Stan Van Gundy on Youth Basketball

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In the video below, Stan Van Gundy, the head coach of the NBA's Orlando Magic, really hits the nail on the head in regards to some of the big problems in the youth basketball system.

Winning vs. Skill Development

The youth basketball system has become flawed, because some coaches and parents judge whether they've had a successful season based on wins and losses rather than if the players have improved and actually enjoy the game. Without skill development and enjoyment of playing the game, players will never succeed at the higher levels of basketball because they won't be good enough and/or they won't want to practice.

You could almost grab any group of kids with average athleticism, play a 1-3-1 half court trap, work on lay ups and offensive rebounding, and you'll win a high percentage of your games against similar competition. I can guarantee that. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that out and it doesn't take a good coach to do that. I can also guarantee that they won't develop the necessary basketball skills to be successful at the higher levels. I can't count the number of players that I've coached at the high school level that lacked the necessary basketball fundamentals and struggled to pivot, dribble, pass, and shoot. Not to mention, all of the terrible defensive habits players learned by using poor defensive fundamentals (swarming the ball, constantly lunging out of position) that allowed them to force turnovers, but won't work at the higher levels.

Stan also mentions an important concept of having different ball handlers. Many coaches don't realize it, but to improve a player's ball skills, all players need to be touching and handling the ball during games. If the player stands under the hoop and never touches the ball, he's never going to improve the necessary skills to become a good player. As Stan says, that's why we don't have more 6'8 guys who can shoot, pass, and dribble.

Since strength and coordination restricts the amount of development you can do with shooting for kids generally under the age of 12, you should spend a high percentage of your time improving ballhandling, footwork, passing (passing is even somewhat restricted), and coordination.

These are some reasons, along with many others, that I believe that players under the age of 11 (6th grade) should be playing 3v3 basketball along with plenty of 1v1 and 2v2. It allows for more touches to improve ball skills such as pivoting, ball handling and dribbling, passing, and shooting. It is simple math, you are not going to get as many touches with 5v5 compared to 3v3.

24 minutes divided by 10 (5 players each team) = 2.4 minutes for each player.

24 minutes divided by 6 (3 players each team) = 4 minutes for each player.

The Most Important Aspect of Youth Sports

Something not mentioned in the video, but it is probably the most important aspect of youth sports, are the kids having fun?!? If the kids are not having fun, why would they ever want to participate in the sport as they get older?

According to the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports by Michigan State, the top two reasons that kids quit sports is because it's not fun anymore and they are no longer interested.

Top 10 Reasons For Boys:
  1. I was no longer interested.
  2. It was no longer fun.
  3. The sport took too much time.
  4. The coach played favorites.
  5. The coach was a poor teacher.
  6. I was tired of playing.
  7. There was too much emphasis on winning.
  8. I wanted to participate in other non-sport activities.
  9. I needed more time to study.
  10. There was too much pressure.
Top 10 Reasons For Girls:
  1. I was no longer interested.
  2. It was no longer fun.
  3. I needed more time to study.
  4. There was too much pressure.
  5. The coach was a poor teacher.
  6. I wanted to participate in other non-sport activities.
  7. The sport took too much time.
  8. The coach played favorites.
  9. I was tired of playing.
  10. Games and practices were scheduled when I could not attend.
The youth basketball system has been flawed for awhile and we all need to put in an effort to help fix it. Our focus should be on needs of the children, not the adults need to win. Our focus needs to be on making this game more enjoyable.

Please meet with your league administrators and youth coaches to try to help them understand the glaring need for a revamped youth basketball system. If you have the opportunity, start your own league.

What do you think? What are your experiences? Do you have any thoughts, ideas, and suggestions?

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Coach T says:
12/14/2010 at 6:41:38 AM

I put a Skittle candy in each of their hands during wall-sits. Not only do they love the 2 pieces of "fun", it keeps their hands up. So instead of hearing groans for wall-sits...I get enthusiastic "YEAH!" when I say "Skittles!"


Ed says:
12/15/2010 at 6:55:28 PM

He hit the nail on the head! I''m an assistant coach for middle school boys and girls teams. Both teams are defending champions with perfect no loss records. Our coaching philosophy is to develop every player on the team. Like all teams, we have our domiant players but everyone on the team contributes. On our girls team, 3 of the 5 starters never played ball before this season.

Most teams we play against rely soley on their domiant player so if you shut that player down, the game''s over. It''s sad to see that the other players who were essentially neglected don''t have the basic skills to continue playing in high school. Wining is great but we have a responsibility as coaches to work with and deveop all players on the team. Who may have a future NBA or WNBA star on your youth team.


