Mike Klinzing is Founder and Executive Director of Head Start Basketball (Cleveland, OH). Offering youth basketball camps and skills training for over 20 years, Head Start Basketball uses the game to improve character, develop leadership, and promote sportsmanship.
Parents often face difficult decisions regarding their child’s youth basketball experience. What coach or program is the best one for my young player? These decisions are often complicated by misinformation that is shared by parents of other players. How can you make a good decision about where to play and what coach is best for your young player? Start by asking these nine questions of the coach or program administrator.
What is your philosophy regarding the balance between winning and player development?
We all love to compete and win, but the most important thing about a coach for you to consider as a parent of a young basketball player is their skill development plan. If your coach is focused on scoreboard results rather than helping players improve and get better then you are better off looking elsewhere for a place to play.
How would you describe your coaching style?
You’ll learn about what the coach believes is important by how they answer. I would look for a coach that describes themselves as a positive coach that emphasizes skill development and uses the game to teach life lessons in addition to basketball.
How do you develop players?
Coaches should have a plan for helping individual players improve their skill sets. Large chunks of practice should be dedicated to skill development and improving basketball decision making through the use of small sided games. If the coach talks about his great zone defence or all the set plays he runs you should run too, as far away as possible.
How do you communicate with parents?
Good coaches will have an established protocol for communicating with parents. Some coaches use email, some use texts, some send info on paper the old fashioned way. The method isn’t critical, but the communication is. Before or after a game is never a good time to talk with a coach when emotions may be running high. If there is an issue to discuss, the coach should be willing to schedule a time for a phone call or in-person meeting.
How do you handle commitment conflicts?
In today’s reality families are often juggling multiple kids in multiple activities. Your young player may have to miss a team practice or game. You should know the coach’s expectations and what the potential consequences for missing may be. In general, I believe that the younger the athletes, the more tolerant a coach should be regarding conflicts. If your child plays on a second grade basketball team they shouldn’t be benched for missing a practice. On the other hand, a varsity athlete that misses practice more than likely will lose some playing time in the next game.
Communicating any possible conflicts up front is important for parents to avoid problems when they do occur.
Are practices open to parents?
For youth basketball, the answer should always be yes. That doesn’t mean you should always stay and watch, but you should have the option. You’ll learn a lot about the coach from watching a practice. Hopefully, you’ll see a highly organized practice environment focused on skill development where players are not afraid to make mistakes.
How do you handle playing time?
Some coaches will say that everyone gets equal playing time. Some will say that the best players will get the majority of the playing time. You want to know the answer so you can make a decision on whether or not the coach is a good fit for your young player.
Why are you coaching?
Listen to see if they focus their answer on impacting the individual players on and off the court or whether they talk about their winning record or how many tournaments their teams have won. Look for a coach that is player focused not results focused.
What training and experience do you have?
It’s always good to know the background of the coach. What makes them qualified to lead a team of young players? Did they play the game? Where else have they coached? Do they hold any certifications or licenses? The more you know about the coach the more informed decision you can make about whether the coach is the right one for your young player.