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When Should Your Child Begin Playing Basketball?

Published: 2021-01-25
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John Abreu, owner of Hoop Dreams of America, joined SportsEdTV’s Mark Strickland and Jaki Goldner to discuss when children should begin playing basketball. In this discussion, both John and Mark share their parental and coaching advice on how to introduce basketball to your child and what to work on when you do.


SportsEdTV: How did you introduce basketball to your children?

John Abreu: You know, for myself, I've always felt since I was a young kid, I've always had an entrepreneurial spirit. My dad is an entrepreneur and we came away from the Dominican Republic at a very young age, first generation Dominican's. My dad always taught me to do what you love and work hard doing it. And growing up, I always thought I would be in the finance industry, always within the banking industry. I went to school for that. I was successful in that. But I never really fulfilled myself from what it is I wanted to do. I always felt like if my life was in somebody else's hands and at any moment that they didn't like me for whatever reason or they're making changes, you know. Now what? Eventually I fell into that. I fell into that in the banking world where there's always a lot of flip flop, you have good times, you have your bad times. I was a top producer where I was at, and when that happened to me, I said to myself, I mean, this isn't fair and I never want this to happen to me again. So for me, I took that as an opportunity to figure out what it is I wanted to do and what direction I wanted to go in. Since I was a kid, I had a passion for basketball. I've always had a passion for kids. And, you know, when opportunity came together and presented itself, you know, just it was a perfect time for me to kind of organize it, get it going, and now put it in a way for kids to be that opportunity to play around here.

I wanted to get a whole crop of kids, especially younger kids, and from a young age to not only learn the game of basketball, but the opportunities it presents throughout your life. I can say the majority of the people in my life I've met through basketball. I feel like basketball is just one of those things that everybody really has a love for it, whether you play or just watch. But it's something you appreciate, you know, and when we play together, when you put these kids in a position to do these different things that I have myself marked by different coaches that we're so passionate about, and we put it together for them to see them now start doing those things is very fulfilling for me.

I look at someone like Mark with all the experience in the world and I see the knowledge that he's giving to the kids that I have. And they're just absorbing it like, “Man like this is incredible.” And they have no idea yet how much further life is going to take them. Even if they don't continue playing basketball, those principles and fundamentals that you need to play basketball to really translate for a long way of life.


SportsEdTV: How do parents identify that basketball is the right sport for their child?

John Abreu: You can see it right away. You can see it right away. You can see the kids who you ask to do something and they're one thousand percent. You also have the kid that's there because their dad just wants to get them out of the house, get them off fortnight, get them off the computer. And you have to really find that common ground and say, “Hey, listen, I know right now you don't really want to be here and want to do this. But let me make this as engaging, as fun for you.”


SportsEdTV: Mark, being an NBA player, have you pushed your daughter, or has your daughter pushed herself towards basketball?

Mark Strickland: No! She's a girly girl, she’s going to do horseback riding. She has been asking about tennis lately. I don't think sports is going to be her thing.



SportsEdTV: When should a child make the jump to professional training?

John Abreu: You know, growing up, we started playing on a basketball team when we were like nine and 10 years old.

Today, if you start at 9 or 10 years old, you're way behind the eight ball. So it's one of those things that we have kids as young as three and four years old now. And whether they could do a lot of things or not, that's not something to be overly concerned about. You just really want to teach in the game so that when they are of age of competition,  that they're ready to go. There’s no denying it -- it's crazy how much younger that that curve has gotten.


SportsEdTV: What do you work on with 3-4 year olds given they are not physically ready for the full game of basketball?

John Abreu: A lot of it is just teaching them the way this works. The stretching, the conditioning, the formality of the way it is as they progress and do those things better. You know, you keep adding more and adding more. But for the most part, you just want to teach them how it works. You come in, you stretch up, we do a little conditioning to get our body going. After we do conditioning, we do our dribbling because we want to make sure our handles are good and working on catching, and then shooting towards the end. At the very beginning, it's always dribble, cut and make sure you know how to run, run forward and backward from side to side and those little things that help them when they really start playing.


SportsEdTV: How much do you work on with a child that can’t hit the rim when shooting?

John Abreu: I always start with the basket really, really low for them. Really. If they can’t reach, you don't even have to bother with the basket. I just do a lot of ball handling, a lot of catch and stuff. Usually by five years old they're already hitting eight and a half feet. They're already getting it up there consistently. My daughter turns six next week and she can already hit ten feet. Yeah. So it's one of those things that if you teach them right from the start, there's only a matter of time before they start getting that power to really get it up. You work from the inside out.


SportsEdTV: When should a child start playing competitive basketball?

John Abreu: You know, it varies. But for the most part, again, we started with 10, 11 years old. Now there's leagues as young as five year old, you know. So it's one of those things that even a five year old, you're doing recreational leagues that, to be honest, are a lot more competitive than some of the older leagues because of the way the parents get into it and the energy that's behind those kids playing, it turns out to be really competitive.


SportsEdTV: What are some tips you have from parents to cut to kind of manage their involvement?

John Abreu: You know, being that we're Hispanic, we're already fired up people. We're energetic people. You go to a baseball game with the Domincan Republic and it's a party. And it's no different when you come to a basketball game over here or anything like that. The parents, the aunts, the uncles, everybody's in it at the beginning. It's cool. You want your parents involved. But it becomes a point where it's too involved and now it's interfering. I've always told parents that it's very difficult for us to be successful if you're sending one message and we're sending another. 

And that's what you have, your issues. That's what we try to have in a conversation like, “Hey, listen, we know what you want. You know what you want. We have to meet us. We have to meet in the middle and figure out that when he's here, he's ours. No, he's out of here. You can coach him. You can help him. You can do what you've got to do, aligned with the message that we're trying to send.” Because more often than not, we've had kids in our program for five, six, seven years. But their kids, their heads get so big because of what their parents are feeding them that it just kind of crashes and burns. And the kid loses his passion for basketball. That's what we always try to avoid.



SportsEdTV: What are some other consequences of over involved parents in basketball?

John Abreu: It's talking about being disrespectful to not only the game, but to the coach as well. I've had players in the middle of the games curse out their dads and stands. Well, you know, and that's ugly. You always try to avoid that. But you also have to understand that you don't know what's going on when they're not around you. You have an idea because you hear the dad screaming, “Don't pass it.” You know, all that stuff. And what we've seen throughout the years is just that.

I think the reason that we're successful as long as we have been is because we always have open communication with our families. You know, I think anybody you can ask is part of our program that has an issue, a question, or they don't know what necessarily the role of the kid is on the team. They can speak to myself or any of our coaches. We have no problem making sure that you are clear on what we want and we are clear what you want for your kid. At the end of the day, our goal for the kid is for them to be successful in life through basketball.  I would love for these kids to make the high school teams. I would love for this gift to get college scholarships. I would love for them to make the NBA. But the fact of the matter is, the further along you get, the slimmer the chances get and you have to be prepared for what's next. And that's what I try to tell the kids and I try to instill in the kids. We're just we're playing ball. But this is a lot more than that. This teaches you life. This teaches you friendship. Relationships teach you how to communicate, how to be a team player. Because at the end of the day, no matter what you do in life, if you're not a team player, really willing to have that type of teammate relationship with your people, then you're not going to be successful.