5th Grade Youth Motion Offense: Timing, Entry Passes, & Starting Positions

By Don Kelbick


I will be coaching a 5th grade boys team this season and looking to teach the kids motion (still haven’t decided between 3-2 and 4-1). I like the drills included in this document but was surprised that the following items were not covered more thoroughly:

- Timing of starting the offense, especially when defensive pressure starts at half court. Would like more insights into how the other four non-ballhandlers should react to half-court pressure, goal to not have first pass above the free throw line extended.

- More options related to starting positions on floor to start a motion offense. For example, in a 3-2 motion set…options such as double stack, wings cross, post start out on wing and post down for wings on low block, etc. In a 4-1 motion set, more details on how the “1″ should move to different areas.

- Advice on varying this start configuration?


Those are interesting questions and not uncommon. Something to keep in mind, a motion offense is creative and free formed. Your players have to interpret and be allowed to play and figure it out for themselves. You have to remember that the coach has very little control over what happens on the court. If you can live with that, and many coaches can’t, then the motion is a good offense for you.

In regard to 5th graders, I believe that translates to 10 and 11-year-olds, I think it is the only offense to run. Trying to bog down kids of that age with basketball plays is counter-productive. I believe that kids of this age should be taught skills and how to play, not plays.


Timing for 5th graders is an oxymoron. I do not believe that kids of that age are developed enough, either physiologically or skill-wise to really worry about timing. Should it be discussed? Sure. But to expect a 10 or 11-year-old to understand and perform proper timing in the course of a game is not realistic.
Making the first pass below the foul line is a good guideline, but that is more dependent upon the skills of your ball-handlers, rather than your receivers. This is true even at higher levels. Can they control the ball well enough against defense to be able to penetrate deep enough to make the pass? Are they skilled and strong enough to execute the necessary passes? I can’t make those judgments without seeing them play. On the whole, kids of that age really are not.

Possibly, you can create a situation where the entry pass is made higher and your second pass goes below the foul line. Enter to the high post at the top of the key and allow him to enter to the wing. Allow the wing to catch high and dribble down below the wing. There are unlimited things you can do with a little imagination.


You can start however you and your players feel comfortable. I would spend more time trying to get them to understand spacing (Admittedly difficult at that age) than worry about starting positions. All of those things you mentioned are great entries. Teach the concepts and what they present and then allow them to play. Correct their spacing and movement, not their sets.

In addition, for the kid of that age, I think the only offense to play would be a 5-out motion. I doubt that you have kids with enough specialized skill to play someone down in the post. You might have someone who is taller than everyone else but that does not mean he should play in the post. When coaching kids of this age, your primary purpose should be development. Taking a kid who is taller than everyone else and sticking him in the lane is unfair to that kid. By doing that, he will never develop the skills he needs to play the game.

Also, looking for specific details on how a particular player should move is not in the philosophy of a motion offense. Motion offense is about freedom. Not only do the players have freedom to move, but you, as a coach, have the freedom to teach what you feel is most important for the player and your team. Just because I want a player to do certain things does not mean that is what you should do. I encourage you to be creative when teaching what players should do. The only rules are the ones that you make. Do with them what you feel is best. Trial and error is the best way to learn anything, especially basketball.

My only advice is to keep it simple. Kids have trouble remembering each other’s names, no less multiple entries.


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  1. Doug R — January 7, 2010 @ 1:03 pm

    Thanks for this site. It’s fantastic. Sorry for the length of this comment, but would love your thoughts.

    I’m coaching a 5th (10 & 11 yr old) grade girls’ team and want to understand your answer a little better as we’ve got so much to do that the advice here sometimes conflicts with itself. We’re starting at a very basic level – some kids are just past running with the ball, but we’ve got them passing and cutting to the basket, starting to set screens and rolling the right way, etc. Spacing is a struggle but getting better. We do lots of fundamentals drills and are playing 2:2s and 3:3s almost every practice with simple rules like no dribble and you must cut to the basket after every pass. Some kids getting it without prompting, others still standing but know what to do when prompted.

    Two thirds of teams we encounter are like us or worse, the other third have played together for a couple of years and dismantle us with trapping half court presses and a dominant player, usually the coaches daughter.

    The struggle I’m having is how to balance motion concepts, simplicity, and the fact that they have so much to learn that in my judgment and experience so far, they are completely lost without some basic set motions (plays?). This site is fantastic with great advice, but I’m having trouble navigating conflicting advice.

