How To Plan For Success In Youth Basketball!
"What do I do? Where do I start?"

"How do I incorporate all of these skills into practice?"

"What offense should I run? Motion? Dribble drive? Flex? Princeton? Swing? Shuffle? High-Low? Set plays?"

"What plays should I run? Should I run any? Are these too simple? Are these too complicated? How many out of bounds plays do I need? What about a press breaker?"

"What defense should I run? Man to Man? 3-2 zone? 2-3 zone? Amoeba? 1-3-1 zone? Match up? Full court pressure?"

After your head is ready to explode, you're probably thinking, "I shouldn't have volunteered to do this!"

Almost everybody who has coached youth basketball has had these thoughts and feelings go through their head at one time or another. Because coaching youth basketball can be quite overwhelming. Here are some ways to simplify it and make things easier for you.

But don't worry. Take a deep breath and exhale because we're here to help. You can learn from our successes and mistakes.

For youth basketball coaches your priorities should be:
  1. Character development & making basketball enjoyable
  2. Athletic development and skill-work
  3. Defensive & offensive concepts (Motion offense and man to man defense are the best for long-term development, but that's not the point of this article.)
Once you know what your priorities will be and what you should work on (hint, hint, look above), the first thing you should do is develop a long-term plan (two to five years) and season plan.

Here is what I would do if I were starting to coach a team whether it was 6th grade or 2nd grade.

First, what would I like them to develop and learn before they reach high school?
  • Athleticism
  • Ball Handling
  • Passing
  • Footwork
  • Lay Ups
  • Shooting
  • Basic Offensive Concepts
  • Basic Defensive Concepts
Your list may be different based on what you believe and how much time you have available.

Second, what should I focus on this year?

I split my practice between offensive skills, offense, defense and scrimmaging. It usually goes something like this:

  • Athletic development and offensive skills - 30 minutes
  • Defense - 15 minutes
  • Offense - 15 minutes
  • Scrimmage - 30 minutes
You could also look at it like this:
  • 1/3 skills and athletic development
  • 1/3 offense and defense (small-sided games)
  • 1/3 scrimmaging
Now each year, it is a good idea to have a primary focus and secondary focus for each section of practice. One of the biggest reasons to focus on one or two things is the coaches and kids will see clear improvement by the end of the year. This motivates the players and makes it fun!! If you try to do everything equally, you might improve a little but it will barely be noticeable. If you focus on ball security for example (ball skills - ball handling and footwork) and dedicate 20 minutes to every practice and emphasize the concepts in games, you will certainly see improvement from day 1 to the last game. You can see it on film, show it to players and parents, and everyone feels good about the improvement that was made.

I will work on the primary focus every practice. I will work on the secondary focus every 2 to 4 practices.

Now, if you do this for 3 or 4 years with your focus shifting and progressing, that's when you develop basketball players!

Examples of primary and secondary focus for a 3rd to 5th grade team:

Skills primary focus - Ball handling and footwork

Skills secondary focus - Lay ups, passing, shooting


Offense primary focus - Cutting and getting open - V-cuts, L-cuts, basket cuts (give and go), and backdoor cuts.

Offense secondary focus - Introduce ball screens, introduce screens away from the ball, baseline out of bounds play, sideline out of bounds play, press breaker.


Defense primary focus - Defensive stance, 1v1 defense, positioning when 1 or 2 passes away, moving on the pass, sprinting to areas.

Defense secondary focus - Defending cutters, post players, ball screens, screens away from the ball.


Third, create a practice plan template and drills to use.

This might take you an extra 2 to 3 hours at the beginning of the year, but it will save you many more hours during the season and beyond if you decide to coach for multiple seasons.

