Saturday, June 29, 2013

Why LeBron is the Best Basketball Player in the World...

Why is LeBron James the Best Basketball Player in the World?

LeBron James seems to be a pretty polarizing figure, most people either love him or they can’t stand him. I guess I am one of the outliers in that I have no strong opinion of him as a person though for such a high profile athlete you rarely if ever hear anything negative attached to his name.

But if you were starting a basketball team tomorrow and you could choose any player in the world James would be the best investment (if your goal is to win). Some may argue but I think most would reluctantly or enthusiastically agree.

If you were to speak with professional talent evaluators and asked them who the best player was in each of the following categories:

Ball handling

James would likely only get the nod in one category and that is defense, a quality that is based more on athleticism and determination than any sport specific skill. That said how could James be the best player in the sport if he’s not the best in any single basketball skill (though he’s still very good in all categories)? James is the best overall athlete in the sport! No player has his combination of size, speed, coordination, strength and power. He can get anywhere on the court whenever he wants to and no can really stop him without leaving his (James) teammates unaccounted for.

Most people would think James was born with a basketball in his crib and started dribbling before he could even stand… Not true! James was not even introduced to the sport until the age of 9. He was also a fantastic high school football player; he was all state and won a state championship in the sport but missed his senior year because of a broken wrist suffered in summer AAU basketball.

So here we have the best player in his sport and he did not even find out about basketball until he was nine and played multiple sports through his junior year of high school. Now given, James is a freaky athlete but his early developmental years are an excellent example of how crucial it is to diversify in order to accumulate a warehouse of physical literacy. Sport specific skills can always be refined in the late teen years and professionals do it all the time. James was a very mediocre jump shooter when he first entered the NBA but now he is a very good shooter.

On the flip side if a child doesn’t acquire fundamental movement skills during the critical years (generally between the ages of 6-12) they will never be able to fully realize their athletic/physical potential. Fundamental skills are the building blocks upon which technical sport skills are built. In the NBA you will see long-distance specialists whose primary roll is to enter the game and hit 3-point shots. These athletes are very limited because if they aren’t making their shots they are a liability because they lack overall athleticism and can’t contribute effectively in other aspects of the game. This is very likely the byproduct of showing early proficiency in shooting the basketball and devoting a disproportionate amount of time to refining that skill while failing to address their overall game.

Early sport specialization leaves an athlete vulnerable to developmental gaps that can never be closed.

All sports begin with basic fundamental movement and core sports skills. The ABCs of movement include agility; balance, coordination and speed, while core sports skills include running, jumping, skating, catching, striking and throwing. It has been shown that children, who have a strong, broad-based foundation in the fundamental movements and sports skills from a variety of sports and activities, increase their potential for future success in sports. Whether this is confidence to lead a healthy, and active life in sport, or to become an elite athlete, this strong foundation in the FUNdamentals will help children reach their full potential. Without this foundation, children may never reach their genetic potential.

”Young athletes who participate in a variety of sports have fewer injuries and play sports longer than those who specialize before puberty. Well-rounded, multisport athletes have the highest potential to achieve.” (Brenner 2007)

                       - Journal of American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)

If you are a hockey fan you know whom the Great One is/was. For the younger generation Wayne Gretzky is generally credited for bringing hockey into the mainstream in America. Gretzky has this simple message for parents (and coaches, emphasis mine): Let Your Kids Have Fun!

"In youth hockey, in most cases, it's really important for kids to play other sports - whether it's indoor lacrosse or soccer or baseball. I think what that does is two things. One, each sport helps the other sport. And then I think taking time off in the off-season - that three or four month window - really rejuvenates kids so when they come back at the end of August, they're more excited. They think, 'All right, hockey's back, I'm ready to go.'" Wayne Gretzky.

Excerpt from Globe and Mail, September 26, 2008, Erick Duhatschek.  Gretzky was a multi- sport athlete himself growing up as he also excelled in baseball and lacrosse.

There is strong evidence that elite athletes at the professional and Olympic level spent a majority of their developmental years (6-12) engrossed in general and diverse sporting experiences. The “generalists” were also considered late developers as compared to early specialists who peaked early but were soon caught and bypassed by the generalist late bloomers when it should matter the most in the late teen years.

The most diverse athletic backgrounds when experienced during the most opportune times of youth serve as a powerful foundation for long-term sport and physical excellence.


Speaking of youth sports I would like to share a pair of short videos from another polarizing figure (though I am not certain why) especially for Detroit fans, Jim Leyland. He shares his view on the youth sport culture:

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