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When choosing a local AAU basketball team.

Updated on January 26, 2013

What to consider, and what to expect, when choosing a local AAU basketball organization.


We had not yet heard of AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) when our child, who had been playing basketball since kindergarten, entered fourth grade. We had no idea what to expect, what questions to ask, or how much we should be paying other than what some other parents shared with us. As a person who likes to be a part of things that my children do it seemed the best way to find out more was to become involved. I started as a team parent.


Now, years later, I am the vice president of one team organization, and a former vice president of another. I think of how much easier it would have been in the beginning if there was a Q&A guide to walk me through the basics. I am hoping that I can make the transition into the AAU world an easier one for up and coming parents. My focus is on basketball; however, this can be helpful for any parent that is about to enroll their child into a sports organization. I will go over what your investment covers, the time commitment, and what to expect to get out of the experience. I will be sure to keep it simple.



What is AAU?



AAU is a non-profit organization. Their focus is on youth sports. What your local AAU team is stating when they are using the AAU name is that they will adhere to specific rules. This is a positive thing. AAU has a very good reputation and has been around since 1888. They keep this reputation by having the AAU teams not only stick to their rules, but also—as children get older—to NCAA rules. Well over a thousand NCAA coaches go to AAU showcases to see, up and coming athletes. This is very important if your child is a great player and you want to see their aspirations lead to playing collegiate sports, perhaps even with a scholarship, but you do not have to worry about this until your child is in high school.


The Cost


It is common for parents to question why they have to pay upward of $400 for a season of AAU basketball. That is $4000 that comes from the players if there are ten children on the team. That seems like a lot of money and I know parents wonder where it goes because I wondered where it went when we first started. If you are paying less than $400, it does not mean it is a bad team, however, be sure to look at the list of costs I have below and know why you are paying less. Do not cheat your child out of good training and competitive tournaments. Most AAU basketball teams have a scholarship fund if you cannot afford the full fee.

Your local AAU does not make extra money off of your dues unless they are charging you an incredulous amount. I will break it down into a single team’s costs.


One of the larger costs is gym rentals. This is usually about two hours, twice a week for practices. Some school gyms give a discount if half or more of the children are from the school district; this could be one reason tuition would be less. Some do not. In my area, the average is $40 per hour. That is $160 per week. If your team starts practicing when we do, starting the first week of March and ends the last week of June, that is $2720 for the entire season. That is over half of the player’s dues.


Next, the tournaments are costly. They can run anywhere from $300 to $550 per tournament. That being said, they do not make a lot of money off of tournaments either. I have seen them cost less, but usually that means it is off season or they cannot get numbers because there is another large tournament the same weekend in the same region. This does not make the tournament less competitive but it can mean a lack of teams in each age group. On many of the tournament websites it will tell you how many teams of each age group has signed up, including the name of the teams. The usual number of tournaments that teams play per season is five—our team plays more. If they were $400 per tourney, and you did in fact play five, it would be $2000. You have now used the rest of your dues and we have not even gotten to equipment, trainers, or any other mandatory costs that the organization has to pay for.


Other costs to expect besides tuition that you would pay are the AAU membership fees. This is about fourteen dollars for the athlete annually. Then there are uniforms. They can run from fairly cheap to over $200. This will depend on if you have both home and away jerseys and shorts, warm ups, reversible practice jersey, and a bag. It also depends on how long after I wrote this you are reading it, keep inflation in mind. Some teams are resorting to using reversible jerseys as their main uniform to keep the cost down. One organization I was with included the uniforms and bag with the fee. The tuition was closer to $700 for that team.


Another cost to consider is travel expenses. Because you will be going to at least a few away tournaments you will have the cost of hotels, gas, food, and anything else that comes up when you are staying out of town. If these costs are a struggle for you, some parents find it easier to have one family take a couple of the children to one tournament and have a different family take the children to the next. There are always ways to cut down on costs, but you will not be able to avoid them altogether.



Time Commitment


Another important consideration is the time commitment. There are the usual things like two practices a week and maybe volunteer help, like running a clock or sitting at the admissions table. What is a bit different than your local city team is the AAU teams tend to be a group of players scattered over a wide geography so the practice locations are not always convenient. The volunteering becomes a little more intense if your organization is hosting multiple tournaments.


One of the more taxing commitments is at least five of your weekends over the period of three and half months are spent driving to and sitting in gyms. There are usually four games per tournament, sometimes there is a fifth if your team wins the tournament for a single age group. Though it did not bother our family it did bother a few, and those few families tried to stop the team from traveling. Know coming into the league that traveling to tournaments is a part of AAU sports.


Another thing to note is there are different divisions—division I and II, or “A” and “B” teams. There is a good reason for this. Instead of being offended because your child does not make the "A" team, realize that the coaches know best. Losing every game by thirty points is no fun for your child’s team or their opponents. It is also no fun for your child to sit on the bench while all of the “A” players are playing—especially after you paid out a hefty sum and have put all of this time into it. This is not an equal play time league. Be sure your child plays at the correct level for their ability.


Coaches


To be an AAU coach you have to take Positive Coaching Alliance courses and have a background check through AAU. If a local organization is desperate enough they may take a coach that has never coached before but this is not the norm. My recommendation is to see your coaches’ credentials. New head coaches should have at least been assistant coaches before. Another possible issue can be parent coaches, especially when their child plays the same position as your child. Do not write them off too quick. We have had good luck with some parent coaches. It is always worth asking other parents how the coach has done in the past.


I cannot stress enough, your coach does not make a lot of money, some do not make any. They are underpaid and have to love coaching our children to put up with us parents. Give them a break, it is their team and without them taking the time with our children we would not have all of the great young athletes that we have. You can tell them how you are feeling but be respectful. I have heard of organizations keeping their cost down by not paying them. There is nothing wrong with volunteer coaches if they so choose. What I feel is worse than not paying them, is taking the child who cannot afford to pays scholarship monies out of the coaches stipend. There should be a scholarship fund for this. A greater reason for this is, whether a child is getting a scholarship, or not, should be confidential information between the organization and the parents. This is why you need to know how an organization is cheaper than the rest. Is the discount hurting anyone? If it is, it will inadvertently have an effect on the team.


AAU is a great organization. If you happen upon a local organization that is not so great do not let it reflect on the parent organization. You will be able to find one in your state that is worth joining. We have been very lucky in our area as there are many great choices. I hope this answered some of your questions to help with choosing a local AAU organization for your child. As I mentioned, these costs can fluctuate but the tuition is well worth it, as is the time commitment if your child is competitive or young and looking to someday play competitive basketball.




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