I’ve been coaching and playing basketball all of my life. I played basketball on an AAU team, as well as high school and college teams. I have watched my daughter and son play AAU and I’ve seen its evolution over the years, Both good and bad. The Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), which started in 1880, has developed over the years into an organization that focuses on the growth of youth sports through a national and local network of sporting events. Though there are other club and select teams, AAU is one of the largest basketball organizations outside of school basketball. There are high profile former athletes and coaches, such as Kobe Bryant, Steve Kerr, Charles Barkley, who have criticized the AAU program, still, there can be benefits. So, if you (or your child), are interested in playing AAU, or select, basketball, you might consider these pros and cons.
AAU Basketball Pros
Time On The Court
When you play on an AAU team you might get more time on the court. There is no guarantee. It depends on the team and your ability, but if you are a player who starts, or gets into the games a lot, the extra time on the court can be worth it.
Often AAU teams play against better competition. Most AAU teams travel to tournaments and find high-level events to help improve their game and increase player exposure to college recruiters.
Times have shifted over the years, college coaches still recruit great athletes from high schools, but they often hit the road to view players at larger AAU tournaments or showcases where they can see a lot of players from all around the country, at one time. Playing for an AAU team may get you a better chance to be seen, depending on what events your team goes to and if you get time on the court.
As with all sports, if you play on a competitive AAU team with players you enjoy playing with, you will have a lot of fun. And life doesn’t get much better than that, so it might be worth it.
AAU Basketball Cons
Little or No Practice
Even if you’re having fun playing AAU, being a part of the program might not be worth it if you’re not playing much and you’re not practicing. many programs don’t have practices, or if they do they often just scrimmage and forget about the fundamentals. If you want to become a better player, just playing games won’t do it. It doesn’t hurt, but practicing the fundamental of basketball is a key to success on the court.
Lack of Focus On Fundamental
Even when I first started coaching (back in the 80s), many of the girls who were playing AAU were very good but had terrible fundamentals. As I mentioned, if an AAU team does have practices, they often just scrimmage and don’t put time into the fundamentals. Simply adding basic fundamentals to your game, will make you a stronger player, so if you decide to play AAU, look for a program that has practices, and cares about the fundamentals of the game.
There are amazing AAU coaches out there, and there are AAU coaches who know very little about the game or about teaching young athletes. Research your coach. ask about their basketball background and knowledge. check to see if there will have practices. Ask if they have worked with young athletes and in what capacity. Many AAU coaches have little or no background in teaching and working with children and young adults. They don’t need to have any certification or training. Go watch the coach during a practice or game. Look for a coach that will be a good fit.
Most AAU programs play a ton of games. This can be good and bad. Your playing time can be helpful for learning how to perform under pressure, but often it’s just one game to the next, and the next, and the next. With no time to learn from games, to discuss and work on mistakes, and celebrate the wins. For some basketball can get old when it’s game after game, tournament after tournament. I’ve seen it during my years of coaching. Athletes can burn out.
Take Away From High School Programs
Some athletes don’t care about their high school programs and only worry about AAU because they feel it is their road to playing at the next level. This is unfortunate because being a part of your high school program can be a great way to meet friends and build school pride.
Playing on an AAU team can take a lot of time. Many teams travel almost every weekend. I have had players who were physically tired from so much time on the road, and as I’ve mentioned before, I have seen players who were mentally drained because so much time was spent playing AAU.
It can be costly to join an AAU team. A majority of the athletes pay to be on the team. They often pay for new uniforms and travel, including flights and hotels. Some athletes also pay for private training.
Often young athletes believe being on an AAU program will help them receive a scholarship. The right team might help, but players should strive to be the best they can be and play at the next level. But if you are fortunate to play basketball in college it doesn’t mean you will get paid to do so. It’s important to understand that 1% of high school athletes get full-ride athletic scholarships to play in college.
Each player should consider the pros and cons, and then decide whether or not they play AAU basketball based on what is best for them. If you want to play, find a team that fits you; a team where you can have fun, be competitive and, if possible, get time on the court. Find a program that helps you to become a better player, one that cares about all of the players (not just the top players). Look for a team that teaches the fundamentals of the game.