Don Schlenbecker, CSCS, President, Peak Performance Training
Role as a Coach
As you embark on a new season of working with young basketball players, we really need to take a closer look at what the goals should be. The education of this great sport starts with you, and I have always found that through learning, kids will have fun. Increased ability and success is no doubt a huge driving force in the entertainment, enjoyment, and continued participation of athletics for kids.
Building a Foundation in Practice
Everything starts with practice. Many of you are limited to only 1 hour of practice per week, and in that time you may often feel like you have so much to cover. Nothing really matters until your kids have started to master the basic foundational skills needed to play basketball. The most important aspect of your practice is structure. A coach needs to go into practice with a written plan/agenda! Each practice is a basketball “meeting”, and you need to prepare as such. Like any meeting agenda, practice won’t necessarily stay true to form, but solid preparation will give you the tools to achieve.
We walk into gyms all over the area for clinics, and the number one area of needed improvement is ball handling. For us, ball handling includes both individual ball skills as well as passing skills. Kids walk into the gym and shoot, but we argue that they need to walk into the gym and work on dribbling and passing before a shot even heads for the rim. Especially at a young level where shots come from wherever they can get enough power from, dribbling can always be worked on and carried over as players get older and stronger. Our challenge for coaches is to take the first 20 – 30 minutes of practice and focus on dribbling and passing. Build confidence with basic skills, but always introduce something that is right at the line of being too difficult. Keep your kids striving to improve. Remember that a kid can always work on dribbling, all he/she needs is a little space. Want some added motivation, rent “The Pistol: Birth of a Legend”, and watch this amazing story of Pete Maravich with your kid(s).
It will always be a fact that the teams/players that are the best conditioned, are the most successful. I’m not saying that we need to run our kids into the ground, but they sure do seem to get tired pretty fast nowadays! Use basketball related drills to help get your players in better condition. The less tired they get during practice/games, the more focused they will be to execute and in turn be successful.
If you can’t stop the other team from scoring, it is going to be pretty difficult to come out on top. Learning how to play defense, and stressing its importance, is crucial in the development of every player/team. We like to relay to the kids that “You Earn the Right to Shoot!!!”, so they understand that offense comes as a result of good defense. Many clinics and camps we run sometimes never have a shot go up until 45 minutes into it. It starts with proper defensive stance and footwork, and leads into shot challenging, rebounding, and team defensive concepts. There is nothing better for conditioning then getting down and working on some individual defensive slides, or sprinting the length of the court to get in defensive position. Focus the mindset early on the importance of defense!!!
Offense is the one area where we really seem to go overboard as coaches. Please remember that successful offense is about execution, not complexity or trickery. We don’t need a playbook in youth basketball, what we need is repeated practice to master an action/play. Choose one offensive set-up, and one set offensive out of bounds play, and run them in practice until it is second nature to the players. If it isn’t run correctly, repeat it again, or break it into parts (using just one side of the court) and perfect that first. And as far as shooting goes, at the lower levels please avoid trying to teach someone how to shoot! Shooting “form/ technique” is going to initially relate directly to the strength of a young player, so allow them to do what is needed to get the ball to the rim (unless it’s granny style of course). Greatest tip you can give to your players is, “Shoot Up, Not Out”. For the older kids we will provide some great shooting drills and tips on how to get better rotation and into a solid shooting position, but learning to shoot is a skill that will come from many hours of repeated practice and one-on-one focus.
NO NO NO!!! At a youth level, defense usually dominates the game because of the fact that there are many more factors that go into offensive play (i.e. dribbling, passing, shooting). Too many times I see “scrimmages” going on during practice, or kids/parents commenting about scrimmaging. What we have learned so far, is that basic skills are diminished in youth basketball, and scrimmaging is definitely not the answer for improvement. Now if your team can run through their offense with precision with no defense, than adding some defense in a half-court setting can work. Work through it in stages though, by using 2 on 2 and 3 on 3 drills on one side of the court. Putting the kids in a game situation with a defender is important, but having 10 kids running around the gym chasing a basketball is not conducive to any type of learning.
With each game there needs to be a set approach as to what the expectations are for the team and individual players. Practice should have reinforced exactly what you are wanting to happen in the game. Take the time before the game to go over the set offense and out of bounds play. Make eye contact and ask questions to the kids to reinforce what they are supposed to do. Always focus on getting maximum effort from each player, and make sure to give constant feedback on effort. Remember to stay simple, stay focused, and have fun!
To sum it all up, the best path for the season is to just keep it very simple and structured. Have a plan, find fun ways to incorporate necessary developmental skills, and make sure to reward hard work and effort with tons of positive encouragement and reinforcement. The number one reason that kids continue with sport(s) is because of the enjoyment they get out of it. And we all know that it is always more fun when skill level and results improve. Let’s help to lay a basketball foundation that kids can continue to build off of into the future!