Should We Teach Basketball Skills to Kids Under the Age of 10?

By Joe Haefner

Personally, I don’t believe we should spend much time teaching basketball skills to children under the age of 8. Some might even say 9 or 10.

I still believe we should incorporate basketball skills, but so many coaches forget that this a crucial time to develop ATHLETES. We should play tons of games that incorporate all sorts of movements that help children become better all-around athletes for the future.  Who cares if they are the best basketball player at age 9.  We want the best basketball players at age 18!

If we ignore this, it doesn’t matter how skilled the kid is in a particular sport. If they are not athletic enough to get open, they can not shoot. It does not matter how skilled they are with the ball if they can not create separation from the defense.  This concept applies to almost all sports!

Do you need to be a stickler on movement technique?

No and sort of.

Between the ages 6 and 9. No.

When they reach age 9 or 10, they’re ready for SOME technical instruction.

According to athletic development expert Brian Grasso, kids between the ages 6 to 9 are in the Guided Discovery stage. Everything should be outcome-based with an emphasis on fun.

When working with athletes under the age of 9, Grasso states, “The entire premise of sport exploration should be based on guided discovery and nothing more –while the nervous system is at the height of its adaptability, kids should be encouraged to explore on their own, and under the ‘rules’ of outcome-based activities only.”

This means that we don’t want to be overly technical with this age group. Just give them a goal and let them do it. For example, “Johnny, try dribbling down the court with your right hand and shoot a lay up at the opposite end of the court.”

Be positive and have some fun.

At what age should I start to focus on the movement technique a little more?

According to Grasso, when the athlete is between the ages of 10 and 13, you start to emphasize technical skill a little more while still making things fun.

You don’t want to go overboard so you don’t cause paralysis analysis for the athlete, but you want to give them cues to help fix an improper movement pattern.

Other reasons to focus more on movement with youth athletes…

  1. A child needs to have a foundation of moving without a ball before you can expect them to move properly with a ball.  If a kid can not stop, how do we expect them to dribble and come to a jump stop? If a kid can not jump and land, how do we expect him to shoot a jump shot? If a kid can not run properly, how do we expect to dribble while running?

    A well-known athletic development specialist named Gray Cook references a performance pyramid for athletic development. It has 3 layers.

    The 1st layer  is “Movement” which is the foundation. It refers to just being able to move and do things such as skipping, running, running backwards, climbing, crawling, shuffling laterally, hopping, landing, and so on.

    The 2nd layer is “Performance” and that refers to the efficiency of the movements. Performing movements correctly with power & athletic explosiveness.The That refers to when you get sport-specific.

    3rd layer is “Skill.”

    For example, you have to be able to jump & land (1st layer – movement) before you can jump with power. You have to jump with power (2nd layer – performance) before you can dunk or shoot a jump shot (3rd layer – skill).

  2. Kids learn movements better at a younger age and should be exposed to numerous different movement activities.Children are like sponges when it comes to learning new movement skills. Research shows that if you try to teach them movement skills when they become physically mature, it often takes longer to learn these skills. That’s why it’s important for the development of an athlete to start at a young age!
  3. Produce well-rounded athletes. You can have extremely-skilled basketball players who never make it to the next level, because they were not athletic. And this could be a result of them never learning how to move properly.  This can be taught when they’re older, but it’s much more effective to GUIDE them at a young age. 

    I think everybody knows at least one player who can shoot lights out, but could not create sapce to get the shot off if his life depended on it.

  4. Since the young athletes are not developed, their shooting form and other skills will change drastically as they get stronger and older.Why spend a lot of time on that when they’re going to change in the future anyways? Shouldn’t we be worried about developing them as athletes instead?
  5. Prevent Injuries.If an athlete is not exposed to movement patterns at a young age or does not continue to use those movement patterns, the athlete may move incorrectly which can lead to an injury. If the child learns how to move, this will be prevented.  What good is an injured athlete?

How much time should I dedicate to practice?

I believe coaches who work with kids under the age of 10 should spend at least 20 minutes of their practice incorporating movement games/skills. The rest of the practice you can work on skills such as passing, shooting, and ball handling.

Athletes over the age of 10 should spend at least 10 to 15 minutes at the beginning of practice incorporating different movement skills through a progression to prepare their body to perform at the highest level, prevent injuries, and improve athletic ability. You want to avoid making the athletes do explosive movements without properly warming up first. We have warm up examples in this sample practice for 11 to 14 year olds.

