Should Youth Coaches AVOID Plays and Patterned Offenses?

By Joe Haefner

One year I coached two teams, a 7th & 8th grade team (12 to 14 year olds) and a Fresh/Soph team (14 to 16 year olds). Besides, being a VERY busy year, it was also an extremely educational year from a coaching standpoint.

I was frustrated from the year before when I coached 6th graders, because the offense wasn’t where I wanted it to be, and I wanted a little more control over the offense (Bad Idea). For both teams, I decided I was going to run Bo Ryan’s Swing Offense (Bad Idea). It seemed to work well for him, and I thought I might as well give it a shot. I created breakdown drills and I decided I would spend at least 15 minutes every practice drilling the patterns into these players. Little did I know…

Here are some conclusions I came to:

1.  Youth players (14 & under) forget patterned offenses or plays, so why spend time on them during practice. Even with 15 & 16 year olds, the offense would consistently break down after 3 to 4 passes.

2.  Most of the points we scored were off of fast breaks, loose balls, turnovers, and offensive rebounds. Shouldn’t we practice some more situational & disadvantage drills if that’s where we get most of our points?

3.  I could have spent a lot MORE time teaching the players the fundamentals of the game. How to read screens, how to pass, how to cut, how to shoot, how to handle the ball, and so on. Instead, I WASTED a lot of time on a patterned offense.

4.  Teaching the fundamentals of the motion offense would have benefited both teams more in the long run. Rather than teaching them a pattern, I should have taught them offensive principles. It would increase their basketball IQ. Also, when they got older, it wouldn’t matter what offense the coach runs, they would know how to play the game.

5.  Kids tend to become ROBOTIC and FREEZE up when running the plays and patterned offenses during games. They don’t react to the defense, because they are trying to please you (the coach) by running the pattern. When they forget the pattern (which is 90% of the time), they panic and freeze up. Why not run an offense that teaches the players how to react to the defense?

I decided that simplicity is better and I will always run the motion, especially at the youth levels. I’m not saying that you can’t use a few simple plays during the year. I just wouldn’t advise any more than that.

If you would like to learn more about how to coach and teach the Motion Offense, take a look at our Motion Offense eBooks and Audio.

What do you think? What have your experiences been?

72 Comments

  1. Zeke — December 23, 2008 @ 1:35 am

    Thats why as a relatively new coach, I love the basic premise of Read&React.

    Where I live, South Africa, there is a profound lack of understanding the fundamentals of the game. Coaching youth as you put in this article is almost non-existent.

    Good article,
    Zeke

  2. SportNut — December 25, 2008 @ 12:39 am

    Joe,
    I take a slightly different tact … Even when I used to coach 5th and 6th grade players, I put in 1 or 2 man-to-man and zone set offenses typically with several variations. Other coaches at that level would wonder how I could teach such “complicated” offenses to kids that age.

    My trick was to use a couple simple rules:
    1. After the first 10 or so practices, I would always mention that every player needs to score for this team to be successful. This means that every player when they have the ball needs to face the basket and look for their shot, drive to the basket, or a teammate cutting to the basket.
    2. I would tell the players that the offense is a guideline for player movement, not a rigid pre-defined set of actions. The goal of the offense is to create floor spacing and set expectations on where the players are standing and what actions they are considering.
    3. During practice I would run offensive drills that taught the fundamentals of basketball and then during the following water break talk to the players about how the new skill they just learned could be utilized in the offense. Many times, I would have coaches demonstrate how it could be used within the offensive schemes.
    4. Likewise, I would practice the offense for 10/15 minutes every practice. At first without a defense, then with a 5 person defense, and eventually a 6 or 7 person defense (usually a coach was the 6th and 7th person).

    Did they always run the offense perfectly? Nope, but every year all my players would score, we never had a point guard dribbling at half court yelling for the players to move, and we always had good passing teams.

    Brian
    http://basketball.youth-athlete.org

  3. Joe Haefner — December 30, 2008 @ 1:09 pm

    Hi Brian,

    I love the “every kid must score” rule. I also liked how you taught the kids how they may use the new fundamentals within the offense.

    However, from a long-term approach, I am still convinced that we should avoid plays and patterned offenses with youth players. I think kids will often get confused when they should react to the defense or run the pattern. Rather, teach them concepts such as spacing, spots to fill, movements that can occur after a pass (cut or screen), not to stand still for more than 2 seconds, and so on. I believe that we should teach the motion offense.

    Your teaching of the offense may work NOW, but is it the best for the child’s long-term development? Does the structure inhibit the child’s self-discovery (learning things on their own)? So many coaches tell players what to do for every pass and every cut at such a young age that they don’t even know how to think for themselves anymore. I’ve seen games where the kid will look at the coach about 3 or 4 times every possession wait for them to tell them what to do. That doesn’t make a better basketball player. I’m not saying you do this, but that’s what I’ve seen and another reason why I’ve steered away from patterned offenses for youth players.

    What if you take that 10 to 15 minutes every day and practice fundamentals and scrimmage more? Would they be a better player in the future?

    Here’s a comment that somebody recently posted who purchased our Motion Offense product:

    “Great b-ball basics for the 10yr. old girls youth league I coach in. Started using it right away and it took 2 full games for them to get it. Had to scale it way down to pass and screen away, then all of the sudden two ten year olds asked for another option that they could use? Go figure, but they love it and are very excited running it. A great thing I like for me is just letting them go. I am normally a very vocal teacher on instructions during the game. But since the first game, have just been standing back during game action and enjoying the kids’ getting to it. It’s was a strange feeling at first, but I just love it! The team and I cannot wait for the second half of the season, and we’ll be adding more and more as they need it.”

    If you want to check out this and more reviews, you can visit this link: http://www.breakthroughbasketball.com/pr/motionoffense.html#reviews

  4. Wim — January 22, 2009 @ 5:48 pm

    And we may not forget to teach all the fundamentals to all of our young players: everybody is a guard, a forward, a center : no specialisation before +/- 14 years.
    Though from the age of 10 they already play most of the time on 1 or 2 spots
    (gard-forward; forward-center).We play mostly an “open post offense”, without a postplayer.
    We teach youngsters to play without the use of screens until the age of 14.

