Coaching youth basketball can be an extremely fun, rewarding and difficult task. You are helping instill core principles and concepts in children at an early age and even teaching them a few extra things you wish you’d known when you were younger. Sure, it’s sometimes difficult to manage what comes along with youth sports, like parents who believe their 6 year old should be the next Lebron James despite them barely showing up for practice. You have to manage challenges both on the court with your players and off the court with their parents.
The keys to coaching youth basketball are to help young athletes stay active, learn the core principles of the game and impart in them a love for the game. These 3 principles are more important to a young basketball player than their shooting percentage from the 3 point line at the age of 7. This guide is aimed at helping those of you who are currently coaching a youth basketball team or have signed up to coach for the first time, whether you’re coaching elementary children or high school athletes.
Most links in this article direct you to free content that will further aid in your coaching efforts. I highly recommend that you check out premium coaching content from some of the best basketball coaches in the world at CoachTube for maximum results.
The first step to becoming a successful basketball coach is ensuring that you have the correct equipment. Luckily, basketball requires very little equipment to get started: a basketball and a gym.
However, there are a few other pieces of equipment you can utilize to make your coaching life much easier. Most importantly, be sure that you choose the correct size and style basketball with which to practice. You don’t want to show up for your first game and realize you’ve been practicing with a women’s ball instead of a men's ball. You will also want a whistle to round up the younger children or get your point across to your older players.
Finally, a simple set of cones goes a long way towards running a productive practice. They allow you to easily direct players through their drills when running practice.
Most basketball equipment can be found at any of your big sports and athletics retailers. See the links below for more information about basketball equipment.
As a youth basketball coach, your available court time will most likely be set by either the facility, league or school you are using. In order to make the most of your time, you should make a tight, well-planned schedule for each practice. Write down each set of drills or tasks you want to accomplish each practice and set time limits. Keep your kids on-task and moving quickly so you don’t get behind.
Hitting the fundamentals of shooting should be done every single practice. Run plenty of layups and shooting drills. Keep an eye out for players traveling and make sure they are squaring up to the basket each time they shoot. Every drill should focus on executing the fundamentals so that they become second nature.
Throughout your practices, slowly incorporate your offensive and defensive schemes. The first few practices can be all about fundamentals, running drills and working on basic ball handling skills, however you will want to incorporate at least 2 offensive set plays and 2 defensive schemes before your first game. Teaching your players to execute even 2 simple plays will get them in the habit of constantly moving on offense and not having a ‘one vs all’ offensive set. Similarly, a cohesive defensive unit is extremely effective against other teams with no real offensive scheme. The most beneficial asset to your youth basketball team is the ability to work together and understand basic team principles. These skills will be established through productive practices
Working along the lines of my previous point, you should always set aside time in your practice for both individual and team offensive drills.
For individual offensive drills, focus on dribbling and make sure that each player becomes an adept ball handler with both their dominant and nondominant hands, keeping the ball close to the floor. There are an infinite number of shooting drills that you can run as well to develop their free throws, shooting off the dribble, and shooting off the pass.
Finally, spend time individually with your guards and big men (forwards and centers). With the guards, practice V-Cuts, dribbling drills and 3 point shooting. With the big men, work on post moves, the Mikan drill (link below) and pick and pop situations. These breakouts are key to developing skills specific to each player’s position.
Note: For younger ages, these breakout drills may not be as necessary, as players don’t always have defined roles at such a young age. It is important for them to get a taste of all of the individual skills.
It is also important to set aside time to work on team oriented offensive drills, including running team plays, working on pick and rolls and how to run a fast break or press break. Being able to run a successful fast break and successfully break a press are 2 ways to give your team easy layup opportunities. Spending time on team drills each practice helps develop the camaraderie needed to turn your team from 5 individuals into 1 team.
Defense is where games are won and lost. Too often you see players take a rest on defense which leads to an easy scoring opportunity for the opposing team. Great individual and team defense leads to many great scoring opportunities. Similarly to your offensive drills, be sure to incorporate both individual and team defensive drills into your practice.
The key to individual defensive drills is staying low to the ground and staying between your man and the basket. In every defensive drill run, be sure your players are staying in a good defensive position, with their butt down, head up, back straight and hands out wide. The earlier they learn good positioning the easier it gets to maintain that positioning as they get older. Teach the importance of always staying between your man and the basket and taking responsibility to keep your man from scoring. Finally, remember when guarding a defender man to man, never cross over your feet, always shuffle side to side.
