Competitive and Fun Youth Drill – Speed Dribble and Lay Up Relay Race

By Joe Haefner

Competitive and Fun Youth Drill – Speed Dribble and Lay Up Relay Race

This is a fun and competitive drill that helps players to improve their speed dribble and lay up under pressure in…

Newsletter 92 – Passing and Decision Making Drill, High School Practice Plans, Basketball Camps And More

By Joe Haefner

Click Here to view Newsletter 92.

Passing and Decision Making Drill – No Dribble 3 on 2 (Continuous)
This is one of my favorite passing drills because it improves decision making and greatly cuts down on “bad passes”. Unlike many passing drills, this drill is very game-like. The distance, angle, and situation for each pass is constantly changing (just like a real…

Day 1 – Practice Plan & Drills (Sophomores 2013/14) – From Jeff Haefner’s Coaching Blog
As our team agreed on during our pre-season player meeting, we will be focusing on the following this season…

Win the Interview: 6 Tips for Athletes Handling Media Attention
In today’s world, the media is everywhere. With recruiting sites, local newspapers and national media outlets, basketball players are being targeted at a very early age. Once a player achieves a little notoriety, it is not out of the question that he or she will become the focus of…

1 on 1 Ball Tough Drill With Chris Oliver
This is a great drill that emphasizes ball rips and strong pivots to create space from the defense. As a result, players will get stronger with the ball and turnovers will be reduced…


Should Youth Coaches Eliminate Shooting Drills From Practice?

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?!?

  1. 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.

  2. 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:

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.

How to Avoid Squandering Your Greatest Resources – Volunteer Assistant Coaches

By JimBado

If your team is like most, you’ll have parents willing to help you. Some parents will be able to make every practice and game; others only some. Some will understand basketball; others will be clueless. No matter who they are, how you use them, to a great extent, will determine how well your team performs.

The worst thing you can do: squander adult volunteers’ time, knowledge and skills. If you’re a control freak who must manage and run every aspect of practices and games, do your volunteers a favor and tell them you don’t need their help (even though you do). Why? Because adult volunteers want to be active and involved; nothing is worse for them than standing around with nothing to do. Failure to give your helpers meaningful roles where they can deploy their knowledge and skills (some may know more about the sport than you) is a sure way to create frustrated, disappointed adult volunteers.

The good news: with a little foresight and planning, you can get a lot out of your volunteers. And, even better, the adults will enjoy being “used”. Assistants, in fact, are a lot like players, you need to keep them busy. One of the simplest and easiest ways to get the most from your volunteers is running stations in practice.

To run stations, follow these simple steps:

1) Split your squad into 2, 3, or 4 relatively even groups

2) Pick a fundamental skill to practice at each station

3) Assign an assistant to run each station

4) Rotate the players every 3-5 minutes among the stations (you will keep track of time)

5) Get the heck out of the way!

Splitting your squad into smaller groups benefits both your players and your volunteers. In station work, players get many repetitions of a fundamental skill. Since they run the station, your adult volunteers will share their knowledge with the team and work closely with all the players. Will your volunteers always teach a skill the exact way you would have? Of course not, but, remember, you’re a youth league coach – just like your assistants – not Duke’s Coach K.

Here’s a three-station example (3-5 minutes at each station, then rotate, 15-20 minutes total):

1) One basket: v-cut, catch pass from coach or another player, shoot jump shot

2) Up and down both sidelines: defensive slide/turn the dribbler (dribble against pressure)

3) Other basket: roll ball to shooter/defender runs to guard shooter and boxes-out/rebounds

If you follow this approach, your players will practice v-cuts, shooting, defensive slides, dribbling against pressure and boxing out multiple times over the quarter hour. As a youth coach, you’re always pressed for time: stations help you get the most out of your limited time. In some of our practices, we run two different sets of stations to keep the team and volunteers all busy.

There’s no limit to what you can practice in stations. You could do lay-ups, machine-gun passing and crossover/change of pace/speed dribbling. You could split your team in half where one group works on footwork drills while the other plays dribble knockout. No matter how you split them, you’ll receive the same benefits: multiple repetitions of fundamental skills while everyone stays active and involved.

Remember, your enemies are idle, bored players and, also, idle, bored volunteers. If you keep your assistants busy leading valuable station work, they will enjoy volunteering. And, even better, your team will be more successful as a result of their active participation.

You can find more articles from Jim Bado that are usually non-basketball related at the LOSER Report.

For more youth coaching tips, drills, plays, offense tips, defense tips, and much more, visit our Youth Basketball Coaching Home Page.

Does Each Player Dribble The Ball On Your Youth Team

By Joe Haefner

Here is a short commentary between Jim Bado and one of the girls on his youth team. It discusses the importance of having everybody handle the ball on your youth teams…

Before Saturday’s game started, Michele plopped beside me on the bench.

