Study shows game smarts crucial to recruiting

A STUDY by Victoria University has taken a look at some of the key attributes that are prioritised by basketball scouts and coaches when recruiting youth players, with decision-making at the top of the list.

When asked to rank the most important attributes when studying a potential player, a number of youth coaches and talent scouts were interviewed to rank and justify attributes for potential youth basketball prospects for their importance.

Although much of the stigma was surrounding height and the importance of physical attributes when looking at a youth player in terms of ideal qualities, but that ranked far lower than some tactical, technical and psychological attributes.

Decision making was determined to be the most important attribute when assessing a potential prospect. This applied both on and off the court as scouts and coaches looked for basketball IQ and commitment to the game.

Speaking to Rookie Me Central, VU senior researcher and Maribyrnong Sports Academy Senior Sports Scientist, Dr Paul Larkin said that the results were slightly unexpected given the connection basketball typically has with physical gifts.

“Straight away you think of basketball, you think you have to be tall,” Larkin said. “That just has to be one of the key things. I think this result is saying that being tall is important, but it is more important to have a skillset that you can apply to the game.

“Knowing when to do things and being able to produce the skills that are there. It was surprising that in terms of physical attributes, it was more to do with work rate, balance and how you can move your body. It all aligns with research seen in soccer and Australian rules football where it is not the most important thing for recruiters, but to become an elite athlete, you need these other things.”

The importance of tactical and psychological preference on this front also raises the question of combine testing, which focusses largely on physical attributes.

Larkin also says that testing players in scenarios they will see at the elite level appears crucial in determining the true skillset of prospects.

“The results reinforce the fact that you have got to see the players in those game situations, because that is where they will be performing on a nightly basis, and that is where you want athletes to perform,” Larkin said. You need to make sure what you’re observing and where you’re observing is reflective of what you want them to do when performing.

“We’re now going away from ‘you can jump high, so you must be able to play well’. It’s a piece of the puzzle and it gives an understanding of that physical component, but its not the be-all and end-all of talent identification. You need to know they can perform those skills in a game environment.”

Of the technical abilities, offensive skillsets such as shooting and ability to make a layup were ranked as most important, with scouts and coaches of the belief that a strong impact on the offensive end could make up for some potential deficiencies defensively. The only physical attributes ranked in the top 15 overall were work rate and balance.

While sports such as AFL have a clear pathway, basketball is one of many where players take a number of routes into the top level, an area which Larkin believes could be altered.

“It sounds kind of similar to the soccer pathway,” he said. “Where you’re engaging in it and sort of hoping someone who is watching is in a position where they can recruit you. Within basketball, it is really important for everyone to recognise where the best opportunities are. The ability to increase the knowledge around the pathway is really important too.”

In terms of moving forward, Larkin is hopeful the results spark conversations in the recruitment world when it comes to identifying talent.

“From a basketball perspective, there is just not a lot out there,” he said. “A lot of it is soccer-based. We thought it was an untapped area and one that could stimulate a lot of debate.”

Top 15 attributes per Victoria University study

1) Decision making (Tactical)
2) Lay up (Technical)
3) Teamwork (Tactical)
4) Composure (Psychological)
5) Shooting (in the paint, two points) (Technical)
6) Adaptability (Psychological)
7) Concentration (Psychological)
8) Work rate (Physical)
9) Game awareness (Tactical)
10) Rebounds (Technical)
11) Determination (Psychological)
12) Jump shot (Technical)
13) Balance (Physical)
14) Dribbling (Technical)
15) Consistency (Psychological)

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