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The Importance of Play

May 17, 2011
By Tom Dasovich of Minnetonka Boys Basketball

For a long time now, the conventional wisdom amongst basketball people was that American basketball players lacked necessary fundamental skills. All kids did was run up and down and in the summer there is evil AAU basketball where kids might play 80-100 games with little to no defense and just as much coaching (sarcasm). American's can't shoot, dribble, or pass. I say American's can't compete.

In my corner of the basketball world (Minnetonka, MN high school basketball) the paradigm has shifted. Kids do not simply PLAY basketball like kids in previous generations. If you are older than 30, you probably remember fierce outdoor pick-up games, great open gyms, and playing basketball for multiple hours per day. You probably didn't have a shot coach, or someone teaching you the Euro-step.

Today, kids have personal basketball trainers who might make as much as $60 per hour to simply stand in front of a kid and make them shoot, dribble, run, and show them "moves." If someone would have approached my mother in the early 90's and said what a bargain $485 for 10 sessions was they may have had a fist fight on their hands. I'm not trying to knock all trainers, in fact, I think most are very good at what they do but what they often create is something not conducive to winning basketball. When you turn working on your basketball skills into the equivalent of a piano lesson you get basketball players that play like they are at a music recital...and that isn't a good thing.

Playing hard/on court effort is definitely a skill. Those of you that watch a lot of high school basketball, (which if you are reading this you probably do, or are related to me, or both) why is it that when a kid really plays hard and competes it sticks out like a sore thumb? The answer is because in 2011 it is a rare sight. Most kids do not have a passion for the game and play it like it is something they are being forced to do. When you see the passion it is like a breath of fresh air.

AAU games are great but even if you are a key contributor on your AAU team (you play approximately 75% of the game) you probably average 4 games per weekend. This is the equivalent in actual on court playing time to one good night at an open gym. At open gym you learn the nuances of the game. You learn how to operate with 10 people moving around on the floor. You learn how to pass. You learn how to defend and rebound. You learn how to speak up for yourself, or sit on the side all night and not get into games. You learn how to keep score. You learn what mistakes really matter. You learn to call your own fouls. You learn that there are no officials to protect you from physical play. You learn your teammate's games. You develop friendships on and off the court. Most importantly, you learn how to compete.

If a player hopes to be a varsity contributor in a major metropolitan school the real answer is that they should be working on their individual skills and attending open gyms. It is not an either/or proposition. We are creating the best open gym in the state of Minnesota here at Minnetonka. On any given night there will be multiple college players, community members, and high school players of all ages in attendance. One of the key facets of getting better is to find the best competition. Where else can a high school player replicate the experience of playing against and all-Big 10 guard or a Big 10 power forward? The more we play, the more competitive we will get, and we will become better basketball players.

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