  5. Ron — January 22, 2009 @ 6:27 pm

    I can’t claim to be a very successful coach (4th and 6th graders), but I have started using motion offense concepts this year and I think my results are pretty good so far after a pretty brutal year last year (no wins for either team; broke out of my drought big time and had three wins the past weekend). I don’t think I’ve ever attempted to teach any offensive play (I don’t even like lines in out-of-bounds situations). I don’t think you can play five on five basketball with pre-adolescents and expect any type of patterned offense to work. I also do agree that it’s probably contrary to their learning. I’d rather have the kids thinking about and seeing the basketball court and what’s going on rather than worrying about where they need to move next in your pattern.

    I find that at this age, beating the defense is easy if you’re seeing the court. Most defenses are very loose; when defenses put pressure on it’s easy to go over top of them. What I have done in practice a lot this year is a lot of no dribble passing drills, 3 on 3, 4 on 4. I love penetrators and in past years spent a lot of time teaching kids to dribble and penetrate, beat their man one on one, because I thought that was pretty easy as well since one on one defense is generally not good at this age. What I’ve found is that when kids put the ball on the floor their focus goes down to the ground and they stop seeing their teammates (and the defense often). So in practice I’ve spent a lot of time not allowing them to dribble at all. They have a long way to go but I’ve noticed a lot of improvement in ball movement, finding the open man in games. The downside is that sometimes they forget that they CAN dribble!!

  6. Joy — January 22, 2009 @ 11:04 pm

    Hi,
    so I’ve thought that I’m the biggest loser because I can’t get my 5th gr boys to retain a single play – however we win every game. I’ve given up on plays and just work on technique, defense, rebounding and the fast break. I’m a coach in training and its so good to hear, for the first time, that i’m doing something right!

    Thanks,

    Joy

  7. MIKE — January 23, 2009 @ 2:04 am

    I agree 100 percent about not teaching kids a bunch of plays or running several different offenses. Especially boys, they tend to all want to shoot and attack the basket so it comes natural to them. If you instill the fundamentals, spacing, setting screens and moving with out the ball they will naturally come to understand how the game is played. As a coach I have been fortunate to have some pretty skilled players but even without those certain players teaching all of the above before anything else results in them learning team work and eventually some wins. My goal as a coach at the beginning of the season is not about wins but to make better players out of everybody. If they learn the fundamentals, learn to play defense, everything will fall in to place. Its nice to have the parents come up and say my boy or girl has really improved or the team really played well together. This also keeps parents minds off of the winning thing all of the time.

  8. Kenny — January 23, 2009 @ 8:19 am

    Nice article guys, as always. Yeah. I found out the hard way about trying to use a pattern offense, heck any offense, for the 4th, 5th, and 6th grade teams that I have coached over the years. Now, for my 8th grade team, I just teach a skill, do a drill(s), and have fun (courtesy of Breakthrough Basketball). We finished 8-3. Plus the kids were not confused. I just told the kids, spacing and movement. Keep the lane open and if you don’t have the ball, set a screen!!

  9. Andy — January 23, 2009 @ 9:13 am

    After 5 years of watching and being involved with coaching youth basketball I can say that the time I seen spent on kids trying to learn a play could have been better spent doing just about anything else. Last year I had to sit on the sidelines and watch as the coach insisted the kids run a play he loudly announced every trip down the court. When our point guard made that first pass EVERYBODY knew where it was going. The opposing guards ALWAYS had a great game against us. Very disappointing season. Disappointing to the point to where my young man decided not to play basketball this year.

    There is hope as we are going to catch a local college game this weekend.

  10. David C. — January 23, 2009 @ 11:56 am

    If I had been asked this question this time last year, I would agree that younger kids should NOT attempt to run a set offense. Now, however, I disagree. I’m coaching my son’s 7-8 yr old team. I watched them play last year and they were very unorganized. We were happy if they even attempted a shot without turning the ball over, very frustrating for the coaches, parents, and kids. This is the 3rd year most of these kids have played together, and their win total for the previous 2 years was 2 wins.

    This year we have enough kids for 2 teams, so I volunteered to coach one team. I have been coaching the 16-18 yr old boys team for 5 years prior to this, so I wasn’t completely lost, but I had to take a totally different approach with 7-8 yr olds. The other coaches and I began teaching floor spacing and read and react principles to these kids, not sure how they would respond. Also, we installed a basic 1-3-1 offense that was easy to remember. It gives the point guard 3 passing options: high post, left wing, right wing. Wherever the first pass goes, the player receiving the ball immediately looks to pass to the low post. The defenses usually over-commit and the 2nd pass is almost always open, giving us an opportunity for a shot almost every time down the court. The play begins with a player at each elbow and a player just above each block. The point guard calls out the name of one of the post players such as, “Luke”. Luke then flashes to the high post and the other post player stays on his block. This is very simple, but has proved to be easy for them to learn and effective in getting open shots. We’ve also noticed that our players have begun to freelance a little and are finding holes in the defense to exploit.

    We only practice 1-2 hours per week, but we began practicing about 2 months prior to our season starting. Understand that most of these kids, while only being 8 y/o, are in their 3rd year of playing basketball.

    Hope this helps somebody out there.

  11. Jeremy — January 23, 2009 @ 12:00 pm

    Stated very well, the importance of the motion offense is always overlooked. It is especially important to emphasize moving the ball without putting it on the floor. A well run motion with a smooth swing of the floor will always score nearly as quick as a set play, but when that swing of the floor doesn’t equate to a basket there is no breakdown or confusion because the kids are still running the offense. Went 8-1 this year without running a single play. I will be honest it was a little hairy the first three or four games but, as the understanding of the offense and the ability to see a step ahead (basketball IQ)developed there was a calmness and ease of play going on, on the floor!! Great article.

  12. Miranda — January 23, 2009 @ 2:03 pm

    What and eye opener!! I’m a first time coach of 5th grade girls, I tried to set and offense and I can tell that its not working at all, so now at practice today I will throw that out and work on screens. If anyone can tell me how to practice with only 5 or 6 players let me know. I think I’ll have them doing a lot of 3 of 2. They get really frustrated with defense because I can’t show them what it will be like with such a small team. Thank you for the article!

