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With that number of teams in various regions around the country, we’ve seen it all and been through it all. At this point, I think it’s safe to say that we are experts in AAU basketball.
However, we completely understand that AAU basketball can be a confusing and tough landscape to figure out, much less to navigate.
As we say all the time, youth basketball is often disorganized, focused solely on winning, and generally, frustrating, but at Pro Skills Basketball, we strive to provide a more professional experience for parents, players and coaches—one focused on organized communication, fun, mutual respect, and personal growth—on and off the court.
In a similar vein, we want to break down AAU basketball for parents and players and help answer any questions you may have. To do that, we’ve broken this post up into 3 sections: beginner, intermediate, and advanced.
The AAU basketball for beginners section will answer the most common basic questions about AAU basketball, such as what it is, what it stands for, how to join a team, etc.
The next section, for parents and players with intermediate-level knowledge, will cover how to choose an AAU team in more detail.
The final section, which is for advanced-level parents and players who have years of AAU basketball under their belt, will delve into the question of traveling for AAU as well as how college basketball recruiting should fit into selecting an AAU basketball team or club.
Please feel free to skip ahead depending on your knowledge and experience!
Beginner Level: AAU Basketball Basics
Below are the top 9 most searched questions on the internet regarding “AAU basketball”.
#1 What is AAU basketball?
AAU basketball literally stands for Amateur Athletic Union (more in #2 below), but AAU basketball is a term typically used to refer to youth “club basketball” or “competitive basketball” or “travel basketball”. Although AAU is an actual organization/brand, AAU basketball is most often used to refer to one of the aforementioned phrases similarly to how Kleenex, an actual brand, is used as a catch-all phrase to mean tissues.
#2 What does AAU stand for?
AAU stands for Amateur Athletic Union. According to the AAU website, AAU is “one of the largest, non-profit, volunteer, multi-sport event organizations in the world, the AAU is dedicated exclusively to the promotion and development of amateur sports and physical fitness programs. The AAU philosophy of “Sports For All, Forever” is now shared by nearly 700,000 members and 150,000 volunteers across 41 sports programs and 55 U.S. districts.”
So again, AAU is an actual organization, but typically in the youth basketball space it is used as a catch-all term, like Kleenex and tissues, to refer to any competitive or club or travel basketball, whether they play in actual AAU tournaments or not.
#3 How to start an AAU basketball team?
Starting an AAU basketball team is very simple, especially when compared to other youth sports such as soccer where you need a license from the governing body. To start an actual AAU organization team, simply go to the actual AAU basketball website and follow the instructions.
To start an AAU basketball team, meaning just a competitive travel basketball team, all you have to do is get 8-10 players, a coach, pick a team name, buy some uniforms, and then enter a tournament. That’s it. You’re done.
However, while some might view the ease with which an individual can start an AAU basketball team a positive thing, there are many that believe this has a negative impact on youth basketball and the development of young players. Why? Well, because this means that any John Doe off the street can start and coach an AAU basketball team regardless of their experience or qualifications in coaching youth basketball.
#4 How to join an AAU basketball team?
The Amateur Athletic Union has a web page specifically to help parents and players find a local AAU basketball team, but keep in mind (again, referring back to answer #1) that many teams and organizations aren’t actually official AAU basketball teams or clubs, so they will not show up in those results.
Most teams are, instead, simply non-affiliated competitive or travel club teams or organizations, so with this in mind, a simple Google search for “AAU basketball team + [insert area or city]” will suffice.
Once you come across an AAU basketball team or club that seems to fit what you are looking for, you can try to contact them through the info listed on their website. A word of warning, however, is that AAU basketball is a historically unprofessional space, so it is often difficult to get a timely response to emails or phone calls.
#5 When does AAU basketball start?
The main AAU basketball season is typically the spring and early summer from about March through mid to late June for elementary and middle school players and March through July but off for June (for school basketball) for high schoolers.
AAU basketball is also played in the fall and winter, but these are just secondary seasons for elementary and middle schoolers as many play football in the fall and school basketball in the winter while high school player typically never play in the winter due to school basketball.
#6 Is AAU basketball worth it?
This is a very subjective question as it depends on what the parents and players are looking for. AAU basketball is a great tool for players to compete against the best competition around. In fact, you will not find any other competition better typically.
However, with that said, there are many questions that should be asked to figure out if AAU basketball is worth it for parents and players, including:
- Who is the coach? Is he or she experienced, qualified, and background checked?
