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Cristian Barber

USA Basketball Virtual Camps Put the Fun in Fundamentals

  • Date:
    Nov 13, 2020

As the world continues to deal with the new realities of social distancing and safety in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, USA Basketball has found a way to continue to develop and inspire young basketball players of all skill levels with its virtual skills camps.

The USA Basketball Virtual Skills Camps, hosted by Pro Skills Basketball, run once a week for three weeks and are for participants from 10-18 years old. Each session features on-screen skills trainers for one hour of basketball instruction, followed by a 30-minute session on life skills or a question and answer session. The next camps are set for December.

“First of all, we take the approach that kids enjoy being pushed, and they enjoy being challenged,” said Cristian Barber, one of the on-screen skills trainers and the marketing manager at Pro Skills Basketball. “My role at these camps is both a teacher and a participant. We make it really fun, and we put myself or one of our lead trainers on camera actually performing the workout. We say our sessions make players more skilled, strong and smart. So they're going to get stronger, smarter and improve their skills. And we're right there in the grind with them. We're doing the work with them, and we can motivate them and push them as well.”

The drills are limited to things that can be accomplished while participants log in from their kitchens, bedrooms, garages and driveways, where no basketball hoop is required. But like many sports, basketball can be broken down into fundamental skills that don’t require more than that.

“We really try to challenge them and introduce them to new strength movements and skills,” Barber explained. “For example, we work on the crossover, or behind-the-back dribbling. We also work on pivots and footwork. And from a strength perspective, we're working on most of the major muscle groups, really more lower body and core, just kind of teaching them how to land properly and how to control their body. Not necessarily to make them much stronger, but really to teach them better motor skills, so that they learn how to balance and so that they're not out of control, which can help them prevent injuries. We're teaching them how to move correctly, in the hopes that that will prevent injuries down the road and teach their body how to react to the heavy demand that basketball is.”

While the on-screen instruction is presented with a ton of energy and an emphasis on fun competition, also logged in are USA Basketball coaches that can help provide real-time feedback to participants, such as Monique Boykins, who is the head girls basketball coach at Penn Wood High School in Lansdowne, Pennsylvania.

“My role at these camps definitely is to motivate the players, and then also critique them in a positive way and help them with ways they can improve based off the instruction or the drill that they're working on at the time. The workouts are intense. Sometimes we're doing full body workouts, and sometimes the kids get down or tired and they need that push. So, we deliver that enthusiasm and that inspiration and motivation all throughout the workout as we also are giving them constructive criticism.”

As an experienced high school head coach, Boykins said the virtual format has its advantages, including that she can see all of the campers at once.

“You're able to see other people that you're not standing next to,” Boykins explained. “As we go through our sessions, we start to have players congratulate one another, inspiring one another, and they're not even sitting right next to one another.”

The format also means no one’s lost dribble affects any other participant.

“That's something we are very aware of, and why we love this experience,” Barber said. “We are all together, and we still get to have this sense of community. The kids will be chatting in the chat talking to each other, and as we do more camps, they get to know each other a little bit, and we have this great sense of community. But at the same time, the campers are really only seeing me. They're not seeing each other. So, although we can see everyone and we can evaluate, they get the opportunity to fail as many times as they want in their living room or in their garage and not have to necessarily deal with the fears of embarrassing themselves or whatnot. So, it's a beautiful platform where we get to instruct, we get to lead, we get to provide feedback, and they get this ultimate space of just go for it, just give it your absolute best shot. And if you fail, awesome. I'm going to fail. You're going fail, and that's just an area that we now get to work harder on to grow. So, we try to make failing fun, and very okay and an awesome tool to identify where we can grow.”

Boykins also pointed to the freedom that the virtual format provides to not worry about a coach watching you mess up.

“Some kids get embarrassed when they make a mistake in front of the coach or other players, and that can be intimidating. In this case, virtually, the coaches are watching, but they are not right there in person. So, if a kid makes a mistake, they'll hustle and get back into the drill, and they continue to go through the repetition. Repetition is the mother of learning. Because if they don't get it the first time, they'll get it the second time, if you don't get the second time you keep trying. And that's where the voice coach helps, because we're motivating them to keep going.”

For Ahtiana Benway, a 15-year-old who plays basketball at St. Mary Academy-Bay View in Rhode Island and for the RI Breakers, her experience at the USA Basketball Virtual Skills Academy was a chance to commit to the details.

“I think it was amazing,” Benway said. “The coaching staff definitely pushed me in every drill, and I got a lot of feedback from amazing coaches. I really liked participating with kids from all over the country, and I also got to participate with some of my teammates. I really enjoyed how whenever we did a drill, the coaching staff would go into detail on every drill and show us multiple times how to do the drill correctly.

“I think this camp really reassured me how important it is to pay attention to detail. Throughout the camp they were saying how a great player pays attention to details and every drill. So basically, instead of rushing through the drills and going through the motions, you actually have to understand the drill and the little details that go along with it, like what foot to pivot with.”

Jaheim Crayton, who recently turned 16 and who plays basketball at Lanier High School in Buford, Georgia, also appreciated hearing from USA Basketball coaches.

“I would say my experience was really great, because I liked how they combined different coaches’ perspectives of the game,” Crayton explained. “I liked how they thought about the game, and I learned a lot from that.

“I liked how we met a lot of people. We made friends. We’d talk in the chat. And I saw a lot of improvement with my footwork, like my precision. I also saw a lot of improvement in my stamina. During the final session, I could keep dribbling even when I was tired. What surprised me was how everybody was wanting to keep going harder. I was just surprised about how much I was sweating at the end.”

When asked what she would say to a parent or child considering a USA Basketball Virtual Skills Camp, Boykins pointed to a similar aspect as Benway – which is the chance to focus on the fundamentals, such as footwork.

“I can tell them that they would expect their child to improve within a week,” Boykins said. “That's why I really love what USA Basketball does, because they really work on those fundamentals. Somebody may get bored by those fundamentals, but you can never have enough of those fundamentals. So, I would tell that parent that they should sign their child up, not just because their child's going to improve, but we are teaching the fundamentals to make them a successful athlete.”

Barber, who brings enthusiasm and passion to his role as an on-screen instructor, assures any interested party that the experience, while providing fundamentals, will be far from mundane.

“I do bring a lot of energy,” Barber said. “I'm aware of the impact I can have on someone through a screen, and just showing up and being present and being in the moment, being engaged and showing that I care.

“For anyone who takes part in one of these camps, it's going to be fun, fast and intense, and you will be entertained. This is not just a boring workout. We play music, we laugh, we get better and we get after it, and you're getting coaching and teaching from high level people.

“The coaches we have on here Mike Jones, Monique Boykins, Don Showalter, Sharman White, these are the top coaches in the country. There’s nowhere else you can get that much teaching and that much insight from so many different people. So, I think it's truly a unique experience that is unmatched.”

Two USA Basketball Virtual Skills Camps took place this past October, and two more camps are open for registration for this December, taking place on either three Wednesdays or three Sundays. Additionally, parent and participants can learn more about what the camps are like by registering for one of two “sneak peek” opportunities that will be offered this November, with a free session on Nov. 18 and Nov. 21.

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