Doug says:
12/16/2010 at 12:39:15 AM

I agree completely with this article and Coach Van Gundy. We are 3 weeks into our 8-9 yr old season and have done very little beyond dribbling, footwork, passing, pivoting, and some screening. We then incorporate these fundamentals into scrimmages for about 30%-40% of our practice time. The problem is that we're now 0-2 and the team that we share the court with is 2-0. They scrimmage basically the full 2 hours each week and work on plays to get the ball to the dominant players. So, while I would prefer to teach and worry later about winning, the kids know they're losing. That certainly takes away from the fun. Any advice?


Jon says:
12/16/2010 at 10:23:42 AM

I heard Tom Crean say the exact same thing during his youth camp last summer. Maybe Crean heard it from Van Gundy, or vice versa, but in any case it''s good that this important message is coming from the highest levels of basketball in the U.S.


Joe Haefner says:
12/16/2010 at 11:55:06 AM

Doug, kudos to you for working on the right things. Trust me, that will pay off in the long run. Short-term losses for long-term gains. It's much more gratifying seeing a team that you coached take some hits early on, just to pass the competition after working with them for a few years. Lots of patience and communication with the parents is required, so they understand what you are doing. You may not see the results until 6th grade, 7th grade, 8th grade, or sometimes high school.

Usually the losing thing is a parental and coaching issue. The parents and the coaches take the losses much harder than the kids. Most kids forget about the loss about 10 minutes after the game. They're more worried about where they're getting pizza or some ice cream.

I always go by this motto: Coach to develop players. Players play to win.

If you look at the reasons above on why kids quit sports, there isn't an item that says anything about winning or losing.

Focus on the little things and set small goals. Do not worry about the scoreboard. Count things like:
- Good passes
- Good box outs
- Hustles (diving on the floor, sprinting back on defense)

Be creative!

I wouldn't even mention wins or losses to the kids. Always leave the game talking about things that they did well.

Focus on the process, not the results.


Joe Haefner says:
12/16/2010 at 11:56:40 AM

Jon, that is great to see that coaches at those levels get it. Unfortunately, a lot of the youth coaching dogma got passed on by some high school and college coaches years ago and carried on to the present.


sabrina says:
12/16/2010 at 11:59:52 AM

i love this!! i wish that every coach of youth players would hear this!! i coached a varsity girls team, and saw the basic skills they were lacking e.i: pivoting, good shooting form, dribbling without looking at the ball, left handed dribbling, etc. so i started the 3rd & 4th grade teams and now coach 3rd, 4th, 5th, & 6th grade girls basketball. we work on all the basic skill and good defense. i don't even talk about winning or losing. we have won 4 out of 5 games, but i don't let them celebrate too much about that, i challenge them to get so many rebounds, or turn overs and when we do that then we celebrate! and everyone plays the same amount of time.


MikeL says:
12/16/2010 at 1:09:00 PM

Another factor is that some few youth coaches lack confidence or knowledge to teach M/M defense. It's simpler to put in a zone, to free up more minutes for layins, passing, scrimmage. I'm converting a former "zone" U13 team to M/M this year. They have fun and swarm the ballhandlers, but have no idea about helpside or ballscreen D yet. Unlike most teams, we haven't pressed (though we're quick) until we learn some basics, maybe by playoff time.


Bri says:
12/16/2010 at 2:45:34 PM

It is really encouraging to hear of so many other coaches with this philosophy. The community in which I live does not, for the most part, emphasize skill development. I love coaching youth basketball, and it breaks my heart to see so many other kids get the short end of what should be a great experience.

I would like to pose a question to all you coaches. When dealing with shooting development, do you like the idea of using a shorter basket? If so, up to what grade do you feel is appropriate?


Bri says:
12/16/2010 at 2:48:27 PM

Just did some more hunting around (I love this website!) and found an article on your suggestions on rim height for given age groups. Thanks for all you do!


GR43 says:
12/16/2010 at 3:27:05 PM

I am a ref and a coach in central MA and the youth leagues here mandate man to man defense and do not allow offenses to run isolations. Coaches still try to beat the system but the guidelines are clearly set to teach player development.
When I coach my 3rd grade team, I give every kid a chance to be the PG and rotate all positions on the floor. I wonder when I should start to gravitate the kids towards their strengths and appropriate positions? For now I rotate all responsibilities and teach them all as if they were the next Jordan.


Joe Haefner says:
12/16/2010 at 8:13:40 PM

Thanks for the kind words, Bri. Glad you found the information you needed.