Create a practice plan template for 2 to 4 practices. It will include your primary skills and secondary skills. You are not worried about specific drills here, just the categories of skills and concepts you want to work on. For example:

Practice 1 Template:
Athleticism - 6 minutes
Ball Handling - 10 minutes
Footwork - 6 minutes
Form Shooting - 4 minutes
Lay Ups - 4 minutes

1 v 1 Defense - 5 minutes
Defense Positioning - 5 minutes
Defending Cutters - 5 minutes

Cutting and Getting Open - 5 minutes
Small-Sided Game - 5 minutes
Special Situation - Inbounds Plays - 5 minutes

Scrimmaging - 30 minutes
- 3v3, 4v4, 5v5
- Use different rules (no dribble - 2-dribble limit, pass and move, etc.)
   Practice 2 Template:
Athleticism - 6 minutes
Ball Handling - 10 minutes
Footwork - 6 minutes
Passing - 4 minutes
Lay Ups - 4 minutes

1 v 1 Defense - 5 minutes
Defense Positioning - 5 minutes
Defending the Post - 5 minutes

Cutting and Getting Open - 5 minutes
Small-Sided Game - 5 minutes
Special Situation - Press Breaker - 5 minutes

Scrimmaging - 30 minutes
- 3v3, 4v4, 5v5
- Use different rules (no dribble - 2-dribble limit, pass and move, etc.)



Create a Drills Binder

After you create a template, you can find your favorite drills and games for each section, print them out and put them in a binder. That way, you can look at your template before each practice and pick out your appropriate drills.

Now, if I only could get back all of those hours the first five years that I coached and I wasn't doing this.


What do you think? Let us know by leaving your comments and suggestions





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Comments

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Mike Toolin says:
12/7/2011 at 3:07:14 PM

I am a first year coach of 1st and 2nd grade basketball. I told parents at the beginning of the year we would work on team concepts and fundamentals. Every practice I run a drill to get the kids into triple threat position (teach athleticism) and dribbling. I have dribble relay races and dribble follow the leader (me). Then I mix in footwork, passing, shooting (form and lay-ups) and finally spacing with drills and scrimmage.

I love getting your news letter with new ideas for drills. You guys are fantastic, I couldn't have done it without you.

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John from Harrisburg says:
12/7/2011 at 7:08:39 PM

Love the articles and advice. Please keep them coming.

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Joe Haefner says:
12/8/2011 at 9:00:55 AM

Thank you for the kind words. We're glad we can help!

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Clarence Gaines says:
12/8/2011 at 11:40:44 AM

Looks like you're designing practices for today's youth

Great point-Coach Tony DeMatteo about today's kids - Doesn't think kids have changed; thinks ATTENTION SPANS HAVE CHANGED http://bit.ly/uAB4Il

Nice writeup - sent it along with other items to my son's middle school BB coach.

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Michael Wallace says:
12/8/2011 at 11:49:21 AM

Bob Bigelow has some excellent videos about coaching kids. In fact there is a passing drill that is worth the video...I did a variation of it, but what he does is much much better.
Things I believe that should be taught at every practice from years of coaching up to the 8th grade:
Every practice for every age begins with ball handling. IE, moving the ball around the waist, the hips, each leg, the neck, drop catch etc. One thing I have added to the routine that I haven't seen others do is, squat, toss the ball in the air and jump to catch it.
Teach chinning the ball.
Teach pivoting.
Teach jump stop.
Teach jumping to catch the ball. Always.
These are all easy things to teach that improve their athleticism and their bball skills.
You will be amazed at how quickly their hand eye coordination improves and how rapidly TO's decline.

Oh, don't worry about winning. Teach them to play and have fun playing.

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Joe Haefner says:
12/8/2011 at 1:00:19 PM

Great video, Clarence! Everybody should watch that video. And thanks for passing on the article.

It's funny you mention the design of the practice for today's youth. This occurrence happens to me almost every practice which are 90 minutes long. When I blow the whistle and bring everybody in to wrap up the practice, I'll get at least one puzzled look from a kid and he'll say, "Practice is over already?"

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Joe Haefner says:
12/8/2011 at 1:01:14 PM

I like the drill, Michael! And then progress to throwing it off the backboard, chin, turn and outlet to player on the wing.

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Ken Sartini says:
12/8/2011 at 1:45:31 PM

Joe,

Thats the mark of a well planned practice, you must be ending practice on a fun note... that always brings them back.

We used to end practice with "situations" The kids loved those and it was a great learning situation.

