Coaching Youth Basketball – Where Should You Start?

If you have ever tried coaching youth basketball, then you already know that teaching this game can be quite challenging. Maybe you are a retired basketball player. Perhaps you have a Bachelor’s degree in Physical Education and a Master’s in Sports Science.

You know all the theories, and you are eminently qualified to coach basketball. The problem here is that “knowing” the game and coaching the game are two different things entirely.

Coaching youth basketball requires skill, patience, tact and the ability to think outside the box. Perhaps the most significant challenge lies in knowing exactly where to start and what to teach.

Below is a goldmine of information for both practicing and aspiring basketball coaches.

Coaching Youth Basketball Level 1 (7 to 10-Year-Olds)

This is what you ought to teach, ordered by priority:

1. Layups

Your goal here is to get all the players to make layups with their left hands and right hands. First, you show the players exactly what you require of them by making the move yourself. Then you tell them the theory of this move.

When shooting a left-hand layup, they should jump off the right leg. For the right-hand layup, they should jump off the left leg. For best results, this move should be executed close to the basket with no dribble.

2. Footwork

You should spend plenty of time on this because footwork is vital to basketball success. Teach the players to pivot on their right and left foot without traveling. You should also teach them jump stops and triple threat positioning.

In addition, you should teach your players to square-up to the basket once they catch the ball in a triple threat position.

3. Shooting Form

At this level, you are not aiming for perfection but you are training the players to develop shooting skills. Remember that failing hit the basket may lead to frustration so we recommend using smaller balls and lower baskets.

You can also allow your players to dip their elbows because this will give them more strength.

4. Ball Handling

Ball handling skills are vital so you should spend some time on this. Teach your players to dribble with both right and left hands. Concentrate on basic dribble moves like the crossover, speed dribble, protect-the-ball dribble and backup dribble.

5. Athletic and Movement Skills

A basketball player must have excellent movement skills. Teach the players how to skip, run, jump and land the right way. With these basic movements, your players will become better basketballers.

6. Basic Passes and Practice Games

Teach your players all the textbook passing moves. Concentrate on the basic chest, bounce and the overhead pass. While you are teaching passes, you should give your players the opportunity to practice their passing skills.

Play plenty of 3 on 3 and 2 on 2 games to put this concept into practice. This gives your players the opportunity to express themselves.

Watch the players as they play and discourage complicated dribbling moves at this stage. The emphasis should be on passing the ball accurately and moving into good positions.

7. Offense

In basketball, offense is the key to success and there are many great offense moves in the books. The thing is you cannot teach structured or patterned offenses at this stage. Just tell your players to attack and let them express themselves.

The only instruction you should give your players is that they should get moving and not stand still.

It also helps if you join one of the teams and show your players what you want them to do. Watch them play and take notes so that you can point out some strong points and weaknesses after the game.

You can also teach proper spacing and motion offense situations when your players feel comfortable on the court.

8. Defense

Some experts tell you that the best form of defense is attack. Now, this may be true in soccer because when you attack your opponents they are forced to defend. However, you cannot apply a soccer principle to basketball.

Ideally, you should spend 5-10 minutes of each practice session on defense.

Teach your players the defensive slide, the basic stance and concentrate on basic off-ball principles. The basic off-ball principles can be summarized in just two phrases:

-Stop the ball when it is in front of you
-Always stay between the man and the ball.

Coaching Youth Basketball Level 2 (10 to 12-Year-Olds)

Now let’s focus on 10 to 12-year-olds. We have to assume that your 10 to 12-year-olds have the right background. At the 10 to 12-year-old stage, the players learned the following things:

-Shooting Form
-Ball Handling
-Athletic Movement/Skills
-Basic Passes
-Practice Games

If your 10 to 12-year-old players have the right background already, they can move on to the next level. However, you have to go back to Level 1 if your players are not ready for Level 2. Below are the skills you should teach your 10 to 12-year-old players:

1. Layups

You should start by telling the players you want them to make layups with both hands. The next step is to execute the move yourself while they watch. After you show them how it is done, you simply line up the players close to the basket and let them try out the move. If they master this move, you can teach them how to execute jump-stop layups.

2. Shooting Form

Train your players to shoot correctly and point out to them that they can only get better with regular practice. Shoot from different positions while they watch and explain to them that the aim is to hit the basket.

You can also introduce your players to shooting off the catch and shooting off the dribble.

3. Ball Handling and Dribbling

You can start by teaching your players to dribble with both hands. The next step is to concentrate on specific dribble moves. Teach your players the inside-out dribble, the hesitation move, the backup dribble and the between-the-legs dribble.

Watch them as they try out these moves and correct them gently when they make mistakes.

4. Passes and Practice Games

An effective passing technique is vital in basketball games. Teach your players all the basic passes and watch them put these skills into practice. When they have mastered the basics, you should introduce advanced passes to them. Teach them the wrap-around pass and the baseball pass.

You should also teach them the “pass and switch” as well as the “machine gun pass”. Play a lot of 2 on 2 and 3 on 3 games to put these passes to practice. Watch them as they play and discourage unnecessary dribbling.

Tell your players to pass accurately and move into good positions.

