How to Coach Youth Basketball

Three Methods:Preparing YourselfMeeting Your PlayersPutting Your Knowledge to Work

Basketball is one of the most popular sports in the world, enjoyed by participants of all ages. And as with any sport enjoying steady growth, good coaches are in constant demand. The challenges basketball coaches face vary depending on several factors, and one of the most significant of these is the target age group. Coaches hoping to make a positive impact on young basketball players need to make sure their message is clear while ensuring that the game remains fun.

Method 1
Preparing Yourself

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    Watch a lot of basketball. The best coaches are also great students of the game. Find basketball games wherever you can—on television, online, or down at the local recreation center—and study them. Identify what plays or systems work best and which ones are less effective. Take plenty of notes, and go over them when the game is finished.
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    Research simple offensive and defensive sets. The key to being an effective youth basketball coach is recognizing the limitations of your students. The majority of young players will only be able to memorize and execute a limited number of plays. Additionally, fundamentals are more important to youth development than the execution of certain plays. Find a few easy offensive and defensive plays you can run, and study them until you have them mastered.
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    Ask other youth basketball coaches for advice. If you decide to watch some games in person, approach the coaches after the game and set up a time to speak with them about any questions or ideas you may have.
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    Develop a philosophy. Once you’ve researched the basics, you should decide what kind of coach you want to be. Consider the following questions:
    • What are my primary coaching goals? Do I want to take young players with little experience and make them better? Would I prefer coaching players with some experience and guiding them to the next level?
    • What do I want my players to learn? What are the most important drills or lessons I can teach? If time is a factor, what drills or lessons can I omit? Is there a specific area—stamina, hand-eye coordination, lateral quickness—that I want to work on instead of others?
    • How important is winning? Will my players learn the same lessons in defeat that they will in victory? Do I make decisions based primarily on allowing all my players to develop their skills, or do I coach to win?
    • How will I measure my success? Are my players better than they were when I started? How much better? Are they satisfied with their progress? Did they have fun?

Method 2
Meeting Your Players

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    Introduce yourself. Letting your players know who you are is a necessary first step, and it shouldn’t be limited to a name. Tell the kids where you’re from, what your background is, how much basketball you play or played, and why you decided to get into coaching. Most importantly, tell them what your plans are—not only for yourself, but for them. Young athletes need direction, and the sooner you lay out your vision, the more likely they are to latch on from the get-go.
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    Ask your players to do the same. It may be unrealistic to expect the same amount of detail from each of the kids you’ll be coaching, but encouraging them to share information about themselves will not only make the rest of the group feel comfortable, it will provide you with more of a sense of what each of the players is about.
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    Find out where your players prefer to play, and see how flexible they are. It’s important for kids to feel comfortable out on the court, and giving them a chance to play their preferred position is a good way to accomplish that. But it certainly couldn’t hurt to find out if anyone is willing or interested in trying different positions. Youth basketball should always be about fun first. If a player doesn’t want to switch, that should always be his or her choice.

Method 3
Putting Your Knowledge to Work

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    Be positive, especially when pointing out a mistake. Children are sensitive when it comes to dealing with criticism. A good youth basketball coach can introduce ways of improving a skill without detracting from the fun of the sport. Do not feel like you have to point out every mistake a player makes; focus on areas where you see room for improvement, and always put a positive spin on it.
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    Celebrate any progress. Positive reinforcement is a great motivator, especially if you’re coaching kids with limited basketball experience. Be sure to select drills that will allow players to see their development themselves. A free-throw shooting drill in which kids take five shots each is a perfect example of this kind of exercise. A player might only make one basket at first but, in time, he or she will start to become more proficient and will be encouraged by the progress since it is easy to track.
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    Keep everyone active. When deciding between two plays or systems, always select the one that involves more movement. Simple motion offenses—featuring sequences that involve plenty of off-the-ball movement—are ideal for young players since they require constant action from everyone. Give your players a workout. It will increase their stamina and help them figure out how to get open for easy shots.
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    Involve everyone. You may be inclined to spend more time on a particular player’s struggles, but it is important to ensure that all of your players are given some attention. If you want to work with a player on a particular skill, have the others engage in a fun game that you can track while you do your individual work. Avoid situations that could be construed as favoritism. Balance is critical to keeping a group of young players satisfied.
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    Keep things relaxed. Certain offensive and defensive setups require a great deal of hard work. Fast breaks on the offensive end and presses on the defensive end are two good examples of strategies that should be left to older groups. The more laid back the atmosphere, the more likely the players you coach will want to remain part of the team and improve.
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    Use proportional equipment, if possible. Some young athletes can play on the same playing fields as the adults do. Young basketball players should not. Forcing a four-foot child to shoot on an adult-sized hoop is only going to discourage him or her. Track down equipment sized proportionally to your players, and you will have a much easier time teaching them proper form and technique.
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    Have—and teach—fun. Select fun drills and games to play. Bring a high level of energy to every practice or play session. Dole out high fives as often as you can. If it isn’t fun, you aren’t doing it right.


  • Encourage young players to use both hands as often as possible. The earlier a player develops the ability to dribble or make a layup with either hand, the greater his or her chances of becoming a more successful player later in life.

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Categories: Basketball