Selecting a grassroots team shouldn’t be terribly difficult or time-consuming, but it is something I think prospects / families take for granted more often than not. A lot of the time the decisions are made quickly based on emotions, friends,…
Selecting a grassroots team shouldn’t be terribly difficult or time-consuming, but it is something I think prospects / families take for granted more often than not. A lot of the time the decisions are made quickly based on emotions, friends, expenses, where the team is travelling to, or even gear. Those are all definitely things to consider in making a decision, but none of them should be the sole deciding factor.
Having been both a high school and a grassroots coach, I’ve seen obvious differences in each season, but grassroots basketball can provide much more exposure from colleges based simply on the fact that you can play in a local tournament and have several Midwestern colleges there to see you, even if they didn’t come specifically to see YOU. A lot of them are unlikely to travel to your school just to see a kid or two, unless those kids are “priority” prospects.
As a grassroots coach, I’ve coached teams I built from scratch, teams that were a part of a non-shoe company program, and teams which were a part of a shoe company program. I’ve spoken on this topic at camps and fall leagues, and I hope to offer a unique perspective in this article as to things you should consider when selecting your next team. A lot of this isn’t complicated and doesn’t take a massive explanation, but they are things I think we just skip over because they aren’t complicated.
What is your goal?
The first thing you need to do when selecting a grassroots team is to figure out what your specific goal is for the Spring & Summer months. Prioritize at least these three things…skill development, exposure, and winning. There are definitely more items to consider, but those are three primary things to consider, so be honest with yourself when it comes to what is important to you. There are no right or wrong answers to that; everyone has a different purpose for the use of grassroots basketball.
If Skill Development Is Your Priority
If your primary focus for the Summer months are working to develop your skillset and understanding of the game, then you need to sacrifice some things and find a coach with a proven track record of developing players. It’s great to have a personal trainer, and those guys do a good job of developing your handle, your shot, and even your quickness / explosiveness. But let me ask you this…how much time have you put into your passing? Your on-ball defense? Your ability to see and read situational basketball in a 5-on-5 setting? Those things are tremendously important as well, and they’re missed a lot of times because kids don’t play in the park or in someone’s driveway anymore. Even the under-skilled kids back in the day still had a general feel for the game.
Look for a grassroots coach who has spent some time in a structured environment and understands an offense, not just a handful of sets they pulled off the internet. Find a coach who has been on a high school or college staff, maybe someone who has even played at the collegiate level. If you truly believe that developing your game is the primary reason for participation, then you need to put yourself with someone who is going to teach you and coach you in game situations, not just organize a group of talented players and babysit.
If Exposure Is Your Priority
This topic is incredibly layered, so I will do my best to hit on everything. Let’s be honest…most of the kids playing grassroots basketball today are primarily concerned with their exposure to college coaches. But if you make the wrong decision in selecting a team, you can (cue the cliché) absolutely get exposed. Increasing your exposure is a perfectly good reason to play grassroots basketball, in fact, it’s pretty much the main reason. There are, however, a lot of things to consider in selecting said team.
The first thing to consider is what your role might be with a team, and are you satisfied with that role? You can’t select a team and all along say you’re okay playing 10-15 minutes a game, then get mad after a tournament because you only played 12 minutes per game. How is that fair to the team or the coach when you agreed to that situation from the outset? Make sure you really are okay with whatever role they have designated for you.
The next thing to consider is where you will be playing. Like in business, location, location, location is extremely important. If you are getting recruited by Midwestern small colleges, or if you have no desire to play that far from home, then why join a team that travels all over the country during “live” weekends, where schools who are genuinely recruiting you won’t attend those tournaments? And let’s be honest, this article isn’t for the top-tier kid who is getting nonstop, high-major interest. They are fine travelling around the country, because people are chasing them. Be very clear…there are a lot less prospects being chased by schools than there are prospects doing the chasing of a college roster spot. Make it easy to be “found”, but most importantly, just make sure you are playing in front of the crowds of coaches who are actually going to recruit you.
Another exposure topic to consider is how hard your coach is working to help you. I hear a lot of grassroots coaches sell you on how hard they work for their kids. I see it on social media, I hear it come out of their mouths, and I see & hear prospects and their families repeat it back. Then I talk to college coaches. Some grassroots coaches are 100% on the money and DO work for their kids, while others have not taken the time to contact as many college coaches as they claim they have. SEVERAL Indiana small college coaches have expressed they don’t have any relationship (or a very minimal relationship) with a few of the Indiana grassroots coaches. Some of that is on the college staff, I agree, but if your grassroots coach is claiming to promote their players, make sure they really are.
Additionally, if a grassroots coach recruiting you to their program is trying to namedrop to impress you by claiming to “know” a college coach, then I would recommend asking to see that college coach’s number in their contacts. Ask the grassroots coach to send a general text saying, “Hey Coach, how are you?” If the college coach responds with, “What’s up, Coach B?”, or whatever, then they do probably have a solid relationship with them. If the college coach responds with, “Who is this?”, doesn’t respond, or the grassroots coach doesn’t even have that college coach in their contacts, then I’m betting they don’t know the college coach as well as they claim.
If Winning Is Your Priority
If your primary desire is to be on a grassroots team to achieve success on the scoreboard, then you have to be willing to sacrifice a little bit in terms of maybe playing time, role, or a lack of exposure caused by those things. To some degree, with all of the showcases, and pool play, and knowing you have five games in a weekend no matter what, grassroots basketball has desensitized winning quite a bit. It’s refreshing if you are that kid who wants to help their team win above all other motivations in grassroots basketball, because it’s incredibly rare. It’s not hard to research and find a team / coach who has had past success. Believe me, they typically let you know how successful they’ve been. I would just caution that you look into which tournaments they are winning and make sure it isn’t something small-time which no college coaches attend. There are a lot of “National Championships” these days, but if there are seven “National Championship” tournaments on the same weekend, how in the world are each of them really determining a valid National Champion? Did teams have to qualify to attend, or was it open registration for any team who had their $700 to pay the entry fee? If you aren’t sure about the quality of competition they are playing or tournaments they are winning, make sure to do your research.
One last thing I wanted to mention in closing, and I addressed this briefly in a previous article, is what I like to call grassroots “free agency”. Don’t be that prospect who switches teams three times in one Summer, or even switch teams every Summer for that matter. I understand circumstances change and there are exceptions, but if it’s every single year consistently, college coaches see that and it throws up red flags. Transfers in college, especially grad transfers, are becoming an epidemic, and they want to recruit kids who they trust will work hard for them for four years and not bail at the slightest bit of adversity, or look for the next big thing to come along while they’re already on a college roster. They want to see if you’re tough enough to fight through adversity, not run from it. I can’t stress enough how critical it is to show loyalty and toughness to college coaches these days. There is so much less of it anymore, that someone who displays those characteristics is a breath of fresh air to a college recruiter.
Header photo of Vanessa Shafford of Linton-Stockton High School. Photo courtesy of the Indiana Elite WBB Twitter account.