Inside Track: Coaching the basics on and off the court
Jim McGannon’s youth sports organization focuses on the kids and learning athletic skills, rather than on competition.
Coach Jim McGannon takes a different approach with youth sports.
McGannon, founder and owner of Basketball Basics, a youth sports training organization, is coaching young athletes to build on the basics by developing skills that are applicable on and off the court.
As a former collegiate and professional athlete in basketball and golf, McGannon has a passion for athletics and a drive to change the way youth sports are operated.
Although he played competitively at the Division I level at Dartmouth College in both sports and went on to play basketball in France on L’Equipe de Blois, he also spent roughly eight years working in retail after graduating from Dartmouth.
“I have had quite a winding road here. I was in the retail business in Miami, New York and Atlanta, and that was with Lord and Taylor, Brooks Brothers and Dunhill,” said McGannon.
“Then, believe it or not, I played professional golf for five years and pursued a dream of mine.”
From 1991 to 1995, McGannon played professional golf based in Pinehurst, North Carolina.
He then worked in the private golf club business before launching Basketball Basics.
“Basics was founded in 2006 in my backyard, where I just started working with kids in basketball,” said McGannon. “It became very clear to me right away that the neighborhood kids had never been taught the skills in terms of the approach I was taught.”
He actually had begun to work part-time with Basketball Basics in 2002 before launching the organization full time in 2006.
“The time between 2006 and 2010 was very interesting,” said McGannon. “I was able to connect with pretty much every school district in West Michigan.”
In 2010, he secured gym space in the Ferrysburg City Hall building at 17290 Roosevelt Road. He said renovations to the space included completely refinishing and sanding the floor, adding a three-point line, painting the entire gym, changing existing backboards of the two main hoops and adding five new hoops.
“It is fully refurbished and we have done that in partnership with the city of Ferrysburg,” said McGannon. “They are really good partners.”
Although established with a focus on the development of basketball skills, the business has grown over the years to include Volleyball Basics, Soccer Basics and Lacrosse Basics under the name of Basics Family of Youth Sports. A Tennis Basics program will launch this fall.
“The reason we are able to have some expansion is because the model is the opposite of the way youth sports are currently run,” said McGannon. “We only take 12 kids at a time … and when you have a really good coach, you can really impact those kids. And there is tons of repetition. That is the basis of the model.”
The approach not only models the physical training method taught by Gary Walters, former head basketball coach at Dartmouth College and former athletic director at Princeton for 20 years, but also the Pyramid of Success philosophy developed by former UCLA basketball head coach John Wooden, according to McGannon.
“The philosophy is, can we help you off the court and can we help this kid improve as a kid,” said McGannon. “It is not so much about the training — of course, we have very competitive players — but we really help kids mature: showing up on time, making eye contact, respect for another, support and poise.”
Containing elements such as mental tenacity, discipline, conditioning and repetition in learning basic sports skills and the Pyramid of Success philosophy, McGannon said the model applies to all sports and results in better players.
“Self-control, alertness, initiative, cooperation, loyalty, friendship: That is what we are all about, and the parents that understand it love it,” said McGannon. “We have 72 Basics program graduates playing in college, and 11 of them are playing D-I.”
Basics offers year-round training programs for youth from kindergarten through college at four leased gyms in Ferrysburg, Rockford, Wyoming and Norton Shores. Training opportunities include summer camps, skills clinics, private training and preseason prep leading up to team tryouts.
“Pre-season prep is big. We have a lot of kids come through, and it preps them for tryouts,” said McGannon. “More than 90 percent of the kids make their school teams.”
“Each program has a different cost structure, so summer camps are going to be in the $150 to $200 range, and skills clinics are going to be as low as $12 per visit,” said McGannon. “We have a memorial fund in my parents’ memory, and we have about 20 percent of kids who pay partially or not at all.”
The coaching staff at Basics fluctuates depending on the season, with approximately 10 basketball coaches during the summer and four to six during the rest of the year, he said.
While both soccer and lacrosse have only one coach, during club season there are up to six instructors for volleyball. One of the volleyball coaches is Amy Peistrup-Matthews, an AVP professional player from 1995 to 2000 who previously ranked in the top 30 doubles for beach volleyball in the U.S.
Basics collaborates with a number of organizations in the area, including the North Ottawa Recreation Association, Holland Recreation Association, Mona Shores Recreation Association and various gyms in the region. Other partners include Hear Michigan Inc., Bleakley Law Office, Maranatha Gym, Marinades, Wolverine Heating & Cooling Inc., Sylvan Learning, Shoreline Soccer Club and Shoreline Sport & Spine Physical Therapy.
Outside of his work with Basics, McGannon also is involved on the board of No More Sidelines, a nonprofit organization helping children and young adults with special needs play sports and participate in community events.
He also provides basketball training to students at the Newtown Youth Academy in Connecticut in the wake of the December 2012 tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary, in Newton.
Basketball Basics is entering its third year of travelling to Newtown to teach fundamental skills with the assistance of local university programs.
“Newtown is very close to my heart,” said McGannon. “I grew up there, I went to high school right nearby, and then I went to Dartmouth, which is only two hours away.”
As Basics expands its programming into North Carolina, San Diego, Connecticut and Northbrook Park in the Chicago area, McGannon said one of the challenges since launching his organization has been overcoming the focus on competitive tournaments and the need to win rather than mastering the skills of the game.
“When I started it, there were more naysayers and the word ‘no’ than there were supporters and the word ‘yes’ — which is probably not unusual for new businesses, but as I became more established, the ‘no’ didn’t really go away,” said McGannon.
“There are a lot of programs in the area that are not supporters of this approach. Many programs think you have to compete all the time.”
With its core values of limiting the number of players, providing strong, fundamental instruction, weaving basic life skills into instruction and reducing league travel tournaments, McGannon said Basics can easily capture a piece of the roughly $60 billion youth sports industry.
“I need help; I need facilities. I don’t need coaches because I have great coaches, but it is potentially a big business because the model is correct,” said McGannon.
“It is focusing on the kids, the skill development, Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success, and then something the parents should be all over — no travel.”