At the heart of grass root’s programs is Youth Development. Youth development involves the focus of resources on the progression of individuals and the fulfilment of their potential. It is true that not every player will have the desire to play at the highest levels of the sport because of the commitment and sacrifice required. However, what is required is for each individual player to be given the best possible opportunity to succeed and at the very least fulfil their potential to become whatever they choose to be.
The first common mistake seen around youth development is the lack of commitment to seeing the process fulfilled. It is often the case that clubs, association, schools and colleges fail to implement a youth development program in full. These plans sometimes involve the input of senior coaches and in some instances resources such as consultants are brought in to assist with the initial planning. All of this is directed with the best possible intentions, but the final result is many of the plans are often not implemented so the planning for the better part has been an effort in vain.
Another common problem seen in youth development programs is the inability to recruit and then consolidate good coaches, administrators and other support staff. It is often undervalued the contribution that staff can have upon a program or that customers (players and parents) cannot see when there is a weak link in the service chain. It is important that while not always possible initially with a programs launch, but over time that the right people are put into the right spots within the programs operational staff.
These individuals then need to be valued and rewarded with any number of different benefits or acknowledgements on a regular and constant basis. Once a year is not good enough even for volunteers…
A challenge for many youth development programs is their ability to link all activities together. Often the services and products on offer do mesh well together and because of this gaps appear in what is the final service provided to the individual player. When starting out with the planning and implementation of a program all age groups and both genders need to be considered. It is important that there is a seamless transition from one end of the program to the other with each level offering something more than the last and providing a gradual, but continuous player development cycle.
Youth development is more than the just what happens on the court and another challenge commonly seen in programs is the ability to pull complementary services together for the greatest benefit. The positives of having elements such as strength and conditioning, sports psychology, nutrition and sports medicine are well documented. These services can help prevent injury and reduce the time players spend on the sideline because of these scenarios. Having the foresight to develop relationships within these fields, weave them into a youth development a program and then look to get more from these areas is an issue commonly seen in a vast majority of programs.
Youth development requires all age groups to be developed in a consistent theme. May organisations tend to focus on specific age groups, for example, they will focus on the top age groups if working in a system which operates like U/12, U/14, U/16 and U/18. Nevertheless, for effective youth development to happen all players, even those in lower divisions, and the bottom age groups from the example provided above need to be catered for. This means adequate resources, not only good coaches and access to supplementary services or youth development activities need to be provided.
There are many examples of late developing players who have not seen top division play coming on late in the player development cycle only to become elite or highly performing players in a variety of contexts.
The final point of note is that for any program to improve or to stay relevant for to its members it must undertake a regular cycle of evaluation and review. This means that each year at the very least (best practice would dictate after each youth development program phase is completed such as pre-season, competition phase or post season and off season) all of the programs activities and results need to be laid out and revisited to see if there are any possible improvements. This of course should be undertaken by a range of individuals involved directly, indirectly and independent of the program for the best scope to the evaluation.
Youth development for many programs is a must, it is a way of life for the program to exist and compete on a day to day basis in the basketball landscape. Very few programs can just ignore the elements discussed above in regards to youth development. There are however many different ways in which programs can be put together to achieve the goals and objectives outlined in that organisations charter. The importance when evaluating youth development should always be athlete centred, effective, and efficient use of resources.