Coaching Youth Basketball - What Should You Teach?

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Many youth basketball coaches don't know where to start or what to teach. Well, we hope to help you out in this area. Below, we provide some advice on what to teach youth basketball players. We break it down between 3 levels. As you perfect each level, you can advance to the next level to teach more skills & concepts.

All beginner players should start with Level 1 no matter the age. We put ages next to the level as a general guideline. Depending on the age and skill level, you'll progress through the levels at different rates. You may notice that you'll spend 4 years working on Level 1 with 7 to 10 year olds. At the same time, you may be able to progress to Level 2 after two weeks working with a group of 13 year olds who are playing basketball for the first time.

I would advise to go back and start at Level 1 every year. A lot of high school and college coaches start at Level 1 every year. They just progress through the levels more quickly than a youth team. It's a great way to ingrain the fundamentals into your players year in and year out.

We advise to take a couple of hours and write up a master practice schedule for the season, so you can progressively teach them the skills mentioned below. It may take a few years to teach all of these skills at one level and THAT'S OKAY! For youth players, we want to focus on the long-term development, not how many games they win when they're 11 years old. If you try to progress them too quickly, it will hurt them in the long-run. You want to have a solid foundation first. You shouldn't try to teach them every dribble move in one year or every option in the motion offense. The same way in which you couldn't teach a person calculus if they did not know how to do simple addition and subtraction.

Important Note: Throughout this article, you'll find many links to other articles on the website to explain concepts that we advise to teach. My recommendation would be to read the entire article first, then go back and click on the links to read the other articles.

You may also want to add this article to your "Favorites" or "Bookmark" it, because there may not be enough time to read all of the links in one sitting.

Level 1 (7 to 10 Year Olds)

Here's what to teach, ordered by priority:

  1. Lay ups - You should practice lots of lay ups with both hands. Your goal should be to get all players to make lay ups with their left and right hands equally well!! Teach them to jump off the proper foot. They should jump off the left leg when shooting a right hand lay up. They should shoot off their right leg when shooting a left hand lay up. It will be difficult but work on it. You'll probably need to start really close to the basket, with no dribble, and take just one step to practice the footwork. Once you add the dribble, they should dribble with their left hand when shooting left hand lay ups. And vice versa.

  2. Footwork - Teach them triple threat positioning, pivoting on their left and right foot without traveling, jump stops, and to square to the basket as soon as they catch the ball in a triple threat position. You should spend a lot of time on footwork!

  3. Shooting form - For this age group, we highly recommend using smaller balls and lower baskets. If that is not possible, allow the players to dip their elbows which will give them more strength. To learn more on shooting, we also have the Breakthrough Basketball Shooting Guide.

  4. Ball handling - You should teach your players to dribble with left and right hands equally. Basic dribble moves such as the speed dribble, crossover, protect-the-ball dribble, and back-up dribble.

    Resource: Progressive Youth Ball Handling & Footwork Workouts App - Players can do the workouts from anywhere. The coaching dashboard also allows you to monitor multiple players or your whole team.

  5. Athletic & movement skills - Teach them how to run, jump and land, skip, stop, move laterally, squat, lunge and any other basic movements. If you don't know how to teach these movements, ask a professional or PE teacher to show you how. 99% of the time they would be more than willing to help, and they may even come and show the kids themselves.

    Should We Teach Basketball Skills To Players Under the Age of 10? - Useful information for all levels of coaches, not just coaches who work with players under the age of 10.

  6. Basic passes - Teach and practice the basic chest, bounce, and overhead passes.

  7. Play plenty of 2 on 2 and 3 on 3 games to teach concepts (no dribble keep away). It gets the players more experience and allows them enough space to operate and use the new skills they have learned. Make sure to use plenty of age-appropriate drills & games.

    For more on this, read Could 3 on 3 Basketball Be the Best for Youth Players?

  8. Offense - Do NOT use any structured or patterned offenses. First, get them comfortable on the court. They will start to figure things out on their own. Your main concern should be to have them move & not stand still.

    If you use a few basic cuts and maybe screens in your shooting drills at the beginning of practice, then your players will already know how to move in a motion offense. Then you don't have to waste time teaching offense. Just let them play.

    Once players feel comfortable on the court, show them proper spacing.

    As they progress, you can start to introduce them to motion offense situations.

  9. Basic cuts & how to get open - If time permits, you can introduce the basket cut and straight cut. I would suggest that you just work these cuts into your shooting drills at the beginning of practice. This will save loads of time.