Team defense requires you to not only be responsible for your own man, but to also help out your teammates. Incorporate the principles of denying your man the ball when you are 1 position away from the ball and helping your defense when you are 2 or more positions away from the ball. At older ages, incorporate how to rotate on defense and defend the pick and roll as these are extremely important techniques that contribute to a solid team defense. In this section you should also focus on team rebounding drills, blocking out and gathering the rebound from both man-to-man and zone perspectives. Remember, it is always more difficult to rebound in a zone defense as not everyone has an assigned man to block out.
In youth basketball, being able to run even 1 or 2 plays will set your team apart from the rest of the league. For younger ages, keep it extremely simple, with 2 or 3 passes and 1 or 2 cuts. My coach at 5 years old had us run one simple play that included 1 pick and left our best shooter open every single time. Here’s a diagram of that play. As you can see, this play incorporates passing, picks and movement, which are 3 keys to any successful offense. No matter what play you start with, be sure it includes each of these elements and expand the play once your team becomes comfortable with it.
The second key area to running basketball plays is to learn how to effectively attach a zone defense. Many teams, especially in youth basketball, will run zone defenses and it is a particularly effective change of pace at higher levels as well. The key to being successful against a zone defense is moving the ball effectively around the wings and getting the ball into the high and low post. By making the defense move side to side, eventually you will see passing lanes open into the middle. Below I have included a great in depth resource on how to attack a zone defense.
It’s game day. Everything you have done up until now has gotten you to this point. The drills, the installation of a defense and offensive plays. Now is the time to make sure your team is well equipped and The pre-game warmup is a crucial part to making sure your team is loose and ready to play. You want to establish a routine and practice it enough times so your players can execute it on their own. Here is an example of a routine that I follow. You may want to modify it based on how much time you are given.
This routine is easily completed in 10-15 minutes before every game. Feel free to put your own spin on it to find what works best for your team!
The whistle sounds and it’s game time. I should note that I am a very competitive person and always play to win. I believe that learning to win and lose with class taught me many important lessons as a young athlete. With that being said, when coaching youth basketball it is very important to make sure that each player fits into your game plan. You should work to teach these kids to love the game, as well as making sure they know that each player has a special role on the team. At younger ages, be sure to rotate players more often, especially through the starting lineup. As they get older, use each player in a more defined role. You will have a few athletes that are by far the best players on the team, but it’s your job to make sure the other players understand their roles as the lock down defender or big time rebounder.
In order to make sure you work each player into the game in their role, you need to have a game plan. Before the game even starts, write down which sets of players you want to work together based on their performance at practice. Know that getting to the end of the game and needing your best defender on the court means you may have to sacrifice a little offense. Having a game plan ensures that you follow through with your predetermined plan and that you don’t get caught up in the game and forget to play everyone.
Finally, it’s important to provide constructive criticism during the game. If you take a player out for making a costly mistake, don’t chastise him or her. Be sure to explain what they did wrong and how they can correct it the next time. A player who isn’t confident in their skills will only make more mistakes.
Remember, the goal is to develop a cohesive, well rounded team. This will lead to more wins than having your best player play the entire game and end up barely getting the ball to the rim by the 4th quarter.
Once you have coached for a few years or even a few weeks, you quickly realize that the on-court stuff is easy. It’s the off-court tasks that are difficult.
You are responsible for making sure the practices and games are scheduled, that all the parents know what is expected of them as far as getting kids to practice, on top of providing uniforms, equipment, water, snacks, etc. It’s important to identify 1 or 2 parents who may not have the skills or desire to help with on-the-court stuff, but have a knack for organizing and planning. Most often these people love reaching out to others, planning which parents are going to bring the gatorade each weekend, and making sure everyone is aware of any practice or schedule changes. Quickly identify these parents and it will make your coaching life much easier.
With the way everyone is connected these days, try to plan out your team’s schedule as far in advance as possible to accommodate busy schedules. Try communicating with group texts, email blasts or a private Facebook group to let everyone know of any changes so everyone can make arrangements accordingly.
Remember, you don’t have to do everything yourself. Ask for help. There are plenty of parents out there willing to help as a thank you for coaching their children.
So the season is over and regardless of whether you won a game or the league championship, I am sure you will want your players to improve in the off season. As mentioned earlier, your athletes are not going to become the next Lebron James by practicing only a few times a week during the season.
Off season work is where good players turn into great players. The work in the off season leads to potential collegiate scholarship offers. I encourage you to have a set of off season workouts printed off to hand out to your players and encourage them to improve on their basketball skills while they move on to baseball or football during the off season.
Never stop improving! Here are some key areas you should focus on:
Free Throws - Conditioning - Agility Drills - Free Throws - Jump Shots - Dribbling - Big Man Drills - Free Throws
Yes, I know I listed free throws 3 times, but they really are that important! Strive to shoot over 70% and you will see your scoring skyrocket!