Coaching a motion offense in youth basketball

I’ve had an opportunity to review Don Kelbick’s excellent book, How to Develop a High-Scoring Motion Offense.  If you’re coaching a youth basketball team, I highly recommend that you check it out at

I’m coaching a 6th grade girls team with most of the players returning from the 5th grade team that I coached.  We introduced some of the principles of a motion offense from a 5-wide set to the players last year; and this year it’s our primary half-court offense focus. 

As 5th graders, our team generated most of its points from aggressive defense; and players were usually able to score effectively.  We had a few set plays, that in most cases worked very effectively.  Our set plays usually only involved 2 – 3 players, with the other players scrambling to get into the best rebounding position.  Against better defensive teams, our set plays proved to be less effective, especially after teams adjusted to seeing them the first time or two.

After reading Don Kelbick’s book, we’ve incorporated many of his principles into our offensive strategy and practice strategy this year.  Here are a few things that I like about the motion offense approach compared to having a few quick hitter plays:

  • More players are involved in the half-court offense.  A motion offense, like the one that Kelbick suggests, involves all of the players.  It’s a much more interesting game to watch when all of the players are involved, not just a couple.  With all of the players getting more touches, you can see player improvement across the board.


  • Less time is spent helping players understand where and when they should move in a patterned play.  The educational equivalent of a patterned play is like learning vocabulary or times tables.  There’s a reason they call it “drill and kill.”  Teaching a motion offense is more like teaching someone how to write.  It has some generally accepted rules, but it’s more open-ended.  When players learn how to run a patterned play, they’ve learned how to follow directions.  When players learn how to run a motion offense, they’ve learn how to play basketball.


  • Skills learned from running a motion offense will more easily translate to players’ future teams.  Principles learned from understanding a motion offense include:  court spacing, give-and-go, cuts to the basket, setting picks and finishing drives.  These are the types of skills that nearly all coaches like their players to have a good handle on.


  • How you practice is how you play.  Kelbick has done a fantastic job of providing practice suggestions to get players up to speed on the motion offense.  By incorporating some of the fundamentals of motion offense right into your drills, players will pick up on the concepts quickly.  You might find yourself eliminating traditional basketball drills like the 3-man weave, in favor of 3-on-3 drills with players practicing pass-and-break to the basket or pass and screen away.  You’ll practice some of the concepts with no defense at all in order for players to understand the movements and build up to full, aggressive man-to-man defense against the offense.


  • There are lots of variations on Kelbick’s motion offense.  You can start from different sets, e.g. 5 wide, 4 out and 1 post or 3 out and 2 posts.  In player huddles, you can switch the direction of the offense by changing a rule or two.  For example, in the first quarter of a game, you might instruct your players to pass and break to the basket.  In the second quarter, you might ask them to pass and screen away.  If you have a player with a post advantage, one of the rules might be that the post player must touch every 3rd pass.  There are lots of options as a team progresses with this offense.  I think the key is to start slow and get players comfortable with some of the principles and slowly add new wrinkles.

It’s very early in our season, but results are encouraging.  Granted our players are a year older, with increased size and strength, but we’re putting quite a few more points on the board and our scoring is more balanced.  The quality of shots we’re getting is very high including many uncontested lay-ups.  More importantly, the players are learning the right type of skills that will develop their games for future teams.

Don Kelbick’s ebook sells for $29.95. You can purchase it here: It has everything from the overall philosophy, explanation of different sets and rules, step-by-step drills and practice suggestions.  My own take is that the principles probably work best for 5th grade and above teams.

Lastly, one of my favorite things about Kelbick’s motion offensive philosophy:  how quickly you can implement it (at least at a basic level).  To truly learn all of the sets and variations would take a team some time, but to understand the core principles and some simple rules can be done in as little as 2 practices after you’ve read the book.  Also, the book is a quick read with lots of diagrams explaining positions and drills.  I read the book in one sitting, but find myself going back for more as the season progresses.  You may too.