For many parents, AAU basketball is a mystery. And each year, league coaches and directors are asked to give their advice and opinions. Our players have asked me all season to start an AAU program. Forming and running an AAU program is easy, but its also a huge commitment and should only be untaken after careful consideration.
The following are excerpts from a brief AAU basketball primer prepared by a program in Manchester, New Hampshire. It is not an endorsement of any particular AAU program—or of even having your child participate. This is an attempt to provide basic information so you can come to your own conclusions.
AAU basketball groups are independent clubs and organizations that form teams and participate in various tournaments throughout the year under the AAU umbrella organization. Important differences exist between AAU teams and school or travel team leagues:
- Season: Most AAU teams are very active between March through June, with some programs also playing through the summer and fall.
Games: Most games are played in tournaments (some AAU sanctioned, some not) that take place on weekends (two games on Saturday and two games on Sunday is a common format). There are tournaments somewhere almost every weekend of the year. Some teams play only locally, while others travel around the northeast. Some teams stay overnight in hotels for tournaments when the commute is long, and elite teams at older levels might even fly to a tournament or two.
- Cost and time: There’s a significant money and time commitment to participating in AAU. Costs vary but can range from $500 to $1000 or more per year—not counting travel, meals, and hotels. As for time involvement, this is also variable, but many AAU teams practice one to two nights per week and play 2-3 weekend tournaments per month.
- Playing the game: In addition, being picked for a team doesn’t guarantee you playing time; most AAU teams will not make any guarantees for minimum playing time. As we’ve noted, every program is different, and it’s important for you and your child to research and understand playing time philosophy.
ADVANTAGES OF AAU
- Your child will likely improve. Many of the best basketball players now play year-round and participate in AAU. Children who practice and play a sport in the off-season generally improve more than kids who don’t.
- Your child will experience a more focused program. While AAU can seem intense- we live in a competitive world, and we want our children to be dedicated and to strive for excellence. Because of the required commitment, a well-run AAU team will give your child a deeper, richer sports experience
- What makes an AAU program? The AAU system is a free market, where programs come in a variety of shapes and sizes to fit various needs. Most programs are quite competitive, use experienced coaches, and cater to serious basketball players.
LIMITATIONS OF AAU
- Specialization comes at a cost. Burnout, injuries related to over-training, and stress can also be issues arising from specialization. In addition, you should consider the cost and time commitment, especially if you have multiple kids participating in other activities.
- Most college recruiting does not take place until high school. College coaches do not attend 12U games unless their own kids are playing or the next LeBron James is on the floor.
- Money doesn’t guarantee a quality experience. Most AAU tournaments are moneymakers for people who will take your team’s money regardless of whether they can provide good match-ups. That can translate into a lot of blowouts in AAU tournaments.
WHAT YOU SHOULD ASK YOURSELF AND YOUR CHILD:
Can your child handle the commitment and sacrifice required?
Can your family juggle other commitments like summer school or family vacation plans?
Is it about them or about you?
Are you and your child ready to commit for the season, even if it isn’t working out partway through?
Can we help manage logistics? (Fundraising and carpooling are very important to an AAU team)
WHAT TYPE OF AAU TEAM WILL WE OFFER:
We will have several coaches on-hand to teach and train the players. We expect highly disciplined players with the temperament to want to improve. We will not accept anything less, because the cost is way to high to be less than ready for the AAU schedule and commitment.
Playing vs. player development. Some AAU programs are all-star teams devoted to playing lots of games and winning. Others concentrate more on practice and player development. All will say they focus on player development, but feel that the cost (up to $400 per tournament) financially burdensome and nothing to sneeze at.
Type of AAU team and commitments. We will run a local AAU program, and look into playing in non-AAU tournaments around the city. We will train up to 3 evenings each week. I expect our team to travel to a regional AAU tournament once each month, which may require travel anywhere on the northeast corridor and include an overnight hotel stay.
What is the team’s philosophy on important issues such as:
Missed practices and games:
Don’t! The stakes are too high. Tardiness will not be accepted!
Playing time: There is no guarantee that your child will play in each game.
Injury or absence may change things, but it’s the Coach’s decision.
Players should be expected to prove in practice that they have demonstrated the skill sets and application to warrant play time
All questions will be directed to an assistant coach first. The staff will meet after practices to discuss issues and answers
Participation in other sports:
Practices will be held up to 3x each week, tightly scheduled and very strenuous.
We hope that you will not consider playing with another team, or sport other than swimming.
GET YOUR REST!
Many AAU teams play trapping defense, so an effective transition off a press break will be most successful on the tournament circuit.
We are glad you took the time to learn a little bit about the AAU circuit. AAU is very popular and at times controversial. There will be a number of circumstances where you as a player or parent will have a question, and we will always attempt to answer your inquiries. Have fun, play hard!