“Coach,” she said, “do I have to play guard today?”
“Yeah,” I replied, “everyone plays guard on our team.”
“But I don’t want to. I’m not any good at dribbling. Can’t I just play forward? I’m better at that.”
“You’re playing guard. You get better at dribbling by doing it.”
“But I always lose the ball or they take it from me — I don’t want to do that in the game today.”
“Michele,” I said. “Remember when you started with our team two seasons ago?”
“You’d never played basketball before and didn’t know how to shoot a lay-up, did you?”
“And you didn’t know how to pass or play defense either, right?”
“And now, because you’ve done those things in games, you can do all of them, right?”
“No,” she said, before catching herself, “I mean yeah, yeah, I can.”
“Well, it’s the same way with dribbling. That’s why I want you to bring the ball up in games, so you’ll get better at it. And I know you can do it.”
She thought about that for a second and said. “Ok, but can I just do it once or twice today?”

It took everything I had not to crack up. Seeing her, and all the girls improve, is why you coach youth sports.

You can find more articles from Jim Bado that are usually non-basketball related at the LOSER Report.

Tips for Subbing With Youth Basketball Teams

By Joe Haefner

Check out this forum discussion on subbing for youth teams. There are some great subbing methods such as the “piece-meal” & “numbering” methods.

Subbing for Youth Teams

Here is the numbering system I used in the past:

1. I would assign a number to each player. If I had eight players, I would make sure that 1 & 2 was either a good ball handler and/or scorer. Then, I would do the same thing for 6&7. This way, you have a player who can score and/or handle the ball on the court at all times.

2. If we played 4 8-minute quarters, I would sub every 4 minutes.

3. I subbed for the next numbers in line. For example, if I had players 6,7, 8 on the bench. I would sub for 1,2,3. When I had 1,2,3 on the bench, I would sub for 4,5,6. When I had 4,5,6 on the bench, I would sub for 7,8,1. When I had 7,8,1 on the bench, I would sub for 2,3,4.

When Did Steve Nash Start Playing Basketball?

By Joe Haefner

According to an interview posted by, Steve Nash did not start playing basketball until he was 12 or 13 years old. Yes, a 2-time MVP of the NBA did not start playing basketball until he was nearly a teenager.

There seems to be this myth circulating among parents and coaches that you need to start a child early in “Organized” sports in order to be successful. The sad thing is that the complete opposite often happens, because kids:

  1. Lose interest, because sports aren’t fun anymore.
  2. Get burned out.
  3. Get injured – play too many games.
  4. Don’t get enough playing time.
  5. Get too much pressure placed on them to win.

The list could go on and on.

I’m not against organized sports. I think with the right approach, it can be very beneficial.

Here are some things I guarantee that occurred during Steve Nash’s childhood:

  1. Played multiple sports – This helped him develop into a great overall athlete. Did you know Nash was a very good soccer player? I believe he still plays some during the offseason.
  2. Developed a passion himself – I can almost guarantee he wasn’t forced to practice by his parents. Do you think you would be passionate about something if you were forced to do it?
  3. Plenty of free play – played sports in the backyard or playground without adult supervision and instruction. Don’t you think it would be beneficial for kids to solve problems and socialize without an adult instructing them how to do everything? We’re not developing robots, are we?
  4. Coaches made it fun. When I say fun, I’m not talking about hosting practices where the coaches and players skip around together singing Kum-Ba-Yah.

I’m referring to coaches:

  • Being positive.
  • Complimenting way more than criticizing. Try using Phil Jackson’s magic ratio of 5 compliments to 1 criticism or Morgan Wootten’s sandwich technique with a compliment – criticism – compliment. I honestly don’t even like to call them criticisms. I think using the term “teaching point” puts coaches in a better mindset to teach rather than just point out a flaw.
  • Disciplining (not punishing).
  • Using fun drills & games to improve skills.
  • Teaching with some enthusiasm.
  • Challenging the athletes through progressions while not making it too difficult or too easy.

Let’s stop all of this ultra-competitive athletics at an early age and develop KIDS the right way!


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8 Secrets To Success & How They Relate To Youth Coaching / Parenting

By Joe Haefner

Here are the 8 secrets to success mentioned in the video:

  1. Passion
  2. Hard Work
  3. Get Good
  4. Focus
  5. Push Yourself
  6. Serve Others Value
  7. Ideas
  8. Persist

Is it a coincidence that passion is listed first?  I don’t think so and I think almost everybody would agree that being passionate about something is probably the first step in being successful.  If you’re passionate about something, it’s a lot easier to work hard, get good, focus, push yourself, serve others value, come up with ideas, and persist through the “CRAP”.

If this holds true, why do so many coaches and parents push their kids into organized sports, make them practice, and act like drill sergeants?  I don’t know about you, but this treatment would  most likely cause me to resent the sport rather than love it.

Do you think MJ would have loved basketball if his dad was yelling at him every day to get on the court and practice?

Let the kids develop their passion and help guide them to succeed.

When a parent loves doing something and makes that same activity enjoyable for the child, the child will be more likely to pick up that same passion.  Is it a coincidence that my dad and brother were coaches before me?  I don’t think so.

What do you think?


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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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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?