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Open Letter to Summer League Coaches and Parents

By Joe Crispin, 07/01/18, 5:15PM EDT


Parents and Coaches,

Our 3-on-3 and 4-on-4 summer leagues exist to help players in Grades 1-8 play the game better and enjoy the game more. 

I have summarized our mission on this page and the philosophy behind our small-sided games on this page, but I would like to take a moment to explain and re-emphasize why we play the way we play this summer.  And what is expected and encouraged from all of you. 

By way of introduction, I cannot overestimate how bothered I am by our current youth sports culture--in every sport. In my opinion, so much of how things currently operate stifles creative play, individual leadership and initiative, and the joy that comes from simply trying things you see on TV. We are coaching more than ever, in every season, and I have come to believe that our kids are often worse off for it. 

It is my belief that the summer is the time for creativity, fun, and a reconnection with why the game is played in the first place. Our summer leagues are designed to foster such creativity and joy. 

It may not seem like it on the surface, but there are good reasons why we operate our leagues the way we do. 

1) We do not emphasize score. In our 3-on-3 league, we do not keep score. In our 4-on-4 league, we will keep score, but only update the score at the end of each quarter. 

We do so, because we want kids to expand their horizons on the court. We want them to test their limits and try new things. An emphasis on score forces players to go with what they are comfortable with. This doesn't make better basketball players. Creativity matters. Failure is your friend. Summertime is the time to have fun and go for it. 

Coaches and parents, if you see your son or daughter doing things they haven't done before. Or what they aren't good at. Celebrate it. Clap your hands. Or just smile and laugh. Your kids need it.

2) We do not have standings or a championship. Again, when you play for a championship, you play to your strengths. You strategize and put players in comfortable positions. But how then do you become a well-rounded player? 

Players who do not leave their comfort zones on the court will not make it in the future. The games your kids play this summer are just that, games. They don't mean anything. They are there for them to enjoy. Parent and coach in light of this. Substitute in light of this. Indeed, sit back and enjoy watching them play. It's harder than you think. 

3) We have one referee and volunteers on the score (sometimes very young volunteers). 

There is a method to this. The ball goes out of bounds and once the kids know whose ball it is, they throw it in and keep play moving. The one referee may miss someone stepping out. But plays keeps moving. Free throws are 1 shot for 2 points. So play keeps moving. Subs are quick, so play keeps moving. 

You get the picture. Play keeps moving. More action. More shots. More decisions. More mistakes. More learning. More fun. 

Guess what else? More freedom. This isn't a high-pressure game. There is some structure, but at the end of the day, there is one referee, no standings, and a secret score. Shoot, if we don't like the score at halftime, we may let the kids pick teams for a better second half. No matter what, the message we want to convey to the kids is that this is a safe place to make mistakes. Be creative. Play. Expand. Have fun. 

So when someone isn't sure of the score, it's not a big deal. If you think the game is close at the end and want to know the score, we don't care. Keep playing. Keep moving. Encourage your kids. Substitute fairly and enjoy. The clock will keep moving. So should your kids. 

I could say more, but I trust you get the picture. This summer season is a season designed to help your kids tap into the power of true play. It's designed to be fun. I tend to think that all of our kids need this more than we might think. Many of them are tapped out with adults and wins and losses. They need to reconnect with the simple joy of being creative and playing the game. 

At the end of the day, whether you are just sitting in the stands on helping coach, the best thing you can do for your kids is encourage them to own and enjoy these games. Coaches, sit down and relax. It's summertime. Parents, sit down and relax. It's summertime. Kids, go out and just play. 

One more thing: I am in charge of one 4-on-4 team. You may see them organizing and substituting themselves. I may sit on the other side or at the table and let them go for it. Why? I want them to own it. To lead themselves. To solve their own problems. To grow up a little and make some mistakes. I tend to think they will enjoy it all more with me staying out of the way. And at the end of day, I think they will improve all the more. 

This is the spirit behind our summer leagues. Please join us in the fun. 

Enjoying it with you,

Joe Crispin