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A trainer’s take

Matt DeYoung • Jul 22, 2015 at 11:32 AM

Jim McGannon’s livelihood is built around youth sports — youth basketball in particular.

McGannon played hoops collegiately at Dartmouth College, and now spends his days and nights teaching the sport to youngsters through his company, Basketball Basics.

As the name implies, McGannon stresses the basics of the game, and he cringes when he talks about others’ misplaced priorities.

“The biggest problem right now is the focus on winning at way too early of an age,” he said. “Basketball is my focus, but I see it in other sports as well. It’s mostly from the parents. The kids just want to play. They want to win, too — but it’s not the focal point.”

McGannon feels the emphasis, especially at younger age levels, should be teaching the game through practice, and allowing the kids to have fun playing the sports they love. Tossing the kids into competition goes against everything he believes in.

“Competing and winning are on two different planets,” he said. “Everybody competes, but very few win, because they don’t have the skill. Nobody gets it. They think they have to play in tournament after tournament after tournament in order to get better. No! These kids get worse. Parents don’t realize it, but many of these kids are getting worse because they don’t have the skills.

“It’s like asking people to do something they’re not capable of doing, then assigning a consequence to the outcome,” he continued. “The phrase we use is — competition does not equal competitive growth.”

Basic principles

McGannon follows three basic principles in his training.

“No. 1 is to limit the number of players in the gym,” he said. “Never more than 12-14, because they get fractured, their attention span is split. If you have a capable coach, he can really impact 12 kids.

“No. 2 is that the coach has to be trained and understand his role. You can’t just have a high school kid out there rolling the ball out and scrimmaging.

“And No. 3 is all (legendary coach John) Wooden — you have to model appropriately for these kids. No yelling, no bellicose chest-thumping. All that stuff goes out the window.”

McGannon said he first realized a need for proper basketball training in this community when his son’s friends began to show up at the court in his yard.

“It became very obvious to me that nobody had ever showed these kids anything with their feet, with their hands — so I started helping these kids out a bit,” he said. “A lot of them became players on the Spring Lake team. There wasn’t anybody teaching these kids how to play, and that’s how the idea was born.”

McGannon now trains basketball players from kindergarten all the way to high school. He stresses age-appropriate and gender-specific training at every step of the way.

“We scrimmage, but there’s no results,” he said. “We don’t talk about winning — it’s all just skill development.”

Parental interference

Too often, McGannon feels, parents interfere in their kids’ development by thrusting them into competitive situations fueled by the parents’ competitive nature.

“What I see is predominately Type A dads, half a dozen of them in every community, and they’re running the show because they played in college or they know (Tom) Izzo or whatever,” he said. “They’re running the show and everyone else follows them. They have a lot of time and a lot of money, and I see these little fiefdoms run by these dads, and most of the time it’s wrong. The kids would be far better served to get some training at the local gym.”

As for travel teams, McGannon’s not a fan. 

“It’s too expensive, it’s too much travel, and there are too many untrained coaches,” he said. “Plus, they have cuts too young, and that’s totally wrong. Getting cut at 9 years old? What’s wrong with these people?”

McGannon points at soccer to prove his point. Soccer in the United States is booming at the youth level, with millions of kids playing the sport. Club teams are the rage, with youngsters all the way down to age 8 traveling across the state for tournaments several times a year.

“We have the most money in the world, the best facilities, and we can’t beat Ghana (in the World Cup),” McGannon said. “They’re taught the game and the skill, and we’re not. We’re trained to win at a young age, to kick it to the big kid because he can score the most goals.”

To be fair, the United States did beat Ghana in the 2014 World Cup, but lost to Ghana back in 2010.

‘June-sanity’

McGannon would love to see an overhaul of the priorities when it comes to kids in sports, with an emphasis on skill development and fun. When too much pressure gets put on kids to perform and win, many of those kids simply quit.

“Three-quarters of the kids quit organized sports by the time they’re 13 because they get burned out,” McGannon said. “I call it ‘June-sanity’ in basketball. Kids are done with school, and almost every program in the area all they do is play basketball. They organize games and competitions and leagues, and play 6-7 hours a day. These kids should be at the beach!

“I saw one of the local programs’ itinerary a couple of years ago, and I saved it out of awe,” he continued. “Eighteen of the 30 days in June were organized. And this was not a winning program. They’ll do the same thing again this year, because they think they have to do it, because everyone else is doing it.

“The better answer would be to open up the gym, and if you want to show up, there’s a coach there that can help with whatever you want help with — weight training or skill development.”

While burnout is one problem, injury is another.

“The number of youth injuries is exploding, off the charts, because all these kids do is play,” McGannon said.

McGannon hopes that one day soon, the out-of-control world of youth sports will be reined in by reasonable people with logical, realistic goals.

“We need some sort of intelligent approach to what we’re trying to do, and we might be able to make an impact,” he said.

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