Basketball reigns as the #1 team sport in the U.S. According to the Aspen Institute, over 4 million kids ages 4-12 play basketball.
Due to the sports’ immense popularity, many people are wondering how to start a youth basketball team to grow the game in their area.
Starting a youth basketball team requires passion and dedication - and a ton of time. But the rewards of seeing young players improve skills and build confidence can make it all worthwhile. Follow these steps to get started!
Start a youth basketball team in 8 steps
- Choose the focus on your AAU program
- Build a brand
- Set up a website and online payments
- Form your firm AAU basketball team
- Secure a location
- Set up schedules
- Select events and calculate costs
- Promote your team
1. Choose the focus of your AAU program
When you first form a select basketball program, you probably have big ideas. You may dream of traveling across the country to compete in national events. Or you may want to build a competitive high school basketball program in your area by helping to develop players early.
Those long-range goals may take years to reach. At first, you need to make decisions about team or club structure.
If you plan to register with the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), you should know you’ll be setting up an AAU club. In the AAU structure, a club can consist of a single team or many teams. Note that there are three levels of AAU club membership that range from $30 to $300.
Also, you should know that there are other select basketball organizations besides AAU. You can look into the National Travel Basketball Association (NTBA) or regional travel leagues in your area.
You need to ask yourself some critical questions as well:
- Are we focusing on one age group or multiple?
- Are we offering both boys and girls basketball?
- What do we hope to achieve in three years, or five, or 10?
- Will your program be based in one community, or an entire region?
- Do I want this to be a volunteer run program? Or do I want to have part time employees coaching and running the teams?
These focusing questions and others will help you scope your initial efforts and plan for the future.
2. Build a build a brand
Get a high quality logo for your program. Nowadays you can get access to professional designers easily using services like Upwork or Freelancer.
Create an account and post a simple task for logo or branding creation, and you’ll get applications from designers to work on your logo for you. You can probably get a nice logo created for around $50.
A logo will go a long way toward establishing credibility for your club and getting interest from potential players.
3. Set up a website and online payments
When you’ve named an organization and created a logo, setting up a website for your basketball program can also be a simple process and will be a credibility builder for your new organization.
A website should serve as the central location to post information like rosters, coaching profiles, your Mission Statement, tryout information, Code of Conduct, and organization history. You should also use your website to register players for tryouts and collect club fees, post tournament schedules, and list event recaps.
As your program grows you can also list organization accomplishments - like tournaments won, college commitments, and academic achievements as your club progresses.
Depending on the software provider you choose for your program, you can also run online registration and communicate with parents through your website.
4. Form your first AAU basketball team
After you’ve established your initial focus, you are ready to form your first team. You’ll need to secure a coaching staff first.
Parents with high school or college playing experience or current high school players may make good coaches. If you can find like-minded parents that have experience playing or coaching, you might be able to build a coaching staff for your team quickly.
Once your coaching staff is in place, it’s time to select players. You’ll want to hold open tryouts to find the right mix of players and aim to recruit a few standouts. Try to work with the local high school programs or recreational youth programs to get the word out about your organization.
Getting your roster set is a huge step. Tell everyone to register for an AAU membership if you plan to participate in AAU basketball tournaments. Make sure your team is signed up with NTBA if you want to take part in that league’s events.
5. Secure a location
In choosing a practice location, put safety considerations first. The AAU facility checklist offers excellent tips, such as:
- Make sure the playing surface is in proper condition
- Ensure the playing area has proper markings
- Make sure lighting is adequate
- Ensure that facilities like bathrooms and locker rooms are in good condition
Often, secondary schools or recreation centers are good facility options. You’ll need to consider available space, times, and costs in selecting your practice venue.
6. Create a practice schedule and skill development strategy
Getting practices scheduled
Now you are ready to start holding practices. The advantage of having a select team is that you can choose practice times that work for everyone involved.
Keep in mind that youth basketball is a big commitment. And that youth athletes need time for rest between practices and games to avoid the risk of overuse injuries and burnout.
According to NBA youth basketball guidelines, players age 11 and under should have at least two rest days per week, with athletes age 12 to 18 needing at least one rest day. The NBA also recommends the following maximum weekly limits for young players:
Make sure not to overwork your players. Practice time should be limited to a couple of days per week, especially if they haven’t entered high school yet.
Creating a skill development strategy
Deciding what to focus on as a basketball coach depends a lot on the age and skill level of the team. Middle school players will focus much more on fundamentals. You’ll want each player to develop a wide range of skills regardless of their size or current position.
As players get more competitive at the high school level, coaches can spend less time on fundamentals and more time on in-game strategy. As skill level increases, you can also customize workouts to the particular player to help develop their position and skill set.
7. Select events and calculate costs
After you’ve established your team and practice schedule, you can start researching events. On the AAU website or Exposure Events, you can search by age, state, event type, and more.
Youth basketball tournaments take place across the United States, nearly every weekend of the year. However, you’re likely to want to stay closer to home during your first seasons of select basketball.
Keep in mind that tournament registration fees can add up quickly. And travel costs can add up for families too. According to cost data from The Aspen Institute, families spend on average over $1,000 per basketball season - more expensive than other popular sports like baseball and football. If your team can secure sponsorships, you may be lucky enough to lower the cost for families and help generate more interest in your organization.
8. Promote your team
Once you have an initial overview of the program you want to start you need to start promoting the new organization.
The easiest first step is to name the organization and create a social media page on either Facebook or Instagram. No need to try to do too much at first, just create a social media page for your teams and announce yourself to the world! You can post the initial goals of the organization and potential tryout dates, age groups, etc.
Start growing your basketball team
For many talented athletes, a select program is a better fit than rec basketball. If your community doesn’t yet have a select team, why not consider starting one? Elite teams help top players improve basketball skill levels and develop their talents.
Select basketball is a big commitment for parents, players, and coaches. But select teams offer young athletes a chance to compete at elite levels. And some tournaments offer exposure to college basketball recruiters. You can play a significant role in helping a gifted player maximize potential by starting a select basketball team.
Youth basketball team FAQ
Can you start your own basketball team?
Yes, anyone can start a new sports organization. You’ll first want to define a vision for your team. Will it be a highly competitive club? Or will you focus on rec basketball and skill development?
You also need to recruit volunteers or coaches to help with starting your new team. You should plan to recruit at least 2-3 volunteers to help with coaching, scheduling, and team fundraising.
Once you’ve established a clear vision and recruited other volunteers, you can start to register as a business or non-profit, create social media channels, and schedule tryouts or registration.
How many kids do you need for a basketball team?
The number of players needed for your team can vary. But, here’s some quick guidelines:
Local Rec Leagues: Rec leagues or school-based leagues typically have at least 10-12 players. If you have 10 players you can run a full scrimmage at practice, but at least 8 at each practice is important. You should also expect players to miss a small percentage of practices and games at the rec level due to other commitments.
Travel and AAU Teams: Depending on the level of competition, travel and AAU teams have less players - typically 8-10. Players are less likely to miss events at higher levels of competition, and getting adequate playing time is more important. Families won’t want to participate if players will get limited playing time at more competitive levels.
Do AAU teams make money?
AAU basketball teams are typically non-profits that exist to help provide opportunities for young players to compete at a higher level. The goal of most AAU programs is to promote skill development for more players rather than generating a profit.
Most AAU teams try to cover the costs of playing in tournaments, travel, referees, and jerseys. Team sponsorships are the quickest way to raise money for the team, but you can also have players help with fundraising or apply for grants.