Better Basketball Through Vouchers

Short and TallIt’s not something we like to talk about. 

Still, painful truth is something of a specialty of mine, so let’s just put it on the table and let the full light of public scrutiny shine.

Our community basketball teams aren’t getting any better. Many of them are actually getting worse.

You know the ones – tournaments in community center gyms, shoddy uniforms and poorly paid coaches. While some teams seem to have actual game plans and even some scattered talent, others are just taking up court space and simply do not prepare players for a real college team – let alone playing professionally.

The fact that these so-called “leagues” are receiving public support is shameful – at least with results like these. So I have – as I always do – a plan.

First, we’re going to make these teams better by raising standards on these coaches and other organizers. I realize they barely make minimum wage trying to hold these leagues together, but then again they’re not really putting in the hours a real job would require, so I don’t know why they’re complaining. More rules, more verbal and bureaucratic abuse, and diminished status will definitely lead to a larger and more highly qualified pool of potential coaches and referees. 

Second, we’re going to raise standards and expectations on players as well. There’s no reason a child of 8-years old or more can’t make a free throw 4 times out of 5. In Finland, 6-year-olds are making 4.7 out of 5 easily. And seriously – you’re going to let a kid move up to the adult league at 16 without demonstrating he can consistently score on a simulated breakaway? Back in my day, we had standards! 

Honestly, I think teams these days are spending too much time on socialization, conditioning, and character-building. That win-loss record doesn’t have a column for ‘character’. Are we raising players or growing pansies here?

The biggest problem, of course, is a lack of player choice. Players are currently limited to the team in their neighborhood, at the nearest YMCA or other community center. Coaches no doubt love having a captive roster like this, so they don’t have to work at recruitment or become better coaches. Referees don’t have to become better referees. The players are trapped on failing teams in failing leagues. 

But there’s a better way. 

Players should be allowed to try out for any team they like. They can take the taxpayer dollars – THEIR dollars that THEY deserve because that’s why we pay taxes is so that individuals can spend it on whatever they like – to any team in the state and demand to be considered. 

It is, of course, up to the individual teams whether to take them or not. Obviously players looking for a better team are going to seek out, well…. better teams – and those teams don’t get better by taking just anyone who wanders in, the way those community teams do. They have standards - the kind community teams are prohibited by both law and personal ethics from having. So players can try out, and will be considered - if they’re good enough. Some will even be accepted!

Winning a spot doesn’t mean they're guaranteed that position for the season, of course. Most of these teams have limited locker-room space and if your performance falters, you’re gone – back to that local team that also has limited locker-room space but really just needs to suck it up and deal with it and stop being so wasteful with what they DO have. 

If the player does make a team, they’ll naturally need to buy their own uniforms. Those old t-shirts accepted by the YMCA team won’t cut it in a real league. They’ll need better shoes. A gym membership. A dietary specialist. And of course if it’s discovered along the way that they have a slight vision issue making it difficult for them to do a proper layup, or that asthma resurfaces, or they can’t make it to practice one day because of a crisis at home, they’re out.

Out as in “kicked off of the newer, better team,” I mean. They’ll naturally go back to their local community league where we’ll immediately begin blaming those coaches and organizers for not doing a better job with the player we've just dumped back on them because we're not really set up to deal with that kind of thing.  

Will this work? Of course it will. I know plenty of kids on elite basketball teams already, and they’re doing very well. Besides, sports are all about competition – just like ‘Merica! If more kids are encouraged to try out for a wider variety of teams, and those teams are partially compensated with community funds for skimming off the elite, that will make the community teams which are left with the rest – only now with less taxpayer resources - BETTER. That’s called healthy competition.

Basketball is important, so everyone must still be required to play. Those community leagues will still be expected to make quality players not only of all the kids who weren’t accepted elsewhere, but of those who hate sports to begin with and basketball in particular. They’ll be expected to make them taller, and thinner, and faster, and require them to “think like pros.” That’s the whole point of playing sports anyway, right? I don’t know why those people are so afraid of a little accountability. 

The community leagues, I mean – not the private teams. They can do whatever they like, because… freedom and small government.

From time to time it will be discovered that a player is far more interested in football, or hockey, or cheerleading, or joining the band, or even making the nachos at the concession stand. All of those things are fine – albeit it complete wastes of time if we’re going to compete with basketball teams from Finland – but will only be allowed if the student first proves themselves willing and capable on the court. Those are the standards we’ve decided should apply to absolutely everyone regardless of other issues, abilities, or circumstances. Unlike you, we beieve that every child is capable of dribbling. 

Already the community leagues are whining – especially the coaches, and even many of the refs. They don’t want their teams to be stacked up next to the private teams because they’re lazy liberals who hate America. 

But I just can’t see the problem. I know it will work because I played basketball and I made it onto a very elite team. I am, of course, wildly successful today doing things that have nothing to do with basketball – thus making me an expert on coaching and organizing a team, or even a league.

Besides, what could be more American than choice?

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