- What is the cost? Are there any added costs such as travel?
- What are the team or organization’s values? Is this a good fit for our child/family?
- Is the team or club organized and communicative?
- What is the competition level?
- What is the practice and tournament schedule?
- Where are the practices and tournaments?
- Is anything else offered besides practices and tournaments?
- High school only: Do the help with college recruiting?
#7 Can you play AAU basketball as a senior?
Typically, the last “season” of AAU basketball is the spring and summer before a player’s senior year in high school. However, sometimes seniors are able to play on what is referred to as “unsigned senior” teams. These teams normally just play in the spring season of March through May.
#8 Does AAU basketball travel?
AAU basketball teams may or may not travel. It just depends on the team or club as travel is not a requirement to play AAU basketball. Often, AAU basketball teams do, in fact, travel, but many do not.
This is another strong opinion of many youth basketball experts today that it is a waste of time and money for young kids, especially elementary and middle school age, to travel as it takes away from time and money that could be spent on their skill or strength development.
For high school players, however, travel is often necessary for college recruiting purposes as there are only certain tournaments that are certified to allow college coaches to come to evaluate players there.
#9 How much does AAU basketball cost?
Costs for AAU basketball can vary wildly from being free to thousands of dollars. It all depends on the team and club, what they offer, the skill level of the player, the travel that the team does, and more.
Intermediate Level: 6 Things to Look at When Picking an AAU Basketball Team or Club
What are the team or organization’s values? Is this a good fit for our child/family? This is the most important thing to look at when choosing an AAU basketball team or club.
Are you looking for a team that doesn’t practice and just plays games? Are you looking for a team or club that focuses on teaching life lessons? Are they highly focused on winning, or is it more than that?
At PSB, we use basketball as a vehicle to teach life lessons and help kids be successful on and off the court. We aren’t a cut-throat, win-at-all-costs organization, but we’re also not recreational where everyone plays and gets a trophy.
We teach our core values of F.O.C.U.S as much as possible, which stands for Fun, Overcome, Compete, Unity, and Sacrifice.
Those are our values and there’s nothing that will sway us from them. If you play for PSB that is what you’re going to get. If you don’t agree with that, no problem – there are plenty of other teams and organizations out there!
Who is the coach? Is he or she experienced, qualified, and background checked? The coach is probably the 2nd most important piece of the equation because they are the ones that will typically dictate if a young player has a positive or negative experience.
This doesn’t mean you must know exactly who the coach is, but for instance, in the case of PSB, you must trust that the organization hires experienced and knowledgeable coaches.
We also run background checks on everyone, train them in child safety, and certify them as PSB coaches through online training.
So when picking an AAU basketball team, do you know who the coach is or do you trust the organization to give your team a great coach?
#3 Organization & Communication
Is the team or club organized and communicative? This seems simple but it’s actually very rare that this happens in youth basketball. Often times youth basketball can be extremely disorganized and frustrating for parents on the communicating and organization side of things.
How can you test this out? Email or call the team or club and see if and when you get a timely response!
#4 Practices & Tournaments
Competition in practices and games are a huge factor in youth basketball player’s development. So what is the competition level and how does your child fit in?
Does the team or club get extremely good players, mid-level, or recreational level players? Does your child get dominated or dominate? Or are they appropriately challenged?
Moreover, does the team or club even practice? Some teams don’t practice. They only play. At Pro Skills, our teams practice twice a week for 2-3 hours total depending on the grade.
Before you choose an AAU basketball team or club, ask what is the practice and tournament schedule? Where are the practices and tournaments?
#5 Other Benefits
For instance, at PSB we offer our players the opportunity to attend clinics, camps, and training as part of their team membership. We also often offer other things such as online shooting programs, recruiting guides, and discounts to outside vendors.
Considering all of the above, now we get to the cost of it all. Again, this often comes down to values. As a parent, do you believe youth sports can be a vehicle for your child to learn valuable lessons. In other words, is it an investment? And does everything the team or club offer make the investment worth it?
Or are you just looking to exchange x amount of money for y amount? Are there any added costs such as travel?
There is a saying that “price is only an issue in the absence of value”, so does the team or organization provide enough value for what you’re getting?
#7 Bonus: College Recruiting History, Expertise, and Guidance
This is for high school players only, especially the 10th and 11th graders. Does the team/club have a history of sending players to college? Are they knowledgeable on the subject? Do they help or provide guidance with the college recruiting process?
