Northwest Arkansas Youth Basketball Guide

by Misty Dunlap

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


As a parent with multiple 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.


Note: We are parents who have experienced the good, bad, and ugly of basketball in the Northwest Arkansas area. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to reach out for direction, advice, or help at ContactUs@FamilyLifeNWA.com


Below is an overview of what to expect between School Affiliated, Recreational, and Club Travel teams. Additionally, we will put the parent some tips and "watch-outs" for parents where appropriate.


We will cover each section in following order, so feel free to skip ahead if you are looking for one in particular:

  1. Club / Travel Ball - 3rd through 10th grade (Spring / Summer)
  2. School Ball - 3rd through 6th grade (Fall / Winter)
  3. School Ball - 7th through 12th grade (Fall / Winter)
  4. Recreational Basketball - 1st through 12th (Fall / Winter)
  5. Training - Individual / Group / Clinics

1. Club / Travel Basketball (Spring / Summer):

Club / Travel Ball teams come and go each year.


There are four main clubs in Northwest Arkansas that seem to be stable and encompass a wide range of teams for both boys and girls (there are numerous clubs with 1-3 teams that come and go each year that won't be covered here).


Click the club name to visit their website:

Club / Travel Specifics:

  • Tryouts are usually held between late-January and mid-February
  • Summer season runs from March through July
  • Summer teams are NOT affiliated with school systems, so you will NOT receive notification from your local school like you will for recreation leagues and school affiliated leagues
  • Club teams generally travel and play in tournaments only which are up to the coach's discretion (there is no league)
  • There are literally tournaments 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 Commitment: $400-600 per child in club fees annually (not including travel cost). Need based scholarships are available in some clubs
  • Travel cost are variable and can range dramatically from $750 per year up to $4,000+ when the children are older and traveling farther.
  • 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, are a 3 game minimum. Some tournaments are 2-3 day events and require hotel stays

Important: WATCH-OUTS FOR CLUB / TRAVEL

  • Beware of clubs who ask for their jersey and shorts back at the end of the season. The $600 club fee provides plenty of profit for clubs to pay their bills and then some. This warning goes double for any club that has a corporate sponsor on their gear since they are getting $5-10k or more for that sponsorship that should offset much of that gear cost.

  • There is no "best club" as each club's teams may vary dramatically at different ages groups, and most of the team culture (happiness) will be determined by the coach and the parent. Parents can make a team wonderful to play for or make a team intolerable, so look for parents that share your vision. In our experience, the parents who think their kid is the best often have the attitude "the other kids are holding my kid back." Avoid these parents and teams as they are poison and can destroy a team.

  • Parent Coaches: Good clubs will have rules against parents coaching (or assistance coaching) their own son or daughter. This has been documented over and over to cause more agnst on a team than anything else. A parent will often thinks their kid is better than they are. Exceptions are rare. As such, the coach's kid will genreally get more playing time and recognition than they deserve. If you have a choice, get on a team without a parent coach. Almost as bad are the parents who suck up to coaches and try to form a friendship and get in their ear early on. You can usually spot these parents in tryouts. Look for a coach that understands how to keep these parents are arms length early.

  • A team vs. B team. Some clubs have more than one team per age group, or one club may have a better A team vs. another club. Although many parents want the best for their child, the tough question to ask is "Am I ok with my child sitting the bench on the A team and getting little to no playing time? Or would I rather have them play on the B team or at another club and actually get the play?" There is no right or wrong answer to this question, it is merely a function of the parent and child's mentality. Some are ok not getting to play as much as long as they are on the best team while others would rather play or start on the 2nd best team locally. It is a tough question, and one only your player can answer.

  • "Younger ages build for the future, not for the W. Kids who are in 3rd through 6th grade or slightly beyond may or may not have gone through puberty. Puberty is a huge deal as we have seen some of the best players slow down, while some of the less skilled players grow into their body and become the better players. To categorize a kid as "good" or "not-good" at a young age is shameful. At the younger ages, development should be the goal. A good coach will develop ALL of their players and make sure they all get adequate playing time (not equal, but adequate). Coaches who play the same 4-5 players the entire game simply because those players have been playing for 2-3 years longer and only care about winning is another huge red flag. Avoid these teams and those coaches. That is ok in 7th grade and beyond, but the younger kids are often a product of "when" they started and has no bearing on their long-term potential. Develop all the kids and don't get hung up on wins and losses.

