LeBron James Thinks Youth Basketball Asks “Too Much” Of Kids; He’s Right, And It’s A Problem

LeBron James thinks high level youth basketball with the excessive tournaments and games asks too much of kids, and he’s right. LeBron has first-hand experience as a player that came up through the high level AAU circuit and as the father of two sons that play high-level youth basketball.

I think it’s too much,” James said. “I think it’s too many tournaments being played throughout the full year and not allowing these kids to recover.”

LeBron James: Youth Basketball Plays Too Many Tournaments

This society is constantly pushing the messaging of more. More specialization. More games. More everything. But sometimes, and especially in this instance, less is more.

Players that enter the NBA nowadays have too many miles on their bodies as is. AAU tournaments produce as many as six games in a 48– to 72-hour window. That amount of impact and physical stress is not good on developing bodies.

The sports science is out there, and the information is available for the adults that run these leagues to do the right thing by these young athletes. Allow them to play games, as it’s a necessary part of their development. But also allow them to recover and skill train.

American author David Epstein in his books “RANGE: Why Generalists Triumph In A Specialized World” and “The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance” tackles this issue through the context of sport specialization. 

Becoming a professional basketball player is extremely difficult, let alone playing in the NBA. Playing high level competitive basketball from the age of 6 onward exclusively will not guarantee that you make it.

The Problem With Youth Sports 

But the problem is the adults in these young athletes’ lives are convinced they can turn their kid into the next superstar.

The belief is that you need to dedicate yourself solely to the pursuit of this goal and develop this skill at the exclusion of just about everything else. If you hesitate, you’ll never catch up to the people who got a head start. But if you look closely closely at research on the world’s top performers, from professional athletes, it shows that early specialization is the exception, not the rule.

Yet, despite the evidence to the contrary, parents and kids extend themselves to feed into this culture, often to unsatisfying ends. Kids get injured and are burnt out from the sport. They don’t find joy, which is essential if you’re going to pursue it at the highest levels.

It will likely take a pro athlete the magnitude of LeBron with kids that play at the AAU level to champion a new way of thinking and developing the next generation of players.

Less tournaments, less year-round specialization and more opportunities to facilitate development and growth through other sports.

Money-Driven AAU Basketball Hurting Youth Sports

Of course, the problem is AAU basketball is now about dollars and less about development and enjoyment. The continued professionalization of sports at every level is a genie that we can’t put back in a bottle.

While money changes hands and more and more tournaments emerge, the only people that don’t seem to truly benefit are the ones these games and leagues exist for. The kids.

Back to top