  13. John — January 23, 2009 @ 3:19 pm

    I agree with teaching principles and not plays. I have eleven kids of which two are basketball brains and understand everything. Four are athleted only and the rest are in space. I teach the principles of dribbling and spacing as any kid who can dribble should be able to take another 3-6th grader to the hoop. When I tried to teach plays I always had 2-3 players on the court with no clue when the play broke down. Now I tell them. You have free range to move around as long as you are not going to another one of our players unless to screen. They always remain spaced out and since most kids on defence are like mine,they forget to guard their guys. Keep up the good work.

  14. Gate — January 25, 2009 @ 5:50 am

    I agree whole heartedly about not running too many plays at a young age. I coach my daughters 3rd-4th grade team and have only taught them one play..they get the ball to our smartest player at the foul line..if she’s open she shoots if not she looks down low to a cutter, if that is covered it goes back out to the point and they know to pass around to the open girl. I just try to remind them not to get bunched up and it has seemed to work so far.

  15. cheryl — January 25, 2009 @ 10:35 am

    I totally agree. I have been coaching for over 15 years now. Mostly youth league but also a few travel teams. Even with my travel teams 6th-7th girls I try to have one offense with a couple of options for playing against a zone. We always play motion against man.The hardest thing for them to do is recognize when they are being played man to man and when it is zone. Since it is youth sometimes we get a team to play us box and 1 and this totally blows their minds.Any ideas on how to get them to recognize what to play? I do set my 6th grade kids up in 2 different groups,posts and guards. If you teach them to always be opposite of their partners then spacing will stay good. The hardest thing I have found with motion is to get the kids to stay still long enough to have a screen set for them. I also coach a 1st-2nd girls team. I have in past only done a motion with them always but have a new father helping this year and he wants to always run plays. The kids have amazingly learned every position on the play and run it perfectly everytime. The thing that bothers me is that we now have only one kid scoring the majority of the points(his)and the rest of the team is passing and playing defense only. Their only chance to score is off of rebounds. We are undefeated but I don’t think it’s worth it because as you said the children aren’t developing basketball knowledge or how to make decisions. After all every game is different and the player who can make quick decisions will be the one who I want on my team. From now on I will have my daughter with another group and teach them skills. I’ll bet when they get to middle school and high school my kid will have better basketball knowledge and decision making skills. His may be better at running the play but I would take the basketball skilled kid over them any day.

  16. ariel rabe — January 25, 2009 @ 9:14 pm

    For kids, I had used 3-2 zone defense following the m ovement of the ball, and on offense I instructed the no. 5 to cross the shaded lane toward the strong side from the weak low post area receive the pass and reverse immediately for a possible penetration or a jump shot or a quick pass to a team-mate along the baseline for a quick jumper. And another was I instructed the no. 5 to position himself along the free throw line, receives the ball, pivots continually until he sees an open team mate for a possible jump shot below the free throw line or inside the shaded lane or whereever an open team mate is positioned for dribble penetration. We lost the game by 7 points (playing only 6 players vs a complete line-up of the opposing team) but we could have won it, down by only 4 down the stretch, if not for a wayward fastbreak play and over-dribbling in the right baselne corner (actually the kid-point-guard got trapped by 2 taller defenders).

  17. Kevin — January 26, 2009 @ 8:37 am

    I have been coaching 6th and 7th grade boys now for 5 years and every year I try to teach them some play that will beat a zone defense and every year and leave frustrated with the result. Everyone on this post has been exactly right, even the most simple play, escapes their minds almost right away and even when they do get it, they go through the motions and do not react to what the defense is giving them. I have practice tomight and I am going to work more on screens and passing without dribbling and see how that goes. I really want them to focus more on these things anyway. I don’t know why I didn’t do this to begin with. Thanks to everyone for the comments. This should be a lot of help.

  18. mike — January 26, 2009 @ 6:52 pm

    We played aginst a 2-3 zone and could not break it down bcause the 3 were huge(5th 6th)and the two guards were so fast we could not penetrate. So I came up with this idea. Put two plyers on the blocks and two shooters wide and low on the wings. Then have guard bring ball two steps over half court, pick up his dribble and look confused. As soon as the guards run up to trap the two block guys step around and box out the low defenders and the two wings cut to the elbows one will be open for a shot every time

  19. Dick — January 28, 2009 @ 8:34 am

    I coach Fresh-Soph level. At times the motion offense works ok. What works best for me is a pattern offense with several options. If i go to the motion 100% it ends up looking like a fire drill….somewhat helter skelter. We get way out of control. it does make for good practice though, when we get back to some structure then our offense works much better.

  20. Dale — January 28, 2009 @ 9:24 am

    I coach 7 and 8 boys, and one drill we do is put 5 boys on, in a 1-3-1, then pass the ball around. One by one, I put in a defender until it is 5 on 5. The younger players seem to adjust quite well with the added pressure and seem to keep their composure in game situations. Thanks for the great newsletters!

  21. Tom — January 28, 2009 @ 10:09 am

    This is the age old dilema – set plays or concepts and principles. In general, I agree with the concensus of working fundamentals and teaching principles and I have always been a proponent of this. However I do agree with Sportnut and a few of the others that run some plays or continuity offense for a couple of reasons. First, even with the read and react princliples, there are two elements to half court offense that I find critical – they are spacing and relative motion (how all 5 offensive players react and move on the court at any given time). Without some type of structure to the offense, I find these elements are hard to maintain and also challanging for a team that hasn’t been playing together for a long time. If you incorprate plays or continuity, I beleive the key is for players to understand the underlying concept of the offense and where the scoring opportunities are (i.e. overload and attacking gaps against a zone defense) and also have enough freedom to take be able to take advantage of any good scoring opportunity that arises. I am not a fan of rigid offenses that limit scoring opportunities – rather the offense should present options and opportunities for everyone to score.

  22. DH — January 28, 2009 @ 1:34 pm

    I coach 11 year old boys and have set offensive plays that are simple.
    The plays are basic fundamentals using the pick and rolls with some
    weakside movement for a second option. I recently introduced a motion offense that has worked realy well. The timing needs to be right and they are getting it slowly. The beauty of it is once the opposition knows the play they begin to cheat. The boys now can read that and go backdoor for
    the easy layup. Of course not all players on the team have caught on, but the more talented ones get it. I feel I need to at least keep intorducing
    new things rather than holding back those who get it.

