Coaching Youth Basketball with Limited Time (1 Practice a Week)

By Jeff Haefner

We just wrapped up our bonus tele-seminar for customers that ordered the Motion Offense eBook last night…

During the tele-seminar a few youth coaches asked some very good and interesting questions.  One question in particular was…

“I coach 5th grade girls.  We only practice once a week for one hour.  What would you recommend that we focus on during that short amount of time”?

Summarized in my own words, here’s Don’s answer…

In that short amount of time, I would focus on SKILLS, allow the kids some time to play, and give them homework.

To give you an example, here’s a way to work on Skills (fundamentals) and Motion Offense at the same time…

1.  First, pick a couple cuts or screens that you think would be good for your team.  For example, you could choose down-screens and away-screens.

2. Next, run shooting drills that incorporate those movements.  You could have two offensive players (no defense).  One player on the wing, another player on the block.  A coach or third player could have the ball on top of the key.  The player on the wing sets a down screen, the other player rubs off the screen, catches the ball, pivots, and shoots.  Now repeat over and over.  Your players are working on screens (part of your motion offense), pivoting footwork and shooting (skills).

3.  You can do the same thing with away screens, basket cuts, and any type of cut or screen.  The key is to choose a couple elements from your motion offense and turn those elements into skill building drills.  Your imagination is the only limit to the types of drills you can come up with.  It doesn’t hurt to mix things up and make the youth basketball drills fun too. 

By practicing this way, you’ll save a ton of time and get a lot more done.

Also, you’re providing drills that your players can practice on their own.  Don’t be afraid to give them some homework.  Some players will put in the work outside of practice to get better.

Let them play

After practicing skills, I would let them play at the end.  It’s up to you how much time you spend scrimmaging.  But as an example, you could work on skills for 45 minutes, then scrimmage for 15 minutes at the end.   In practice, I think kids need to play at least a little bit.

During the scrimmage, start by showing the kids general spacing.  You’ll probably want to put tape on the floor so they know the basic motion offense spots.  Then just tell them to play.  If they don’t know what to do, just say “Do you remember the down screen drill we did at the beginning of practice?  Do that.  Sometimes it will work, sometimes it won’t  That’s ok.  If it doesn’t work, do it again.” 

Now you have worked on skills, you have the beginning of a motion offense, and your kids are “learning how to play”. 

How productive do you think that hour would be if you spent nearly the entire time teaching them a set play or a patterned offense?  It takes a long time for kids to learn and remember patterns and plays.  Kids will get VERY little benefit from that!

That’s the great thing about a motion offense.  You can work on skills and motion offense at the same time.

You could even practice some man to man defense during the scrimmage.  Just have one coach responsible for making minor corrections during the scrimmage.  This coach only watches the defense and tries to improve their positioning.

This is how you get the MOST out a short amount of time.  Kids need to play, learn skills, and have fun.

If you’d like to hear the actual question and answer in audio, Right Click here and select Save As.

25 Comments

  1. jim cassaday — November 18, 2008 @ 5:33 am

    thanks for the tips-just what i have here in switzerland at the international school

  2. Michael Morgan — November 18, 2008 @ 7:28 am

    Thanks for this tip. I have two one-hour practices per week, per the rules of my local Recreation Department. We try to schedule extra practices at local churches, but most kids in rec ball here only get the one or two rec-approved practices each week, so this helps me out alot.

  3. Amanda Miller — November 18, 2008 @ 7:44 pm

    I love these tips! I’m a new youth basketball coach for my school. These have just been fundamental in setting up my practices. Thanks!

  4. Joey Cook — November 22, 2008 @ 7:07 pm

    thanks for the tips. this website is awesome. I just started teaching basketball for my daughters rec team. You guys have helped me out alot. Thank you.

  5. Tinashe Chimundu — November 26, 2008 @ 10:44 am

    Thanx hey. These drills help me a lot at Regina Mundi in Zimbabwe. Dont coach full time so this makes my sessions easier.

  6. Teg — December 14, 2008 @ 2:58 pm

    Thanks for this information. I have been searching high and low for an answer to limited practices. I agree that kids need to have fun while learning the basics.
    For anyone out there, how do you deal with an assistant coach who oversteps his bounds? Thanks.

  7. Jeff Haefner — December 15, 2008 @ 9:35 am

    Teg –

    To deal with your assistant you can…

    - Sit down with him/her. Review expectations. Talk about your stance on things so you get aligned.

    - Give your assistant specific responsibilities. If they over step their bounds, perhaps it’s because they don’t know their responsibilities. If your assistance is really good at defense, put them in charge of defense. Or maybe they can do stats, film, etc, etc.

    Just like coaching players, you need to give your assistants clear and defined roles and responsibilities.

    Document those roles and review them with your assistants. Weekly meetings will help.

