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.


  1. Mike Colucci — November 8, 2011 @ 1:57 pm

    I completely agree with this post. I coach a 6th grade girls team (B level); We practice twice a week for 90 minutes. If I were to markedly improve their shooting skills we would need to spend 75% of our practice time on shooting drills. I think dribbling, footwork, passing, rebounding skills are a much better place to spend the 180 minutes we are together

  2. Bruce Aulabaugh — November 17, 2011 @ 4:34 am

    Great post! These kind of ‘big picture’ perspectives are crucial for keeping things real for youth basketball coaches. Many Many Thanks.

  3. Andy Stadnik — November 17, 2011 @ 7:00 am

    Exactly on point totally agree – shooting drills not part of the main practice – for us while players are arriving those who get there early just shoot block to block for a few minutes then free throws from 10-12 feet before we start formal practice.very little shooting other than during drills that require a basket to close out like 3 person weave, or gladiator 1on1. we have had a separate 3rd shooting only practice one hour/week to work on form and balance/footwork.

  4. Steven Hickcox — November 17, 2011 @ 1:28 pm

    Great post, Joe! I spend less practice time on shooting drills for my 5th and 6th graders for the very reasons you point out, and I’d say lack of coordination is probably the biggest obstacle. Even my own son, who definitely is above average in skill level and I’ve worked tirelessly on teaching him proper shooting form, doesn’t really have a shot range beyond about 8-10 feet without going back to ‘shot-putting’ the ball. It has frustrated me to no end, but I think this post solidifies for me that he’s simply not old enough to have the right coordination.

  5. Bill — November 17, 2011 @ 3:38 pm

    I would spend at least some time at the younger ages teaching players correct shooting form/mechanics. Without correct form/mechanics, it doesn’t matter how much strength they have in later years, they will be bad or spotty at best shooters.

  6. Bill — November 17, 2011 @ 3:54 pm

    I didn’t read the comment from Andy above – having a separate shooting practice is definitely the way to go, if you have the facilities and time.

  7. Peter Voltz — November 17, 2011 @ 5:18 pm

    For the past 10 years I have coached 16 to 18 year olds and have had to spend quite a large anomunt of time teaching them basic footwork, how to get the ball up the court and ball skills.
    This year I asked to coach 10 and 11 year olds and have spent 12 weeks mainly focusing on footwork drills, fast breaks, passing, defense and ball handling drills. We have also done form shooting and basic layups, but this has been only been 15 minutes a week at team training sessions. We train for 2 hours twice a week.
    Last weekend we played our first carnival and the teams scored 70 to 80 points per game and were shooting at only 20 to 25%.
    The reason for such high scores was they defended very well and once they had the ball they could promote the ball down the court quickly.
    I hadn’t read anything about Bob Bigelow’s DVDs until last week but what I have seen from my 10 and 11 year olds is proof that improving footwork, strength and balance first is worth spending time on. Once they get the basics of that right the rest is much easier to teach.

  8. Coach B — November 17, 2011 @ 8:24 pm

    I could not disagree more with this article and advice. Kids want to shoot and need to shoot. The best thing we can do as youth basketball coaches is create an environment where the kids have fun and want to continue playing the game as they grow up. The most fun actvity in the game of basketball is shooting the ball! Most every drill and skill you do in practice should end with a shot attempt at the basket. Crashing boards, running your offense, and strength training will not create a love of the game. Most grade school kids dribble the basketball way too much anyway. Teach the kids to catch the ball, square to triple threat, and SHOOT IT! Let them shoot it more than any other activity you do in practice. Appreciate Joe’s efforts to write an interesting, thought provoking article, but completely disagree with content and advice.

  9. Coach G — November 17, 2011 @ 10:01 pm

    I think as a coach you are trying to develop good habits at a young age and if you are not teaching them to shoot properly with a smaller ball and a lower net, the kids will go out and shoot on their own and develop poor habits. It’s a catch 22….

  10. Peter Voltz — November 18, 2011 @ 7:43 am

    A lot of coaches assume all that kids want to do is shoot the ball, because that is what they see kids doing when they aren’t training. But if you take the time to explain to children why you are making them do things like foot work drills, pivoting, running lanes, keeping good spacing, rebounding, defence, etc., and you make it enjoyable, you will be surprised at what drills they will ask you to run. My 10 year olds ask can they do full court 3 man weaves to 2 on 1 back, various fast break drills and competitive defence drills. They also enjoy the footwork, strength and conditioning drills because I have taken the time to explain what muscles they are strengthening and how it will help them in game situations.
    Good footwork is critical to being able to play basketball. Without good footwork players are unable to stop and be well balanced, square-up, get in triple threat and shoot properly. They also are unable to change direction and speed quickly and are also prone to more injuries. So take the time to teach footwork first.
    Don’t stop teaching young players to shoot correctly and definitely don’t assume that shooting is all they want to focus on.

  11. Joe Haefner — November 18, 2011 @ 11:39 am

    Thank you for your comments everybody!

