It is said time after time that our youth is the future; unfortunately our youth today are so consumed with television, video games, and social media that they are learning poor habits earlier and earlier. I will give you an example, I was working a camp recently in which a player was in charge of the lay-up station. I looked over and he was teaching 8-10 year olds how to perform the Euro-Step; you can imagine my disbelief – I quickly changed the drill!
As coaches. continue to talk about the importance of fundamentals in basketball. But are we teaching the right things? Below are what I believe are the five most important elements to coaching youth basketball. Let me be clear, in this article I am referring to Youth Basketball players as any one younger than 10 years of age.
1. Ability to dribble equally well with both hands: It amazes me that players come into our program each year and are very talented but are one-hand dominant. While there are numerous drills that many professional skills trainers promote, at the youth level keep it simple. My suggestion, teach your players to speed dribble and hesitation dribble with both hands. Once they master this, teach them to zig-zag dribble utilizing (in this order) the crossover, between the legs, and behind the back dribble. Do not move on from the cross-over until they perfect it.
2. Ability to Throw a Chest/Bounce/Overhead Pass: One element of the game that a lot of young players see on television are All-Star players making highlight 1-hand passes. That is fine, I am not against that, they are All-Stars for a reason. But there is no place in the game for youth basketball players to learn 1-hand passes until they become stronger and can properly throw a TWO-handed chest, bounce, and overhead pass. Again, keep it simple line up your players across from each other and teach them to properly throw two-handed passes with arms extended and thumbs down on the finish. Once they are able to do this well, begin to combo in passing while running.
3. Ability to Shoot Lay-Ups Equally Well with Both Hands: Too often I walk into a youth center or gym and see young players jacking shots from 15-20 feet. However, when you watch youth basketball games. The most common shot is in a fact lay-up. By the nature of the game (and lack of defense) lay-ups are very popular in youth basketball. Teach your young players to be skilled with both hands when finishing around the rim. But don’t stop there, this needs to be taught and re-enforced at every level of the game. I will give you a great example, several years ago I coached a highly sought after player at the college level who could not shoot a left-handed lay-up. But it wasn’t his fault, his previous coaches let him get by with mediocrity because of his athleticism.
4. Ability to Move Without the Ball: This last component is not necessarily a fundamental but something I feel is just as important to teach at the youth basketball level. How often do you watch basketball games from the youth level all the way to high school and see players just standing around and watching. It’s frustrating isn’t it? But guess what, it isn’t their fault. They were probably never taught at a young age how to properly move and space the floor. This is either due to poor coaching or the enforcement of set plays. I will be the first to tell you that I LOVE set plays and quick hitters. However, that is not best for youth basketball because they only learn how to run a play, not how to play in itself. Today’s theme, Keep It Simple! Space your floor with a simple 5-out and teach your players to pass and cut and fill spots. It seems simple but it is probably one of the most effective plays you could teach in all of youth basketball.
Teaching youth players the Read & React Offense is the best investment you can make as a basketball coach. Only a parent or part-time coach? That’s ok, focus on Layer 1: Passing and Cutting, with your team.
It is too early in development to throw a kid in the post and leave him there because he is tall, let him or her learn the game like everyone else! Look at the game of basketball today, how many true back to the basket Centers are there in the NBA? A handful at best.
5. Ability to Shoot the Ball with Proper Form: I have left shooting last because I think the first four tips will help youth players achieve success at earlier ages with those fundamentals. However, there is no denying that kids LOVE to shoot! It is extremely important that you teach youth players how to properly shoot the basketball. In addition to proper form, do not use a regulation sized ball or goal height. Teach them how to shoot using a small ball (size can vary depending on age of child) as well as the height of the rim. To this day, it amazes how many talented players enter high school with poor shooting mechanics. Habits and muscle memory take a tremendous amount of time to change. Teach proper habits and muscle memory early in development so the player can continue to improve their game as they grow older.
I could spend all day writing about more tips to coaching youth basketball. But these five components are of the most importance in my opinion. Am I leaving any off, what do you think?