    You can also try daily huddles with assistants. This just takes 5-10 minutes. Each day you huddle, you ask each person — what’s your priority for the day? are you stuck on anything? what are your key metrics for the day? Some coaches will have key metrics to review daily (rebounds, shooting percentage, attendance, etc). This huddle should be done very quickly and efficiently. Everyone should stand up the whole time to keep things moving quickly.

    Bottom line, set expectations and roles with your assistants. Meet with them on a fairly regular basis. You don’t have to do the huddles or exact meetings above. Those are just ideas and things for you to think about.

    Good luck.

  8. makayla — January 2, 2009 @ 6:00 pm

    how to you help a player to learn the plays better and speak up if they need help

  9. Joe Haefner — January 3, 2009 @ 5:23 pm

    Hi Makayla,

    If you are dealing with a youth players, you have to be very patient and I would only teach them 1 or 2 plays, if any. Check out this article for more on this: http://www.breakthroughbasketball.com/blog/index.php/should-youth-coaches-avoid-plays-and-patterned-offenses/

    If you are teaching them to older players, this progression has worked for me in the past:

    1. Walk though with no defense.
    2. Run at full speed with no defense.
    3. Run play with defense.

    As for getting players to speak up, it is not in the nature of some players to say something and they never will. If you see they are having trouble remembering plays, talk to them 1 on 1 and ask them if they need help with anything. You could also provide them with a playbook, so they could memorize the plays outside of practice.

  10. Mike Tarak — January 13, 2009 @ 10:46 am

    One thing I do is break the kids up into smaller groups to work with coaches and a parent. 3 groups…one coach does ball handling, one coach does shooting the other does something else like teaching screens or pivot drills. Shooting and ball handling are always the staple. If you have an hour, warm up and then run 3 stations for 10-13 minutes and rotate…this will eat up 45 minutes of practice then you can scrimmage or work on team concepts.

  11. joe — September 19, 2009 @ 9:08 pm

    I have a 3rd grade basketball team and i need to have a practice plan. I have about 1 hour. so i need to have a conditioning plan for 10 minutes then have a shooting plan , rebounding , defense. then throw in a fun time PLEASE HELP

  12. Jeff Haefner — September 20, 2009 @ 3:56 pm

    Joe – Check out these two links for sample practice plans and suggestions to optimize short 1 hour practices.
    http://www.breakthroughbasketball.com/coaching/teach-youth.html
    http://www.breakthroughbasketball.com/coaching/samplepractice1.html
    http://www.breakthroughbasketball.com/blog/index.php/coaching-youth-basketball-with-limited-time-1-practice-a-week/

  13. Joe Haefner — September 21, 2009 @ 7:42 pm

    Joe, don’t worry about conditioning. Running drills and games will provide enough conditioning for the kids.

    Here are some things you can focus on: http://www.breakthroughbasketball.com/coaching/teach-youth.html.

    Here is a sample practice plan: http://www.breakthroughbasketball.com/coaching/samplepractice1.html

  14. Angela — October 1, 2009 @ 9:59 am

    I coach 5th & 6th grade basketball with 4th graders as well. I have a hard time getting the motion offense concept across to these girls so we went with A play that has many options. do you have any suggestions on how to get them to think on their own offensively other than needing that play ….. I’ve tried explaining …….. drawing ….. using slow motion…. it is like they just do not get the concept….. a few do but quite a few do not. I am looking at this for next year we only have 2 games left. Thanks

  15. Jeff Haefner — October 1, 2009 @ 11:34 am

    Angela – Before I can address your question I need to know.. Have you read this book?
    http://www.breakthroughbasketball.com/pr/motionoffense.html

  16. Kyle Brown — October 8, 2009 @ 9:13 pm

    You have to be efficient in your teaching. Simple in your tactics, and solely focused on developing your players. The drills you choose much have multiple skills to them and be designed to teach your overall system of play. Dribbling drills have to incorporate some other skill (Passing, shooting, Defense) and should be part of your overall system.

    COachingat the youth level means that you have to teach the game. Its not about the offense or defense you run, but about how you make your players better. Do not waste time on zone defense or complex offenses. Instead teach the basics of man to man and a motion offense. Make your system simple. For example on offense a pass and 1. basket cut, 2.ballscreen, 3. screen away. Then I would teach the different reads for each particular action and how you would defend the action defensively.

    Lastly do not waste time on conditioning UNLESS it involves skill stuff. Full court passing and finsihing or 3 man weave would work great. If you have limited time you have to make the ultimate use of your facility. Station work would help, but if you dont have help then you cannot do this. Teach in sound bites and do not waste time making big speeches. I hope this helps and you find something useful out of this.