  10. Defense - Teach the basic stance, defensive slide, and basic off-ball principles. Don't worry about spending as much time on defense. As they get older, you'll gradually spend more time on defense. Focusing on it 5 to 10 minutes per practice would be more than sufficient.

    Basic Off Ball Principles:
    - Stay between man and the ball
    - Always stop the ball if it is in front of you!

    For this age group, we are against zone defenses for development purposes.
For anyone coaching this age group, we HIGHLY recommend the DVD Coaching Youth Basketball the RIGHT Way (By Bob Bigelow). You'll gets lots of drills and learn exactly how to teach the most important fundamentals the to kids "right way". We truly believe this DVD should be required viewing for ALL youth coaches.


Level 2 (10 to 12 Year Olds)

You should expand onto more advanced skills for everything mentioned above. But remember, if your 10 to 12 year olds are inexperienced, you should start in Level 1. And at the beginning of each season, you should start at level 1 until those skills are perfected. Then you can progress into the more advanced stuff below.
  1. Lay ups - jumping off one foot and jump-stop lay ups.

  2. Teach more cuts: back cut, curl cut, etc.

  3. Continue to focus on shooting form and introduce some movement for shooting drills (shooting off the dribble and off the catch). To learn more on shooting, we also have the Breakthrough Basketball Shooting Guide.

  4. Ball handling & dribbling - teach more dribble moves such as the inside-out dribble (fake crossover), hesitation move, and between-the-legs.

    Resource: Progressive Youth Ball Handling & Footwork Workouts App - Players can do the workouts from anywhere. The coaching dashboard also allows you to monitor multiple players or your whole team.

  5. Passing - continue to teach basic passes and introduce some advanced passes (baseball pass and wrap around pass). Use other drill such as machine gun passing and pass and switch.

  6. Passing under pressure - you can use pair passing with a defensive player in the middle running back and forth to pressure the passer. You can use this drill to practice breaking pressure: full court press breaker drill.

  7. Teach basic screens.

  8. Footwork - introduce jab steps and ball fakes (pass fakes and shot fakes).

  9. Rebounding - introduce rebounding technique.

  10. Basic post moves. drop step and jump hook.

  11. Spacing - introduce more basic spacing concepts.

  12. Offense - keep playing 2 on 2 and 3 on 3 to teach concepts. You can also start to introduce more motion offense situations and play some 5 on 5.

  13. Defense - keep emphasizing and spend a little more time on the defensive stance, defensive slide, and off-ball principles mentioned in Level 1. If you feel that your players are ready, work on more off-ball defense principles.

    In our Man to Man Defense System, we provide step-by-step how to build and teach your defense.

    For this age group, we are against zone defenses for development purposes.
For anyone coaching this age group, we HIGHLY recommend the DVD Coaching Youth Basketball the RIGHT Way (By Bob Bigelow). You'll gets lots of drills and learn exactly how to teach the most important fundamentals the to kids "right way". We truly believe this DVD should be required viewing for ALL youth coaches.

Level 3 (12 to 14 Year Olds)

You should expand onto more advanced skills for everything mentioned above.
  1. Lay ups - practice contested lay ups. Also, you could start to teach players, same-leg same-shooting hand lay ups. I know that is against conventional wisdom, but think about it for a secondů.Your player just blew by a defender or is on a fast break. Do you want them stutter-stepping to give the defense time to recover and contest the shot? So if that means jumping on your right-leg and shooting right-handed on the same side, so be it.

  2. Continue to teach basic cuts and add more cuts.

  3. Continue to emphasize shooting form (move to big baskets and bigger balls). Practice shooting on the move off of the pass and the dribble. To learn more on shooting, we also have the Breakthrough Basketball Shooting Guide.

  4. Ball Handling & Dribbling - teach more dribble moves such as the spin move, behind-the-back. Incorporate some double-moves (crossover followed with a behind-the-back).

    Resource: Progressive Youth Ball Handling & Footwork Workouts App - Players can do the workouts from anywhere. The coaching dashboard also allows you to monitor multiple players or your whole team.

  5. Passing - introduce some other advanced passes (dribble pass, behind-the-back pass, pick and roll pass).

  6. Passing Under Pressure - You use Pair Passing with a defensive player in the middle running back and forth to pressure the passer. You can use this drill to practice breaking pressure: Full Court Press Breaker Drill.

  7. Teach Basic Screens.

  8. Footwork - continue to work on jab steps, pivots, and ball fakes (pass fakes and shot fakes).

  9. Rebounding - put more emphasis on rebounding technique and spend more time on rebounding drills.

  10. Post moves - keep practicing post moves mentioned above while introducing a few more when the players are ready drop step counter and up-and-under move.