  23. Brad — January 29, 2009 @ 6:05 pm

    I agree, I coach high school basketball and I think the problem with most of the kids I see is they have been told every thing to think and do. When I was a kid we jsut learned to play by spending hours at the local playground. now none of the kids go to the play ground and only play in a structured enviorment. A lot of high school kids cannot SEE the game and only will do what the coach says. I think I need to be a NASCAR spotter and tell each kid “the opening is down the lane now it is on the wing now look baseline” I swear they cannot see it themselves. I spend more time telling them to “play” the game and stop “watching”. I tell them don’t just run the plat be a player

  24. Tim — January 30, 2009 @ 11:49 pm

    I teach boys 5th & 6th grade basketball. I tried using set plays which well work agaisnt some teams, But when we played teams that are very good defensively, our set plays didn’t work very well. So the last couple of practises we worked on setting screens, good passing skills and looking for the open man whith alot of movement in & out of the paint, which I believe comes more naturley to them anyway. I think a motion offence is a good one to teach for this age group as long as you stick with the fundamentals and your basic drills.

  25. tammy — January 31, 2009 @ 3:10 pm

    Thank you for this advice. I have battled this subject for many years ,while coaching kids 6th grade and younger. It seems many parents and asst. coaches are more interested in flashy uniforms, cool plays and being #1 in popularity. They forget that our youth need fundementals and that is all there is too it. Honestly a player who doesn’t know fundementals looks foolish no matter who they are or what they are wearing! Thank you I feel encouranged again.

  26. Hoops — February 4, 2009 @ 4:59 pm

    I think when you teach kids to read and react you are in fact teaching them a play. A good offensive play involves the same concept of being at a certain spot at a certain time and if the pass is not there then go to the next option. This is the the same concept as reading and then reacting. I I believe if a set offense has options then players learn to read react and execute. Most important all players must be reading the same thing and this is the short coming of any offense

  27. George — February 13, 2009 @ 11:25 pm

    Couldn’t agree more, I am coaching 6th graders and this year I have practiced exclusively on man to man D, passing, screening and rebounding. We are undefeated and the kids are having fun. They seem to be learning a lot more about the game rather than mechanically trying to step through set plays.

  28. Anthony — February 16, 2009 @ 4:50 pm

    I coach 6th grade teams here in Estes Park,CO. we run a 5 out motion–pass-cut–some back cuts and screens-the kids love it–everyone is a point guard. Most teams press-we dont we teach press break—1 ob play with several options–we let the kids call them–9-4 with the smallest enrollment 25 boys in the whole grade.

  29. Tad — May 8, 2009 @ 10:51 am

    I have always had small teams and I can’t teach height. I have always gone with run and gun offense and man to man pressure defense. I accentuate the pass. Pass, pass, pass, pass, pass. Beat the defense down the court with passing and get the early shot. This the kids understand.

  30. Post Rules For Youth Motion Offense? — September 22, 2009 @ 9:40 am

    [...] Should Youth Coaches AVOID Plays and Patterned Offenses? [...]

  31. Terrence — December 8, 2009 @ 10:32 am

    I coach 11 and 12 yr old boys and BEFORE I even teach the principles of screens within the motion offense, I teach them to pass and cut away from the ball. I tell the boys that if we can pass and cut we’ll learn a new option when they’re ready (which is screens). I also tell them that if they continue to go forth and play basketball at higher levels that they will see some form of this offense for the rest of their basketball careers. I’m also working on options within the offense when I see they’re fit to do so. But in my opinion getting open, spacing, and cutting should be instructed before screens.

  32. Keith — December 23, 2009 @ 9:28 am

    Joe,

    I work with girls (U11) and teach them to pass and cut to the basket with their heads turned towards the person who receives the pass.

    Also, the girls learned the pick and rolls.

    Basically, that’s it for offense. Most of our points come off pressure defense (m2m) and offensive rebounds.

  33. Brian — December 31, 2009 @ 1:47 am

    I have coached MS girls for 10 years. We run a couple of simple motion offenses that do not feature any one player. They deal with cutting to the basket, keeping the ball moving and proper spacing.

    I also coach my daughter’s youth league team and we keep it even simpler. We played a team last year and throughout the game he kept calling out numbered plays. Before the end of the game, he reached #11. Everything was basically for one or two kids. They won, but now those two kids have left the team for some reason and the other kids are clueless. We beat them 24-6 the first game and we didn’t play well because I had a couple sick kids.

    Teach the triangle concept (not Phil Jackson’s triangle offense). Wherever you are on the floor, you should be forming a triangle either with the ball or to help the player with it. Simple and effective.

  34. Leilanie — January 19, 2010 @ 10:40 am

    I have coached 5th and 6th grade girls for sometime now, and I discover after the first 2 frustrating years that simple is better. I teach my girls to set up in a 1 3 1 and the high and low post move to the side of the ball and the opposite guard just takes a step towards the free throw line. When the ball is brought back out front we “set” back up. This way they don’t have far to move and they can concentrate on the more important task of, not traveling,not having the ball stripped, making good passed, squaring up to the basket, good shooting form, following their shoots, and crashing the boards. :)

  35. Mary T — February 23, 2010 @ 9:40 am

    My mantra is this: when you get the ball, look to shoot, look to pass, dribble last. With that in mind I teach a 5-out motion offense. They cut and they pass…very simple. I coach 7th grade and our 8th grade coach used the same offense with some modifications. If they remember to pass, cut and fill you have it made. Anything more complicated is an excercise in futility. Happy coaching.

  36. Joe — February 23, 2010 @ 9:44 am

    I’ve coached MS and AAU boys for the past 4yrs, and have won several championships along the way. I always have a competitive team and I guess I’ve found the middle ground for both arguments. I spend the first 1.0hr of my practice teaching fundamentals and the next 0.5hr on defense then 0.5hr with set plays run against specific defenses including a simple motion offense. I usually start the season with two or three plays and every practice we run them against each defense. Initially I explain where the weak areas are in the defense and what we want to accomplish with our offense/play. Every practice after that when we go through our offense/plays a different player must go through these explanations. By the end of the year everyone understands where we want to get the ball. They always have the freedom to improvise as long as we get the shot we want. 90% of our points come from good defense (turnovers), and fastbreaks; but when we do need to run a play they run it to perfection almost every time.