  17. Melanie Dias — November 29, 2009 @ 6:16 pm

    I am a first time coach to (10) – 7 & 8 year old girls. We only practice twice a week for 1 hour at a time. Your site is great but the more I read the more I get confused and make it more complicated than I know it should be. Any help with a practice plan to teach the basic skills and game time would be great! Thanks!

  18. Jeff Haefner — November 30, 2009 @ 7:34 am

    There are some practice plans at the bottom of this page:
    http://www.breakthroughbasketball.com/coaching/teach-youth.html

    Keep it simple. 30 year veteran coaches still learn new things each year. Don’t worry too much about getting it perfect. Be patient and keep learning a little bit at a time. Coaching is an evolutionary process. Good luck!

  19. Keith Smith — February 1, 2010 @ 1:04 am

    This blog hits it right on the head. All coaches wish they had more practice time with their team.

    With only 1 practice a week, you can really hone in on the fundameentals and acrimmaging without worrying about cluttering up the kids minds.

  20. Coach ; Brian — October 5, 2010 @ 6:25 pm

    I’m starting my first practice with my 1st – 3rd Graders Tonight .I really ope this info will help these young kids and My Coaching skills as this is My first Time Coaching !

  21. Adam Smith — January 22, 2013 @ 10:46 pm

    I am a parent of a six year old that decided to play basketball for the first time this year. His team only does one practice a week for an hour. I have been reading on all the things that needed to be done to develop youth players. Is there anything extra that I could do with him outside of practice, seeing how it is only myself and my son practicing and not the whole team?

  22. Jeff Haefner — January 23, 2013 @ 8:56 am

    Hi Adam,

    I wouldn’t worry too much. My daughter just started with basketball this year and she’ll be 8 years old in a few weeks. You could argue that a 6 year old should even be playing basketball yet. But I know they do. So just keep it fun. Focus on things that go “with” gravity. In other words, dribbling, passing, and maybe some basic footwork. Shooting is tough to do properly at this age (goes against gravity).
    http://www.breakthroughbasketball.com/coaching/youth-basketball-sizes.html

    The best thing you can do is help your child foster a love for sports and exercise. And put him in lots of different age appropriate sports so he develops an athletic foundation (balance, coordination, fundamental movements skills, agility, spatial awareness, etc).
    http://www.breakthroughbasketball.com/fitness/4-sports-for-youth.html

  23. Coach Steve — November 23, 2014 @ 10:46 pm

    Hi Jeff,

    I purchased your Motion Offense PDF, however, the league that I am coaching my daughter’s team in allows full court pressure the entire game. After a scrimmage with another team, I am wondering if it is a better idea to work on press breaker plays and run a 2-3 zone to conserve my team’s energy. We are a sixth grade girls team with only seven players. This league that we are now in is from a bigger city and I am assuming has teams with a lot of girls who are more experienced running full court pressure. Do you agree with my assessment? Can you recommend press breaker plays that will work against both zone and man full court pressure? How do I transition from the press breaker plays into my offense? Do I go into my offense at all (We run a 3-2 offense using a 1-3-1 set)?

  24. Jeff Haefner — November 24, 2014 @ 2:00 pm

    Steve –

    As 6th graders, the most important thing is to focus on fundamentals skills. That will help them down the road more than you know. And if you have skilled players that can dribble, beat defenders, create separation, pass, shoot, finish…. it won’t matter what press you see, what offense you run, or what zone defense you see. Your players will beat the press and score against any defense. Develop skilled players, give them plenty of spacing, get ball movement in all directions via dribble and/or pass… and they will score a lot of points. This applies to your press breaker, man offense, zone offense, transition offense, man offense. Skills, great spacing, and ball movement. It really is that simple. It took me years to figure that out or at least finally believe the more experienced coaches that have told me that.

    Here’s the press breaker I used. It’s based on spacing. When facing man to man, we just clear out.
    http://www.breakthroughbasketball.com/offense/press-breaker.html

    Our press break spots work backwards from our transition offense. So basically players end up going to about the same spots whether we are in press break or transition. Ideally your press break, transition offense, and half court offense should flow together seamlessly with no starts or stops.

    I would not run 2-3 zone very much unless you have really good man to man principles. At 6th grade, I doubt they have developed those principles yet. Read about the subject here:
    http://www.breakthroughbasketball.com/defense/age.html

  25. Michael Kamers — August 6, 2016 @ 1:38 am

    Hello there! I am very nervous to starting as head coach for 7th to 10th graders at community for the first time! Yes, you read me right, I have never coached before and will do all of your advices! My son is 7th grade and shortest player on the team, 5’1 3/4″, and youngest, 11 yrs old! And tallest guy is 6′ 3″, he is 13 hrs old. Wow! Can’t wait to see how I can handle the coaching! Wish me luck! And thanks for all of informations here!

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