  11. Spacing - advance to higher levels of spacing drills.

  12. Offense - introduce more motion offense situations. You should start to notice that your players are becoming much better at reading the defense.

  13. Defense - Emphasize basics from previous levels and move on to rotations and situations.

    In our Man to Man Defense System, we go into great detail about rotations and situations.

    For this age group, we are against zone defenses for development purposes.

Sample Practice Plan for 7 to 10 year olds.

Sample Practice Plan for 11 to 14 year olds.


Do you have any questions or suggestions? Let us know by leaving your comments...



Comments

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Dave Smith says:
7/2/2019 at 2:53:12 PM

Trying to formulate a basic youth coaching basketball manual for use in Uganda and Ghana. Video not generally available so printed manual better. Also, needs to be very simple and not overly long and complex. Maybe a dozen basic plays. Illustrations better than text. Any thoughts?

Dave Smith
858-342-3166

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Cam says:
11/15/2018 at 3:28:42 PM

Does the 5 out motion offense, what I’m slowly implementing with my 3rd grade girls team, make it difficult to get offensive rebounds?

Also, what are some good ways to teach 3rd graders to a) get open and b)be strong with the ball and create space/beat defenders that are aggressively playing defense on them. I’ve noticed in our scrimmage most of the girls “freeze up” with pressure or dribbles passively.

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Jeff says:
11/16/2018 at 2:46:38 PM

No the 5 out does not make it difficult to teach rebounds. Just like anything if you emphasize and teach it, you can get lots of offensive rebounds.

Even though it's "5 out", you almost always have someone cutting through in the lane area and we have always done with well offensive rebounding using 5 out.

For ball security, we use this drill (keep the ball above nose and below knees when defensive is close):
http://www.breakthroughbasketball.com/play.asp?id=7599

Then teach that concept in no dribble passing games (keep away), scrimmages, etc.

To handle pressure with the dribble, we played lots of 1v1 full court. We worked on defense, agility, and dribbling skills under pressure at the same time.

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Tom says:
10/29/2018 at 1:35:09 AM

My daughter's elementary school has a basketball team for 4th and 5th graders. She is in fifth grade and the only kid who did'nt play on the team last year. They have new coaches this year. I have sat in on every practice and there are a many things they are not teaching these kids. After there first 2 games (double header), I realized my kid has no idea what she is doing. She doesn't understand positioning on offense or defense and even asked me "can I smack the ball if the other team is shooting?" I played into highschool and have decided to start some very basic movement, dribbling, and positioning. However, on offense she is told to stay under the basket. For the last three practices they have spent 40 minutes of their hour with the team working on plays. An isolation, and a pick and roll. Both plays they instruct the two tallest girls to stand next to the lane under the basket. When I told my daughter in between games to keep her hands up she did it on offense too bless her heart. Her coach then told her not to do that because he was worried they wanted the girls near the top of the lane to get the first pass.

So basicallly, how do I explain offensive positioning to my child, when her coaches are instructing her to stay still and wait for passes? She is the tallest and fastest kid on the team and thinks offense is standing still until someone passes to you. None of the girls will move to help out the point guard if she gets double teamed because of this instruction to abide by the play. The last practice she spent the majority of the time leaning against the wall because the coach was teaching the starting squad then the backups the same 2 plays they have been working on. I have no choice to teach her, but teaching her the proper way to get open is going directly against what the coach is telling his players.

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Jeff says:
10/29/2018 at 8:50:39 AM

Tom - I know that can be frustrating!

Ideally she would be learning fundamental concepts of offensive spacing, getting open, cutting, seeing open space, passing to open teammates, ball reversals, screening eventually, and so on. But I wouldn't be too worried about it yet. The most important thing is for her to:

- develop athletically (which can be as simple as putting her in soccer, gymnastics, and multiple sports)
- develop a love for the game by having fun
- develop on skills (dribbling, passing, lay ups, pivoting, etc).

The offensive concepts can be learned later in a hurry... and some kids develop mentally at different times... some 5th graders just aren't ready for those offensive concepts yet.

But I would agree with you... it does not sound like a good youth practice and lots of wasted time. If it were me, I would see who is coaching next year and/or find a new team that actually develops all the players on the team... not just a couple kids.