GR43, that's a good question. I started to have my best ball handlers bring the ball up in 7th grade, but part of me thinks that may be too young.

Whatever age you decide to do it, I think you still have your posts & guards do the same things (footwork, shooting, ball handling, etc) in practice all the way through high school. However, players who have limited range may not shoot as far out as a player with range. Same things, just different spots.

What do you think?


mr loser says:
12/17/2010 at 12:48:30 PM

We follow GR43's approach with our 5-6th squad: all our players play all positions during games. Some girls don't want to dribble in games, but we make them do it: the only way to get better is to practice and then use the skill in a game.

For Doug, I'd suggest setting goals related to getting better as a team. Have an assistant coach or parent track turnovers, assists, steals or rebounds. We have goals on these and share game stats with the girls during practice. We only share team stats, not individual ones.

We play two games each week. The first week, we had 45 turnovers (both games combined). Last week, we had 22. The girls are excited to see their progress and like hearing how they did. It's great seeing them recognize their own improvement.

Next season our BHAG (big hairy audacious goal) is 16. In two games, less than sixteen turnovers, more than sixteen assists and sixteen more rebounds than the other teams. It's a stretch goal that will help us get better.

We always talk about hitting our goals, not winning. If the girls have fun and get better, which they have, that's winning for us.


waleed says:
12/18/2010 at 12:32:39 AM

thanks for every think ... we used to open this website alwayes we are very asufull to improve our level in basket ... dont forget us ...thanks


tonootz says:
12/18/2010 at 1:38:31 PM

This is so true in the grammer school setting. Everybody wants to win, nobody wants to teach. I have been teaching basketball for the past 12 years. At the beginning we all played man to man defense and moved the ball around on offense. Now its all zone defense and 2 man offense, guard/big man.

I personnaly thinks all grammer school coaches want to be like with club ball teams.


Old Coach Potato says:
12/18/2010 at 6:14:20 PM

I'm a Canadian coach, so am always amused at people who have the opportunity to coach kids at the younger levels, and miss the whole point of physical education itself, namely, learning how to take care of your own body, for life, which will (hopefully) keep you off drugs, alcohol-free and (hopefully, again) only coming down with regular diseases, instead of the exotic ones.
When I coached soccer (girls), I didn't care (at first) what their skills were, just how hard they could run, and how determined they were to get the ball and doing something with it. We played teams using off-beat formations (1-2-3-4, as an example or even 3-4-3 at the high school level), and drove other teams nuts trying to figure out what it was we were doing. At the end of a game, we'd then sit down and discuss, collectively, what skill we should be working on for the coming week, and we'd do just that. Sometimes I didn't even have to say anything; if someone made a mistake, they'd either fix it themselves, of one of the players would show them the right way to do things. And, even at the senior high level, EVERY player played different positions, except keeper, or adjusted to formations according to what others used against them. Defensive coaching was simple: one "HELP!" from me brought everyone back, heads up, hands up, and confident to cover even the strongest players on the opposing teams.
At our small high schools, getting kids out for basketball is sometimes a tough thing, and occasionally you get this one player who thinks that she / he really doesn't need to be coached, or participate in drills, because they're going to make the team, anyway - and, unfortunately, most coaches will allow them to do just that. However, somewhere on the sidelines, there is always that small creature from Grade 5 or 6 who REALLY want to be out there with "the big kids" - so, sometimes I let them, by letting them participate in drills, or, in scrimmages, cover the team's egotist. A couple of steals by the short one, or even a missed pass or shot, followed by praise for the efforts of the little one soon convinces the wannabe-NBA-bound "star" that, maybe, they should be working harder on their skill set. And I NEVER play "zone"; it's run, run, run, until the makeup high school girls wear starts to run, as well, and kids get the message themselves.
Sometimes the best coaching technique is not saying a whole lot. And, BTW, if anyone thinks that those kids didn't learn, then I guess the provincial championship medals I now covet in my old age and the sight of seeing my former kids making the national try-out list or a college team, or themselves getting out and coaching youth teams, well, that's a whole different category of pride.
A guy by the name of Jack Donahue taught me this stuff, by the way; Stan's just stating the too-obvious, which few want to address.


joe says:
12/18/2010 at 9:44:38 PM

I coach at the 9-10 year old level with the majority of the kids just having moved up from the 8ft rims and the head coach immediately began with the plays and 2-3 zone at the first parctice instead of focusing on skills. The parents seem to be focusing on winning also. I keep on hearing about the kids passing the ball around and people supposedly being open under the basket and expecting another player to make a pass from the top of the key. Most of the kids cannot make this pass let alone some can't catch it and they are not getting it after five games and numerous practices.It was just interesting to see this addresssed in the above article.