  37. Loretta — May 25, 2010 @ 5:32 am

    This is my second week coaching my sons under 12′s team. They have spent half the season coach-less and so after many frustrating weeks I’ve put up my hand to take the role. Thanks for everyone’s input, I’m only understanding half of what you’ve written but am gaining heaps of insights and tips!

  38. Scott — May 25, 2010 @ 8:29 am

    I have coached all ages & have tried all types of offenses. The last few years I have moved completly to simple motion againest man to man defenses, & a zone offense vs a 2-3 & 1-3-1. I have found that by working on fundamentals the team will develop quicker. You may not win at the beginning of the season because the teams that have a good patterned offense & play a zone will be good, but when you can get kids to understand spacing, cutting, pick & rolls, and all of the things you can do in a motion offense, your offense will be creating open shots for yourr plyers everytime down the floor plus the defense will never be able to relax becasue there is no pattern. The next point is to tie in a transtion offense to the motion offense so you can create early oppurtunities. My teams score most of our points off of defense & early oppurtunites(Great for offensive rebounding).

  39. Pat — June 22, 2010 @ 2:26 pm

    As Pete Newell said, there is too much coaching in basketball, and not enough teaching. Teaching is about helping players understand the basics – what do I do when I’m being overplayed; what if the defense switches and there’s a mismatch; etc. Most coaches either don’t know how to teach the basics of what do do with the ball + what to do without the ball to enhance the position of the ball, OR they just want the expedient win and will teach their kids an offense that gets the ball into the hands of their strongest players and keeps the ball away from the weaker players. That’s not basketball. And it’s a shame that more coaches don’t take the time to learn what’s required to teach kids how to be effective on offense both with AND without the ball (and teaching defense is a worthy of a whole different diatribe!). I think teaching court balance is about the most a coach should do at the youth level. Skip the intricate offenses and set plays. It’s too much to remember and it’s not what bball should be about at this age. Kids need to experiment – they need to build their instincts so that in a game, when their man is playing off of them, they take the shot instead of passing to the wing like their coach has drilled them on. I see way too many youth coaches just sucking the fun out of htis great game because they feel like they have to be doing something. Teach skills, teach confidence, teach repitition, teach effort – then let the players play.

  40. Christian — September 14, 2010 @ 6:46 am

    I learned that in my first game. I had a cutting offense set up for my play and during the game they were unable to actually react to anything the defense was doing. Altough we won the game nothing went according as I planned

  41. charles — September 28, 2010 @ 5:11 pm

    After reading this I tend to agree with the statements that you need to teach kids the skills of the game. You need to teach all kids to handle the ball with both hands, rip thru moves and how to screen and move without the ball. However I disagree with not teaching kids an offense. I have coached for 11 yrs and have coached grades K – 8 and have been able to teach all my teams an offense and have them execute it. It is my experience that you have to teach the understanding of the game, not just the X’s & O’s of the offense. You have to teach and show the kids what to look for and that the ball does not always have to go where the play is designed. Offensive sets are critical for success and ensuring that all the kids get an opportunity to handle the ball and score. Offensive sets should not be viewed as a restriction it should be seen as an enabler and if you teach the skills around the offense you will see success.

  42. Jeff — February 17, 2011 @ 9:12 am

    Fantastic tip! I’ve just begun coaching again after a 7 year hiatus. Had I not read this, I probably would have spent way too much time creating robots!

  43. William Phillips — February 17, 2011 @ 10:09 am

    I agree with the article to a point, I normally focus on passing, dribbling, and defense in that order and spend little time on shooting and almost none on offensive plays. Instead we have two offensive concepts, which are moving the ball in transition and spreading the floor regardless of the defense. I teach one half court offensive formation and run several variations or options out of this without any set play. I believe basketball is more of a transition game and who ever plays the best defense and can beat the other team down the floor the most times is going to win.

  44. Jennifer — February 24, 2011 @ 10:06 am

    I have been coaching a youth girls ( now middle school ) team since they were 7 year olds. The trouble I have is getting the concept of pass and cut into their heads. We are now 11-12 year olds and are just now maybe getting a cut into our offense. We will also get a screen away once in awhile. We continue to work on basketball fundamentals with them and go over a shell drill where we pass and cut, and pass and screen away in hopes that it will one day click. We are however putting in a set offense, but really it will be a pass and cut that they will think is a play which they are truly excited for. I think kids see all the offenses called on TV but when they play and don’t have a set play, they are thinking this is not basketball. Fundamentals are the way to go, but wish us luck with disguising this in a set play!!!

  45. albert cortez — March 31, 2011 @ 11:23 am

    morning to all coaches…ive been coaching youth
    basketball for the last 16yrs and i found out that running a pattern offense is very difficlt at that age level but at times it does work….i use two simple pattern offense and majority of times we are running are fast brak which work every time…during practice i teach the players the fundamental like passing ,rebounding setting screen and a lot of conditioning and most important work as a team…

  46. Steven Hickcox — October 20, 2011 @ 2:17 am

    Good advice. I made the mistake of trying to teach my team (5th and 6th graders) the Flex Offense at the beginning of the season. As soon as first game started, they didn’t even execute it once…haha. It wasn’t until I attended a coaches clinic that it was emphasized to us coaches to teach the kids Motion Offense that it finally clicked for me. The first practice that introduced the Motion Offense, the kids quickly picked up the movements! From there, I’ve been gradually adding scoring options throughout the basic positioning and motion.

    In the league we play in (NJB, Division II), the teams must play Man-to-Man for the first half, but can play Zone Defense in the second half. A 2-3 Zone was shutting down our team from scoring, so we did need some kind of structure to our Offense and the Motion Offense gave us the groundwork for that. In my opinion, I don’t think Zone Defense really teaches the kids how to actually play the Defense, but what we’ve done is continue to attack the basket, forcing the big players camping under the basket to actually try to defend and when they do, they usually foul our player attacking the basket.

    What I also think is valuable is teaching these kids some basic low post moves. Most of my players do not shoot well or at least not consistent enough to make a real difference in games. Typically, a shot is made and the other team rebounds. But with teaching them some low post offensive moves, it gives the chance to get the ball closer to the basket which translates to more points, rebounds, and trips to the free throw line.

