Alex Foster is a professional basketball player and founder of Sense Basketball, a youth basketball initiative. His youth programs include purposeful skills training and mindfulness exercise, to promote athletes’ self-confidence and general well-being.
By prioritizing talent evaluation over personal development, the existing approach to youth basketball continuously fails young athletes. At the beginning of every season, kids are evaluated based on their existing abilities (or performance that day) and slotted into roles by their coaches. These player roles are unlikely to change, either through the course of the season or even through their career.
Because of adults’ strong influence on a child’s sense of self, youth athletes quickly begin to identify with their assigned roles. This suppressive dynamic is also reinforced by a coaches’ cognitive biases, which anchor their perceptions of players to their first judgements.
For these reasons, the role assigned to a 10-year-old athlete might follow him/her for the rest of their athletic career.
As a professional athlete, I practice mindfulness to overcome these barriers to my own improvement. Staying present-minded helps me manage self-doubt and the expectations of others, so I can maximize my own capacity.
As a youth basketball coach, I teach mindfulness to help young athletes expand their own potential. My goal is to give players self-confidence and the agency to become better players. To do so, I implement principles that help each individual player discover his or her own strengths. I’m also driven by an ethic to encourage a players’ uniqueness through imaginative exercises.
Driven by these values, I’ve designed a totally different curriculum for youth basketball camps, where we…
1. Honor each player’s ability.
Instead of forcing each player to play a certain way. This allows our camps to accommodate all-levels of players, without limiting the development of our more talented campers.
2. Address athletic performance holistically.
This is in respect to both the body and mind. By getting the kids out of the gym and teaching both mental and athletic skills, players with different strengths have opportunities to excel.
3. Hold every camper accountable.
We emphasize how individual decisions affect the larger outcomes in camp, which passes individual responsibility on to the players.
These may seem simple and intuitive, but they often need to implemented consciously. And this approach results in some extraordinary basketball camps, with unparalleled results:
1. Maximum participation and enjoyment.
Engagement of all campers stays high throughout the week. Throughout three week-long sessions, not one athlete dropped out.
2. Improved teamwork and mentorship.
The more talented players supported the more novice players, and both improved their skills. Most impressively, players with high-skill levels learned to maximize their teammates contributions on the court.
3. Increased the level of competition.
Everybody wanted to win and competition was fierce. Every player, no matter their previous basketball experience, knew they played an integral role in their team’s success.
To give kids a better chance at becoming great players this season, I encourage coaches to steals some of these approaches to athlete development. Taking a holistic approach to your basketball training is the first step towards a system that truly works for young athletes.
To learn more about the art of mindfulness and the Sense Basketball Camps, check out sensebasketball.com!
Photo: Runaway Digital Media