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marius suibong says:
12/9/2011 at 6:01:23 AM

hi
am really desperate in Cameroon cuz basket s done with all ma stuff.no shoes no anything cuz i took it as ma second religion.Men of good will i plead on anyone in here that lay hands on ma situation.thanks.suibong@hotmail.com thatz ma contact.am dame down .am 21

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Coach B says:
12/9/2011 at 2:26:08 PM

I am limited to one hour of practice per week. Because of the time crunch I pre-plan every practice and keep it to the basics trying to use drills that teach multiple skills. The most important drills first and so on. But every week I find myself not getting to something I wanted to cover.

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Ken Sartini says:
12/9/2011 at 4:10:07 PM

Thats a tough gig for anyone... the only thing you can do is to keep right on schedule.. if something isn't going well, move on to the next thing.. hopefully other things will go well and you might be able to pick up some time and go back on it. The last thing you want to do is keep on a drill for a long time and miss other important things. I learned that the hard way too.

Good luck

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jeremy quernemoen says:
12/9/2011 at 11:50:19 PM

I am a first year coach for boys and girls junior high. Your resources have been extremely helpful! Thanks!

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Keith Smtih says:
12/13/2011 at 8:13:12 PM

Great stuff, here guys. You could run a couple of seasons worth of things just from this one article.

I have coached various age groups and it amazes me how little time is spent teaching ball handling and footwork at the younger levels.

Everytime I read a Haefner article I learn something new or rehash something I have forgotten.

Thanks to Clarence and Mike for their input and links.

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Ken Sartini says:
12/14/2011 at 12:37:24 PM

Keith,

I'm not sure what "younger" levels you are talking about.... YOUTH programs I would agree, mostly because they are volunteer coaches doing the best they can. Sites like this one can help coaches for all age groups - but especially the volunteer coaches.

If only those coaches knew of sites like this one, and all the coaching groups out there... there is a wealth of information out there, all they have to do is to be informed about where they can go.

I heard this somewhere... Don Kelbick I think, IF you cant pass or catch the ball, you cant play... I would add this.... being able to dribble with either hand and be able to defend.

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Aaronjohnson says:
12/18/2011 at 9:39:25 AM

I coach youth basketball I find your info very helpfull.i been coaching four years it still is a task but without this kind of info I wouldnt know were we would be thanks and keep it coming

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Kent Sackett says:
12/20/2011 at 4:08:00 PM

This great information. Many of the ideas I have incorproated into my practices. One thing I have found is that with MS Word I can cut and paste different drills and have been using the same practice template for many years.

Thanks for some new ideas.

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Matt Stewart says:
10/24/2012 at 2:16:27 PM

Going into my third year of coaching. Started with 4th and 5th graders and moving up to 6th-8th this year. I have followed breakthrough''s advice in nearly every aspect of my coaching and the results speak for themselves. Kids having fun, working together and the first year going undefeated and winning the city championship (first time ever a team won the league title and tournament title) and second year (all different players) runners up in the city championship. This all happened not because of me but because the players had fun and didn''t have to worry about a coach screaming at them the entire game. Thanks Breakthrough. Oh and only one unsatisfied parent which was quickly remedied.

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Joe Haefner says:
10/24/2012 at 4:47:17 PM

That's great, Matt! We're glad to hear about your team's success.

Takes good players and good coaches to do that well!

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Mon says:
10/24/2012 at 9:11:31 PM

Hi
We only have kids for one yr inThe league I coach in. (I know that sucks right lol) what is sum advice can u guys give me on building a fundamental team in 3 months.

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Chad says:
10/25/2012 at 12:15:22 AM

Hello, thanks for all of the great information you share!

I have been coaching rec for a couple of years and have moved up (with my daughter) to 6th-8th grade. At this age range each team seems to have a trend of some girls who have been playing for several years and some girls who are brand new to basketball. Do you have any recommendations for running practices so that it is beneficial to both groups (i.e. how to keep the experienced girls from getting bored when teaching the basics).

Thanks!