    Coach B, I’m with 100% on that we coaches need to do a better job of making things fun, because that’s the key so they want to play when they’re older! Also, thanks for stirring things up a little bit. Too much groupthink is never a good thing, even if I disagree with you. :)

    When I schedule my practice, I usually split it into approximate thirds. 1/3 skill work (1v0 and some 1v1), 1/3 small-sided games (offense and defense work), and scrimmaging.

    So 2/3 of the practice has plenty of playing, making things fun, and shooting during game play. With some planning, you can certainly make the whole practice fun.

    Now I agree that kids like to shoot the ball, but like Peter said if you make things fun and explain why you’re doing the activites, they enjoy the other aspects of the game as well with proper drills, enthusiasm, and a fast pace.

    With that being said, I should’ve clarified, I still like to finish my ball handling drills and footwork drills with lay ups. That way, I’m focusing on improving those skills, but they also get to score the basket and work on shooting lay ups. And as mentioned above, when you combine this with enthusiasm and a fast pace, kids still enjoy it. And sometimes, I forget that lay ups is technically shooting. For some reason, when I do skill work, I always have them as separate skill sets.

    I think partly with SportsCenter highlights and our (parents and coaches) fixation on whether they score or not, too many kids grow up a little selfish in the game of basketball. We need to glorify other aspects of the game.

    I rarely compliment a player on a made basket. However, I will say great pass, great cut, great rebound, way to dive after that loose ball, way to look up the floor, etc.

  12. Joe Haefner — November 18, 2011 @ 11:43 am

    Coach G, I agree that we want to instill good habits. In the article, we still recommend to work on form shooting every day.

    However, part of me is starting to think that shooting form when they are 9, 10, and 11 won’t influence their shooting form as they mature and get older.

    What will influence their shot is proper coaching and getting in the gym and working on their game. The best shooters I’ve coached get in the gym and work by themselves. They don’t have shooting coaches, just some guidance.

  13. Jeff Haefner — November 18, 2011 @ 12:05 pm

    I have worked with a lot of kids as a year round skill development coach and working with teams in the winter. I completely agree with Coach B’s comments that practices need to be fun. So true. But I have I have seen a little different results about what they think is “fun”. Sure kids like shooting, who doesn’t? But in my experience kids love anything fast paced. They love dribbling, seeing improvement, dribbling games, dribble tag games, races, passing games, athletic development games, strength training games, etc. They beg for more. I have no problem getting kids to have a blast without taking a single shot at the basket. I guess it just depends on the drills you run and how you structure practice. There are so many skill games you can play without ever shooting a basket.

  14. Ken Bell — November 18, 2011 @ 1:00 pm

    I agree that (bouncing)dribbling is the first thing a young athlete does with a ball. Ball-handling skills(passing and dribbling)are crucial for individual and team success.
    However, kids will shoot the ball, with or without the monitoring of a coach. Making baskets is a major motivator for all players. A young player’s muscle memory begins with his/her first shooting attempt. Bad shooting habits have to be overcome by at every level of the game. Since wrong habits die hard, this necessitates training and retraining throughout a player’s years of participation.
    Generally, one-fourth of our practice time is spent on shooting form and techniques. This is not to the exclusion of ball-handling skills and court awareness. Our youngest players use 27.5″ basketballs and shoot at lowered rims (7′-8′). It’s not just “hand out the balls and let them shoot”. Consistent obseervation, correction and encouragement must be provided.
    Flexibility and agility are keys to performance at any level and outweigh strength workouts. We incorporate these essentials as part of our drills with a ball and defensive footwork training. Very little time is spent on strength training for our younger players.
    Finally, the importance of teaching fundamental offensive and defensive concepts far outweighs the learning of plays. The concepts should be emphasized if a coach is teaching a specific offense or a defense.
    It is always good to see what various coaches are doing with their athletes. We take what we learn an tailor it to our specific circumstances.

  15. Kevin Monahan — November 18, 2011 @ 1:54 pm

    I have my boys practice form shooting as we wait for the whole team to arrive and I walk about stressing the fundamentals. A clinic coach once said that Basketball is the one sport you can practice by yourself. I tell my 8-9 year olds this after each practice when I encourage them to practice shooting and dribbling on their own. One thing I do encourage in practice is to shoot without hesitation when they have an open shot. Too many times young players dribble free of their defender or get a pass and are unsure what to do next. I also agree that the kids like anything fast paced and challenging, regardless if their are shooting or not.

  16. Joe Haefner — November 18, 2011 @ 2:51 pm

    Ken, I completely agree that kids should have lower baskets and goals.

    In regards to improving athletic development, I think that there are way too many “strength” coaches. They should be “athletic development” coaches. Strength is just one of the aspects to becoming a good athlete. Coaches should work on mobility (controlled flexibility), stability, balance (statically and dynamically), lower body strength, upper-body strength, full body strength, power (applying strength with explosiveness), rhythm and coordination, etc.. They should also work on moving in all directions; stopping, lateral speed, first step speed, running, landing, jumping. There are things I’m sure I’m forgetting, but I think that gives you an idea of what I’m talking about.