What do you do to incorporate these movement skills into practice?

Play plenty of movement games. It’s fun and it:

  1. Gets the body warmed up and ready to play.
  2. Helps develop them as athletes.
  3. Prevents Injuries.

Here are 2 great games to incorporate right away for ALL age levels!

1. Tag

2. Red-Light, Yellow-Light, Green-Light.

Tag is probably one of the best games you can play. It teaches the athletes to move in all directions. It teaches them how to be elusive. Elusiveness is something many players are lacking these days, because they never play these games anymore. When I was younger, we’d play tons of games (touch football, tag, kickball, dodgeball, whiffle ball) that required you to be elusive to succeed. Kids don’t do that as much anymore, so we need to make sure to incorporate these things into practice.

Another great game is green-light, yellow-light, red-light. Pick a movement and when you say green light, they go. When you say “yellow-light”, they go at half speed. When you say “red-light”, they freeze. If you were to do lunges, the green-light would be lunges at a normal pace, yellow-light would lunges at a slow pace, and red-light would make them freeze. This is great way to teach them how to control the speed of their movements while making it fun. You can do this game with running, shuffling, jogging backwards, hopping, and anything else you can think of.

Just like anything else in life, you need a good foundation in order to succeed. You need to learn algebra before you can do calculus. You need to teach kids how to move before they can become a great athlete and excel in a certain sport.  At the very earliest, I would not specialize until they’re 15 years old.

If you would like to get an idea of how certain movement techniques should be performed, I highly advise to visit this site website called Core Performance. It has a ton of free videos you can look at.

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27 Comments

  1. Scot — April 9, 2009 @ 7:10 am

    I certainly agree with the concept of teaching movement/athletics at a young age. I have my own girls in multiple sports to avoid specialization at this age (8 yr olds). Your article seems to contradict itself though. The main article discusses focusing on movement and not skills, but the summary suggests spending 20 minutes on movement and the rest of the time on skills. Which is it? I agree with the summary and wish the tone of your article throughout, had emphasized the incorporation of movement within teaching the skills, not exclusive to it.

  2. Joe Haefner — April 9, 2009 @ 7:40 am

    Hi Scot, I think you took what I said out of context. The first line of the article says 8 year olds and I still believe we should spend most of our practice on teaching these kids how to move. However, if the parents signed up to have their kids learn basketball skills, do you think you should still spend the majority of the time teaching basketball skills? I don’t how much the parents would like it if the kid never touched a basketball. Not saying it’s the best thing, but you won’t be able to help the kids if the parents take them somewhere else.

    The second line you refer to where I said spend at least 20 minutes, I said for kids under 10 years old, not 8 year olds. Maybe, my statement was too general. I also said spend “AT LEAST” 20 minutes, not just 20. Do you think coaches (especially coaches new this to concept) are going to do this if I advise them to spend 75% of their practice working on movement skills? They’re going to think I’m nuts!

    I think you need to focus on the movement skills without the ball, so there is not that added factor of handling the ball while moving. If you throw a ball in there while trying to learn a new movement skill, it messes everything up. However, once the kids start running, dribbling, and passing the ball, aren’t they incorporating newly learned movements with a ball?

    Do you have some recommendations on teaching movement while teaching the skills? I’m all ears.

  3. Guillermo Moreno — April 12, 2009 @ 8:38 pm

    I agree with this article we as a coaches should find the way how to teach the young kids the fundamental of the game they do not have to master those fundamentals but at least know them in order to enjoy playing basketball and be ready to come back to learn some more the next practice. Muchas gracias por sus articulos de basketball siempre estan increibles

  4. Younis Taki — April 14, 2009 @ 4:05 pm

    I agree that nowadays we have to do our best teaching those kids how to move: jump and land sefely on two feet, run change speed then stop safely without falling in the river which is crossing base-line, do different
    acts while in the air like clapping or keeping your hands high in the air, jumping-landing then sprinting,….
    I personally advise the parents of the kids to enroll them in a gymnastics class in parallel with the basketball class because it helps prepare the body to be ready for any sport especially basketball at later stages …

  5. Rubin — May 6, 2009 @ 8:05 pm

    I am 11 years old and I have been playing basketball before age ten- I agree that kids 10 and younger should play because when they are older they will know basics and easier for them to learn the more advanced techniques. They will play better and basketball is a very good workout for your body.Espcially for your legs becasuse you would be running up and down court.

