Coach License Program Helps Temecula Youth Basketball League Provide a Positive Experience for all Players
It started simply enough.
Harmony Pyper saw an email from the Temecula Youth Basketball League (TYBL) asking for parents to volunteer as coaches, so the Southern California nonprofit didn’t have to turn kids away.
“I was like, ‘That can’t happen!’” she said.
So, the woman who captained the Wisconsin Heights High School girls’ basketball team her junior and senior seasons in the early 1990s — earning all-conference honors at the small school just west of Madison — did what any parent would: she volunteered.
While it wasn’t a Hollywood story, Pyper did guide son Calem’s team to the championship game in the fifth-grade boys division. The experience also got her started on a different path.
“When I came in, I was super competitive,” Pyper said. “That first season, when I think about things I probably complained about, before I really understood the intention of the league, I’m a little embarrassed. But that’s why I went out and got more education, and that’s why I think resources and education for coaches is so important. The more I got, the more I understood that coaching is really about teaching kids to be good citizens in life.”
Now, Pyper and her colleagues with the TYBL, which has been around for about 25 years in a growing community about an hour north of San Diego, are prepping for another season. That means registering players and recruiting volunteer coaches for the recreational youth league.
One of the things that has helped the TYBL the past two seasons has been its relationship with USA Basketball. While many think of USA Basketball as the governing body for the U.S. Olympic Team and other international events, it also is heavily involved in growing the game at youth levels. In recent years, USA Basketball has developed guidelines for leagues such as the TYBL across the country to follow, covering everything from what size ball to use at which ages to how many hours players should spend on the court at various skill levels.
After that initial season coaching her eldest son’s team, the always-driven Pyper wanted to improve her coaching skills.
“I loved it so much, but I felt like I needed to learn more about coaching,” she said. “Being an athlete doesn’t automatically make you a great coach. It’s a completely separate field.”
This was no easy task. First, you have to know more about Pyper. She is a mother of four — Calem is now 14, Miles is 11, Abby 8 and Georgia 5 — who is an assistant varsity coach and head junior varsity coach with the Linfield Christian girls basketball program in Temecula. She also dabbles in photography and painting and is a licensed occupational therapist who created a website to help coaches, parents and athletes with their mental health approach (Play2Thrive.com).
She started researching coaching clinics and then came across the USA Basketball Coach Academy program. In 2018, eight Coach Academy clinics were held across the country. Attendees learn the latest techniques of teaching today’s youth about the game and in a fun and safe environment. Pyper attended an academy session in Las Vegas and was able to hear from the likes of USA Basketball coaches Gregg Popovich, Brad Stevens and Jay Wright.
Hearing Popovich speak was particularly thrilling for Pyper, who describes herself as a “huge Popovich fan.”
It also set Pyper on the path to earn a Coach License from USA Basketball. Some youth leagues, like the TYBL has the past two seasons, require anyone who sits on the bench with the players to have an Associate Coach License (there also is a Gold Coach License for NCAA-certified events). The license also requires coaches to have a background check.
“I think a lot of times, former athletes will coach the way they’ve been coached,” Pyper said. “Coaching is changing even from when I played.”
Among the traits stressed by the TYBL and emphasized by USA Basketball are positive reinforcement and developing kids to not only be better players, but better people for their community.
The TYBL is different from what many think a youth basketball league is, but not unusual across the nation. The TYBL is a recreational league, where creating a safe and fun environment are the priorities, not winning games. Players range from kindergarteners to eighth-graders and play runs from November to March (there is also a middle school league from March to May). The TYBL also this season is beginning a Challenger Division for developmentally challenged kids.
No scores are kept until the third-grade level, which is when boys and girls play on separate teams. Eight-foot rims are used for K-2, 9-foot for third- and fourth-graders and the traditional 10-foot rims for the other levels.
“Our focus really is on development, so we want to give everyone an opportunity to play and develop the fundamentals, have fun and make a friend,” Pyper said. “For us, success is (the kids) wanting to come back next year and play.”
Pyper said the USA Basketball Coach License program helps to ensure all kids are exposed to the same type of coaching and have a positive experience in the early stages of playing the sport. Last season, the TYBL had about 80 licensed coaches for 1,000 players.
Being a volunteer position, Pyper said some of the coaches initially balk at having to go through the local four-hour, in-person training (there is a two-hour online option), but obtaining the license not only allows parents to coach their kids, it gives them access to a wealth of resources — such as instructional videos from well-known coaches — through the USA Basketball website. USA Basketball also has provided notable speakers for the coach licensing clinics.
While the USA Basketball affiliation the past two years is new to the TYBL, Pyper says it seems like a natural extension of the league’s core values.
“Our board (of directors) is a real positive board, we’ve worked on real positive communication,” said Pyper, who asked to join the board after that first season as a coach. “I think the parents have responded well to (the licensing). ... I think parents have felt excited (about the USA Basketball certification).”
Find out more about becoming a USA Basketball licensed coach at usab.com/youth/development/coach/coach-license.aspx