Monday, February 20, 2012

Youth Basketball: She's Not the Right Color?

The other day, I was talking to a dad from another basketball team. I learned that his daughter played both basketball and soccer in highly competitive leagues just like my daughter. We talked about our crazy schedules. We talked about the eventual need to specialize in one sport. I told him that my daughter has already run into conflicts and had to pass on ODP soccer (Olympic Development Program) because of AAU basketball.

I mentioned to him that my daughter would likely choose basketball and that her dream is to play for UConn. He said, "Our daughters are not exactly the right color for basketball, they'll have a better chance of playing soccer in college."

I was taken aback by this comment by a total stranger. A dead silence followed as I pondered the statement. Was the statement offensive or statistical fact? I was not personally offended but decided that even if it were statistically accurate it was offensive. If he had said that a black girl is not the right color for soccer the statement would be considered offensive even though the sport is mostly played by white athletes in the US college ranks.

Here is the bottom line:

If my daughter wants to play basketball in college, she will need to be in the top 3-5% of all basketball players, black, white or other, when she graduates from high school.

If she wants to play soccer in college she will need to be in the top 5-7% of all soccer players, black, white or other, when she graduates high school.

If you are wondering - here are some statistics.

Chances of playing sports in college
(Percentage of HS senior athletes who move on to play in college - source NCAA)

  • Women's Basketball 3..6%
  • Men's Basketball 3.2%
  • Football 6.0% 
  • Baseball 6.4%
  • Men's Soccer 5.6%

I could not find statistics for women's soccer, but the percentage is probably higher than men's soccer because there are 998 NCAA women's soccer teams and only 804 Men's soccer teams. However, there may be more high school women soccer players that could keep the percentage the same as men.

Ethnic Diversity in NCAA Women's soccer and basketball

According to a report from The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports - African American women make up 50.1% of the Division I basketball rosters. White women make up 42.6%. Asian and Hispanic women make up 1.2% each.

The report did not include soccer, so I did a little research on my own by doing
a very quick and unscientific visual look at the rosters from the top 5 ranked NCAA schools for both women's basketball and soccer. This is the breakdown that I witnessed.

Division I Basketball* - 67% People of color and 23% White / Hispanic White
Division II Basketball* - 27% People of color and 73% White / Hispanic White

Division I Soccer* - 14% People of color and 86% White / Hispanic White
Division II Soccer* -  9% People of color and 91% White / Hispanic White

* Source: I analyzed the rosters of the current top 5 ranked colleges in each sport in each division.

For perspective - according to the US census, the US is made up of 79.5% White includes Hispanic white, 16% Hispanic, 13% African American and 4.5% Asian.

The Main Point

The guy was right, my daughter has a better chance of playing soccer in college than basketball, but it is not because of the color of her skin.

The first reason - there are more almost 2 times more soccer players than basketball players. The NCAA has 998 soccer teams with about 28 players on a roster for a total of 27,944. There are 1,084 basketball teams with a roster size of 13 for a total of 14,092.

The second reason is height - My daughter's height will likely be about 65 - 67 inches. The average height of a Division I basketball player is 72.5 inches (Division II players are slightly smaller at 69.5 inches). Players under 69 are rare. The average size of a college soccer player is 66 inches.*

I'm sure racism plays a role in some coaching situations, but I believe that most coaches select talent, speed, size, experience and results - not skin color. Coaches want to win. They get paid to win. They tend to lose their jobs if they lose, so they are going to go after the best players regardless of skin color. That is the way the world is suppose to work - the most talented and the hardest working get the top spots regardless of color or gender or age.

Thankfully, Jeremy Lin who faced some racial issues did not worry about the odds of an Asian playing basketball in college (.4%).

* Source: I analyzed the rosters of the current top 5 ranked colleges in each sport in each division.


  1. Wonderful post! I think regardless of the stats for race or talent, I think a big part of a persons chances of playing at high levels would be an overriding desire to play, love and enjoyment of the sport! From reading you blog, I think your daughter has a great chance!!