  47. newcoach — January 19, 2012 @ 8:50 am

    I coach middle school girls. We have a lot of set plays and patterned offenses. I am not the head coach, if I were the head coach I would implement a motion offense as well as set offenses.

    I think them learning a motion and how to read defenses and react will be very important for the players as they go on to high school etc. I do like set plays also. When I am a head coach (hopefully next year!) I will probably run a motion but then have set plays if that is breaking down and not getting us baskets.

    I want to help our team win now, but also help the players prepare for basketball at a higher level.

  48. Ken Knudsen — February 2, 2012 @ 12:27 pm

    I agree totally. I coach 5 through 8 grade boys and girls. I believe we teach them so much more to read and react to the defense tha robotic plays. Whenever we try plays, our scoring goes down as does the fun. I think they learn more without the plays. And it does prepare them for whatever they run into in the future. Plays are better used in high school.
    My two cents.

  49. Mike — March 1, 2012 @ 5:24 pm

    Great approach. With this age group keep it as simple as possible. I like kids cutting to the basket after they make a pass. It’s amazing how the defense contracts and their eyes follow the cutter. This lets the other kids move to open spots and gaps. Also remember to reverse the ball. Not only is this good basketball it gets the kids involved on the left side of the court. It’s hard to get young kids to not always go to their strong hand side. You might want to have two guards instead of putting everything on one point guard to get the offense going. Trust me, after 25 years of coaching every level, except pro, fundamentals and everyone plays is the way to go.

  50. Terry — March 22, 2012 @ 5:47 am

    I’ve coached 3rd-10th grade, in a number of rec and select leagues for the past 18 years. I’ve found that the number one skill any kid in these age groups can develop is court vision. A running, passing, cutting offense opens up the court. As a coach, I love to play against teams with set offenses, as I only have to see a play once or twice and we can stop it as we know where the ball is going. With the motion offense, you have to defend all five positions on the court. Our simple rules are run the court, pass the ball and play defense. When players have the ball they are taught to pass first, dribble last.

    My son once told me that his high school team (he was a three year varsity starter) wasted 90% of their practice time on set plays that they ran about 10% of the time in games. The rest of the game time was breaks, turnovers, or recovering from plays that didn’t work.

  51. george — March 22, 2012 @ 12:53 pm

    I’ve coached now for a good while,when i first got started coaching i tried to teach set plays to my middle schoolers and found that it didn’t work too well.for a time i looked at my teaching methods thinking i was doing something wrong,and i was,so i went back to the basics,passing catching,cutting,screens flat out hustle in transition & good solid defence,now we are doing quite well using a simple motion. thank you for all your great articles,they really help.

  52. seye amir hasani — April 5, 2012 @ 4:13 pm

    Hi guys in our club are 10 to 13 years of age you have the proper training
    Thank you for your cooperation coaches

  53. Coach Ken Smith — May 24, 2012 @ 11:35 am

    I’m more of an fundamental coach, I spend much of my time teaching the fundamentals of the game, like spacing, looking at defense, looking at the offense, and following their shot but coaching the 8 and 9 yr old player sometime become difficult because of their attention spand it has me coaching visiual technics on the floor, like moving from one mat and calling out the mat number each time you arrive at that location backwards and forwards so far so good. I love coaching this game call youth Basketball. COACH KEN SMITH!!

  54. Peter — September 27, 2012 @ 7:39 pm

    Like any consultant would tell you. It all depends….. you have to look and decide.

    We worked on set plays – Fundamentals are the key. I can tell you I had a group of 8-9 year old boys last year that were all players. That is they all had some solid fundamentals the first day they came to practice. Lets be clear they were not picture perfect fundamentals but they worked for them. We work on the basics and help build on what each had.. For example telling the player to find a spot where he could make a high percentage of there shots and if he got the ball in that spot we wanted them to act rather than think.

    If the group of kid you are coaching is talking about basketball on the bus and after school and you see them around town playing 1v1 or 2v2 or just catching feed and shooting then they have the interest. Having fun is the key. It happened one day early in the season as we stretched at the start of practice the discussion amoung the kids around the circle was running plays. Then one boy asked coach can we work on plays??? While watching the blood run out to the assistant coach face I seized the moment and said if you give me a good practice the coach and I will discuss carving out a few minuets at every practice (once a week) to work on plays us to use in some games at the end of the season.

    The buzz at the end of this practice was unbelievable. Kids talking to there parents at length about practice next week and set plays. Set plays became the incentive for a good practice or game. I would only carve out a few minutes and send the kids home with a drawing and asked them to explain it to the parents as home work. My first attempt was a train wreck but we were ready to move on to something else and not dwell on the wreckage. With the train wreck pushed aside the buzz was still strong after practice as they had a play sheet that they were to discuss with teammates, sibling and parents only. Although we worked on this we did not implement in game situation until very late in the season. Eventually by year end the write group of kids will be able to execute with a great sense of pride and accomplishment.

    Don’t be afraid to stretch for a goal but keep it fun and interesting only if they work hard on the fundamentals.

    Also an added benefit of some understanding of a set offense is it helps the kids recognize and defend. It also helps develop individuals into a team and takes them down a path of learning that may not immediately benefit them but as long as you keep them interested they will all learn something.

    Fun and Fundamentals are the key. You have to make the decision based on what you have.

    It all depends…… on what you have.

    I love coaching youth hoops!!!

  55. Steve — November 10, 2012 @ 1:04 am

    For the record, Bo Ryan’s swing offense, in it’s current form is a motion offense. If you watch his teams now, you will see spacing, screens, cuts and ball reversal. What you won’t see often are rigid patterns or even many remnants of the swing patterns he developed (and sold on video) while coaching at Division III Platteville.

    While I don’t agree that youth players can’t learn pattern offense (90% of my 5th through 8th graders did fine with them) I am completely enthusiastic about the prospects of rules-based motion offense with a lot less in-game intervention from me, especially given our limited amount of practice time.

  56. Joe Haefner — November 13, 2012 @ 10:56 am

    Thanks for your input, Steve. I’ve noticed the same thing in regards to Bo Ryan’s Offense. There is a lot more freelance within the offense. Maybe he has opened it up a little bit more since he has more talented players?

