October 21, 2010 • Coaching

Select Team Coaches Vs. High School Coaches

Katy, bar the door — this subject hits a raw nerve.

There’s a cold war going on right now in amateur athletics. On one side are the high school coaches across the nation. The other side of the skirmish is comprised of the individuals who coach select teams (also called “travel teams”), of various sports and who participate in local leagues, showcase events and national tournaments.

Caught somewhat in the middle are college coaches (who see the benefits of maintaining strong relationships with both sides), the parents of the participating players who want to do what’s in the best interest of their child and, of course, the young athletes themselves.

This ongoing feud reaches its zenith with high-school age teams and crosses the boundaries of all sports. Basketball comprises the most well-known and open feud, as high school coaches and “summer coaches” often bitterly complain about one another. But this battle is not exclusive to hoops, as more and more, this rivalry is reaching into the world of volleyball, soccer and individual sports with regularity. In fact, Jay Martin, head soccer coach at Ohio Wesleyan University, touches on this subject and its ramifications on the game of soccer in the October 2009 issue of Coach & Athletic Director (see pages 48-51).

The reasoning behind this tug-of-war over high-school age athletes is wide-ranging — from college scholarships being on the line, to pure ego, deception, money, outside influences from corporate sponsors and more. It also is a relatively new phenomenon, perhaps only truly surfacing in amateur athletics during the last 10 to 15 years or so. But it’s getting worse over time. And proponents on both sides are becoming more vocal.

High school coaches argue that athletes who compete on select teams are being harmed because they are spending too much time on game competition and not working on their sport’s fundamentals. There’s an oft-mentioned phrase in coaching circles that says, “Today’s players are playing games — not working on their game.”

Many coaches point to this system and the lack of fundamental training it provides as the reasoning behind why the world, particularly Europe, has caught up to the United States in basketball during the last 15 years, and why the U.S. remains far behind in soccer.

Mike Ketchel, a basketball coach and recruiting consultant in California, sees the travel team situation as spiraling out of control. “One select-team basketball coach I know was so obsessed with racking up wins this summer that he would often book two tournaments in a weekend, sometimes as many as a 100 miles apart,” he says. “And the funny thing is, the parents bought into this craziness, finishing two games in one location, then racing 90 minutes to a different tournament in another location.

“By summer’s end, his team had played over 70 games, which is just insane,” Ketchel said.

I recently fielded a call from a girl’s select team basketball coach in Indiana who had just finished his summer-league season. He was looking for instructional coaching materials and during the course of the discussion he informed me that his girls team traveled the country, played in top tournaments, came back to Indiana and went 22-0 in local events. I congratulated him and asked about his relationship with the local high school coach. He laughed loudly and said that the local high school coach doesn’t recognize his team’s success and isn’t open to his suggestions about adapting his team’s style of play. He said that the high school coach is arrogant and doesn’t listen.

“That’s why they’ll go .500 next year,” he told me.

A high school basketball coach in South Carolina recently told me, “In my area, there are far too many travel-team coaches who are in it for themselves and not for the players. These so-called coaches basically use these kids for their own glory. And if a player doesn’t pan out like they expect them to, they’ll dump them into the street like garbage.”

Chime In On This Topic:

So what do you think? Do you have a horror story about the local select-team coach? Or do you have a terrific working relationship with your area’s travel team that has benefited your high school program? Is there a solution to this problem?

Coach & Athletic Director wants to delve deeper into the “High School Sports Vs. Select Team Sports” issue and we want your input.

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One thought on “Select Team Coaches Vs. High School Coaches”

  1. “his girls team traveled the country, played in top tournaments, came back to Indiana and went 22-0 in local events”

    I guess the question is: So what? We’re told endlessly that these progranms aren’t about winning, but it’s clear that most of them are ego and financial projects for the coaches. How many of those players are better off for having spent the time and money on that travel team at an age where they probably should be developing many other aspects of their character? Travel is great, but these teams aren’t traveling for the benefits of travel. Hotels and sports fields are the virtually the same everywhere. We don’t know, but that high school coach may have very good reasons for rejecting the egotist’s methods. Or maybe not. But quoting a W-L record doesn’t prove anything.

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