News for North Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

The Pricey Game Of Youth Sports: Using A Private Coach To Boost Hoop Dreams

Bill Zeeble
Ricky Rijos takes a break from the group session with private coach Tyler Relph, at the Sportsplex on Valley View

Ricky Rijos is ratcheting up his hoop dreams. Ricky, who’s a member of KERA’s Class of ’17, has left one private basketball coach for a new, pricier one – whose clients include NBA and top college players. 

As part of KERA’s American Graduate initiative, here’s a glimpse inside the big-dollar world of youth sports.

It may seem like a typical summer for a 15-year-old suburban kid obsessed with basketball. Ricky Rijos practiced all summer and went with the family on a week-long summer vacation out of state. Did he think about getting a job?

“No. I wanted money, but I was kinda a little lazy,” Ricky says. “And I would rather go to the gym every day than go and work and all that. But mom said I have to get one next summer, definitely.”

No summer job is fine with dad. 

Credit Bill Zeeble / KERA News
Riki Rijos, Sr., intently watches his son during the group basketball drills conducted by coach Tyler Relph. Rijos, a New Yorker, is impressed Relph was Mr. Basketball in NY in 2003. That means he was selected as the state's best high school basektball player that year.

“If you’re a great student athlete and you keep your A’s and B’s,  I’ve got everything else,” says Ricky’s father, Riki Rijos, Sr. “That’s all I ask. Absolutely, and be a loving kid. So, those three things are probably his goals.”

And Ricky’s big picture goal? A basketball career. With dad’s help, direction and dollars, he’s pursuing it, now with a new private coach.

“One, two, three, go, go! go! Quick, quick,” shouts high-energy basketball coach Tyler Relph.

Relph, who’s 30, was a hotshot guard who was named Mr. Basketball in New York for being the best high school basketball player in the Empire State. In college, he played for West Virginia and then St. Bonaventure. A knee injury ended his playing career, but he stayed in the game.

Credit Bill Zeeble / KERA News
Ricky, in black to the left, participating in a group drill led by private coach Tyler Relph, center.

“I’m 6 foot, 185,” Relph says. “You know, I’m not a physical specimen by any means. But I played at a high, major level. I’ve been around a lot of good basketball. So I think kids at that age can say if he did it, why can’t I? How much better could you be if you had this type of skill set?”

That’s good enough for Ricky.

“Cause that’s like the size I’m going to be,” says the teen. “I think the doctor said I’ll be like 5-foot-9, 5-foot-10, something around there. So like if he’s that good, it’s pretty cool.”

Relph’s innovative basketball drills have attracted NBA players like Marcus Smart and Amare Stoudemire. At a price, however. Four individual sessions total $1,100. Ten weekly workouts with up to a dozen kids another $360.

Credit Bill Zeeble / KERA News
Current Oklahoma State guard Phil Forte, left, with coach Tyler Ralph. Forte, home for the summer, drilled with Relph the same night Ricky came for coaching.

“We signed up for the whole gamut of the season,” says Ricky’s dad. “We signed up for the next two months in every single training he has here in the city of Dallas. We’ll be in for well over $1,000 but it’s going to be well worth it.”  

For some kids with the right size and skills, this kind of coaching is just a nice add-on. For others who can afford it, like Ricky, it’s a pricey necessity. Marlene Dixon is a professor of Sports Management at Troy University. 

“Say 10 years ago when kids played select, or especially 15 to 20 years ago, it absolutely gave them an advantage," Dixon said. "But now, it’s caught up. And so many other people are doing it too, it simply keeps up with everybody else.”

Dixon says youth sports has become big business. Even top high school coaches get sucked in, adding to the private club appeal.

“It has definitely ballooned in size and capacity,” Dixon says.  

Back at the court on Valley View, Ricky’s working on skills learned from his new coach.

“He just gives you more moves,” Ricky explains. “Like he shows you more moves to do in practice to make you a better scorer. He gets in, like, one-on-one, talks with you instead of doing it in groups. He’ll like pull you aside and talk to you about it and tell you your mistake and you have to go and like, fix it.”

Ricky hopes to fix enough to make the team this season at Flower Mound High School. Tryouts start next week, the first week of school. 

Watch Ricky at a recent practice:

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.