MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- “It's fun!” said Alex Morgan, 8, explaining why he enjoys playing on the youth basketball team. “I like shooting.”
Children don't realize they are acquiring more skills than how to effectively shoot, block and pass.
“I believe it teaches Alex how to pay attention and focus,” said Matthew Morgan, 3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, Alex's father. “It's a different type of discipline that can prepare him for the other, maybe harsher types, of discipline he will encounter later in life. Also, it's great for exercise and to get him out of the house, away from video games for some time.”
So while children are enjoying practice, parents know their children are learning more about life from their coaches, said Joe Rosselli, youth sports coordinator.
“Trophies build egos, coaches build character,” he said.
Children learn the importance of sportsmanship, social skills and time management skills from balancing homework and practices at a young age.
The coaches are certified and go through a background check before taking on their roles. The coaches of any youth sport at the Combat Center have their own distinct style, but are all in agreement that the main focus of the sports is recreation, not competition, said Rosselli.
“All the kids receive equal playing time,” he said. “We focus on fun and fundamentals.”
Basic nutritional advice is given to the children as well. As the kids are released from practice, the coaches yell friendly reminders such as, “don't drink too much soda” or “drink water” and “don't stay up too late.”
There are more than 150 children, boys and girls, playing on a youth basketball team here this season, which lasts two months. There are four teams of 4- and 5-year-old children, six teams of 6- and 7-year-olds, four teams of 8- and 9-year-olds and six teams of 10- to 12-year-olds.
Each age groups’ games are played at progression levels. The 4- and 5-year-olds play with small baskets, with little organization and no score. The main idea is to give the children a feel for the game, said Rosselli.
“The 6- and 7-year-olds play with no score, while referees explain what a foul is, that there is no double dribbling and other intricacies of the game,” he explained.
The 8- and 9-year-olds and 10- to 12-year-olds play more of an actual game, except there are seven-minute quarters for the 8- and 9-year-olds and eight-minute quarters for the 10- to 12-year-olds.
Youth sports are also a great way to get families together. It provides a chance for the Morgan family to get out of the house and cheer, said Matthew.
It's also a great opportunity for families to get acquainted with other families aboard the base, said Saori Dykes, mother of Charles, 8.
“It's great, because we get to know other families, we become friends and help each other out,” she said. “If one of our other children is sick and we have to stay home, we can call on another parent to give our child a ride to practice that night. It builds a stronger community.”
There are no finals, trophies or statistics kept for youth basketball, the children and families take home a lot more than that, said Rosselli.