GR43 says:
12/20/2010 at 11:25:55 AM

Joe H. I like how you put it. Same skills different spots.

As I was reffing this w/e I couldn't help but think of this video as I watched teams more interested in running their play, (same guy shooting 75% of the time), than playing good fundamental basketball.

Happy Holidays and keep up the good work!


Mike ODonnell says:
12/21/2010 at 10:08:44 AM

Excellent information from both the video clip of Coach VanGundy as well as the article by Coach Haefner. There will always be conflicting opinions as well as methods between developing individually-based parts/skills and molding them into a team-based product.

One thing we always did when I was a part of youth basketball is that we rotated people around and had them play all positions. As a result, we occasionally had our smallest players posting up inside (and having to defend inside as well) and our tallest players on the perimeter handling the ball (and defending quicker people).

In programs that "expect" to win, it is certainly more challenging to keep emphasizing fundamental development because mom and dad want to see their child on a winning team. They want to see a more immediate "bang for their buck" and not invest for the long run.

That being said, a number of those same short-sighted parents, I think, realize that their child will not be a long term participant in basketball and, as a result, they want wins now instead of basic skill improvement.

Lastly, many youth programs have "coaches" who are there only because their child is involved. Many times the "coach" is not even knowledgeable re: how to teach the game and has taken the position just to have an adult in charge. When their child moves up a classification, they move as well. That continual movement and lack of teaching in the early stages erodes the building of a program and inhibits the ongoing development of players because of instability.


Joe Haefner says:
12/21/2010 at 3:31:23 PM

Thanks, GR43. I got that from Don Kelbick. His methods of skill development have been a huge influence on me.

And Mike, I agree. The youth bball system is definitely flawed. If coaches were valued more at the youth and high school levels, we might have fewer issues.


James Richards says:
12/22/2010 at 5:28:04 PM

Great Subject and comments....But here is my take on why it isn't working well.

I have been coaching youth basketball for over 12 years. I have mostly coached ages k-6 (5-12 year olds) in both rec leagues and a few years in Club team. I have coached in 4 different leagues and have seen differences in the approaches. For myself, I have focused on fundamentals over the years with my players. However, this has been very difficult to coach for several reasons.

1st: I find the majority of kids just don't want to try hard. They seem very dissinterested in physical development of skills. This is coupled with the problem of them not even getting to practice. So the parents are either overlaoding them with activities or they just aren't making any committment. My last two games i had only 4 players show up at game time. Had to borrow players from the opposing team. So working on skills as a team is impossible and because of league rules i can't sit the players out for lack of being responsible (see the problem growing in our society?).

2nd: I have also noted the leagues hand out rosters just a few days prior to games starting. so it gives little chance to get a team together. We are approaching game 3 and still have not seen one of the kids on our roster at practices.

3rd: Due to the fact there are usually shortages of coaches. the league allows anyone pretty much to coach. And there is hardly any mentoring or training for coaches. So what do you expect?

4th: The referring has got to improve. They are good people out there it's just that they are being told by the leagues not to call certain things. I see refs call double dribble in the back court yet they let aggressive fouls go uncalled when a child is shooting or double team (trapping at top) in leagues that require m/m defense only. So if you are going to set the rule, let the kids actually learn them. Again what are we teaching our kids? here are the rules but you really don't have to obey them?

just my thoughts.....


Golfman25 says:
12/25/2010 at 6:51:40 PM

James, you hit the nail on the head. Our "league" has the same issues. It is almost as if the league is a cash cow for the park district. Get as many teams and players at $100 ea as possible. To me there needs to be some minimal standards like the kid shows up at practice. Half the coaches don't know what to teach. For them not to even have a basic coaching clinic is inexcusable. Good luck.


Sky155 says:
1/6/2011 at 9:13:28 AM

My problem with the majority of people today(including people who have commented on this site) is exactly what is going on here. People in general tend to focus on the negative and not on the positive. Everyone likes to point fingers but yet don't do a dam think about it. Cash cow comment is ridiculous. I ask you Golfman have you ever been involved with the expenses of what it cost to run these league's. I assume not or you would know there is barely enough to pay for uniforms, Referee's, gym space, administration and most of all Insurance for the league. If some of you have a problem with your league you should do something about it. Like get on rec. board, ask to run league or ask person running if you can assist. Obviously, you all are involved to some degree just take care of your house. We all know there is nothing more annoying then the parent who wants to put his 2 cents in when your coaching about what you are doing and my response is always listen " if you have so much too say why didn't you coach I am the one dedicating my time and effort". Not to mention I love it. Reason I am saying all this, I am guilty also. There are things I don't like but, I have not gone the extra mile to get involved in decisions so who am I to be critical. It is hard enough to get enough parents to volunteer for these jobs my league was short 8 coaches out of a 16 team league. Then we are going to force them to take classes and classes are not free you know. But, on a happier note one of my favorite things to do is see the big smile on my worst players face when I end a practice or a game and tell him "hey John you helped are team the most tonight with all those awesome picks you set for your teammates and those rebounds were great too" So Just have fun and be positive stop pointing fingers.