    I agree that your players can learn a pattern, but I found that I spent so much teaching the pattern, I would have spent more time on fundamentals and teaching them how to play because I believe it would benefit them more in the long-haul. At first, the offense always looks ugly when teaching motion. With 5th & 6th grade teams, it can take an entire season. With 7th & 8th grade teams, depending on player attendance, 6 to 12 weeks. That’s one of the reasons that so many youth coaches go away from it because they lack the patience or feel too much pressure to continue. It’s our instant gratification society. But once you get that foundation, it’s so easy to accelerate by the teams learning strict pattern offenses. And every year from there, you get even better.

    Personally, I believe if you are going to teach a pattern, you need to include motion-like counters. Teach them how to play within the pattern. If overplayed, go backdoor, etc. Don Kelbick does a fantastic way of conveying that in his flex DVD.

  57. Jay A. — November 20, 2012 @ 2:49 pm

    I am a first year coach of 11/12 year olds and may only have two to three practices before the first game. What should I focus on in the first practices that I can quickly incorporate into the games? Should I work on motion offense, dribbling skills, defense, or all of the above? Also, I noticed on a prior posting that lining up for out of bounds plays isn’t recommended. Why? Thanks

  58. Joe Haefner — November 26, 2012 @ 9:59 am

    Jay, I would teach them fundamentals, offense, and defense. With three practices, it’s going to be hard to have them prepared. I would just look at it as a progression. Don’t worry about what is happening in the games. Figure out what you want to teach them and build on your foundation practice after practice.

    Here are some tips on what to teach:
    http://www.breakthroughbasketball.com/coaching/teach-youth.html

    Not sure what article you’re referencing with the out of bounds comment. I do run a couple of out of bounds plays with my youth teams.

  59. Joe Haefner — November 26, 2012 @ 10:00 am

    You can pick a couple of basic out of bounds plays here:
    http://www.breakthroughbasketball.com/plays/baseline-box-plays.html

  60. Bill — May 25, 2013 @ 9:43 pm

    I am a Varsity Basketball Coach that has coached teams all the way from 5th grade up to Varsity. When coaching at the 5th grade level we ran the Flex. We came to the decision that we would run the flex because it 1)taught all players every position, 2) They all had to learn to set screens, 3) they all had to learn how to use picks and finally 4) they had to learn how to pass.

    When initially teaching the flex we used all the flex drills and basically ran the traditional flex. We would eventually add a “strongside counter” so teams could not overplay us. We were not concerned with winning or losing but more important was learning skills of screening, cutting, passing and shooting.

    At the beginning we were not “successful” (winning) until later in the year. In 6th grade we added 2 more counters and 2 more the next year until by the time they were 9th graders they were running what we called the passing game.

    The Passing Game is basically playing basketball by reading the defense with a few simple rules. The kids learned the game of basketball and were able to adjust on the fly by themselves because they had learned the fundamentals. The teams that were built that way ended up winning conference championships and advancing to the State Tournament.

    The trouble I had as a Head Coach was butting heads with youth coaches who thought they knew more, that had one or two outstanding players and built their teams around those players (running a lot of pick and roll) refused to run the flex and didn’t develop the fundamentals of all the players. Their main concern was winning…as they didn’t see the big picture for the future of the program.

    I feel it is real important to teach the fundamentals so at the older levels the players can take that knowledge and “play” basketball. You need a progression that brings all players to that same point in the future…and you need to keep your vision on that goal, not just winning.

  61. Tom Otstot — May 26, 2013 @ 12:13 am

    This is a great topic, every coach who has coached at the youth level has struggled with this. As a Middle School Coach who still coaches youth teams in the summer, because I love to coach, I have an opinion on this. First, it depends on the number of practices you have before your first game. I love Rick Torbett’s Read and React, but I cannot implement this in 8 practices with all the other things we have to prep for. What we do is this:

    1. Spacing – maintain good spacing in five out or four out/ one in.
    2. Player Movement – when you pass the ball, you cut to the front of the rim, looking for the return pass for the Give N Go. Then you either fill out on the perimeter, screen for an off-ball teammate, or post up.
    3. Ball Movement – When you catch the ball, the first thing you look for is the player who passed to you cutting to the basket.

    I teach fundamentals – shooting, facing the basket, creating passing lanes, recognizing good shots and taking them.

    We do work on a simple “High Low” zone offense, because too many coaches rely on zone defense. I hate that, these coaches are looking for the “win” to pad their record, I am simply not. We play man “help and recover” exclusively, because that is what the kids need to play at the next level.
    We work on breaking the press (get them in the mindset that we WANT the other team to full-court press us, it is to our advantage to have a five man team defending the full court, not just the half court), and we work on running a good fast break, getting back quickly on defense, and having a couple of good BLOBS and SLOBS. Keeping is simple, focusing on developing EVERY player’s skill and basketball IQ. Parents love it, they don’t care about the W-L record (most of them), they want to see their player having fun and DEVELOPING.

    By the way, our teams have won 80% of our games the past four years, but trust me, I don’t care. I rarely look at the scoreboard during games, until the final two minutes of the half or game, I can tell how we are doing by watching the game. Don’t fight the refs, forget the score (because winning is a byproduct of doing the fundamentals correctly), and be a good role model focused on development. Do that, you won’t go wrong.

  62. Coach Alex — May 28, 2013 @ 8:52 am

    Joe, this is a great message. I coach a freshman girls AAU team and the goal of our program is skills development. I’ve given the girls 2 plays which include cutting, off ball screening and pick and roll. The goal of these plays are to help jump start them ‘when necessary’ otherwise we focus on pure motion (4 out / 1 in).

    We’ve also taught them the ‘Gap Offense’ concepts and incorporated this in the motion which helped them against zone defenses.

    But the bulk of our four months have been focused on skills development and decision making (ie basketball IQ). This is what’s going to help them take the next step.

  63. Jeff Haefner — May 31, 2013 @ 6:16 am

    Bill, Tom, and Alex,

    Thank you for your comments and opinions. You make all make some great points. And I really like all your philosophies in regards to youth basketball!!!

