A Blueprint for Success in Youth Basketball

"What do I do? Where do I start?"

"How do I incorporate all of these skills into practice?"

"What offense should I run? Motion? Dribble drive? Flex? Princeton? Swing? Shuffle? High-Low? Set plays?"

"What plays should I run? Should I run any? Are these too simple? Are these too complicated? How many out of bounds plays do I need? What about a press breaker?"

"What defense should I run? Man to Man? 3-2 zone? 2-3 zone? Amoeba? 1-3-1 zone? Match up? Full court pressure?"

After your head is ready to explode, you're probably thinking, "I shouldn't have volunteered to do this!"

Almost everybody who has coached youth basketball has had these thoughts and feelings go through their head at one time or another. Because coaching youth basketball can be quite overwhelming. Here are some ways to simplify it and make things easier for you.

But don't worry. Take a deep breath and exhale because we're here to help. You can learn from our successes and mistakes.

For youth basketball coaches your priorities should be:

  • Character development and making basketball enjoyable
  • Athletic development and skill-work
  • Defensive and offensive concepts (Motion offense and man to man defense are the best for long-term development.)

Once you know what your priorities will be and what you should work on (hint, hint, look above), the first thing you should do is develop a long-term plan (2-5 years) and season plan.

Here is what I would do if I were starting to coach a team whether it was 6th grade or 2nd grade.

First, what would I like them to develop and learn before they reach high school?

  • Athleticism
  • Ball Handling
  • Passing
  • Footwork
  • Lay Ups
  • Shooting
  • Basic Offensive Concepts
  • Basic Defensive Concepts

Your list may be different based on what you believe and how much time you have available.

Second, what should I focus on this year?

I split my practice between offensive skills, offense, defense and scrimmaging. It usually goes something like this:

  • Athletic development and offensive skills -- 30 minutes
  • Defense -- 15 minutes
  • Offense -- 15 minutes
  • Scrimmage -- 30 minutes

You could also look at it like this:

  • 1/3 skills and athletic development
  • 1/3 offense and defense (small-sided games)
  • 1/3 scrimmaging

Now each year, it is a good idea to have a primary focus and secondary focus for each section of practice. One of the biggest reasons to focus on one or two things is the coaches and kids will see clear improvement by the end of the year. This motivates the players and makes it fun!

If you try to do everything equally, you might improve a little but it will barely be noticeable. If you focus on ball security for example (ball skills - ball handling and footwork) and dedicate 20 minutes to every practice and emphasize the concepts in games, you will certainly see improvement from day one to the last game. You can see it on film, show it to players and parents, and everyone feels good about the improvement that was made.

I will work on the primary focus every practice. I will work on the secondary focus every 2-4 practices.

Now, if you do this for 3-4 years with your focus shifting and progressing, that's when you develop basketball players!

Examples of primary and secondary focus for a 3rd to 5th grade team:

  • Skills primary focus -- Ball handling and footwork
  • Skills secondary focus -- Lay ups, passing, shooting
  • Offense primary focus -- Cutting and getting open -- V-cuts, L-cuts, basket cuts (give and go), and backdoor cuts.
  • Offense secondary focus -- Introduce ball screens, introduce screens away from the ball, baseline out of bounds play, sideline out of bounds play, press breaker.
  • Defense primary focus -- Defensive stance, 1v1 defense, positioning when 1 or 2 passes away, moving on the pass, sprinting to areas.
  • Defense secondary focus -- Defending cutters, post players, ball screens, screens away from the ball.
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