By: Kayla Merriweather
For many young athletes, the AAU, or the Amateur Athletic Union, provides the opportunity to play sports at a competitive level. The AAU has various advantages, as it gives kids the opportunity to make new friends, learn more about the sport they like, and develop leadership skills. However, the purpose of AAU has become skewed, focusing more on the monetary benefits rather than character building.
AAU basketball has become more of a business than “[offering] amateur sports programs through a volunteer base for all people to have the physical, mental, and moral development of amateur athletes and to promote good sportsmanship and good citizenship,” as the mission statement promises. A prolific case of corruption is chronicled in the book “Play Their Hearts Out” by Pulitzer Prize winning author George Dohrmann, where the underbelly of grassroots youth basketball is exposed.
The novel recounts the story of Joe Keller, a former welder who developed a youth-basketball business, and his desire to find, promote, and profit from the next LeBron James. The book reveals a cutthroat world where boys as young as eight or nine are subjected to a dizzying torrent of scrutiny and exploitation. Although this is not case with every single AAU team, the escalation of greed has corrupted what is suppose to be an enriching and beneficial experience. Such an intense focus on making money or becoming famous has had negative results on players and their families.
Placing children in such a high-pressure environment, especially from a young age, limits their basketball development on multiple levels. First, the sheer dedication necessary to be considered successful can leave players injured, burnt out, or even incredibly stressed. In addition, the constant practices, games, and tournaments leaves youth little time to develop their actual basketball skills fundamentals. This is one of the primary reasons Kobe Bryant is vehemently against AAU.
“[AAU] doesn’t teach our kids how to play the game at all so you wind up having players that are big and they bring it up and they do all this fancy crap and they don’t know how to post. They don’t know the fundamentals of the game,” Bryant said. “I just think European players are just way more skillful. They are just taught the game the right way at an early age. They’re more skillful. It’s something we really have to fix. We have to teach our kids to play the right way.”
In addition, coaches don’t receive payment for coaching an AAU basketball team, so they find others way to exploit players in order to get money, reinforcing the business AAU basketball has become. AAU basketball has the potential to offer kids an opportunity to pursue their passion for sports by competing at a highly competitive level. If the program is more focused on the development of skills both on and off the court, children can be more successful in not only their sports-related endeavors, but also in other areas of life.