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The following is a brief AAU basketball primer. It is an attempt to provide basic information so you know what to expect by participating in the VA HAVOC program.

AAU basketball groups are independent clubs and organizations that form teams and participate in various tournaments throughout the year under the AAU umbrella organization. Important differences exist between AAU teams and school or travel team leagues:

  • Season: The AAU season is largely dormant during the typical basketball season of November through February as most of the AAU players are playing on school, recreation, or travel programs. Most AAU teams are very active between March through July, with some programs also playing through the summer and fall.
  • Team Placement: Team placements are typically in January and early February. AAU teams and tournaments are organized by age and gender. Review the eligibility guidelines.
  • Variety: AAU teams are independent organizations with a lot of latitude as to the type of team, practice and play schedule, costs, playing time, travel limits, coaching philosophy, etc. It’s important to match the right program with the needs of your child and you.
  • Games: Most games are played in tournaments (some AAU sanctioned, some not) that take place on weekends. There are websites devoted to various tournaments, and there are tournaments somewhere almost every weekend of the year. Some teams play only locally, while others travel. Some teams stay overnight in hotels for tournaments when the commute is long, and elite teams at older levels might even fly to a tournament or two.
  • Cost and time: There’s a significant money and time commitment to participating in AAU. Costs vary but can range from $500 to $1500 or more per year—not counting travel, meals, and hotels. As for time involvement, this is also variable, but many AAU teams practice one to two nights per week and play 2-3 weekend tournaments per month.


  • Your child will likely improve. Youth sports have changed and become more competitive. Growing up, many of us played a new sport each season. While some parents still prefer this approach, many of the best basketball players now play year-round and participate in AAU. As a child grows older and competition increases, the ability to make teams becomes tougher. Children who practice and play a sport in the off-season generally improve more than kids who don’t. This specialization is occurring in all sports, and there are significantly fewer high-school multi-sport varsity athletes than even a decade ago.
  • Your child will experience a more focused program. While AAU can seem intense, there are important life lessons in focus and commitment. We live in a competitive world, and we want our children to be dedicated and to strive for excellence. Because of the required commitment, a well-run AAU team will give your child a deeper, richer sports experience than most recreation or travel league teams. You can find outstanding coaches and resources that match the best that top high schools offer.
  • You have more flexibility in picking a program. With travel and school teams, there are fewer options and more rigid rules as far as practices, playing time, etc. The AAU system is a free market, where programs come in a variety of shapes and sizes to fit various needs. Most programs are quite competitive, use experienced coaches, and cater to serious basketball players.
  • AAU teams are important recruiting grounds for colleges. Due to scheduling conflicts (college coaches are busy with their own teams during the winter) and the chance to see kids play against top competition, AAU tournaments have become important in college recruiting. But this should be taken in context:
  • Most college recruiting does not take place until high school, and with a few exceptions, not until a player is a junior or senior. College coaches do not attend 12U games unless their own kids are playing or the next LeBron James is on the floor. The NCAA has strict rules on recruiting, and you should refer to the NCCA website for more information.
    *** If your kid is good enough, the colleges will find him or her regardless of the setting. The vast majority of kids, including those on AAU teams, do not play in college. Making a certain AAU team guarantees nothing. No AAU program will be able to guarantee your child will be exposed to any college program.


  • Specialization comes at a costPlaying different sports not only provides exposure to different kids, coaches, and experiences, it also exercises and trains a body in different ways. For example, basketball players who play soccer have excellent footwork and a good grasp of spacing. Burnout, injuries related to over-training, and stress can also be issues arising from specialization. In addition, you should consider the cost and time commitment, especially if you have multiple kids participating in other activities.
  • Money doesn’t guarantee a quality experience. Most AAU tournaments are moneymakers for athletic clubs, sports centers, or just people wanting to make a living doing what they love. If you’ve got a check, usually any AAU tournament will take your team regardless of whether they can provide good match ups. That can translate into a lot of blowouts in AAU tournaments. It’s also hard to keep tournaments on schedule (literally hundreds of games to get in), and so most games tend to be under-officiated and physical, if not downright rough. In addition, being picked for a team doesn’t guarantee you playing time; most AAU teams will not make any guarantees for minimum playing time.
  • The team you want might not want you. While you’re seeking the right team for your child, the team you want may not want you or be convenient. Your child might not be selected at tryouts, or the team you want might already be filled with players from the previous year.  And just because your child was on a team last year doesn’t mean that he or she will be on the same team this year. Moreover, a spot on an AAU team doesn’t guarantee that a player will make the school or travel team.
  • AAU eats up time kids could use to work on their skills. Given the amount of time devoted to their AAU teams, there is little time left for players to work on individual skills. Again, lost are the days where a kid wandered down to the park to work on his or her jump shot for a couple of hours. You have to watch that you child isn’t just playing, but also practicing and improving skills.
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