Anyone familiar with AAU Girl’s Basketball in New Jersey knows Coach Mary Beth Chambers.
Coach Chambers has been the head coach of the Central Jersey Hawks team since the spring of 2002. This was a team for girls born in 1992 and 1993. Over the years the team changed a bit, but the core remained the same. The following are the names of the players, the year they joined, the colleges at which they have earned scholarships to play, and their grades upon joining.
2002 – Kasey Chambers (Monmouth) 2nd grade and Missy Repoli (Colgate) 3rd grade
2003 – Sami Clark (Fordhman) 3rd grade, Arron Zimmerman (American) 4th grade, and Meghan McGuinness (Niagara) 4th grade
2006 – Jackie Kates (UPenn) 7th grade
2007 – Katie O’Reilly (Lehigh) 8th grade and Sarah Olson (NJIT) 9th grade
2009 – Nicci Donahue (Kutztown U) 10th grade
In girls’ AAU in New Jersey it is very common that teams split apart. It is uncommon to face the exact same team year after year. The strongest players often drift to Nike-sponsored AAU programs, players unhappy with playing time join rival teams, and those looking for more practices and tournaments will sometimes leave and join multiple teams.
However, Coach Chambers’ nine girls stayed together throughout their high school AAU careers. Coach Chambers says, “You can not keep everyone happy but we sincerely tried. First, financially we divided the cost equally among the players, including the coach’s kids. We purchased only two sets of uniforms in 10 years! We had one big tournament fundraiser per year and we would take the profits and give it back to each family in the way of hotel rooms in July – as many as nine nights were paid for to as little as four over the 10 years! Secondly, we had three or four dedicated coaches with different responsibilities working together as a team and meeting often to discuss priorities and planning. We were very organized and focused. Thirdly, we focused on the fundamentals and practiced three times a week, being flexible with other sport/family commitments when they were young, but required full commitment when they were in high school. Once in high school, we practiced at 7:30pm to eliminate most conflicts. Lastly, we tried to keep nine strong players on the team by making sure they all were involved and contributed to the success. We did not guarantee equal playing time, but everyone understood that we needed nine strong to be competitive on a high level. We communicated our team expectations and goals and this often eliminated many of the ‘playing time’ issues. We had our share of adversity, but we handled each situation separately and always considered the best interest of the girls.”
One way Coach Chambers and her staff continued to challenge the team every year was by networking with other successful AAU programs. They often traveled to the tournaments that those AAU programs participated in, where they would find strong competition. They invited outside coaches to work with the team on weaknesses and help further everyone’s basketball IQ. Since all players played varsity starting freshman year, they were able play at the highest level in tournaments to gain better experiences and highlight which weaknesses they needed to work on at practices.
Coach Chambers also said they did not need to motivate the team much, “the girls liked attention. The better they became, the more success they experienced, and the more exposure they received.”
Coach Chambers added, “The girls wanted to play against top competition and loved preparing to meet those challenges so scheduling was a priority. Playing against the elite teams brought the attention of many college coaches, which kept the girls highly motivated [to succeed].”
It was also fortunate that since the team spent so much time together in hotels, they enjoyed being with each other both on and off the court. Coach Chambers feels the team chemistry had a big part to do with the team’s performance.
Before the start of the team both Coach Cheryl Vota and Coach Chambers were high school teachers. Coach Chambers had been coaching varsity girls for nine years and middle school boys for three years. All of this preparation helped them to communicate effectively with their players and their parents. Coach Eric Kates joined the coaching staff in 2006 when his daughter joined the team. Coach Kates “has a lot of basketball knowledge and everything he taught them as instrumental to their success,” explained Coach Chambers.
As the girls got older, the instruction had to change “When they were very young our focus was not on winning, but on doing things correctly. For example, we wanted them to use their weak hand even if it resulted in a turnover or missed basket, or use the correct shooting form even if it resulted in an air ball!”
Other AAU coaches can use this same recipe for success when developing their teams.