Coaching youth basketball is something that should be fun, but it’s also an important role to take on when it comes to player development. Kids are very impressionable at a young age, so a poor experience can turn them off to the sport for good. On the contrary, a great experience can spark a passion for a lifelong love of the game.
As a youth basketball coach, it’s important to understand the role you are playing. For that reason, we created this ultimate guide to coaching youth basketball. By following the points below, you’ll be on the right track to giving your kids a great basketball experience!
Keep it Fun
This is the most important point for coaching any youth sport. Sports are a game. Games are played to be fun, especially for kids. Make sure your kids are having a good time playing the game.
Don’t be too prideful in your coaching. Feel free to ask the kids or their parents how their season is going. Ask what they’d like to do more of, ask how things could be more fun. You don’t have to act on all of the feedback you receive, but it’s okay to ask.
Ultimately, you’re there to help the kids learn the game and keep things light. As a youth basketball coach, the kids are far too young for the game to be too serious, and that’s something you should keep in mind as you’re coaching. If the kids are having fun, you’re probably doing a pretty good job.
Start With The Basics
It’s easy to get excited about coaching your team and scour the internet for advanced drills and tactics, but the truth is, you need to start with the basics, even for players you may think are ‘advanced.’
Often times some of the best youth basketball players have the worst habits. You may have a deadly three-point shooter, but he shoots the ball from his hip because he doesn’t have the strength to shoot a good-looking jumpshot.
So what exactly are the basics?
Keep your players close to the basket and show them the proper shooting form. Knees bent, elbow in, ball on the pads of your fingertips (not in your palm), follow through as you release the ball.
Knees should be bent, eyes should be up.
At the youth level, passes should be sent with two hands and the ball should be received in the shooting pocket. Passes to work on at this level are the chest pass, bounce pass, and over-the-head pass.
Triple Threat Position
A player is able to do anything offensively from the triple threat position. This is done with the knees bent and ball on the hip. From the triple threat position, a player can shoot, pass, dribble, or pivot.
A great defensive stance has the knees bent, the arms out wide, and the back straight. Don’t let your players stand straight-legged or hunch their back. Teaching them this early builds great habits as they get older.
This is one of the most important. Don’t let your kids just run to the rim toward the basketball. Make them box out and then go get the ball.
Teach players the proper way to set a screen. This means knees bent, staying set, and covering themselves.
These items may seem boring to kids, but there are ways to make all of these things fun. For example, want to work on proper ballhandling? Make it a relay race down the floor with teams. The kids will learn the fundamentals while keeping it fun.
Teach Them To Play, Not Plays
This is one I can’t stress enough. Nothing bothers me more than watching a youth basketball game in which the teams run a set play every time down the floor. That does nothing to teach your players the game.
They are just learning how to run to spots and do what the coach tells them. Also, they are constantly thinking about the plays in their heads instead of just playing.
There is a time and a place to run a set. I’m not saying to never run a play. What I am saying is to teach your kids how to play the game of basketball. Some items I always like to teach my youth teams:
- Pass and screen away
- Pass and basket cut
- Screen and roll
- Screen and pop
- Down screen when you’re being denied
- Backdoor when you’re being denied
- Dribble hand-off
- Call for a ball screen (we put a fist in the air)
- Keeping the floor balanced and knowing when to create space if things are too congested
- And many more!
By teaching your team HOW to play, and not just plays, it’ll go a long way in their development.
Build Skills, Not Drills
This goes hand-in-hand with the point above, but make sure you are building players that get better at skills and not better at drills. What I mean by this is that you’ll find a lot of goofy drills on the internet that you could have your team run.
For example, shooting off of one foot from the free throw line. If you did this drill every day for 10 minutes, your players would get better at shooting off of one foot from the free throw line, but is that an applicable skill to a real game? Doubtful.
Make sure that the drills you have your kids run are building real skills that they can use in games, not just something that looks cool that you found on the internet.
When you’re making your practice plan, think about if the drill you’re planning on running will build skills for your players.
Play Man-to-Man Defense
It is a a no-brainer that playing a zone defense against third graders will probably yield better results than playing man-to-man defense. Third graders have not yet developed knock-down jumpshots and clogging the paint will certainly help keep their scoring total down.
But what are you teaching your kids by playing zone the entire game? Probably bad habits of standing around on defense and staying in the same area.
While you may win a few more games playing zone defense, you are stunting the development of yours players.
Instead of playing zone, teach them fundamental man-to-man principles. Denying while one pass away, playing help-side defense, communicating throughout the possession.
If you teach your players this at a young age, their high school and college coaches will be thanking you, because man-to-man is the staple defense of most high school and college programs across the country.
What do I mean by this? Let your big kids work on their ball-handling and shooting. Let your short kids work on their post moves and screening. When you’re coaching youth basketball, you have no idea who is going to hit a big growth spurt, or who may be done growing.
The size of kids when they’re 10 and the size they’ll be when they’re 18 are vastly different.
So with that said, play positionless basketball. Everybody should be working on ALL of the skills of the game. Not only will it make them a more well-rounded player, they’ll be ready for whatever position they need to play when they get to high school and beyond.
Don’t stunt the growth of your players by only allowing the bigs to play on the block, or only allowing your smaller players to bring the ball up the floor Everybody should be working on all of their skills when it comes to youth basketball.
Don’t Burn Your Kids Out
Give your kids breaks. Let them play other sports. Don’t play in tournaments every weekend. Burnout is very real in youth sports, and that’s because kids never get a chance to be away from the sport. They are constantly playing and being pushed to work on their games.
While there is a time and a place to work on their games, it doesn’t have to be 24/7/365 as youngsters.
They need time away. They need to just be kids. Keep that in mind when you are scheduling practices, games, tournaments, etc.
You should also be encouraging your kids to play other sports. Don’t pigeon-hole them into choosing basketball at a young age. They should be exploring everything. By doing this, you’re not burning them out and they’ll continue being hungry to play more basketball as they get older.
In summary, coaching youth basketball comes with responsibility. People are entrusting you to give their kids a positive experience. Follow the guide above, and you’ll give their kids just that!