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What It Takes To Be a Successful Youth Basketball Coach

USA Basketball Helping Elevate The Game Through Youth Initiatives

  • Author:
    Craig Ellenport
  • Date:
    Apr 3, 2015

(NOTE: The following story originally ran in the 2015 Division I Men's Final Four Official Program)


More than 1,500 college athletes, men and women, took to the court this March during NCAA Tournament action. Roughly 2,700 new NCAA Division I recruits will enter the fold next fall, seeking their first taste of March Madness.

Big numbers? Hardly.

The overall number of collegiate players at all levels combined with the total number of players in the professional ranks reaches 70,000.

Still chump change.

To understand the true impact that basketball has in American culture, consider these numbers, based on a 2014 survey:

  • Kids aged 6-17 years old playing basketball: 27.874 million
  • Adults aged 18-plus playing basketball: 37.565 million

“Basketball is the second most popular game in the world today, and we have millions of kids who are playing basketball in our country,” said Jerry Colangelo, who has been chairman of USA Basketball since 2009.

As the governing body for basketball in the United States, USA Basketball is charged with selecting the teams that compete in international competition – including the men’s and women’s national teams that won world championships last summer and the teams that will compete in the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil.

While USA Basketball has enjoyed tremendous success in international play for many years, its grassroots initiatives are actually in the infancy stage.

USA Basketball’s Youth Development Division was formed in 2013 to promote, grow and elevate the game of basketball throughout the United States. As part of the initiative, the USA Basketball Development Model was created to help guide players, coaches, parents and administrators through the sport. The model includes many types of initiatives, tools, resources and offerings, all of which focus on the health and well-being of young people to enhance enjoyment, participation and development in the game.

On Feb. 12 of this year, USA Basketball launched its official Coach Licensing program, designed to both license individual coaches as well as offer accreditation to youth basketball organizations.

“It’s important to raise the bar to get coaches accredited, to get good instruction to these young players and bring them along as part of our future,” said Colangelo. “The youth development program is a big undertaking for USA Basketball and it’s one that we know is a big challenge, but as an organization we’re going to be better for it and we believe basketball as a whole will be better too.”

The Coach Licensing program currently consists of three components – a background check and two online courses. Once a coach passes the background check, USA Basketball will update it in the system every 30 days. The first online course is the USA Basketball Coaching Course, based on the organization’s basketball philosophy. The second is called the SafeSport Course, focusing on health and safety.

Licensing and Accreditation information

“We think it’s important for people to be able to align together, and for us to unify the space through our licensing program,” said USA Basketball CEO Jim Tooley, who noted the previously unorganized state of youth basketball.

“People truly want some structure to an unstructured youth basketball environment. A license through USA Basketball really provides that. Based on the values of fun, safety and development, but also based on the fact that people want to align with a good governing body in value and in principle.”

Both the NCAA and NBA are members of USA Basketball, which is essentially an association of associations.

Both groups have been strong supporters of USA Basketball over the years, and have been particularly supportive of the new youth development initiatives. The Coach Licensing Program, in fact, had a spotlight thrown on it by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver in his state of the league address during NBA All-Star Weekend in New York.

“Youth basketball is the future of this game,” said Silver. “USA Basketball recently announced a program where they are going to seek to an accreditation program of youth coaches throughout the country.  We think that's critically important, so that parents, guardians of young boys and girls who play the game know that there are places they can go, to ensure that the coaches who are involved with their children have the appropriate training, are teaching the right values of the game.  That's an appropriate role for USA Basketball, and I know they're going to dramatically increase their efforts there.”

One of the resources available to a licensed coach is the newly created USA Youth Development Guidebook – a 356-page publication that establishes national standards for all facets of youth basketball, including robust and progressive teaching and playing standards for all levels of the game.

The idea is that as young basketball players continue to learn and play the game the right way, they will eventually graduate to become the gatekeepers who pass on the sport to another generation.

“The initiative is what we are calling our ‘Basketball for Life’ model,” said Tooley “We’re going across the country to impart this model to people that coach the 30 million players that are playing the game. We decided early on that we were going to go through existing organizations in order to reach the coaches who impact young people. We developed a basketball pathway to keep kids in the game longer, to keep them in the game for life. Both as players, but then also as coaches, administrators, officials, referees, and then as parents of children that are playing. And the idea is to keep it cyclical and keep them coming back for more.”

Youth Development Guidebook

Of course, the importance of good coaches means so much more than the ability to teach good shooting, rebounding and dribbling.

“We want them to understand that basketball is the most played team sport in this country, and that we have a responsibility through basketball to impart not only basketball skill lessons but important life lessons that a child can take with them,” said Tooley. “With 2.5 million people coaching the game in our country, we feel basketball provides the greatest avenue to impart those lessons. I hope the coaches we’ll touch down the line will walk away knowing that there’s a standard in place and they’re part of a unified community doing things the right way.”

Meanwhile, USA Basketball continues to rack up gold medals around the world. In 2014, they won the men’s FIBA World Cup and FIBA World Championship for Women titles, and also won the men’s and women’s FIBA U17 World Championships, FIBA Americas U18 Championships and even won FIBA 3x3 Women’s World Championship and Women’s Youth Olympic Games 3x3 gold medals. A number of USA Basketball gold medalists are current NCAA athletes who played in this year’s March Madness.

“We rolled the table,” said Colangelo, noting that the USA’s dominance on the world stage helps grow interest in learning the game at home.

“I’ve spoken quite often about USA Basketball’s pipeline – how full it is, how strong our junior programs are, that young players today want to be part of USA Basketball,” he said. “They aspire to be part of the national team and play in the Olympics, and that’s wonderful.”

With USA Basketball’s Coach Licensing Program in place, the groundwork is being laid to provide those millions of aspiring young basketball players the best possible training.

“I think it's critically important for the future of the game … that we start at a young age with the boys and girls teaching the appropriate skills involved in the game and the values of the game as well,” said Silver. “I can't stress that strongly enough.”

For further information about USA Basketball and youth initiatives, go to the official Website of USA Basketball at usab.com, and connect with us on facebook/usabasketball, twitter/usabasketball, youtube/usab and instagram.com/usabasketball.

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