The best thing young players can do for their basketball careers is not play too much basketball.
They should participate in other sports and delay specializing in just basketball until they are at least 14 years old. They should also take at least one day off from organized competition each week and extended time off at least once a year for proper physical and mental recovery.
Those were among the guidelines announced Monday by the NBA and USA Basketball to begin Jr. NBA Week. The Jr. NBA is the league's youth basketball participation program for boys and girls ages 6-14. The research and recommendations come from panels of medical experts, former players, and coaches and administrators throughout basketball.
They found that athletes who have the most success played multiple sports at a young age and didn't focus on a specific one until late adolescence.
"The idea of sampling and participating in other sports does not mean you're getting behind," said Dr. John DiFiori, NBA director of sports medicine and UCLA team physician. "They actually provide a strong foundation for success in your sport."
LeBron James, perhaps the NBA's best player, played football through his junior year of high school. But those who focus on basketball too soon face some risks that can last well beyond their teen years.
"There's a concern that single sport specialization may contribute to injuries and may also contribute to basically loss of interest in the sport from sort of the repetition of incessant participation in one activity," DiFiori said, adding there are cases of young athletes developing overuse injuries specific to a certain sport.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has made player health one of his biggest concerns, working to create a schedule that allows more time for rest and recovery. The league went further earlier this year by looking into the youth levels.
Working groups were created in the areas of health and wellness, playing standards, and curriculum and instruction. Their guidelines stressed the importance of time away from the court, with recommendations on amount of practice and game time, and even amount of sleep.
"I think sometimes parents and coaches can forget that there are only so many hours in the day and that when you have someone who's going to high school and they're at school from 8 o'clock to 2 o'clock, or to 3 o'clock and then they're at practice for a couple of hours and they need time to study, they need time to eat, they need time to commute back and forth to school and practices, they need time to sleep," DiFiori said. "They need time to recover and it's important that people actually look at that and realize that you can't pack everything into one day and still necessarily have a healthy situation."
The guidelines suggest limiting "high-density competition," such as tournaments that feature multiple games in a short period of time.
DiFiori noted the guidelines apply only to organized competition, saying that individual practice time or pickup games are beneficial. They have been endorsed by numerous youth organizations, athletic apparel companies and supported by the NCAA.
"We're sending a message to families, young athletes, coaches about rethinking how we do things at the youth level," he said.