I told our kids at Just Play camp this week that though there is a clear need for specific skill work, it is the games they play that largely determine the kind of players they will to become.
Play comes first. And second. And third. You get the picture.
Here are a three highlights from camp this week.
1) Player-led communication and personal connection.
I love walking in the gym and hearing the kids talking to one another. Even more, I love seeing them form new friendships and relationships through this play. The energy is positive energy. I hear way more from the kids than I do from the coaches. Why? Because they own the games. And the teams. And even the rules.
Sure, we throw a ton of options their way and highlight different ways to play (especially the first few days). But then the onus is on them. And they love it.
But here's the thing: they do not get to this often enough!
2) "Dunk ball."
We have two rims we can lower. Elijah (my son) said his favorite game was "21" on a 6ft rim (maybe 6.5).
Is that good for his development? I think so. It forces creativity and touch around the rim and from the perimeter. It diverse their skills and feel for the game. It forces them to be creative off the dribble and with their shot attempts. And most importantly...it's fun! They like it.
But when I asked our group how many consistently play basketball on lower rims, not even a third raised their hands! This is a problem. I played hours upon hours of basketball with my friends on low rims. And I think it proved incredibly helpful. We create boring players by always playing the same games. We need to diversify.
3) 3-on-3 Guards vs. the Bigs.
This is another one I got from Elijah. Their group apparently chose to play the 3 smallest players vs. the 3 biggest players during one of their 3-on-3 times. Both teams ended up with strategies for defense and offense (pack the paint, protect the 3). I heard all about it and could not help but ask who won.
The answer? No idea. Probably the big guys, but they lost track of the score. No one really cared. They just had fun playing.
Would any coach create that game during a practice? Would any coach make those teams? Probably not. And maybe they shouldn't. But that's just the point. If all our kids do is play or practice under the direction of the coach, they will never enjoy those moments.
And that's a much bigger problem than we might think. And it's everywhere. In every sport. All over the US. We devise their great practice plans, but they grow stale quickly. They are often predictable and adult-oriented.
The instincts of our kids are often better than we think. We are wise to give them the time and space to do what they want. It is more important to their development (on so many levels) than we can imagine.