  • Door fees vs. tournament cost. Not to long ago, tournaments would charge each team $100-400 to participate and parents would have to fund it in addition to their club fees. Today, many of the smaller local tournaments are free for teams to participate in, but they charge $8-10 per day to watch your child play. Many parents are frustrated by this practice, but keep in mind, is it better to pay $10 per day to watch, or be asked for $20-40 from each family to pay for the tournament entry fee and then pay $2 to get in? It is all a wash. But be prepared for it financially and mentally so it causes your family less stress. More importantly, LOOK FOR CLUBS THAT ORGANIZE FUNDRAISING FOR ALL THEIR TEAMS IN A CENTRALIZED MANNER - LEAVING IT UP TO EACH TEAM DOESNT WORK WELL BECAUSE IT RELYS ON THE PARENTS.

2. School Basketball (3rd through 6th Grade):

  • 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 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th graders only
  • Most teams play in the AAO league in Fayetteville and will play two games each Saturday
  • Some teams may also play in a recreation + league called Sonics out of Springdale
  • 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 7th grade and high school
  • Playing time nor roster spots are guaranteed
  • Missing practices and games frequently is generally not tolerated

3. School Basketball (7th through 12th Grade):

  • Tryouts for school affiliated ball will usually happen in the spring before the season (March / April)
  • These are school affiliated teams and will play in a traditional school league
  • Playing time nor roster spots are guaranteed
  • Missing practices and games frequently is generally not tolerated
  • Cost is free since the school sponsors them (minus any fundraising the team may do as needed for travel events, etc. that is usually done by the booster club)

4. Recreational Basketball in Northwest Arkansas (3rd through 6th Grade):

  • Two main recreation leagues locally: The Boys and Girls Club and Upward (Churches)
  • Recreational generally requires a one-time registration fee that covers all the playing fees and jersey (usually $120 or less)
  • Generally, recreation only occurs during winter (Nov 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)

Important: WATCH-OUTS FOR RECREATIONAL BASKETBALL IN NORTHWEST ARKANSAS

  • Boys and Girls Club uses parent coaches. The skill and aptitude of each coach will vary dramatically. You will have some coaches who just love helping the kids and have no knowledge, while others will be super competitive and want to win at call cost. Be prepared to take the good with the bad. Up until 6th grade, kids are randomly put on teams other than the coaches kid. Temper your expecations accordingly.

  • Parents of Recreational games can often get more hateful and vitriolic than parents in competitive travel club games. The combination of inexperienced refs who are usually just kids, coaches of varying aptitude, and players of varying skillset, can lead to some tension down the sideline. Be prepared to come with a great positive attitude and learn to blow off rude or obnoxious parents

  • Games can get vary lopsided - Upward doesn't keep score, but they do in Boys and Girls club and Sonic league. Be prepared for some 50-0 beatdowns. In a competitive environment, one can blame the coach, but the reality is the skillsets are so varied in boys and girls club (most of the kids are just there to have fun), the scores can get out of control.

  • Bottom line: If you are competitive and want your kid to be competitive, our advice is to look at one of the club / travel teams or school ball teams.

5. Training

Lastly, if you child needs training and development, almost all the clubs listed in section 1 offer individual training, group training, clinics, and camps throughout the year. Keep in mind, training per hour can vary from $25-50 for individual. Group trainings, clubs, and clinics will be much cheaper by the hour.


If your child is trying to make their school team and gets cut, the reality is training is your only option. The sad truth of youth sports these days is many parents have their kids in paid training year-round. This mades it very difficult on parents who don't have the means. If your child needs training, and you simply can't afford it, Can't Stop Just One is the only club we know of locally that offers limited spots in their group trainings for kids on scholarship.