  64. Carrie — September 13, 2013 @ 7:14 am

    I agree with this idea! I coach at the middle school level and typically a majority of our team has never played before. I spend a lot of time on fundamentals during the beginning of the season, and teaching a complicated or set offense takes away from the girls learning the fundamentals of the game. I have found that spending practice time teaching them to read the defense and giving them the skills to do this works much better than a set or patterned offense. I think someone else mentioned in a previous post, but developing a good basketball IQ for my players is my main goal during the season, I only have them for one year so giving them the skills to play for any coach against any defense is what I’m looking for. They aren’t going to remember those set plays years from now, but if I can teach them excellent fundamental skills and how to use them in game situations I’ve done my job. :)
    Later in our season, once the girls have become more comfortable with their skills, I do introduce some patterned or set plays. However, these don’t always work, and I do find that some of my less confident players freeze up
    when we use these.
    Just wanted to add that I love this site, and have used a lot of the suggestions and drills in our practices. Keep it up!

  65. Megan — December 7, 2013 @ 8:03 am

    Thanks for the article. My son is 6years old and on his first team (5 and 6 year olds). His coach works on plays for the 50 minutes of a 60 minute practice. He sits on the floor and listens to the coach and watches him position a few players around the court. No exercise and no fundamentals. I am looking for an article/study to forward to him that would help.

  66. coach fitz — January 2, 2014 @ 10:13 am

    Ditto on the article, my middle school team is always asking when are we going to learn an offensive play. My response is you are not robots and every time I see you run a play in the past you freeze and turn into robots. I want a natural flow, so your not turning the ball over because you passed it to the air when a players was not where they should have been. So far I have enjoyed the team and they are having fun.

  67. Brett — January 2, 2014 @ 2:52 pm

    I keep hearing everyone talking about motion offenses, and i’ve been reading the motion offense book. I am having trouble understanding when to have them cut vs when to screen away. How and what dictates the decision? I find it is easier to tell the kids to always screen away or always cut. Thanks for any assistance on this.

  68. Joe — January 3, 2014 @ 3:51 pm

    Brett, great question.

    Because of the way I teach, my answer might be different than others. I like to teach my offensive players to put pressure on the defense, so I rarely tell them to react to the defense. I want the offensive player to make a decision and be decisive with their decision. I often use the word “Attack” as in attack the defense. I don’t care if they make the “wrong read.” However, if I see them making the “wrong read” over and over again, I might suggest a different way to attack the situation.

    When it comes to cutting or screening, I tell my players to mix it up. I tell them to try to trick the defense. Try to keep the defense on their toes. It’s almost a game within the game.

    After you screen a couple of times, you might start to see the defense start to cheat over, so do a basket cut. Or you might fake a basket cut, then set a screen. Or you might fake a screen, then basket cut. Or you just might sprint straight to the basket or the spot you want to set the screen.

    It definitely takes time for players to catch on. If you’re working with 3rd, 4th, and even 5th graders, you might see them progress a little bit slower and even take a few seasons before things start to click. That’s mostly due to their lack of experience and stage of development. They don’t see things the same way we do. And when they do see it, it’s too late sometimes.

    Personally, I have taught two different ways. I have taught where the player makes the choice to screen or cut and I have also taught that they do one action.

    There are pros and cons to each one.

    There is more indecision at first when they are given the choice. So you will see them tend to freeze a little bit more often at first.

    When teaching one action, cut or screen, you will find that sometimes it’s hard to get them to mix up their cuts when you want them to start running a motion.

    A lot of volunteer coaches struggle with teaching motion because it is a process, but it’s the best for the team over the long run in regards to basketball development.

  69. Dcotor J's Stuff — February 23, 2014 @ 11:52 pm

    Up to (and probably including) age 14, they are still learning skills and grappling with simplest of offensive and defensive concepts. Retention of movements in plays is beyond most at this age. Assign each player a role (or two): ball handlers (aka guards), lane runners (wings, stay wide until reaching opponents foul line, make OWN decision on move from there and bigs/talls who put in out-of-bounds-balls, trail ball handler, the get “inside” as a target,

    Later, you might move to 5 out (or 4 out, 1 in) and play a simple motion structure based on pass and cut, fill and replace. I don’t see playing such a structure as a difficult process PROVIDED you have taught pass & cut, on-ball screens, screen away, feed the post etc.

    Players of all ages need to have sufficient skill to read the play and the confidence and freedom to “play what’s in front of them.”

  70. Coach Z — April 11, 2014 @ 10:14 am

    I’m a Jr. High 5/6 boys basketball coach, and I love the ideas of stressing the fundamentals, teaching kids how to play, playing M2M defense, and running a motion offense.

    The problem that I run into is that all of our opponents play zone defense, and we struggle to score with a motion offense versus a zone defense. I’ve studied the read and react videos (hook and look, pin screens…) on how to counter a zone using motion offense, but I can’t seem to get the kids to understand.

    Because of this, I think I’m going to install a wheel type patterned offense when we’re faced against a zone, and run motion against a zone.

    Thoughts?

  71. Jeff — April 26, 2016 @ 12:07 pm

    I am going to confess that I did not read this entire thread as I am scarfing my lunch before “the bell”; however, I am seeing a theme that I guess will follow most of the posts. I coach middle school boys and girls and have coached varsity. I love it when teams run the Read and React against me as it is easy to stop the basic actions. I have to run the R&R to fit in with the varsity program, which only beat one team in the league (the team started five freshman). There are times when an R&R style offense is needed, and there are times where sets, whether quick hitters or patterned continuity are needed. In tight games, sets give the players much needed structure. Lack of structure can lead to hero ball or forced shots when the team is struggling or the other team is on a run. The answer is not one over the other: it is a mixture of both. Not teaching sets hampers kids from executing late game, whiteboard drawn plays that could win or lose games. Kids today can not take a quick hitter diagrammed in a huddle and execute because they are not taught structured plays. I took a 4th grade girls team that had five girls that had never picked up a ball before and taught them the basic down screen motion. We won all but one game (to a team that was a travel team). Beyond the basic pattern, we talked about ducking in when your player helped off of dribble penetration, curling and flaring off the down screen, etc. The pattern is a shell that helps get people into the right spot and lets the rest of the team know what will happen next.

  72. Kevin — December 28, 2016 @ 8:47 am

    Joe, in one of the comments you made, you mentioned teaching players not to stand still for more than 2 seconds. So if I am running a 5 out motion offense, are those guys filling spots supposed to leave after 2 seconds?

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment

Don't change this text:

Leave this blank: