• Ian Stacker

Some thoughts on representative basketball

It’s been a crazy few weeks with the AFL trade period but it’s also been pretty crazy in junior basketball here in Victoria. Most VJBL teams have been having trials for their representative teams for the 2017 Championship season.

You could be forgiven for thinking there was some sort of State wide triathlon going on with pretty much every teenage basketball player having a black texta number on their arm, legs or both to help the club coaches identify the best talent trying out for their club.

There was once a time when representative basketball was played between the best players from the domestic club competitions of each association. So if you played in the Melbourne East Basketball Association domestic competition, you would try out for the Spectres representative team. Back when I coached the under 18 spectres we had two teams in the under 18 age group, one called Nunawading and the other Box Hill. The second team was made up predominately of bottom age players in their first year in the age group. If you didn’t make the first or second team, then you weren’t deemed good enough to play rep ball and were encouraged to try again next year.

The Melbourne Tigers were the only exception to this format as they didn’t have a domestic competition, and as far as I know they still don’t. They generally got their talent from the other associations. This has long been a bone of contention for their rivals and a key reason why the new NBL franchise, Melbourne United, wanted to disassociate their name with the Tigers.

These days the VJBL has a participation focus as well as elite play so it is not unusual for associations to field up to six teams in each age group. Dandenong alone had over six hundred players trying out for the right to represent the Nongers in the VJBL.

While it is great that so many players are getting the experience of competing in a competition each Friday night it is a bit of a stretch to say they are playing true representative basketball, long considered the elite level of play in Victoria and Australia. If a player isn’t playing at the Victorian Championship (VC) level, then trying to get to that level is their first step in being among the best young players in the Country.

Most clubs announced their teams last week and it was not surprising that there were many disappointed parents and players with some of the selections. Now I’m not really talking about any particular parent or player here because I have had discussions with many parents and players. Not only this week but often regarding where their kids are going with their basketball.

I fear everyone now is looking for the quick fix…if they can’t make it at one club then they will quickly look to move to another where the coach is more likely to “like” them and give them a fairer go. The VJBL off season has become a crazed scramble of players looking to move clubs in search of a fresh opportunity rather than meeting the challenge of making it work with their current team.

The areas of most concern to me is the number of times the conversation starts with the “coach being a problem” or “the coach not being very good” or “the coach not giving them a fair go”. I’m not saying that at times the coaching fraternity could do a better job but I am certain that the problem is not always the coach. I believe one of the best lessons a parent can give to their child, or a player can learn about the highs and lows of basketball, is to be accountable for the results that come their way. Any junior player has time to improve, time to develop their game and time to be the best they can be. However, if they are learning that the first person to blame when things don’t go well are the coaches, then Houston we have a problem.

With consistency, it is those who just misses out on the team they wanted to make, who blame the coach rather than themselves. Could they have tried a little harder? Competed a bit better? Followed instructions with more consistency? Worked on their own development more by practising more at home? Fooled around a little less at practise? Been more reliable and accountable? These are often the deciding factors when team selections are made, If the perception is that a coach doesn’t like a player, it is more likely that the coach doesn’t like one of the above characteristics of the player rather than the actual personality of the player. After all, most coaches are trying to win.

The advice I usually give to players and parents is to stick it out at the club they are currently with, that is of course unless they have already put the wheels in process to make the change. If they stick to where they are, work on their game and get so good that they will be selected the next time then that is a far better life lesson to learn than to change when things aren’t going well for you. Clubs also tend to be loyal to players who show them some loyalty and stick it out. I believe the Bulleen Boomers have a policy of sticking to their own players when it is close between an import player (someone who is changing clubs) and their own players, I think that is a great policy.

There is no doubt that at times players need to change clubs if it isn’t working but that should be the last resort not the first. Coaches give up so much time to help players, often with little reward and little acknowledgment. They should be applauded for what they do, not be a scapegoat when a player hasn’t been able to rise to a higher level.

The VC competition is the best in the Country, I’m not sure the levels below it though demonstrate true representative basketball. They are part of the process but the reality is, for players below the VC level, they still have a long way to go to play in the best league in the Country. My advice is to listen to the coaches and do the work! It is the player who has the most control over how good they will be, not their coaches. Weathering the storm of a disappointing selection will make them stronger and better in the long run.

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