Get Active: Basketball
By: Bonnie Schiedel
Basketball seems like it's everywhere: in the school gym, in the park, in the neighborhood driveways and certainly on TV for much of the year. And it's not surprising that kids and parents both love the game. It's fast-paced and fun, and supertall NBA and WNBA stars seem like superheros to many pint-sized kids. Here's what you need to know if your child has hoop dreams.
Know the benefits. Physical fitness is the number one benefit, according to parents and coaches. Lots of running and jumping is the name of the game, which means that basketball helps kids build speed, strength and cardiovascular health, not to mention burn calories. Working as a team and striving for the same goal is an important life skill too, notes Mark Tilker, president of the Beaumont Little Dribblers basketball league in Beaumont, TX. "Plus, when a kid makes a basket, it's the greatest thing in the world to him," he adds. "It's such a confidence builder. The kids don't care about the score." The social aspect is key too, says Ken Hiebert, whose daughter Maggie, 12, as well as her older sisters, Chelsey and Deanna, have played in the Winnipeg Minor Basketball Association for two years. "They've met some really great kids."
Keep in mind. Basketball isn't the sole territory of tweens and teens, but it's important for parents to remember that the physical skills, such as consistent dribbling and shooting, and the mental skills, like remembering and executing plays, are beyond a lot of younger kids, cautions Kevin DeVries, recreation coordinator and youth basketball coach for the city of Mitchell, SD. "The fun has to be there," he says. "That's what keeps them coming back."Still, there are lots of programs geared to younger children that teach them the basic skills in a fun and social way. Different leagues have different approaches when it comes to the height of the basket, the size of the ball and the length of the quarters. For example, in Tilker's league, the 6- to-7-year olds have an 8.5 foot goal, use junior-size (27.5 inch) balls and have 6-minute quarters.
Choose an approach. One of the great things about basketball is that you can play at a number of different levels, ranging from pick-up games at the neighbors or at the park, to school gym class, after-school programs, and community leagues. Most of the time, especially for kids under 12 or so, the programs are about having fun and learning fundamentals, rather than serious competition. Competitive leagues have tryouts, and rec leagues may or may not. Before you choose a program, ask the coaches and directors about the goals and philosophy of the group. Most rec leagues have a policy that every child plays for at least half the game, and usually closer to three quarters. "In our league, every player has to play an equal amount of time. The game stops every 5 minutes for a complete rotation," says Hiebert. Inquire about the coach's training too-completing a program such as one offered by the National Youth Coach Sports Association is great (but certainly not essential). Many programs also have the kids play all positions at some point during the season so the kids have a chance to try them all. Finally, consider what kind of time commitment works for your family. Chelsea's team practices for an hour and a half once a week and plays on weekends, where as the Mitchell after-school program runs three or four days a week for 60 to 90 minutes at a time.
Be safe. Shoes are the most important-and pretty much only!-piece of equipment. "You don't need the fancy $165 shoes," says Tilker. Regular basketball shoes (often ranging from $40-60) are just fine. Basketball shoes are best because they offer stability and shock absorption. The gyms will likely require shoes with non-marking soles too. Have your child remove jewelry before playing, and make sure she drinks enough water. If possible, play only at gyms that have hardwood floors, rather than tiled floors, as hardwood is easier on the joints and offers a softer landing during wipeouts. To prevent injury, the kids should warm up (likely with drills) before playing.
Keep the fun going. If your kids are really basketball-crazy, go with it!
- Hit the library to find basketball-themed books, like Salt in His Shoes: Michael Jordan in Pursuit of a Dream (by Michael Jordan's mom and sister!), Last Shot or Hoop Kings: Poems
- Check out weekend and school break clinics in your area. And think ahead about summer camps and use Kaboose's CampSearch.
- Head to a sporting goods store to find out how to set up a proper court at home. For little ones, try indoor basketball.
- Rent Glory Road (read our review).
- Make a yummy basketball cake!
- Sit down with your kids and visit NBA/WNBA site for kids for the latest stats, highlights, interviews and fun stuff like contests, or the National Collegiate Athletic Association Kids Club for video clips, screensavers and drills.
- Find out how to be one of the three million kids how take part in a national free throw contest.
- And of course, don't miss Kaboose's great lineup of online basketball games!