When you’re coaching youth basketball, there are some givens. You’re going to need to teach team defense, rebounding, dribbling with your head up, proper shooting form and many other fundamentals. There are also some things that many coaches forget.
Here are 12 tips for success that can make a big difference coaching youth basketball.
Coaching Youth Basketball: 12 Tips for Success
1. Call timely time-outs.
There are lots of good reasons for a coach to call a timeout. You may want to slow down a scoring run of the opposing team, rest your players after a tiring stretch, switch your offense or defense approach, or prepare your team for a critical possession. Don’t lose sight of the opportunity to call a timeout to simply save possession of the ball. Some examples: if you’re team has nearly exhausted the 10 seconds it takes to get the ball over the half-court line when the other team is pressing, or a player is double-teamed in a corner with no good passing options, or your player gains possession of the ball but is laid out on the court without his feet on the ground. Using timeouts to save a possession here and there might be the difference in winning or losing a tight game.
2. Practice sideline inbound plays.
Most coaches teach plays for inbounding the ball underneath their offensive basket, and have structured plays for inbounding against a press after a made basket against their team. But not enough coaches practice sideline inbound plays. For the team with the ball, it can be a high-risk pass for the player throwing it in. A stolen pass can mean an unguarded lay-up for the opposing team. Well-constructed sideline inbound plays can put the defensive team on the defensive, and at a minimum, reduce the risk of turnovers.
For many teams, especially at younger ages, some of the best open looks players will get at the basket will come as a result of defense. Teach your players how to steal off the dribble, including which angle to take and how to tip the ball without fouling. Also, teach them to anticipate passing angles. A dominating defensive player can wreak havoc on the opposition.
4. Switch defenses opportunistically.
A team that switches defense throughout the game makes it hard on the opposing team. A coach should always be looking for the right opportunities to make change in defense. When the opponent’s best ball handler is taking a break might be the time to apply a full court press. When your full court press has worked a few times and the opposing coach calls a timeout to address it; it might be the time to fall back into a different defense; and then come back to the full court press later in the game. Facing an athletic team with speed? Force them to drive thru a half-court zone defense or take long outside shots.
5. Put your star players in position to star.
If the best ball handler and playmaker on your team happens to be the tallest, don’t be afraid to have that player bring the ball up. Because of the player’s height, many coaches might tend to play this player in the center position. Don’t get locked into stereotypes. Also, try to put your best on-ball defender in the position to guard the other team’s point guard.
6. Examine match-ups between your players and the opposition.
Great coaches look for advantages. If the other team’s frontline is taller at every position than your team, but your guards are taller, consider posting up your guards on offense. If your center has a speed advantage over the person guarding her, pull her out, feed her the ball and let her drive around the slower opponent. As a head coach, you might assign an assistant coach to highlight where the advantages are in match-ups so that you can focus on overall team management during the game.
7. Use warm-up time before games seriously.
Without wearing your team out, you can still cover a lot of topics in some pre-game warm-ups. Don’t be afraid to review key concepts, inbound plays, zone offense, etc., during this time. If you add up all your pre-game, warm-up time over the course of the season; it’s a significant chunk of time. Prepare and use your time wisely.
8. Instruct players to be careful of long passes.
With younger teams especially, longer passes frequently lead to turnovers. For passes over 15 feet long, have your players ask themselves 2 questions: 1.) Will the completed pass give our team a distinct advantage? 2.) What is the probability that the pass will be completed? If the answer to #1 is “no,” don’t throw it. If the answer to #2 is not 90% or higher, don’t throw it.
9. Take time to go over the post-game handshake with opposing players.
The post game handshake happens (or at least should happen) at the end of each game. It makes sense to practice this and get it right. It can be embarrassing for a player, parents, team and community if some players don’t handle this component of the game well. More importantly, players should learn good sportsmanship. Teach players the 3 components of a good post-game handshake: 1.) Look players in the eyes, 2.) Shake hands, bump fists or some type of shake, and 3.) Say something positive in the form of a compliment to the opposing player, e.g. “good game” or “great rebounding.”
10. Recognize the importance of the first pass on offense.
The hardest pass to complete on offense is usually the first pass. For many teams, the first pass goes from the point guard to a wing near the sidelines. Teams learn to anticipate this and will aggressively look for steals. What does a good coach do? Mix it up. Avoid patterns by sometimes passing to the post, sometimes to the wing, sometimes have the point keep it off a pick, or just replace positions with the wing. Also, when you pass to the wing, some of the time the wing should be coming off of a pick. Receivers need to create separation via hard cuts. The passers and receivers should work on fake passes and back cuts. Don’t be predictable and pay extra attention to the first pass in any possession.
11. Reinforce the triple-threat position consistently throughout the year.
Teaching players the importance of being in position to shoot, pass or dribble with each possession is one of the strongest signs of a well-coached, offensive basketball team. Kids at younger ages especially are often too quick to begin dribbling right away. The triple threat and its importance can’t just be taught in one practice. It needs to be reminded and reinforced in practices and games throughout the season.
12. Keep your players interested and excited about basketball.
Finish each practice on a high note with a drill or exercise that you know the team likes. It will help them look forward to the next practice. Know when to press your own team with hard practices and when to ease up. Make practices fun. Find players doing things right in practices and games and call them out. Like Coach Don Meyer said, “Shout praise and whisper criticism.”
O’Halloran has written four books on basketball: