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Parents Guide to AAU Basketball: 4th - 7th

This guide is intended to help parents understand how AAU works and the best way to find the best Club for your player. Below you will find many helpful tips on things that matter when it comes to picking the right Club. You are going to invest a lot of time and money into this journey, so you need to make sure you have all the information needed so you can make an informed decision. Club directors try to entice you and your player by making big promises that they most likely will not be able to deliver. Pay close attention and ask a lot of questions. Do not let a program director tell you that your question does not matter because it does. Our hope is that this guide gives you the questions and inquiries that you may not have thought of yourself. This is a big decision, so do it right.  

Club’s Objective/Mission Statement: Define “Win”

Club's College Retention Rate

Graduation Rate: Percentage of players that leave their club and have a college to play for.

Picking your coach: Qualifications and background


Recruiting Package

Playing time philosophy: Showcasing

Tournament Schedule and Time Commitment

Development and Purpose: Offensive and Defensive philosophies

Investment: Time and Money

Club’s Objective/Mission Statement:  Define “Win”

The objective and mission of a club should be to develop every player to the best of that player’s ability.

An AAU Club’s definition of “Win” should be focused on individual players reaching their goals of getting better.  The team is important for this to happen, but the “team” should include all players on the roster.

All players on the roster should be on the court at all different times of the game.  Every player should experience being a starter, coming off the bench, being in the game when it’s on the line, and being on the bench when it’s on the line.

Every game should be played to “win” as we are all competitors, but the win comes when every player is a part of the win.

A Club should not define its success by its win/loss record.


Club’s College Retention Rate

One of the questions you should ask the Club Director would be to provide statistics on the number of players that have gone from their Club to college and have stayed at that college for the duration of their eligibility as a basketball player.


Graduation Rate: Percentage of players that leave Club and have a college to play for

Another question to ask the Club Director would be to provide a written history of the players that finished as seniors in that Club and went on to play college basketball. If they cannot provide that or their percentage is a very low rate that is a red flag.  Players at the AAU level should be able to play at a college if they choose. A small percentage will play all the way through Club and then make the decision that they do not want to play college basketball. This is usually a very small percentage. Though your player is very young at this time, it is still something that you should know.

Picking your Coach: Qualifications and Background

Picking your coach is as equally important as picking your Club.  When picking your Coach, it is important to know that coach’s basketball history including background checks.

Questions that you should ask the Club Director or Coach would include: Did you play basketball? If yes, at what level? How many years coaching experience do you have? What does your experience consist of? Do you have a Club philosophy that all coaches must follow, including playing time and offensive and defensive philosophies? Is your focus during games on coaching or teaching?



The cost in AAU programs can vary considerably. When being quoted a price, it is fair to ask for a breakdown of the fees. There are a lot of variables including things like sponsorships, endowment funds, paid coaches versus volunteer coaches, tournament fees, gym fees, and gear that all affect the overall price.

If the price if more than your family can afford, don’t be afraid to ask if there are payment plans, sponsors, scholarship dollars, or volunteer opportunities to earn money towards your fee.

Recruiting Package (for future reference)

The purpose of AAU is to find as much money toward a full scholarship as possible. This would include athletic, grant, and/or academic money. This requires a lot of work beyond just playing in front of college coaches.

A good Club works for you in this regard. Your Club should be providing you with space on their website for a player profile and film.

Your Club should be contacting coaches on your behalf at the level of play that is suitable to that player. Pushing players to play at a level higher than they are capable or at a college that isn’t a good fit for them as an individual generally ends in disappointment and failure for everyone involved.

A good Club is realistic, honest, and knowledgeable of a player’s level of play.

A good Club doesn’t judge their successes based solely on wins or how many players receive Division 1 scholarships. Rather, a good Club is capable and knowledgeable enough to evaluate a player and then help seek out colleges that fit that specific player’s needs and ability.

A good Club Coach/Director has a network of college coaches at every level and has the credentials to contact any college coach in the country. It is okay to ask the Director or Coach for a list of the colleges that they have relationships with. If they are unwilling to share that information, that is a red flag. 


Playing Time Philosophy and Showcasing

The purpose of an AAU Club at this age is to give players an opportunity to play with and against players that are as good or better than your player.  

Any player who has been given a roster spot on an AAU team should be good enough to play at any point in time of a game. Many Clubs take a player just to fill a roster spot. Make sure YOU ARE NOT THAT PLAYER.

My philosophy at times can cost a team a win, but I believe in the process of developing every child.  If they are not good enough to be on the floor they should not be on the team. 

AAU at this age is simply playing better team/players at this age, nothing more. The wins and losses do not matter.  Development of every player does matter. 

These are all great thoughts to ask the Club Director/Coach. If your answers are not direct and to the point, then that is a red flag.


Tournament Schedule and Time Commitment

This is a big topic of debate and I will never change my belief in this department as I have witnessed great player crumble from over doing it at the youth level.

Kids at this age need to move their bodies in many different ways.  Specializing in one sport at a young age will cause problems when the player gets older.  I have seen career ending injuries because of this.

I believe that for 5th – 7th graders a light summer filled with skill based practices and enough game play to reward the player. Tournaments should give the players a chance to compete against teams/players that are a good as or better than they are.  But, you don’t have to play a million of them to get the benefits.

For 5th -7th grade, June and July should be enough to accomplish the above. When the player reaches 8th grade and older, then a full AAU season, April through July, becomes important as the recruiting begins.


Development and Purpose:  Offensive and Defensive Philosophies

All basketball programs should focus on player development.

We should be trying to develop college level players, so it makes sense to continue developing vs creating super teams.  Far too often the focus is on winning games/tournaments to make a program look good rather than focusing on individual development of all the players, which is our job.

Offensive and defensive concepts should be designed to allow players to develop their individual talent within a team setting. Clubs should focus strictly on man-to-man defense so that players begin to understand spatial awareness, gain foot speed, and quickness which is needed to play any defense. An offense should be designed to allow players to increase their individual skillset including handling the ball, shooting, and ability to get to the basket, as well as post moves.

An AAU program should be developing individuals as players rather than specific positions. This makes a player much more marketable as they get older.

Our job at the youth level is to develop players, not positions.  Every player needs to be able to do every fundamental of the game, most importantly offensive skill sets.

We expect every player at every level handle the ball, shoot the ball, score around the basket, and defend man to man.  Doing this at the youth level begins to set the foundation for the future.


Investment:  Time and Money

Playing AAU basketball is an investment. You are going to spend a lot of money on club fees, travel fees, and gear. At the youth level, it is still an investment.  Take the time to talk with your player and make sure this is what they want to do.

There is no need for youth players to be traveling all over the country. There is plenty of local competition to avoid this. 

NO college coach is looking at a 5th,6th ,7th or 8th grader!

Your investment should be on the development of your player. You should expect your player to be better individually when the season ends regardless of your win/loss record.


This guide was developed by talking to parents, players, college coaches, club coaches and from personal experience.  It is intended to help you through the confusing process of AAU basketball.  We hope you find this helpful and wish your player the best of luck and hope that when they finish their seasons they say, “wow that was fun, I want more.” Then you know you have found a great club!


About the Author:

Mary Chrnelich-Nellen

Pius XI High School class of 1980 State Champs

University of Kansas – 1980-82

University of Wisconsin – 1982-84

Chicago Spirit Women’s Professional basketball team

30 years of coaching experience


I have been recruited at the highest level

I have been through recruiting with my own children

I have been the coach on the recruiting side

I am 37 for 37 in getting players placed in college basketball

I am the director of 1on1 Milwaukee and head the recruiting

I am a female

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