How to pick an AAU team
At this point in your playing career, there is a good chance that you have decided to play for an AAU team (also known as travel or club teams). You may have been asked to play on one or two. In fact, you may even be on one right now. (If you aren’t sure what we mean by ‘AAU team’ click here)
But how do you find an AAU team that is the right fit for you?
Finding the right fit
The best way to find a fit is to make sure that your goals line up with the goals and priorities of the AAU team.
Your personal goals
Ask yourself what you want to accomplish in these three areas: development, overall experience, college recruiting. These are things that you define but will be impacted by the AAU team you play for.
Development – No matter your age, continuous development as a player is critical to your future success. This may be in regards to improving your skillset, physical abilities, basketball IQ, and ability to compete against different types of play.
Overall experience – Are you looking for the most competitive experience? Do you want to win at any cost? Are you looking for a fun time with your friends? While this area may change as you get older it is a good idea to at least have a starting point.
College recruiting – When you are in 9th grade or younger this area may not be a huge concern. However, as you get into high school, players will generally start considering what it would be like to play at the next level.
AAU team goals and priorities
As you evaluate your options, consider your goals and compare them to what the AAU team is trying to do. You need to find out what is motivating these teams to operate, coach, and work with young players. This is not the point that you are committing to anything. You just need to get a quick idea of the team and see if they may be a fit.
To get started, try the following:
- Look over a team’s website (if they have one) and get a feel for how they operate.
- Do some Google searches on the program, coaches, and players and see what pops up. You can find some real gems and red flags.
- Call or email the coach and ask a few questions. They should be able to answer questions you have.
Are your personal goals lining up with the AAU team’s goals?
We may have a match
Now that you know your goals and may have found a team that matches what you are looking for, it is time to really dig in before you commit.
Who is coaching me?
The most influential person you will work with is going to be the coach. So try and figure a few things out:
- What kind of experience do they have? If this is a young team then the coach may not have a lot of experience. This is normal. However, if this is a high school-aged team then experience is a bigger factor. Have they coached AAU before? Have they coached at the high school or college level? If they don’t have experience do you think they will be quick learners?
- What is the coach’s philosophy on winning vs. teaching? Winning vs. playing time?
- Do you think the coach will be able to help you develop beyond where you are currently at?
- What style of coaching do they use? Are they ultra-relaxed and quiet? Are they high stress and loud? Do you think this style fits with your personality?
- What type of system does the coach run? If you are a post player that needs to anchor into the post and the coach wants to run an uptempo transition style offense, there may be a problem for you.
Who else is on the team?
This actually does matter because it will impact you and your goals.
- Is there someone else on your team that plays the same position? How will that affect your role? Will the other players push you to become better?
- Does the team have a good balance of scorers, rebounders, and defenders? How does the coach see your role?
- Are there other players that are getting recruited already? If so, it may create additional looks for you.
- Will your team be competitive? If you want to go deep into tournaments you have to win games.
- Does the coach have a son on the team? This isn’t always a bad thing. Just make sure that everyone is given an opportunity to be successful.
What tournaments are you competing in?
As you get older, this is going to make a difference. Your time and money are valuable. Don’t waste them on tournaments that you don’t find valuable. If you aren’t sure you can rely on the coach, rely on the team or tournament’s track record, or do some research on your own.
Keep in mind:
- Does the team have a set travel/tournament schedule or are they figuring things out as they go?
- If you are traveling, do your parents need to go with you, or will transportation, hotels, etc. be provided?
- Is the tournament NCAA certified? If not, NCAA Division I and Division II coaches cannot attend. Is this important to you? Will other level coaches be there (NAIA, JC, etc.)? How do you know for sure? Remember, any tournament can make that claim but not all of them deliver. Do they have any history to back up their claims?
- How many games are guaranteed? Not all tournaments are created the same.
- How many tournaments are you committing to? Are you traveling every weekend or do you have time to “just be a kid”?
- How good are the tournaments you are attending? Will you come back “battle-tested” and ready to play at a higher level?
Team track record and resources
If you are looking at a new team then they won’t have any history for you to consider. In that case, you can try and get a feel for their vision and decide if you want to trust it.
If the team does have some history, you can start to evaluate how they have done and if they are at the level you want to be at. A lot of these depend on how old a player is.
- How do the teams help develop their players? Practice, workouts, personal training?
- Do they have a lot of players switching in and out? How long does a player typically stay with them? If players are leaving, what is the reason?
- Are you guaranteed playing time or a spot on a roster (this is not always a good thing)?
- What divisions do tournament directors place the team in (if applicable)? Top bracket, second bracket, bottom bracket?
- Has this team performed well at prior tournaments?
- Does the team have a solid history of players moving on to the next level? This might be college but could also be players making their junior high or high school teams.
- If you want to play in college, is there a history of players moving on to college rosters at all levels (JC through NCAA Division I)?
- Does the program have a strong network of college coaches?
- How much does it cost? What kind of financial obligations are expected? Are there different options for paying? What does the cost include?
The bottom line
At the end of all this (and there is a lot) remember the goal is to find the best fit possible. You will never know everything for sure. And neither will the team’s coach or director. Do the best you can and then trust your gut. If you put in at least a little time to do your research you will make a good decision.