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Coach Clarita says:
10/25/2012 at 7:51:39 AM

Hi Chad, I have coached in school and now recreation programs. One thing you might try which has helped me. We do a shadow program for part of the practice. Like sending a person to learn a new job. One new player is assigned to one experienced player. The experienced player will help make sure the new player understands and uses the right footwork, stands in the right position, etc. The experienced player does it first then the new player does the same action. This activity gives a special place for those "in the know" and those "wanting to know". The experienced player makes the corrections. This also helps your experienced player in not only knowing how to do something, but how to explain it and correct errors. You are training assistant teachers at the same time. I do not mix them all the time. For example when we play a game at the end, I do put players together who have played together. New players will see they have to work hard to get up to level.

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Ken says:
10/25/2012 at 8:43:53 AM

Clarita - I think thats a great idea... I did that in my summer camps, had my varsity players there to help the younger kids.... worked well. You get a few things out of that.... ONE - IF they can teach it, that means they know how to do it.. this helps ME. :-) You challenge the older kids to be leaders, which helps the Varsity during the season. It sells the younger kids to play in your program.

Chad - At that age, all those kids need to continue to work on their fundamentals. Keep your drills short and keep the kids moving. That way they wont get bored. My typical time frames for drills might be from 4-7 minutes except for our offense / defense scrimmaging.

Mon - You said it yourself. Look at your players, work on the fundamentals they aren't good at. I'm not sure of your age group and this can make a lot of difference. The younger they are, the more you have to work on fundamentals.... and Ws and Ls take a back seat. Good luck

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Jeff Haefner says:
10/25/2012 at 10:10:38 AM

Chad - We face the same issues, even at the high school level.

When we teach defense, we start at the very beginning (stance) every single year. It's good review for the experienced players because they always forget things and needed for the new players.

For skills, teaching is usually short bursts and then quickly start drilling. Since we spend almost our entire practice on skills, we don't have much of an issue with past players getting bored. We spend little time teaching "a system".

Don Kelbick gave me this advice a while back. I think it's great advice. I wrote it down and it has always stuck with me.

"Put learning to play basketball ahead of learning your system."

So pretty much our whole practice is spent on fundamentals. Offense is motion and takes a few minutes to teach. Defense is man, which is based on defensive principles (fundamentals). Fast break is super simple and can be learned in a few minutes. Press break is pretty much same as motion and fast break with very minor adjustments. We don't run plays, except for one super simple end of game play. The only thing that takes a little time is our inbounds plays but those are easy and simple too.

So pretty much all drills are based on skills. I encourage everyone to get out of comfort zone and make mistakes. Which means new players make mistakes and older players really push hard (go fast) and make mistakes too.

Then we do competition and split them up based on skill level.
http://www.breakthroughbasketball.com/fundamentals/missing-link-player-development.html

Hope this helps give you ideas.

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Ken says:
10/25/2012 at 7:32:38 PM

Jeff -

Very interesting concept.... I know I spent lot of time on fundamentals... but not like you are describring. I felt like I had a good balance.....

I wonder IF I could have done that when I was coaching varsity kids ???

Obviously it works for you.... I wonder if anyone else had done this? I do like this!!

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Jeff Haefner says:
10/25/2012 at 8:12:13 PM

I used this method at the youth and freshman level. It worked extremely well. I have no doubt it would work at the varsity level as well. And college too for that matter. But just like anything you have to buy into it as a coach and commit to it.

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Chad says:
10/26/2012 at 1:25:42 AM

Clarita/Ken/Jeff, thanks for the tips! I just held my first practice and your advice rings true, even the experienced players appreciate fundamental development.

Jeff, thanks for the additional link, very helpful.

Chad

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ivan says:
10/29/2012 at 1:54:39 PM

Could you please elaborate a little bit more on you view of how to develop athleticism?

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Dawn Barone says:
11/20/2013 at 12:07:06 PM

Just wanted to thank you for your helpful tips and advice. I took over my daughters fifth grade girls basketball team this year after experiencing great frustration with the coach last year who failed to teach no fundamentals and no basic skills, only just letting the girls scrimmage most of every practice with no stopping for instruction or correction. I've been essentially starting from scratch, which hasn't been easy; also having to break bad habits that the players have already developed in their first two years if play. Lets just say, it's going to be a long year.
Your drills and tips have made it much easier to get back to basics but keep things fun for the girls. It has also given me the patience to see little improvements at each practice too! Thanks!

