For those coaching young children who are still learning and being introduced to basketball, keeping the game fun and enjoyable should be a priority. As a coach you have a responsibility to teach the game and its fundamentals but you have an additional responsibility to keep in mind that sports, especially at the youth level, are played for fun.
Competition-based games are a great way for coaches to can keep the young players’ attention, implement a fun break from drills or scrimmaging, and continue to build fundamentals.
Here are eight games that will be great for both team practices and basketball camps in teaching the fundamentals in a fun, creative way.
(The effectiveness of these drills will vary based on the age group of the players, some drills are meant specifically for very young players who are new to the game.)
Sharks and Minnows
Sharks and Minnows is a great game for all ages and will emphasize ball handling and ball control in the open court.
- Select 1 or 2 players to be sharks depending on the size of your group and the ages of your players.
- The sharks will start on one side of the floor between the top of the key and the half court line facing the baseline. The rest of the players will be the minnows and will line up along the baseline facing the sharks.
- The sharks will not have basketballs, the minnows will each have one ball.
- For the minnows the object of the game is to dribble from baseline to baseline without their ball being stolen or knocked out of bounds by a shark. For the sharks the object of the game is to eliminate as many minnows as possible within each round by stealing or deflecting their ball out of bounds.
- If a minnow loses their ball, they will become a shark in the next round.
- The round stops when each minnow has successfully made it across to the other baseline or has been turned into a shark.
- The last minnow remaining is deemed the winner, and the game stops when all minnows have been eliminated
- The last one or two minnows that remained will serve as sharks for the beginning of the next game.
Dribble Knockout will help players practice ball handling and especially protecting the ball as they continue to dribble and keep their eyes up to evaluate the floor.
- This game will begin with the entire group of players starting inside of a designated area of the court (e.g., full court, half court, inside the 3-point line, inside the paint, inside the tip-off circle).
- Each player will start will a basketball.
- The object of the game is for each individual player to keep their dribble alive, and not have their ball stolen or knocked out of bounds, while attempting to steal and knock other players’ balls out of bounds.
- Once players are eliminated they are done for the rest of that game, and as players continue to get eliminated, the remaining group will move to smaller designated areas.
- The game ends when there is only one player remaining with a live dribble; that person is deemed winner and then the game restarts.
Dribble Line Tag
Dribble line tag a is game that combines basketball and traditional “tag” and allows players to work on their ball handling.
- The game will begin with everyone spread out across the court, but everyone must be standing on a line on the basketball court. (e.g., baseline, sideline, 3-point line, etc.)
- One or two players will be the designated taggers and they will not have a ball throughout the game.
- The players who are not taggers will each have a basketball.
- Each player has to remain on a line of the court at all times throughout the game as the taggers attempt to tag the other players who are not “it.” Those who are not it will run away from the taggers while remaining on the lines and dribbling the ball.
- If a person who is not it gets touched by a tagger, steps off of a line or losses control of their ball they are out until the next game.
- The last person who has not yet been tagged is deemed the winner and the game restarts with the last one or two players to be tagged starting as the taggers.
NBA Skills Challenge
The NBA skills challenge is a replication of the event that a select group of NBA players participate in during All-Star weekend. This challenge will incorporate dribbling, passing and shooting, and is a fun competition that involves all of the offensive fundamentals.
- The court for the skills challenge should be set up with the knowledge that the player competing will start in one of the baseline corners, facing the opposite baseline.
- Set up the court with 3-4 cones or objects in a straight line about 4-5 feet away from the sideline on both sides of the court (6-8 cones/objects total). The cones should be placed toward the middle of the court between both of the 3-point lines.
- In the opposite baseline corner of the court there should be a passing target (This could be a shooting machine like The Gun that has a hole into which a pass could be made, or simply a chair with an X taped onto it. Be creative!)
- The players will dribble through the cones and then make a pass at the target from behind a line that can just be made with tape or a cone. If they miss they must get their ball and try again until they hit it. Once they hit the target they will run to the free-throw or 3-point line (depending on the age group) and will receive a pass from a coach standing next to the target. They must make a shot from the line (the coach can decide to rebound for them or have the player get their own) and then grab their rebound, dribble through the cones on the other side of the court and finish the drill with a layup.
- The course will be run one by one, and each individual player will be timed to see who completes the challenge the fastest. (You can also time the players as a group and allow them to compete and try to better their group time.)
The relay race is a very basic game that will be most effective for the lowest age group of youth basketball (ages 5-7). It will enable them to practice their ball handling.
- Divide your group into 2 or more teams based on size, and have each group line up single file behind the baseline.
- Each team will have one ball, and the first player in line will dribble as fast as they can while controlling the ball to the opposite baseline or half-court line and back to the baseline. They will then hand the ball off to the next player in line on their team who will then run their leg of the race.
- The first team to have every member complete the race and get back to the baseline wins. (You can place obstacles such as cones to dribble through within the course to make it more interesting and require more ball handling.)
Knockout or “Lightning” is a classic shooting game that is very competitive but also enables players to practice shooting and shooting under pressure.
- Have your entire group line up in a single file line on the free-throw line or behind the 3-point line (you can even play Half-Court Knockout with older groups).
- Only the first two people in line will start with basketballs.
- The first person will shoot from the designated line. If they make it they will rebound their ball and throw it to the next person in line (without a ball). If, they miss they must grab their rebound and score as quickly as possible from anywhere on the court.
- As soon as the first player takes their shot, the second player can take theirs.
- If the player behind scores before the player in front of them, the player in front is eliminated from the game.
- The drill continues until there is one player left; that player is deemed the winner.
All-Star Shootout is a competitive shooting game for two teams.
- Set up the court with spot markers or cones in different areas on around each basket. These spots can be anywhere on the court, but remember that each spot designates a place from which some player will have to make a shot. So making them too far for certain ages could be problematic.
- Divide your group into two teams and have each team line up outside of the sideline at halfcourt on opposite sides of the court facing their basket.
- Each team will have one basketball and one at a time a member from each team will run out onto the court and pick a spot from which they will shoot. If they make the shot they will rebound the ball and take their spot or cone back to their sideline and pass the ball to the next player in line who will then shoot.
- If they miss the shot they will simply rebound the ball and pass it to the next person in line.
- The first team to make a shot from all of their spots wins
Red Light, Green Light
This is a fun game for especially younger players and allows them to work on ball handling and body control.
- To start one player will be the designated judge/traffic light and that person will stand on one baseline without a basketball.
- The other players will stand on the opposite baseline facing the judge—each will have a basketball in hand.
- The judge starts facing away from the other players and the court. They will call out either “Green light” or “Red Light.” When they call out green light they must not be facing the other player, but when they call red light they can quickly turn around. Green light means that the competing players can run and dribble forward, red light means they must immediately stop dribbling.
- The goal of the game is to be the first one to reach the other baseline without being called out, if a player continues to move after the judge calls “Red Light,” and they are spotted by the judge that player must go back to the baseline and restart.
- The first person to reach the opposite baseline is deemed the winner and will serve as the judge for the next game.