    I’d love to get your thoughts and counsel given what we’re doing:
    1) I hadn’t seen your 5-out recommendation so we started with a 3-out, 2-in with the rule that against man-to-man, we pass and basket cut to start and we’ve added 4 setting screens for 1 initially, and now to 2 and 3. They’re getting this in games against most teams. Against a zone, we start the same (3-out, 2-in) and pass in triangles with 5 moving along the baseline and 4 moving from high to mid-post on the ball side- also recommended on this site, but not really a motion. We’re still working on spacing and moving the ball, but they’re starting to get it.
    2) We have to deal with half court presses and our girls can’t pass with enough speed to get below the free throw. Against this, we had to modify the set to a 4 out, 1 in to get the ball below the press via the high post or a hopefully-speedy-enough pass to 4 or 1 positioned below the free throw near the sidelines – just as you recommend above. Again, they’re starting to get it and we’re starting to show it in games.

    So I’m violating motion principles with 3 plays; I’m not using a 5 out set as you recommend for this level; and although the girls are generally getting it, it’s more complex than I wanted. My current plan is to keep building basic skills and work them towards more and more freedom on the court as they become less overwhelmed. Any counsel or corrections you’d recommend?

  2. John S — January 8, 2010 @ 2:11 pm

    I think the site is overall a good source of information and ideas but I would like to totally disagree with you that motion offense is the only way to go for 5th graders. Unless you have unlimited gym time 1.5 hours per day 5 days a week to teach motion offense it is too difficult. You says that the players can be and the coach can be creative. 5th graders being creative when they don’t know how to even set a pick.

    This year I began to coach 5th grade girls CYO travel team. I have coached CYO for the past 20 years even though I don’t have a child on the team. I have 14 girls on the team and only one has had any basketball experience. It took 3 sessions to just learn the vocabulary and geography of the court. Gym time is limited for me 1.25 hours per week and maybe an extra 1.25 hours every 3rd week. 1 hour is devoted to working on skill — the “bigs” are even doing dribbling drills and agility drills. This age group especially if you are into teaching skills has to run set plays. Even motion has rules. Who are are we fooling. It is not a sin to run set plays which can incorporate passing, cutting, setting pick etc. Like Doug R. I have four set plays to get all players involved and I do use 3 out 2 in concept. How basic is that?

    I keep reading that motion is the panacea for youth basketball. I don’t believe that the writers and proponents of motion for 5th, 6th graders have ever coached at this level with limited practice time. I believe that motion is great for 7th and 8th graders when they have some concepts and have the skills to run the motion offense. Then you can get into read and react etc.

    Keep up the good work. I am one of the proponent of set plays but not at the expense of the skills development( practicing 1 hour of set plays is not good either).

    John S.

    Doug R

  3. Ken Sartini — January 11, 2010 @ 10:37 am

    First of all you are to be commended for working with kids of this age.. It IS a difficult task to say the least.
    I started my coachng career with 5th – 8th graders and the longer I was doing this the more I learned about what was important for their growth as a person and player. I learned that IF they were going to go on and play at the next level they would have to be well versed in the fundamentals… both offensively and defensively.

    Lets talk defensively first… which was my love -

    I went from being a zone guy to playing m2m… THAT teaches them how to play the game… and don’t kid yourself… IF you want to play a good zone you need to know man principals… it doesn’t work the other way no matter how you spin it. Talk to your high school coaches and ask them what they like to see in their players entering high school.

    As for offense….

    IF you run sets thats what they know – SETS – they don’t learn how to read the defense and get themselves open with the help of their teammates. That is commonly referred to in the high school coaching ranks as ROBOT basketball or Playing by the Numbers.

    Do your kids a favor, get them ready to play at the next level and they will thank you later on for the help you have given them. AND when you see them playing high school basketball you can feel that you had something to do with helping them to get there.


  4. John S — January 13, 2010 @ 9:03 am


    I agree but the post is about running motion offense for 5th graders who don’t have the knowledge of the game nor the skills to run the offense.

    I have experienced the inner warmth of having my 5th -8th graders go on to play on the high school team. The best year were when 7 out of the top 8 players on the high school team were on my team in the 5th-8th grade.

    Ken, since you have coached the 5th grade what is your position set plays or motion offense?

    John S.