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  7. Jim Page — October 20, 2009 @ 3:06 pm

    Teaching young athletes basketball skills at younger ages is important It gives the young athlete a sense of accomplishment and discipline of doing something well and right respectfully. Personlly, I would not have the kids play any games for the first three years. This put more focusing on developing skills, and not so much on the outcomes of winning. I firmly agree in the more movement the better perspective. But skills gives a performance purpose to the movement. Lastly, I have seen more kids quit basketball because lack of skill developement, then I have because of lack of physical ability. True, long lasting, well taught skill development, will carry kids far into sports participation.

  8. Chris — December 4, 2009 @ 4:16 pm

    How to teach basketball skills while ath the same time developing athletic conditioning would be the answer here. Kids can race, play red light green light all while moving laterally, backwards, forwards, hopping on 1 leg etc. I think that if you are not focusing on perfect skill development you can perform something like the miken drill for time, follow the leader while dribbling, and maybe a few others I am willing to hear about.

  9. Ndamukong Suh, Footwork, & Youth Athletic Development — January 6, 2010 @ 4:42 pm

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  10. noriel miralles — January 9, 2010 @ 3:39 pm

    I coach girls 6 to 7 years old. I have 8 girls on the team but there is one girl that just takes the ball all the way and scores but doesn’t pass the ball to others. she does it in practice but not at the games.
    the other girls are able to touch the ball more when she is on the bench but not able to score.
    any suggestions? what drills will help with passing the ball?

  11. noor... — April 7, 2010 @ 3:57 am

    hi, i am noor. i start to play basketball at 11….now i am already 14 and i really love to play basketball…and i wonder someday i can be a pro..

    any tips to gain skill and strength ??

  12. steve huston — April 25, 2010 @ 1:13 pm

    As a former college, high school, middle school, and elementary basketball coach and official, I must agree entirely with the concept of leaving 8 and 9 year old kids out of organized basketball activities. In our community it is more of a supervisorary program with minimal advantage. There are too many other activities that could provide physical and skill development to an athletic program.
    My experience at all levels indicates that your article provides a very solid point.

  13. Sebastian — April 29, 2010 @ 10:12 am

    I think this is mostly on point. I coach a 9 year old boys team. Movemment activities are very important for developing full body coordination. We don’t set aside 20 minutes every practice for this work but about every 4th practice or so I bring the agility ladders, jump stands, cones, etc and we do all kinds of fun stuff involving cutting, stopping, starting, jumping etc. for most of the practice. Sometimes I throw a ball in there, like trying to dribble while doing footwork through the ladder. We also play dribble tag, the kids love it, practice all sorts of evasive movements, it has helped their dribbling skills and they are compelled to raise their heads from the ball to keep on eye on the taggers or taggees. That’s very applicable when learning to handle the ball while seeing the defense and your teammates.

    The one caution I have about downplaying skill instruction at this age is if left to their own devices the kids do not learn proper footwork, most paritcularly the use of the pivot foot. If it is not taught and emphasized, they travel almost every time they touch the ball. Some might say that is O.K. and various leagues will make those accomodations and not call traveling but once those foot shuffling habits get ingrained it had been my experience that they are very difficult to unlearn. So we do a lot of pivot and pass, dribble stop then pivot, pivot and shoot drills. It is slowly making a difference.

  14. rhyanna — April 14, 2011 @ 5:25 am

    i play basketball and i am under 10 girls

  15. nel — May 14, 2012 @ 4:52 pm

    sir, i have a 9 year-old kid that plays basketball. should we include weight lifting (2.5 lbs- 5 lbs) as part of learning basketball?

  16. coachvic — December 11, 2012 @ 12:27 am

    Instead of just running at the beginning of our clinics, I have the youngsters hit a wiffle ball, then run. Or they start at the baseline, while we have a coach on either side of the elbow with a football. As the youngster runs to the coach the coach hands them the ball, they tuck it in and do their running with it. I also place chairs in a row, start the youngsters at the baseline with a soccer ball. They maneuver in and out of the chairs with the soccer ball using their feet only. At the last chair at midcourt they place
    the ball under the chair and then run.