    Thanks for including The SportyMummy Blog in your blog list :)

    1. Thanks - you're welcome - great blog with lots of info my youth sports parents would find interesting - keep up the good writing.

    2. Wrong Color - Have heard this type of thinking regarding boys playing basketball, but not girls. Always amazes me when I hear it. Wrote a blog "A Note to a young basketball player:"

      Excerpt - "One more thing – I already told you this at your house. Never again joke or make a statement like you are doing OK for a white player who can’t jump. Don’t buy into stereotypes – They give you an easy out. Tell Mom not to use your age as an excuse. Don’t you use it as an excuse? If you are going to compete with older players, you need to find ways to survive and thrive. There will always be someone bigger, faster, and stronger than you as you get older. You have to find a way to accentuate your strengths and minimize your weaknesses. I have come in contact with a lot of white players whom I admire. The majority of them have one quality that allows them to compete at the NBA level. Take a guess at what it is. Think about it. You might want to say skill level, intelligence, confidence, etc. Those are good answers, but the quality that almost every NBA player should possess is mental toughness. All of the ball players whom I admire have this quality."

    3. I read your Note to a Young Basketball Player - great message. Thanks for sharing your experiences as an NBA scout with my readers.

  2. So interesting. I don't think there was a racist thought in that dad's mind...just his knowledge/reality. Of course excellence will ultimately win...regardless!

    1. I agree - I think we are all so over sensitized to PC language.

  3. This is becoming a problem in basketball, especially girls' basketball. In the race for scholarships, parents are pushing children into soccer, lacrosse, softball, and volleyball thinking the scholarship odds are better. However, most parents do not know that college basketball D1 programs are fully funded (15 scholarships), while the other sports are not. I don't know the exact scholarship limitations for other women's sports (soccer may be fully funded). Softball and volleyball have something like 10 scholarships. It's not uncommon to see a walk-on libero starting on a top-10 ranked women's volleyball team because the viewpoint is that it is easy to find a defensive specialist, but not a 6'3 middle blocker.

    The irony is that with so many children departing girls basketball for the "suburban" sports, there are not enough skilled girls' basketball players to fill all the D1 scholarships. The depth of talent and skill has dropped dramatically in the last decade, at least on the West Coast, and almost every coach that I know concurs with this viewpoint, though few will say it publicly.

    While I do not think that race plays an explicit role in a coach's recruitment, I do believe that it plays a subconscious role. Sit in the stands with college coaches and you'll hear "She's pretty athletic for a white girl" a lot. That does not mean that they aren' recruiting white players, but it certainly shows that there is a perception fixed in their minds.

    I also believe Asians are often overlooked; it's almost like they are assumed to be smaller than they really are, while blacks and whites are assumed to be taller than they are. I knew teammates - one Asian and one black - who were virtually the same height. The Asian was more of a PG and a better outside shooter. Coaches who were recruiting the black player told me the Asian player was too small. Same height, same position (roughly - Asian = PG; black = CG), but one was deemed to be too small.

    Obviously, every situation, every coach, and every player differ. However, I don't think that you can discount race at least at the subconscious level. I don't think these coaches intentionally discount a player; however, I do believe that their perceptions - whether based on race, build, height, weight, etc. - affect their evaluations.

    1. Thanks for your insider perspective - adds greatly to the conversation that I hope will inform.

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  5. Thanks for the post, it really makes me think... Keep the posts coming, i like what you post- very informative!

  6. My son has faced this very issue in his quest to play men's basketball at the next level. His AAU coaches were black and they played all of the black players as starters because they were from the same neighborhood. My son played very few minutes and got discouraged being part of the team. My son was not the only white kid sitting the bench either. Luckily his high school coach is very supportive of his abilities and he is a 2 year starter on the Varsity team.

    He is now in the college search so we will know more by this time next year. He is looking at a D3 or NAIA school where he is wanted and liked by the coach he plays for. He wants to ultimately coach after college and has a good mind for the game. Wish him luck!

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