At Pro Skills Basketball for instance, we have always offered college recruitment guidance and our expertise to our players, and the numbers don’t lie. Since 2012, we’ve helped over 100 of our players go on to play college basketball.
And speaking of college basketball recruiting, that’s the next step for advanced AAU parents and players …
Advanced Level: 4 Ways AAU Basketball Teams & Coaches Can Help High School Players Get Recruited to Play College Basketball
Many players and parents mistakenly think that college basketball recruiting is just something that will “come to them” when the reality is that there are many factors that can influence it, and it is vital that players, parents, and AAU coaches are proactive about the process.
It should be said, however, that this is all assuming a player is actually good enough to play at the next level, be that DI, DII, DIII, or NAIA. If a player simply doesn’t have the skills, size, IQ, and/or athleticism there is no magic trick to fix this. Skill is king.
But assuming that a player does have the minimum level required to play basketball in college then there are certain things that an AAU basketball team and/or coach can do to help with that process.
# 1 Style of Play
Often times, style of play of an AAU basketball team is overlooked by players and parents, but it is a crucial part in showcasing the skills that translate to college.
For instance, if a team sits back in a 2-3 zone for the majority of their games, that is not a defense that many colleges play consistently. In college, they play situation 2-3 zone, but college coaches want to see man to man and if a player can guard in 1 on 1 matchups as well as team helpside situations.
Similarly, on offense, is the team’s entire offense focused on players just going 1 on 1? Or is there an actual offense with screening and passing and moving, etc? Simply going 1 on 1 doesn’t allow college coaches to evaluate players within a realistic college offense. They want to see if players can work within a team concept.
This is not to say that teams need to have advanced offenses, like the Princeton offense or Triangle offense, but it needs to be more than just 1 on 1 or constant fast breaks.
Putting players in somewhat realistic college offenses and defenses allows college basketball coaches to better evaluate players potential to play at the next level.
#2 Coaches Knowledge/Experience
Do your team coaches have knowledge of and/or experience with college basketball recruiting? Have they had alumni that went on to play in college in the past?
College recruiting is really about knowledge of the process and relationships with coaches. Both of these typically stem from coaches going through it themselves or having coaches players who went through the process.
The recruiting process is complicated because there are so many factors at play when recruiting a prospect, including grades, timing, NCAA rules, “fit”, etc.
Having coaches that are knowledgeable and experience who can help guide players and parents can oftentimes be the difference between playing in college or not.
#3 Showcase Tournament Schedule
While playing in showcase tournaments that are NCAA certified and with college coaches present is not a silver bullet, it is important. The fact of the matter is if a player doesn’t play in front of college coaches then it’s very difficult to be evaluated.
However, keep in mind that if a player plays poorly in front of coaches then that’s the evaluation that’s going to come out of that, so it can be a negative thing in some cases. But if a player is good enough and plays in enough showcase events then their true talent and skill will be showcased appropriately and one poor performance won’t matter.
Before committing to play for a high school AAU basketball team, make sure the schedule includes some showcase tournaments during NCAA “Live” periods when coaches can potentially come watch.
As mentioned multiple times, it’s super important for players, parents, and coaches to be proactive in the college basketball recruiting process. We’ve written a lot about how players can be proactive in the process, including how to email college coaches and how to create highlight videos, so here we’ll just talk about what coaches/clubs can do.
Historically, for PSB, helping our players with their college recruitment has been a largely manual, time-intensive process, including collecting player bios, making them look nice in PDF format, drafting emails, collecting and organizing college coach emails, etc. All of this on top of the phone calls that our coaches put into their players.
Thankfully, this year in 2020 we’re excited to be offering our HS player access to Sports Recruits, which is an online recruiting management platform. We’ll be able to get each one of our players and online profile that will be housed on our website and Sports Recruits does the work of keeping an updated email list of college coaches.
This will greatly help not only our players but also our coaches and leaders who advise players through the process.
Can you find a team or club that will work for your child?
AAU basketball is often a confusing and frustrating landscape, but we hope this article has illuminated it at least a little for you. While there may be some negatives to AAU, club basketball remains the best training ground for those players that want to take their games to the next level, whether that be middle school, high school, or college.
Moreover, it can be a great vehicle to teach tough life lessons to young players that may not be able to learn them anywhere else.
As we say at Pro Skills Basketball, we teach skills for basketball, skills for life, and skills for success.
Good luck in your search!