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

By Joe Haefner

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

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

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

Do you need to be a stickler on movement technique?

No and sort of.

Between the ages 6 and 9. No.

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

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

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

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

Be positive and have some fun.

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

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

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

Other reasons to focus more on movement with youth athletes…

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

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

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

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

    3rd layer is “Skill.”

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

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

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

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

How much time should I dedicate to practice?

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Tag

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

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

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

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

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


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