Northwest Arkansas Youth Basketball Guide

by Monica Whitaker

Everything you need to know about youth basketball in Northwest Arkansas, from recreational leagues to travel clubs, expectations, time investment, financial commitment, and more.


As a parent with three children who started playing in Upward, moved on to Boys and Girls Club, and currently all play summer Travel ball, I continually get asked "When were tryouts?" and "Where can we go to get training?" Unless you have older children who have played, most parents are simply in the dark as to the options in Northwest Arkansas if their child has interest in basketball.


For a complete list of basketball recreational leagues, clubs, training, camps and tournaments please see our basketball directory HERE.

(Note: We are in the process of producing guides similar to this for ALL the major sports in our area)


Below is an overview of what to expect between School Affiliated, Recreational, and Club Travel teams:


Recreational Basketball in Northwest Arkansas:

  • Generally organized between two entities: The Boys and Girls Club or Upward (Churches)
  • Recreational generally requires a one-time registration fee that covers all the playing fees and jersey (usually $100 or less)
  • Generally, only has one session in Winter (Dec through Feb).
  • Teams are parent coached and practice 1-2 times each week
  • Practices and games are usually 1 hour and more about having fun while also learning the sport
  • Missing practices and games will generally not impact your child's playing time as most recreational soccer is pay-to-play with each child receiving equal playing time
  • Recreational basketball begins with children as young as 1st and 2nd grade, and continues through high school ages. (note: The older ages may not have enough people for a league or will have fewer teams.)
  • Usually no more than 1 game per week (except for the end of session tournament which could see more)

Fall Teams (School Aligned):

  • In Aug / Sept each year, local middle schools will send out tryout information for school teams
  • Most of these programs are NOT run by the school system, but are usually in affiliation with a non-profit who coordinates everything (e.g. BBC, AAO, etc)
  • Tryouts are generally held in Sept / Oct each year.
  • Season runs from Nov through late Jan or early Feb.
  • These leagues are generally for 5th, 6th, and 7th graders only
  • 4th grade will sometimes have team with select schools
  • Most teams play in the AAO league in Fayetteville and will play two games each Saturday
  • Some 4th grade teams will play in the Sonic League of Springdale where they have younger competition
  • Practices are generally twice per week
  • Cost is generally $200-300 per child (which includes all league fees and coach's fees)
  • These teams generally feed into the formal school teams as the children move into 8th grade and high school.
  • Playing time nor roster spots are guaranteed.
  • Missing practices and games frequently is generally not tolerated

Club (Travel) Basketball during the SUMMER in Northwest Arkansas:

  • Three main clubs in the Northwest Arkansas (4th Grade through High School Ages):
    • Arkansas Athletics Outreach "AAO" (Fayetteville) - Banshess (girls) / Flight (boys)
    • Arkansas Wings (Springdale) - Wings Boys and Girls
    • Arkansas Blazers
  • There are also numerous other smaller teams that come and go and may only have select age groups
  • Summer season runs from March through July
  • Summer teams are NOT affiliates with school systems so you will NOT receive notification from your local school like you will for recreation leagues and school affiliated leagues
  • Summer travel team tryouts are in February and March depending on age (watch AAO, Next Level, and Blazers websites)
  • Club teams generally travel and play in tournaments only which are up to the coach's discretion (there is no league)
  • There are literally tournmanets available to play in almost every weekend within driving distance
  • Club basketball requires a significant time and financial commitment compared to recreational basketball and those commitments often increase as children age
  • A roster spot nor playing time is guaranteed
  • Missing practices and games frequently is generally not tolerated
  • Financial:
    • $200-500 per child in club fees annually. Need based scholarships are available in limited quantities in most clubs
    • $0-$200 fee for two uniforms (home and away) that are usually good for muiltiple years (buy them LARGER than you need top save money - note AAO was $500 per player and included uniform, Wings was $200 per player, $50 per month, and $200 for uniform, shirt, Nike bag, so costs vary dramatically by program)
    • $110-$450 per session team depending on which tournaments they play in. Teams can participate in fund raising efforts to subsidize some or all of their team fees
    • Travel cost are variable and can range dramatically from $750 per year up to $4,000+ when the children are older and traveling more for AAU ball.
  • Time Commitment:
    • Practices generally run 90-120 minutes or more
    • Most teams practice 3 times each week leading into the season, and then twice a week when the season begins as the team will likely be playing in tournaments on weekends
    • Many tournaments are within a 1-2 hour drive and can be day trips.
    • Most tournaments are a 3 game minimum
    • Tournaments will often charge $10 entry fee PER PERON each day so it can get pricey just to watch your player
    • Some tournaments are 2-3 day events and require hotel stays (e.g. Kansas City, Norman, OK, etc.)
    • Most of these tournaments will require an overnight stay in a hotel through the tournament travel agent and often require 2-night minimum stays (see below for more on "stay to play" tournaments).
  • Many players will be in private one-off training in addition to practices (not required, but is very common)

Monica Whitaker.  Writer for Firefly Marketing, LLC including SupplierLife.com and FamilyLifeNWA.com

Monica Whitaker, writer with FamilyLifeNWA





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