As a parent, I would teach character and intangibles and not worry that the coaching is not good right now. Even though they might be wrong right now, she should have her eyes on the coaches and listen to them carefully when they talk. She should be a great teammate... give high fives, help teammates, hustle in drills, etc. If she develops in those areas.... she will be successful later in basketball or whatever she choses to pursue.

Good luck and hope this helps.

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Ziad says:
10/11/2017 at 2:48:42 AM

I have a twins 7years and a half, boy and girl,
Can you advice me if it is better to do one sport or 2 different sports for them, (2 practices basketball or 1 practice basketball and another sport) because I read that multiple sport is better for less injuries and to aquire more skills at this age.
Best regards
Ziad

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Jeff Haefner says:
10/11/2017 at 8:21:10 AM

Play multiple sports and play them seasonally. I would not recommend one sport... you want them to develop a foundation of coordination, athleticism, and fundamental movements by playing multiple sports.

As an example:
- Summer baseball
- Fall flag football
- Winter basketball
- Spring soccer

Gymnastics, martial arts, swimming, and dance are also excellent sports activities for long term development. You can't do it all (well I guess you can). But you want kids to have free kid play time too. So try to work in 3-4 complimentary sports each year.

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Ben says:
9/20/2017 at 3:38:10 PM

Thank you for all the great content. I'll be coaching both bantam (K-2) and 5-6 grade boys teams this winter and I was struggling determining how much to differentiate between the two age groups. Now i'll largely teach them a lot of the same things, but focus on doing things faster and more crisply with the older boys with just a few extras thrown in for a slightly more advanced game.

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Will Colclasure says:
2/19/2016 at 9:23:15 PM

What about stealing the ball.

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Jay Prakash Choudhary says:
12/24/2015 at 12:31:04 AM

Hi,

You got a really useful blog I have been here reading for about an hour. I am a newbie and your success is very much an inspiration for me.

Thanks,

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A Hughes says:
12/6/2015 at 1:30:31 PM

What about 5-7 year old girls ?

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  1 reply  

Jeff says:
12/8/2015 at 11:20:12 AM

Dribbling, passing, footwork, and have lots of fun.

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Tabetha says:
12/8/2014 at 8:55:39 AM

Do you teach your kids alk positions? Or do you make them all knowledgeable in every aspect of the game? My daughter had been playing for a few years now. She's in 6th. She had only been taught one position...post. There's only 6 girls on the team but during practice, she basically stands under the basket while 2 or 3 kids play 99% of it. The games are a little different but it does get old watching her stand there. I was just curious to know if that's how they're usually taught. She lacks confidence & I think pay off that is her shyness but pay of it is her not being taught much besides rebounding.

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  1 reply  

Jeff says:
12/8/2014 at 10:07:19 AM

Tabetha - Yes, unfortunately that is how many youth players are taught. But that is not what I would recommend. For my youth teams, all players learn the post, perimeter, and point guard positions. And they all develop the same skills. Who knows how big or little they will be when they get in high school. And a truly skill PG has post skills.... a truly skilled post player has PG skills.

I would highly recommend learning all positions and to get experience playing on the perimeter:
http://www.breakthroughbasketball.com/fundamentals/Youth-Players-Positions.html

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Jill says:
11/24/2014 at 12:22:54 AM

My 9 year old son is playing in an organized basketball league for the first time. He doesn't get much playing time in games or practice. When the starting 5 are practicing, he and 2 other boys are sitting the bench, so they are not getting much experience to learn the plays. When he does get in the game, his coach tells him that he doesn't know what he is doing. He gets the least playing time and honestly the other boys are better. I am just wanting to know how to help him to remember the plays? He is so nervous of messing up during the game. I don't want him discouraged and I don't expect him to start because he is not at that level, but I want him to feel more comfortable. Any suggestions?

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  1 reply  

Jeff Haefner says:
11/24/2014 at 8:25:11 AM

Jill - Maybe the coach can send you the plays and you can practice them at home? And make sure your son knows it's ok to make mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes... even Lebron James. As long as you are trying as hard as you can, mistakes are ok.

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  1 reply  

Jill says:
11/24/2014 at 9:46:12 AM

Will he be able to learn them by looking at the plays on paper?

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  1 reply  

Jeff Haefner says:
11/24/2014 at 11:20:23 AM

Everyone learns different. Some read and get it. Some see a demonstration and get it. Some require multiple methods. So I would suggest trying a couple different methods -- paper, try walking through it at home, try drawing up the play on paper, maybe try having him show you the play in the living room.

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  1 reply  

Jill says:
11/24/2014 at 11:53:03 AM

Ok . We will try it. Thanks so much.

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