Can Certifying Coaches Fix Youth Basketball In America?

 Source: Basketball Insider interview With Joe Abunassar, Impact Basketball.

Earlier this month, Kobe Bryant made headlines when he said that European players are more skilled than American players, and he added that the cause of this was “horrible, terrible AAU basketball.” He said that European players are “taught the game the right away at an early age” whereas young American players “don’t know the fundamentals of the game.”

Bryant said that he was fortunate to grow up in Europe and added that he probably wouldn’t be the same player today if he hadn’t been raised overseas.

“It’s something we really have to fix,” Bryant told reporters. “We really have to address that. We have to teach our kids to play the right way.”

Basketball Insiders caught up with Joe Abunassar of Impact Basketball to get his take on these comments, and he agreed with Bryant to some extent.

Abunassar is a skill-development guru, who trains basketball players of all ages – from the youth players at Impact Academy to pros such as Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Chauncey Billups, John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Lowry, Rudy Gay, Serge Ibaka and Rashard Lewis. Impact Basketball has locations in Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Sarasota, and it has become a top training site for NBA players.

Abunassar agrees that young players need to spend less time playing games and more time developing their fundamentals.

“I think Kobe’s overall point is that fundamental skill development needs to improve with our youth in America, and I think that’s a really good point,” Abunassar told Basketball Insiders. “Nowadays, there are so many games – some are AAU and some aren’t AAU sanctioned – but there are so many opportunities for kids to play games. And with so many opportunities to play, kids are choosing to play rather than work on their game.

“Playing games is extremely important, but you have to train too. With our Impact Academy, we play 30 games, but then we train twice a day. Young players need more skill development and less games. I think Kobe was referring to the top players, and I think he’s saying [Americans] aren’t as fundamentally sound because of all the games they’re playing and I think that’s true.”

Abunassar has witnessed this lack of skill development firsthand. Every year, Abunassar trains a large group of NBA draft prospects as they go through the pre-draft process, and at times he is stunned that certain players (some of whom starred in college) still lack certain fundamentals.

“We’ve been preparing guys for the draft for years and we get these guys who have had really good college careers, but there’s still things they can’t do that we’re amazed by from a fundamental skill development standpoint,” he said. “I think Kobe had some valid points in saying that development needs to improve.”

Bryant didn’t exactly offer a solution beyond saying that players need to be taught the right way to play. Abunassar and Impact Basketball may have the answer though, as they are pushing to have youth coaches and trainers certified in skill development so that the next generation of basketball players are being trained the proper way and learning all of the fundamentals.

The certification program is an online course that features over 300 videos and offers guidance in on-court skill work, weight lifting, athletic training exercises, nutrition programs and year-long planning templates. This course is designed to help coaches and trainers improve their player development skills and ensure they have all of the resources they need to teach the fundamentals correctly and maximize their players’ potential.

“I’ve been developing players for almost 20 years and I think our program can be a solution to this,” Abunassar said. “When you walk into a gym for a youth game, most people’s first comment would be, ‘These kids need development.’ The strategies and plays may be good, but each kid should be able to do more and they would be able to do more if they were working on the right things and being developed properly. This certification allows a parent to make sure the coach that’s working with their children has the knowledge not only to call plays and game plan but also to develop players.

“We’re not trying to tell any coaches what to do with their offense or defense; we’re just telling them that their team will be better if they’re able to improve their players’ skills by going through our program. Even any NBA coach will tell you, if each of their individual players were to improve their skills and development, they’re going to have a better team – no matter what plays they’re running. It allows them to execute [the game plan] better. We’re trying to make sure that every coach or trainer has the right tools to allow the players to get better.”

Impact Basketball has had a ton of success reaching players of all ages and they have attracted teams from around the world because of their skill-development expertise. If youth coaches have their resources and implement them, kids could be better prepared. This could be the exact “fix” that Bryant was referring to.

“We’re attracting players of all ages and all abilities and we just make the players better,” Abunassar said. “When we send them off, they have a new-found appreciation of how to continue getting better and what they need to do. And that’s really what the course is about. It’s an opportunity for us to push out what we’re doing. If we can’t reach all of the players, maybe we can reach their coaches and improve the level of their training and development that way.”