By Joe Haefner
I know what you’re thinking, “Eliminate shooting drills from practice? Joe must have fell off his rocker again.” But please hear me out, because this could help the development of your youth team tremendously.
Do I think you should eliminate ALL shooting drills? Absolutely not.
Should you eliminate most? Yes! As a youth coach working with 5th graders and below (10 & 11 year olds and younger), you should NOT be spending 10 to 30 minutes on shooting every day.
Well, you’re probably thinking now… well why?!?
- You need to develop ball skills first in order to be successful.
If you can’t dribble, beat the press, or take care of the ball long enough to even take a shot, what good does shooting and everything else do you? Nothing is worse than trying to run offense and all you do is turn it over. You are better off shooting a 20 foot runner, that way at least you have a small chance of making a basket or even more likely one of your players getting an offensive rebound near the basket and put it back up for an easy make. If you turn it over, you have zero chance to make a basket and the other team probably gets an easy one in transition.
- They pick up ball skills faster than they would pick up shooting at this age.
If you watch players at games, practices, and camps, very few 3rd graders could shoot the ball as well as a 10th grader. However, if you watch them dribble the basketball, you will see a much higher percentage that can dribble the ball as proficiently as the older kids compared to shooting.
That’s because younger players can improve their ball handling at a much faster pace than they can improve their shooting.
As Bob Bigelow says, you should introduce the skills by gravity. Which means the skills that work with gravity would be the easiest and the ones that work against gravity would be the hardest. Since dribbling is completely with gravity and shooting is completely against gravity, it only makes sense that dribbling would be easier for younger kids to learn and progress.
Now, let’s say you worked on ball skills when the kids were in 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade. By the time the players reach 6th grade, they’ll be very good ball handlers. Now, you can adjust your practice priorities. You won’t have to spend as much time on ball handling and you could now allocate more time to shooting, because the players are strong enough and coordinated enough to take the instruction needed to be a good shooter. They will also improve their shooting at a much faster pace.
Well, why is shooting harder to teach to younger players and what can you do?
When it comes to younger players 5th grade and below, they usually lack the coordination and strength to consistently shoot the ball properly at a goal.
My advice would be to include some strength and coordination exercises at the beginning of every practice. Great drills for total body strength and upper-to-lower body coordination include:
Crawling is great for strength and creating coordination between your upper and lower body. You can do bear crawls, crab crawls, and inchworms. You can do them forwards, backwards, side to side, and in a circle.
Lunges and squats are great for lower body strength, mobility, and coordination. No barbell is needed.
After you get the basics of lunging and squatting, you can add pushes to improve lower-to-upper body coordination which is required to become a good shooter.
For the pushing aspect, you can simply use a basketball.
Squat with Push – You squat down, have the ball at your chest, stand up and push the ball over your head.
Squat with Out of Sync Push – You squat down and push the ball above your head, stand up and bring the ball to your chest.
Coach, if I cut out most of my shooting drills then how am I going to score points!?
Well, right now your team is probably shooting around 10% to 20%. If you work on shooting with the younger kids every practice for 20 minutes, you might improve their shooting percentage by 2%. To score more points, you’d be much better off spending 2 minutes every practice emphasizing to your players to crash the offensive boards.
So what should youth coaches do for ball handling, passing, and shooting during practice?
- Depending on the length of your practice, spend 10 to 20 minutes on dribbling and ball handling drills and games.
- Incorporate athletic development, footwork, and passing into your practices.
- Spend 5 minutes every day shooting form away from the basket. Do wall shooting or line shooting. That way, they’re only concerned with their form and not whether the ball is going in the hole.
Don’t get me wrong, you might spend 15 minutes the first couple of practices to teach some of the shooting basics, but after that your time would be much better spent on ball handling, footwork, and passing.
Then each week, you can slowly progress them through shooting form where they eventually get to the point that they’re shooting at the basket within close range WITH PROPER FORM. Maybe you can even do some catch and shoot drills.
Also, I recommend smaller balls and lower hoops so they can shoot consistently with good form and just aren’t chucking the ball at the hoops. In baseball, we progress kids from shorter pitching mounds, shorter base paths, and shorter fences for strength and coordination reasons. But for some reason in basketball, we don’t use that same logic.
Also, here is an article that could help you decide what you should work on: http://www.breakthroughbasketball.com/coaching/teach-youth.html
Long-term planning for youth basketball
As a coach, it would help you tremendously to sit down and plan what skills you are going to focus on each year to help develop well-rounded players. By focusing on just a few things, this helps simplify your practices and helps you make big improvements in a few key areas. If you do this every year, then by the time they reach high school, they will be light years ahead of other players their age.
And of course, remember to include small-sided games and make things fun. That way, they’ll actually want to play when they’re older and won’t become one of the 80% that quit sports before the age of 13.