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Coach Cooper says:
12/4/2013 at 1:31:37 AM

Keep doing what you do guys!!! The material is great and is much appreciated. My 6-8 year olds will be better players because of your work & dedication.... Nothing but net!!

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Charles Parker says:
12/22/2013 at 10:39:12 AM

Thanks this is very helpful, I've been asked to be a head coach for my areas parks and rec league but I turned it down and stayed as an assistane coach. With this information i feel better about becoming a head coach next year. The article was what I needed to help organize my practices. Here my other issue, parks and rec league only have 5 to 6 practice, the players changes every year, and you only have one hour of practice time. What areas would you focus on to develop your players who has little to no experience? This could be for any age group.

Thanks

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JESSICA HAMRICK says:
2/19/2014 at 8:03:21 AM

I LOVE ALL THE GREAT TOOLS TO HELP ME TEACH THE KIDS.

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Voneita W. says:
5/9/2014 at 9:34:27 AM

Do you have a basket curriculum or a set of drills? I am new to this and it would be helpful. I'm scheduled to start an afterschool basketball league on May 20, 2014 at my school.

Your help is greatly appreciated..


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Ken Sartini says:
5/9/2014 at 10:36:06 AM

A lot of this depends on the age group of the kids. As for the younger kids, keep things simple and basic.

But I took this from the top.

For youth basketball coaches your priorities should be:

Character development & making basketball enjoyable
Athletic development and skill-work
Defensive & offensive concepts (Motion offense and man to man defense are the best for long-term development, but that's not the point of this article.)
Once you know what your priorities will be and what you should work on (hint, hint, look above), the first thing you should do is develop a long-term plan (two to five years) and season plan.

Here is what I would do if I were starting to coach a team whether it was 6th grade or 2nd grade.

First, what would I like them to develop and learn before they reach high school?
Athleticism
Ball Handling
Passing
Footwork
Lay Ups
Shooting
Basic Offensive Concepts
Basic Defensive Concepts

Here is a whole list of drills.... you can find a lot of things at the top on the left which is where I got this.

http://www.breakthroughbasketball.com/drills/basketballdrills.html

I hope this helps.

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DAN says:
10/15/2014 at 5:12:44 PM

I lead a "moving one's body properly" for fourth graders.

Cae you advise we what recognized bodymovementts are involved with moving properly when playing basketball? ?

Thank you.

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DAN says:
10/15/2014 at 5:12:45 PM

I lead a "moving one's body properly" for fourth graders.

Cae you advise we what recognized bodymovementts are involved with moving properly when playing basketball? ?

Thank you.

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Joe Haefner says:
10/23/2014 at 8:32:40 AM

Dan, they are pretty much the same as any other sport.

Moving side to side. (lateral movement)

Running forwards and backwards (linear movement).

Stopping and starting. Side to side. And forwards and backwards. (Lateral and linear)

Jumping - 1 leg, two legs, different body positions, twists, etc.

Balance - 1 Leg

Squats, lunges, pushes (horizontal and vertical), pulls (horizontal and vertical), twists, and planks will help build foundational strength.

Skipping, MACH drills (running form drills), crawling, combo runs (ex: backwards run, then turn) will help build coordination and rhythm.

Jump stops would be something that might be specific to basketball.

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Joe Haefner says:
10/23/2014 at 8:33:56 AM

Here is another helpful article:

http://www.breakthroughbasketball.com/blog/index.php/should-we-teach-basketball-skills-to-kids-under-the-age-of-10/

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Todd says:
1/5/2015 at 10:46:35 PM

Very helpful information for setting up practice schedules and season goals for player improvement.

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Rhianna Hawk says:
1/31/2019 at 12:55:24 PM

I appreciate your tips for playing in a youth basketball team. My son wants to try learning basketball, and your tips for how to divide practice times will really help with that. We'll be sure to look for a coach that has the priorities you mention are important, as well.
http://sdnbp.com/index.html

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