  5. Joe Haefner — January 13, 2010 @ 1:58 pm

    John S, just to clarify. Every coach who contributes to this site has coached at 5th graders at one time or another. Personally, I have coached, 3rd thru 8th grade at the youth level from rec to competitive. I have not coached girls. With youth players, I believe it is important to teach concepts and give them freedom to use them. Hence, the motion.

    I have used set plays and offenses with youth teams, and I fully regret it. From my experience, it was a waste of time and hindered their development. If you want long-term development of the players, teach them offenseive concepts and use the motion to apply the concepts to offense. I’m not saying you can’t run a set play or two, but if that is all that you do, it is not going to benefit the girls long-term.

    This year, it’ll probably look like a big mess. Next year, it still might look like a mess. 7th grade, you’ll start to notice that they’re making some good decisions and they might be a pretty good team. 8th grade, they will probably be a really good.

  6. Doug R — January 23, 2010 @ 7:39 pm

    Joe, Ken, John – thanks for all your thoughts. I buy off entirely on the concept and am ~10 weeks into the season with the fifth grade girls, many who had never played. In the 1.5-3 hrs/wk we get for practice I’ve followed your site’s and Don Kelbick’s recommendations re fundamental skill development, playing no-dribble 3:3s with cut or screen after you pass, etc. The concepts are just starting to show in practice 3:3s, but we started from nothing. Their skills are coming along, albeit less quickly than I’d hoped and I’ve had to slow adding additional skills in multi-skill drills because they couldn’t absorb it. The were overwhelmed.

    My view is that they’ve not been anywhere near ready for me to stick them into a game and say “do what you did in practice playing 3:3s.” An appropriate response would be: “What? Be confused, run into each other or towards each other, throw bad passes while you gently remind us to cut to the basket after each pass and keep spacing?”

    Isn’t there a middle ground that follows basic skill building methods, i.e., start with a small component and then layer on additional as they develop skills? Our first game they only knew (a relative term) a give and go. We added a high post screen for the point then screens to the wings; then a pass to the low post off the screen. These are all variations off of one set play that incrementally build the exact skills and vision needed for motion without completely shutting them down because they’re overwhelmed. The plan is to use this season for pure skill development and 3:3s in practice. Next year we take away calling out the initial set and play because they’ll have the base skills in place without being totally overwhelmed.

    What are your thoughts? I honestly don’t think I could have just put them out there in a 5 out and told them to do what they did in the 3:3s — after 10 wks, they’re just starting to know what to do in a 3:3.

  7. Ken Sartini — February 18, 2010 @ 1:54 pm

    Doug & John,
    We all install our offenses a little bit at a time…. part / whole / part system…. this works pretty well. As for your age group, Doug, I think you have found the way to teach them the offense, a little bit at a time
    John, you might take a look at how he taught motion and use what will work for you. Your goal is to get them ready to play at the next level and it seems like you have done that.
    Sets are ok as long as they are NOT your base offense. Motion is like teaching m2m defense, it takes a lot of time and hard work… but it pays off in the end.

  8. craig nester — November 19, 2010 @ 9:32 am


    I have 6th grade girls of which 9 have never played. I have to do something. Is this offense dumbed down enough for me to begin and then add more as the season unfolds.



  9. Ken Sartini — February 19, 2011 @ 9:58 am


    Teach a simple pass and cut motion then – pass, v cut to the basket and everyone rotates. You can look this up on the site.

  10. jim meine — November 25, 2012 @ 5:28 pm

    I have 3rd and 4th grade boys we are only allowed to practice 1 hour a week we practice conditioning 5 min i need some handling drills defensive ideas thanks

  11. Joe Haefner — November 26, 2012 @ 10:02 am

    Jim, here is our defense section:

  12. Casey Veach — March 29, 2013 @ 7:15 pm

    I have coached a youth girls team from 1st through currently 3rd grade as well as a 2nd grade boys team. I have had the best luck with a motion offense. No, it doen’t always look pretty but the kids gain confidence and learn how to actually play basketball. We are playing up with both teams and barely loose to older taller kids. Most of that is because it is difficult to scout a motion offense. The easiest thing to play defense against is a young team with a set play. THe defensive team figures out quickly where that team plans on making the first pass. I highly suggest sticking with the fundamentals of cutting/passing and dribbling. Spend your time on spacing for sure. Good luck!

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