As some NBA fans gripe over Los Angeles Clippers star Kawhi Leonard’s workload management, some have broadened the scope to see how the constant play at youth levels can impact future health.
Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James, whose son LeBron James Jr. is starting his freshman year of high school basketball, told Yahoo Sports he thinks AAU basketball doesn’t have the best interest of kids at heart because of its intense playing schedule.
“It was a few tournaments where my kids — Bronny and Bryce — had five games in one day and that’s just (expletive) out of control,” James told Yahoo Sports.
He believes that workload is affecting young players in today’s NBA.
“These kids are going into the league already banged up, and I think parents and coaches need to know [that] … well, AAU coaches don’t give a (expletive),” James said. “AAU coaches couldn’t give a (expletive) about a kid and what his body is going through.”
Workload management isn’t a new phenomenon. The practice gained traction when San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich began giving extra days off to Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan late in their careers.
But that was for older bodies with decades of wear and tear. Is workload management necessary for teenagers?
James, who ranks 13th in career minutes played in NBA history, says yes.
“You know that old saying. It’s like, ‘Boy, you ain’t tired. What you tired for? You’re only 12 years old. You don’t even know what it means to be tired.’ Nah, that’s (expletive). Those kids are tired,” James said. “And they don’t eat great, too. The nutrition part. They don’t eat well at 14, 15, 16. They’re taking all that pounding, and then they’re not putting the right (expletive) in their body. It’s tough.”
This broadly aligns with the National Athletic Trainers’ Association’s findings regarding sports specialization, a NATA spokesperson said. The organization partnered with the Journal of Athletic Training for a series of studies focusing on sports specialization published in October.
“Youth athletes are playing too hard, too long and in some cases too early,” NATA president Tory Lindley said in a statement. “This could have diminishing returns on their ability to compete long-term and cause irreversible damage later in life.”
NATA recommends that athletes should not participate in organized play in a sport for more hours per week than their age. In other words, a team shouldn’t schedule more than 15 hours of play for a 15-year-old in a week — and kids should get at least two days of rest per week.
While James didn’t reference the NATA report, he agrees the intense schedules can reach a harmful level for kids. He also believes leagues should be more accountable for their players’ health.
“A lot of these tournaments don’t have the best interest of these kids,” he said. “It’s like one time, they had to play a quarterfinal game, a semifinal game and a championship game starting at 9 a.m., and the championship game was at 12:30 p.m. Three games. … My kids were dead tired. This isn’t right. This is an issue.”