Coaching young basketball players can be a daunting task, especially when the athletes on your team have a wide variety of skill levels. Your star third-grader may make a left-handed layup look easy, while some of his teammates may not even know how to dribble the ball.
Too many coaches make the mistake of running through a drill without taking the time to break it down and teach the skills that go with it.
I take a three-pronged approach: Demonstrate, Educate, and Motivate. Demonstrate how a move is done; explain how to do it and why; and motivate the kids to do it. There is nothing more enjoyable than seeing a kid coming in not knowing a skill and then mastering it by the end of the season.
It’s important not to push kids too fast. Before a second grader can come from half court and finish a layup with both hands, he needs to learn how to dribble. Instead of forcing my 2nd graders to do layups when they don’t even understand the concepts of timing and stride length, I focus on fundamentals. Here are three of my favorite youth basketball drills.
Purpose: To allow young athletes to get the footwork of a layup together before adding the dribble and the half-court trot.
Action: Athletes line up on the last hash mark of the lane line (two steps from the basket). Without a dribble, they take two steps and lay the ball up. If they’re on the right side, it will be left step/right step/layup. This is a very basic drill but it works. The next progression is to back up, take one dribble and perform a layup.
Purpose: Stresses communication and teaches the proper way to pivot and follow directions. (It’s kind of like Simon Says, only the athletes move on the whistle.)
Action: Let’s say you have 12 players. Line them up in three lines of four, with the two outside lines facing the middle line. Every player in the middle line has a ball. Tell the players in the middle line which way to pivot (clockwise or counter-clockwise). In the beginning, they rotate the clock until they face an outside line; then they pass the ball to that line, all on the whistle.
To make the drill more challenging, call out a number on the clock. Using their pivot foot, the players have to rotate in that direction. They can only move on the whistle, not voice commands.
The passes can be switched up from chest to bounce, etc.
Low to High Shooting
Purpose: This drill helps players who are younger than sixth grade understand how to receive the ball for a shot, starting low and finishing high.
Action: This is a partner drill. Two players face each other about four feet apart, a passer and a shooter. The shooter gets in position to shoot—knees bent, hands ready to catch the ball. He catches the ball low and launches a shot, finishing high. Do this for five or six shots, then switch roles. It’s a great drill to teach kids the importance of being ready to shoot.
Teaching young athletes can be frustrating at times, but it is very rewarding. It might be one of the most enjoyable endeavors in all of coaching. Let’s give the kids the tools they need to succeed.