The 2023-24 school year is about to begin and there are incoming ninth and tenth-graders with big goals to make the varsity team and get playing time. It doesn’t always work out that way and sometimes expectations for young players and their parents are not met. We dish on five general things incoming players can work on to best prepare for the rigors of big-time high school basketball and help with early playing time.
RELATED: 5 Things Young Players Must Do
Everybody is going back to school in the next three weeks and this is an exciting time for students. Kids want to show off their new outfits, catch up with friends and meet new ones. For young athletes entering high school who play ball, there are dreams of making the varsity team and, of course, getting playing time. For some, the dream of hitting a game-wining shot or impressing a friend they like is something they want to turn into reality right now, not tomorrow. For some, that doesn’t happen right away or sometimes, it never does. Occasionally some players don’t physically grow much after junior high, others develop bad habits that don't improve their weaknesses while some become more interested in other activities and things. In some instances, players become disenchanted with the game and eventually stop developing or even worse, stop playing.
We’ve seen it happen.
So we wanted to share five main points any player can incorporate into their game or lifestyle that will help with development and grow their love of the game because it hurts when someone stops developing or doesn’t get on the court nearly as much as expected.
You have to learn how to speak to your coaches and parents. Sometimes kids dread the car ride home because their parents critique or point out all the things that went wrong. The game is supposed to be fun and it won’t be if that happens after every practice or game. Learn how to speak up and tell your parent(s) that you’d like to talk about something else. Bring up something you’ve been meaning to say. Telling them how much you appreciate what they do for you will help. It cost plenty of time and money to pursue basketball and many times parents feel the stress of that and can take it out on their kid without even knowing it. You have to learn how to initiate and take charge in a conversation. It will also help you on the court and make the game more fun. Same thing applies with your high school coach, someone you might be playing for, for the first time. Know what his or her expectations are for the team and for yourself; if you don’t know what those are, ask. Ask coach what he wants his young players to focus improvement on. Perhaps it’s physical conditioning or maybe it's your weak hand. If he or she gives you that task, make sure to work on it and follow up. Don’t forget to turn in all your physicals and paperwork, bring your equipment and the things you need for practice each day. Hit your deadlines. Coaches don’t want to baby sit or keep reminding ninth graders and first year players.
To get better and see the court early, you simply need more court time than the allotted time your new high school has for practice. Juniors and seniors are likely physically stronger than you even if the skill level is similar. You'll need the proper rest, but you need to work on some aspect of the game every day. Sometimes when you need a physical rest, it’s good to watch YouTube videos of a player whose game is similar to yours or a player you inspire to play like. Ask your coach, an older family member who knows something about the game, or a scout about a player from the past who has something you can incorporate into your game. Not everyone is going to be able to shoot like Steph Curry or jump from the foul line like Air Jordan. Dreaming and practicing those type of shots is okay, but incorporating more realistic aspects of your game will help you get better faster and see the court earlier. Gym time is precious at high school nowadays, so you need to quickly find out is there an open gym time or a time when you can come into the gym outside of a formal practice setting. If there is, take advantage! If coach tells you to work on your ball-handling, then do it. If coach says you need to get stronger, you need to get into a simple workout regimen that works best for your age group and ability.
Don’t Waste Time
Money can be replaced; time can’t. Don’t wait for coach our a loved one to tell you what to do, take charge of your time. There is never a dull moment when it comes to basketball. Maybe your team has an older coach who’s been around the game a long time. Seek him out and learn something. If you go to a camp, learn who people are, don’t wait for your parent(s) or your travel ball coach to introduce you to them. If you introduce yourself, they will be impressed and want to help you. Be prepared to go when practice starts, don't be the last to do things or be last in line. Don’t do drills 60 percent speed. Do them game speed every time and do them that way even when no coaches are watching. One of the most important things you can do is to learn to practice efficiently and not waste time dribbling the ball all over the place. If you’re working on shooting off the catch, then specifically work on that. If you are working on post moves, then focus on that, don’t get distracted by dribbling or making HORSE type shots. Focus. The late Kobe Bryant was legendary for not wasting time while practicing or warming up. We saw it first hand in his preparation for the 2008 Olympics and it was impressive to say the least how much he accomplished in 15-20 minutes by not being distracted by other players or what was going on around him. The faster you learn to value time, the more you can accomplish and the better player you will become.
Play in Different Environments
For those of us who were lucky enough to grow up with a court in our backyard or by a court that was always open, was such a blessing. To be able to play whenever you want and dream of making the big shot or pretending to be LeBron James is part of our makeup that is important and can never be taken away. With that being said, it’s also a comfortable environment. You feel comfortable and the shots seem to go down at a high rate. Have you ever tried shots you normally make in your backyard on another, unfamiliar court that don’t seem to go down? It’s because it’s uncomfortable and in order to get better and develop to the maximum of your potential you have to get uncomfortable. You have to learn how to play on various courts, in different places and in various conditions. You have to learn how to play half court basketball, in open runs versus more athletic players and with older players who are more physical and call less fouls. The older players you play with, the more you’ll realize they rely less on athleticism and more on moving with a purpose and using their mental ability as much as their physical ability. The more you can incorporate that into your game at a young age, the quicker you’ll improve. You have to learn how to relax and focus on fundamentals in a road environment. Good players do well in home games. Great players thrive on the road.
Play With Purpose & Passion
When you are real young, it’s usually a parent or older family member that will determine how much you play, but at some point there will be a reckoning. There will be that important moment where you will ask yourself, “how much do I want this? Do I really want this? Do I want to be a great player?” You can still enjoy the game, but those that love it and play with a passion will likely pass you up and play longer. On a past episode of our "In The Paint” Podcast, we talked with former all-NBA star Marques Johnson about a college teammate who was talented, but only did the basic and minimums to remain on the team and play in the league. It’s quite telling. On the flip side, we know a young NBA player whose mom wanted to throw him a party for his tenth birthday. Can you guess what he wanted to do for his tenth birthday? He wanted her to set up a basketball tournament! He loved the game and it’s one of the reasons why he eventually made the NBA. If you play with a purpose and the game has real meaning to you, it will help you when times get tough or you meet your physical ceiling. It will also help you find your purpose in the game, whether that be to get in coaching, or pursue another off-court job. Young talented players often like the game when it comes easy or thrive when they know they are better than most of their opponents. That situation can rapidly change once you get to high school and how much you play with a purpose or passion will reveal your response to adversity. Will you want to quit or will you work harder if and when that moment comes?
We spoke to a high level high school basketball coach from the South Region whose team has been recently FAB 50 ranked to get his take on what keeps young players from seeing the court early in their high school career:
“Two things ninth graders need to work on, in my book, would definitely be their physical conditioning and learning how to compete and play hard at all times. Too many times talented ninth graders can coast because they are more talented than their age group and then get to our level and struggle. Biggest two mistakes I see being made is attention to the defensive side of the ball and terrible shot selection."