Youth basketball State Tournaments and rankings have become widely prevalent over the last 10 years in multiple states. If you have ever been at one of these events, coached in one of these events, or have been a part of a youth association board meeting where State Tournament participation and rankings have been discussed you realize quickly that parents have come to hold these events and rankings with some importance. At Youth Basketball Development we believe these “State Tournaments” and rankings of youth teams ages 9-14 are detrimental to long-term development and participation in sport and have little bearing on future success. We understand this may anger some but feel strongly that it is the truth for multiple reasons.
Current research has shown that overemphasis on results and short-term success in youth sports (State Tournament Championships and rankings) may limit the benefits of participation, and could increase the risk of injury, burnout, and disengagement from physical activity. Additionally, emphasizing short-term results at the youth level has been shown to lead to early single sport specialization and highly intense overtraining during childhood years. State Tournaments and rankings are results and winning oriented. As such, State Tournaments and rankings inherently put results and winning ahead of development and ahead of participation. Research also shows that competitive success at the youth level correlates modestly at best or not at all to success at the senior level.
State tournaments and rankings at the youth level are created by business organizations looking to generate revenue. For a lot of parents we tend to value ourselves by how well our children do and that our children’s behaviors and accomplishments are a reflection of us. Because the results of our children’s actions can sometimes be outside of our control such thoughts and actions can be toxic for ourselves and our children. Additionally, children are very preceptive at picking up on our verbal and non-verbal energy and aim to please their parents. If your energy as a parent or coach is tied to qualifying for or winning a state championship and improving team ratings our children will pick up on these cues and tie their own self worth to these results. This leads to fear of taking on challenges, anxiety, and greater dropout rates.
Is it actually a true State Championship?
The short answer is no. The State Tournament is used to determine the best team in a particular state and by definition is considered to be the top achievement in the state (again, this is heavily results oriented which at the youth level has been shown to lead to multiple negative long-term effects). For a true State Tournament to occur all similar sized schools and associations in the entire state would participate. In the vast majority of cases this is not the case as in order to participate a large entry fee may be needed, which inhibits lower income communities from participating, schools and parents may choose to opt out of participating due to travel and expense concerns, and in some cases your team may have needed to participate in a certain amount of prior tournaments owned by the organization running the State Tournament. A youth State Championship is a championship by title only and not a true State Championship of importance.
Youth sports is about improvement, positive core values and relationships, playing with great effort, and fun. Winning is important but not at the expense of long-term development. Parents and associations that focus on small improvements and developing a work ethic versus results and winning tend to have competitive, growth mindset oriented, and high performing children.
Businesses that are in charge of youth rankings do so in order to promote competitive balance, seed tournaments, and drive traffic to their websites. These rankings are based on winning. As previously noted a heavy emphasis on winning and results at the youth level is to the detriment of development and participation. There are also many other ways to promote competitive balance.
When signing up for youth tournaments there can be different levels of competition of which to participate (A, B, and C or highly competitive, competitive, recreational, etc…) or tournaments based on school size (large school and small school divisions) which would not involve rankings. Also, youth basketball associations have become heavily reliant on outside tournament organizations to run and organize tournaments due to organizational ease. We recommend supplementing a few of these tournaments with “jamborees” by inviting two similar sized or competitive teams to your school and playing two games on a Saturday morning. Parents and kids love it because there are less negative parental and coaching behavior concerns related to outcomes, they do not consume a full day, are cost-effective and easy to organize, and are competitive and developmentally based.
If your youth association does make the decision to participate in a youth State Tournament remind your coaches and parents that it is not a true State Championship, has limited bearing on future success, and we are emphasizing great effort, improvement, our core values, and fun over winning a youth tournament. This should lead to a positive experience for all involved and greater long-term success.
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