    However, at the same time, you can’t discredit strength. Without proper strength, movement will be difficult. I have some 8th graders that have trouble doing lunges and squats with just their bodyweight. Guess what, they don’t control themselves very well on the basketball court. They get more traveling calls and have more trouble finishing near the goal compared to other players on the team.

    Athletic development is also situational, you might have players with great flexibility, but they can’t control their body. I’ve seen athletes that can contort their body in an unimaginable ways, but can’t do a single leg squat. They certainly can’t cut, run, or jump very well. Then on the other end of the spectrum, you run into kids who can squat a house, but lack explosiveness and flexibility. They probably should spend more time on flexibility and explosive exercises, unless the explosive exercises expose them to their flexibility limitations and cause poor movement.

    I usually alternate my warm ups and vary my exercises, but here’s an example of a warm up that would take 12 to 15 minutes. Since I alternate focuses in our warm ups, I usually spend about 8 minutes on my warm up.

    - Step backwards in 3 directions (ankle mobility)
    - Touch wall with knee (ankle mobility)
    - Leg Swings (hip mobility)
    - Toe Walks (Ankle & calf strength)
    - Heel Walks (Shin strength)
    - 1-Leg Balance – 5 sec hold
    - Lunge Matrix
    - Squat Matrix
    - Jumping Matrix – Two Feet & 1 Foot
    - S-shuffle
    - Carioca
    - Backwards Run
    - Backwards to forwards run
    - Forwards to backwards run
    - 180 spin run
    - Plant and Cut
    - Tuck Jumps
    - Push up to sprint
    - Lying to Sprint
    - Mirror Drill

  17. Joe Haefner — November 18, 2011 @ 2:51 pm

    Whew, talk about going off on a tangent!

  18. David Hogg — November 19, 2011 @ 10:49 am

    I am fed up watching older players who have poor basic skills because their coaches when they were younger did not take the time to work on basics. Players who develop bad habits seldom loose them. Unfortunately that includes poor shooting skills so I think coaches have to strike a balance in training making sure that poor shooters get time to improve their skill. This does not need to involve shooting at the basket as one of the other posters has already said and can be achieved in other ways. Court time for practice can be expensive (where I come from anyway)so a coach has to make the best of the time available to them and to drop shooting drills from a session may be unproductive.

  19. Nathaniel — November 21, 2011 @ 2:23 pm

    hello guyz ! am a coach Africa. In a country called Tanzania. I have twenty girls and fifteen boyz that am coaching on a different time table. I have very young and energetic youth who are interested in basketball. i have found your comments and newsletter very helpful. however, i would like to ask if you could break down some drills to those of us who are trying to help the youth who share two balls for twenty and other problem with materials i will be very happy ! thanks for what you are doing…… find it helpful ! God bless !
    Coach Nathaniel !

  20. Basketball Training — November 22, 2011 @ 8:50 am

    I think the key isn’t necessarily eliminating shooting drills, but rather keeping the shooting within 4-6 feet with a focus on form, teaching them drills they can do on their own. This way you don’t take up valuable practice time as shooting drills are time consuming, but you leave them with the knowledge of how to do the shooting drills at home.

  21. rob — October 17, 2013 @ 10:29 am

    Shooting must be incorporated early if you want them to be above average shooters. The younger they are, the more likely they are to develop the depth perception and accurate eye necessary for great shooting. This also goes for all skills including passing, footwork, etc… The goal of the game is to put the ball in the hoop, you should not disregard shooting at the early ages.

  22. Manzu — October 23, 2014 @ 7:29 am

    I think many of us are trying make shooting too complicated. Ball handling=how you keep the ball in your hand is as simple. The coaches job is to give and show the basic idea how the fundamentals should be done and keep correcting an individual after individual. Everyone understand that, but the players to understand that shooting as one of the fundamentals is the player job to make it, according to the instructions the coach showed. If the player does not understand it and keeps on shooting too far from the basket he surely destroys every time the basic shot that was tough in one’s practice. Fundamentals in basketball are not God given skills. One have to work to get them.
    Give young ones a structured program that they every time do when coming to basketball court – inside, outside, home yard. Do not let them shoot too far.
    1. How do you keep the ball in your hand
    2. How do you keep your legs, feet
    3. How do you give the power to your shot
    4. How do you dip the ball up
    5. How do you release the bb with your relaxed wrist and fingers
    6. Aim the shot and keep you eyes at the target all the time

    Shooting is the every time one relaxed move and all the shots are basically done the same way – lay ups, hooks, flouters, pull ups, catch and shoots etc.
    Ones again it is the players job to make his fundamentals work. And teach them always the same way from the very beginning. It does not matter if the player is 6, 10, 15, 25, or any age. If he wants to learn it he will do it.

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