on ways to reach developmental goals.
A best-case scenario for an AAU environment is one that focuses on the whole athlete, teaches the athletes more than basketball and fosters an environment where kids learn and go deeper with their passion for the game. Any scenario where the kids play more than learn, are exposed to negative behaviors, and aren’t held to a standard is a bad scenario regardless if it is AAU, high school, college or professional.
The best current platform we have for AAU currently is the Nike EYBL circuit. The Peach Jam in July is a huge event and brings in everyone in the basketball world together for a week to watch HS basketball in July. While that model is great, I still think reform for the amount of games played in a weekend should be of importance because of the amount of injuries taking place currently.
In closing, I hope this article sparks conversation about AAU and leads to people wanting to improve the relationships between schools and AAU programs and truly come together for the betterment of the student-athletes who everyone who gets into coaching starts out with the intention of helping.