  17. adele casamassima — July 8, 2013 @ 5:09 am

    Hi, I am looking for advise. My 2 kids (boy 8 years and girl 7 years) asked me to learn playing basketball. I am keen for them doing it as now they have been learning Judo, Swimming and tennis for the last 3 years.
    I leave in central London (Kensington) and I would like to know whether and where there is a basketball school/academy where I can enrol them in September. Is this a good age to start basketball?
    thank you for your precious advise
    adele

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  19. Aleya — November 13, 2013 @ 5:57 pm

    I think u should start playing basketball ant age 8 because when u so turn 10 u will all reddy know all the rules and what to do and u will beable to learn new skills.

  20. Derrick — January 19, 2014 @ 8:51 pm

    I teach basketball footwork in the backyard several weeks before stepping on the court. I began teaching my children at ages 7 and 8 the skills of basketball. They are now 10 and 12 and they are really good. My daughter was named to the USJN Allstar team at age 10. My son has won numerous tournaments. They are now playing great basketball in Germany. Kids can be great at anything. It is important for adults especially parents and coaches to get involved in their development.

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  23. joe — April 8, 2014 @ 8:38 pm

    I understand the basic idea here, but I wonder about some of the details and implications. Suppose, that it is indeed easiest to teach kids basic movements before they have fully developed physically. Then, it would also seem that teaching basketball skills which rely on basic movements at a very early age may also be extremely important. For example, my guess is that kids who are ambidextrous may be able to learn to dribble equally well at both hands at later ages, but it may be almost impossible for other kids to end up with this skill if they don’t start dribbling a lot at young ages before brain and muscles are largely developed (anyone who has tried to improve their off hand as an adult will probably agree). This would be analogous to, for example, how difficult it is to learn languages or master certain musical instruments at later ages. Also, if everyone else is learning skills, it seems necessary to make sure that your own kids are somewhat skilled. Otherwise, they may be at a disadvantage in tryouts etc. Getting less opportunity to play may hurt their long term development and having skills makes playing enjoyable.

  24. Scott Green — April 15, 2014 @ 7:48 pm

    ^Joe,

    I agree with you, and I think Joe Haefner would as well, in a sense. It wouldn’t be possible to spend your entire practice doing basic movement only. The kids would be begging to use the balls, and as Coach Haefner said in an earlier comment the parents would not be pleased either.

    It is very important for young players to have the ball in there hands at well at this age, but in basic movements, dribbling up and down the court, through cones, etc. these can be done while working on basic movements in some cases.

    As for players being at disadvantage, at this age the learn curving will have a huge effect on in the next couple years, but being a good athlete is what helps future players blossom.

  25. Kelly — July 16, 2014 @ 10:47 pm

    Or we could just let them play outside, use their imaginations, mow a lawn and just have fun…..this develops their minds, muscles, and might actually give kids a chance to love a sport a bit later without being burned out physically or mentally. Starting them so young and pushing them to excel at a young age is purely for parents ego….and to line the pockets of these big high powered clubs. You know I am a big fan of what you do Joe and what you promote…it is positive program, but I have seen the worst of the worst in sports. If your child has athletic ability, a strong work ethic, and good character they can go far in their sport…..even if they wait til they are out of diapers to begin. Let them enjoy their young lives without so much structure and schedules. They will accomplish more and be happier in the long run.

  26. Joe Haefner — July 17, 2014 @ 8:52 am

    Very well put, Kelly! That’s what I’m hoping to do with my young ones.

    Unfortunately, I think most parents are scared of letting their child get left behind. They don’t want to feel that they’ve let their child down.

    When you think of some of the most-talented and experts call the smartest players in the world. All of these guys were playground players. They played for fun. They self-discovered how to play. They didn’t enter structured leagues until middle school or high school.

    Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Steve Nash…I’m sure if I sat down, I could think of a lot more.

  27. Rod Fiddelke — July 25, 2014 @ 1:26 pm

    I am from the old school when older kids taught younger kids to play sports and most of the time no adults were anywhere to be found……you learned to play by going out and playing rather than being coached by adults who in many cases didn’t know what they were talking about. I have taught a lot of kids basketball over the years and have found the best way to get 8-9-10 yr olds started is to to put them in the back yard, driveway or gym with an 8 ft basket and a volleyball (something they can handle) ….sit in a lawn chair and watch them play. Make sure they understand the rules, but mainly BUT OUT. Some of the kids will fall in love with the game (not all) and start practicing on their own ….wait three or four years…..now…….these are the kids you want to coach.

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