There are 23 million youth basketball players and 2.5 million people coaching them—which means there’s a lot of people learning the game and teaching it differently. No one knows this better than Jay Demings, who has worked in boys and girls basketball for well over a decade.
Last fall, he took on the role of USA Basketball Youth Division Director in Colorado Springs, CO where he oversees all facets of the newly created department. The goal is to develop an inclusive basketball community of coaches, administrators, players, and parents and provide them with a national model for quality youth basketball programming.
This major initiative includes coming up with a set of guiding principles that address player development, coach education, and safety as well as an accreditation system for organizations to receive training education. “It’s important to have one body that can promote and elevate the game in a proper way,” he says. “We’re not trying to say that everyone needs to teach the same way, but this way there’s one voice that can speak to child development through basketball and one set of principles that everyone in the country can use.”
Demings shares an example. “We wouldn’t want to teach a 5-year-old how to perform a combination move followed by a dunk, and we wouldn’t want to wait until he’s 17 to teach proper shooting form,” he explains. “Our program gives organizations autonomy but shows them there’s a systematic way to develop players physically and emotionally.” And through the program parents, players, and organizations can know that coaches are in line with a set of guiding principles, have passed a background check, and received some kind of formalized training.
It’s been more than half a year of strategic planning, and the program is ready to launch. While building the program from the ground up, Demings used many of the practices he learned while earning his Master’s in Sports Leadership degree from Northeastern College of Professional Studies.
“The program’s emphasis on leadership, as opposed to straight-up management, is very relevant, since I’m less focused on implementing processes than encouraging our organization to explore its own capabilities and carrying ides through the whole initiative,” he says.
He’s spent the bulk of his time coalition building, talking to groups around the country about their needs and infusing their feedback into the program’s infrastructure. “In this first phase, my job was to really listen to everyone,” he says. Demings got an overwhelmingly positive response about the need for a standardized progressive teaching method that explains what to teach, how to do it best, and when to teach it. Many resources for young players and coaches already exist (Google “how to dribble” and 500 instructional videos pop up)—which has lead to a disjointed national approach.
Considering how the Sports Leadership program is most influencing his work, Demings credits a lesson drilled home by Bob Prior, Ph. D., director of the program, and Peter Roby, Northeastern’s athletic director. “They showed me that in order to truly be a leader, I need to keep my value system in mind and act on it,” he says. “A lot of times that means saying ‘no’ when it’s easier to say ‘yes.'”
Demings points to a difficult decision Roby made in deciding to cut Northeastern’s football program—a decision that upset many people but one that needed to be made. “He wasn’t afraid to make a tough choice. His life lessons affected me because I now have courage to go out there and make the tough choice when it’s the right choice.” Learning to trust his inherent value system is the “best thing I took away from Northeastern,” Demings says. “It’s made me a better person without regard to my career status.”