5. Passing Under Pressure

Once your players have mastered basic passes and advanced passes, you move on to passing under pressure. You can use pair passing to teach this move. Just get two players on the same team with a defensive player from the opposing team in the middle.

The defensive player runs back and forth and puts the passer under pressure. Repeat the drill a number of times and your players will learn how to pass under pressure.

6. Footwork

Without great footwork, your players may not become great players. Go back to the basics and ensure they can pivot on both feet without traveling.

You should also teach your players jump stops and encourage them to square-up to the basket at every opportunity. Introduce jab steps and make sure they master the move.

Teach your players ball fakes because this is a great way to outsmart the opposition. Pass fakes and shot fakes are great moves if they are properly executed. These moves take out opposing players and give you opportunities to hit the basket.

7. Offense

At this point, we have to assume that your players have mastered the basics of offense in Level 1. For your Level 2 players, you can introduce motion offense moves situations and see how it goes.

You can also keep playing the 2 on 2 and 3 on 3 practice games to make your players perfect the offense concept. If they do well, you can move on to the 5 on 5 practice games.

8. Defense

At the Level 1 stage, you taught your players the rudiments of the defensive slide, the defensive stance, and off-ball defense principles. You can still teach these principles at the current level and add the man to man defense system to make your players better defenders.

Other Important Concepts

For good measure, you should teach the following moves:

-Basic screens
-Jab Steps
-Post Moves
-More Cuts
-Rebounding Techniques

Coaching Youth Basketball Level 3 (12 to 14-Year-Olds)

Now, you have covered plenty of ground already. Coaching youth basketball is hard work but it can be fun as well. Go the extra mile; set a great example and the players will learn a lot from you.

This is the third and concluding part of this 3-part article. In the second part of this series, we looked at coaching youth basketball for 10 to 12-year-olds. Now, the focus is on coaching youth basketball for the 12-14 year age bracket.

The players at this stage are bigger, smarter and more likely to understand complex basketball moves. For this reason, we can add more activities to the training regimen.

We can also go back to some of the moves we learned in Level 2 and practice some more this leads to consolidation and makes the players much better.

Below are some of the moves your players should already have worked on before starting Level 3:

-Shooting Form
-Ball Handling and Dribbling
-Passes and Practice Games
-Passing Under Pressure
-Basic screens
-Jab Steps
-Post Moves
-More Cuts
-Rebounding Techniques

Below are the skills you should teach your 12 to 14-year-old players.

1. Layups

At this stage, you can add more complex moves to the conventional layups. Teach your players contested layups and introduce them to same-leg-same-shooting-hand layups. This will make them better players and increase their chances of outmaneuvering opposing players.

2. Shooting Form

In Level 1 and 2 we pointed out that it was okay to use smaller balls and smaller baskets. Now, we can use bigger balls and bigger baskets. You can also teach your players to shoot on the move, shoot off the pass and shoot on the dribble.

3. Ball Handling and Dribbling

Your players already know the benefits of dribbling with both hands. You have also taught them basic dribble moves like the hesitation move and the inside-out dribble.

Now, you can teach them the behind-the-back dribble, the spin move and the crossover followed by the behind-the-back dribble.

4. Effective Passing and Practice Games

As a basketball coach, you can never teach enough passing moves. Your players are familiar with some passing techniques already so you can teach them more passes. Teach the dribble pass, the pick, and roll pass and the behind-the-back pass.

Play 3 on 3 games as well as 5 on 5 games to ensure that your players can try out and perfect the passing moves you have taught them.

You can also go back to the machine gun pass, the baseball pass and the wrap around the pass. Practice these passes with them and ensure they perfect the moves.

5. Passing Under Pressure

Your players are teenagers and are getting better at the game. For this reason, you expect that players on the opposing side will put pressure on those passing the ball. Teach your players to pass the ball under pressure. Use a defensive player in the middle of two passing players to put pressure on the passers. This is an excellent move because it develops passing skills.

6. Rebounding Techniques

A rebound is a powerful basketball weapon. Anytime an attack from the opposing team breaks down, it is an opportunity for a fast break by the team that was previously under the cosh. Teach your players to chin the ball and move because this will make it difficult for the opposing defense to steal the ball.

Teach the rebounding player to pivot away from the basket and throw a quick pass to a streaking player or another player near the sidelines.

7. Footwork

Teach your players more footwork moves and ensure they practice until they are close to perfection. Work on pivots, jab steps, pass fakes and shot fakes. You should encourage your players to keep moving because this will make them better players.

8. Offense

At this point, your players are getting better at reading the defense. This is why you should introduce more motion offense moves. Your players should be able to break down opposing defenses and create scoring opportunities. Teach your players how to attack and shoot and they will be great on offense.

9. Defense

You should emphasize on rotations and situations, but before you do this, you should go back to the basics in Level 1 and 2. Teach defensive slide, off-ball defensive principles, and the defensive stance.

You can also teach man to man defensive styles, but you should avoid teaching zone defenses or zonal marking at this stage.

Other Vital Concepts

Apart from teaching the moves above, you should also teach the concepts below:

-Post Moves
-Basic Screens
-Spacing Drills
-Cuts and More Cuts.

Final word

Coaching youth basketball is not just a job. It is an exciting and rewarding experience. As you train the players, you learn a lot of new things and become a better all-around coach.


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