Winna says:
1/13/2011 at 9:09:11 AM

You play to win the game!


Brian Allaway says:
1/13/2011 at 8:49:52 PM

Winning is nice, and in a very competitive game a coach would do what he/she can to win the game. Face it, the kids love to win also, but in youth basketball, most kids have forgotten about the loss within five minutes of leaving the court. It's more the parents and coaches that concern themselves too much about the win.
We have to remember that it is about the kids having fun, and developing the fundamentals they need to become better ball players; not kids that play ball.
It starts with the coaches to create that atmosphere. Practices are made for skill and fundamental development, but game situations are better, because the kids get to go up against other kids and see how good they are against them. That's why every kid needs to play. Win or lose!


James Richards says:
1/20/2011 at 2:34:40 PM

In reply to:
Sky155 says:
1/6/2011 at 9:13:28 AM

Yeah i hear what you're saying about keeping it positive, and we do at the practices and games always. Sorry if I sounded so in my remarks but its hard sometimes to find an outlet to discuss these things. Its hard sometimes to see and perhaps you have not experieced it before, such things as:

1. Kids consistantly showing up to practice late and wearing UGG Boots. Had two do that the other day and one in little princess slippers.

2.Kids not showing up to games and no calls from parents or players. So having to rework a rotation schedule and then they show up halfway through the first quarter so you have to rework it again to meet league rules.

3. Very low self esteem and lack of effort with individual players at both practices and games. Now I can take some blame for this but honestly i think it stems from the home and our society because we foster this attitude.

I say this because its very dissheartening for me to see this when the kids are being offered a fantastic opportunity to play equally no matter what there skill is. But it does more than that. It affects the whole team and The league. The other players feel dissappointed when they can't play a decent game due to another child on the teams lack of effort (not skill). Its a drag..

As a finaly note. I am a Double Goal Coach and member of The Positive Coaches Alliance. I encourage all coaches and parents to register there and go through the training. It has helped a great deal for me. So perhaps if more parents are using it more we could make a difference.

please continue to comment.....


James Richards says:
1/20/2011 at 2:41:02 PM

Reply to:
Brian Allaway says:
1/13/2011 at 8:49:52 PM

I like what you wrote and agree except with one part... I believe it doesn''''t start with the coaches, it starts with the parents....

But I do agree the coaches also need to create a positive, encouraging and safe atmosphere to teach the kids and I think most do from my observation. I guess we all need to continue to improve and discussions here do help.

Hope to hear back from you.


M Thompson says:
10/17/2013 at 11:34:56 AM

i agree but at what age do we look at wins/losses. i would say high school. what is your take?


Ken Sartini says:
10/17/2013 at 5:05:46 PM

I would say at the 7th & 8th grade level.... as long as its now winning at all costs.

Youth bball is still about teaching the kids fundamentals and them having FUN!

Winning is a by product of a solid fundamental team.


Shana says:
2/27/2014 at 11:47:21 AM

I agree with all above...however, the society today is so different and it does start with the parents. I coach a 6th grade girls team, and I have to constantly deal with other group activities. I feel if you are doing a travel team, then that is the number one thing not a band concert, etc...Also, coaches can go to a clinic that doesn't cost anything, Varsity Coaches in high schools should be the most supportive members as youth coaches are bringing these kids up to their levels. I believe that there should be a coaches clinic before the season starts with practice plans & an example of what they do and how to deal with parents. This year, I told the parents at the beginning because of league rules I have to sub 13 players in & out in the 1st half then 2nd half my time. I told them that I will do 5 in, 5 out every 5 minutes, however the last 5-10 minutes of the 2nd half is my time. I haven't had one parent speak to me about playing time this year. It is a little more at ease, but girls I feel are alittle more dramatic especially at this age, and most do not want to learn. Overall, fundamentals are crucial, that is what I did last year with this crew and won only one game, this year, still working on the fundamentals & skills, but progressed so much to be in third place overall in the league. So it does work, you just have to find it in yourself to accept it as a coach.


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