Basketball is inherently a fun sport, and typically youth basketball coaches will find ways to make it fun for players. When given the opportunity to play hoops, most kids are going to have a good time. However, along the way, some coaches find ways to cut into the fun players have and the effectiveness of their team. If you’re coaching a kid’s basketball team, try to avoid these common mistakes.
1.) Starting practices with long lectures when court time is available
Kids generally come to practice excited to play. When court time is available, it’s best not to open the practice with a lecture. Instead, jump right into a warm-up activity like having all players, with their own basketballs, dribble in a zig-zag fashion down the court. Coaches that tip things off by trying to communicate important coaching points at the start of practice will usually find an inattentive group, full of pent-up energy and not in a listening mode. By executing one or two activities first, a coach will find players in much more of a receptive mode. If you have a need to communicate a lot of information to your team, plan on meeting 10 minutes prior to court time availability and cover your points at that time. Talking to players when they’re catching their breathes is easier than when they’re wishing they were out on the court playing.
2.) Over-using your whistle
The best coaches I’ve seen coaching youth basketball develop a rapport with their team. They don’t need a whistle to call everyone together. Coaches don’t need to flaunt their authority by blowing a whistle or by always yelling. Classroom teachers know that sometimes the best way to quiet down a class isn’t to raise their own voices; rather it’s to lower the volume of their own voices. It forces a class to be quiet so they can hear. Don’t get me wrong, when scrimmaging, the use of whistles is very effective. But, during the regular course of a practice, ask yourself how much you really need to use a whistle?
3.) Staying too long with the same drill
Teaching kids how to play basketball requires repetition. By doing things the correct way over and over again, the action becomes a habit. But, you usually can’t teach a skill completely in one exercise. Don’t try to. To keep practices interesting and fun, think about breaking practices down into 10 minute chunks. Sometimes you might have an exercise that requires the use of multiple, 10 minute periods. But, keep things moving. Players’ attention spans are short and new activities will keep them challenged. Don’t be afraid to come back to similar drills in future practices. It’s better to practice one fundamental 6 times for 10 minutes over the course of 6 practices; than to practice it twice for 30 minutes at 2 practices.
4.) Making the team run killers
By moving quickly from one drill to the next and choosing drills that involve a lot of running, players should be getting a lot of conditioning from the practice plans you’ve put together. Running lines or killers (or whatever you want to call it) may be good for aerobic conditioning, but doesn’t advance basketball skills. If you’re going to have players run, have them run dribbling the ball or playing defense. Good coaches put together practice plans that develop enough conditioning so as to remove the need for drills like killers.
5.) Scrimmaging too much
I’m always surprised by the number of coaches who use virtually all of their practice time having inter-squad scrimmages, or, the coach who tries to schedule scrimmages for every practice. While there’s definitely a need for scrimmaging, focused drills enable players to grasp concepts more effectively and should make up the lion’s share of most practices – especially at the start of a season. No doubt that scrimmaging is easier for a coach, as it doesn’t require much planning. Players will generally like it as well, after all, many have a pure love of the game. But, it’s a combination of drills, teaching and scrimmaging in practice that will develop the best team and get the most out of your players.
6.) Focusing on set offensive plays
Every youth coach should be thinking how I can get my players ready for their future seasons in basketball. Teaching fundamentals like defensive positioning, dribbling with both hands, how to pick-and-roll, how to cut to the basket, and how to box out for rebounding provides players with building blocks that will not only help players this year, but also in subsequent years. Coaches who focus on set offensive players may enjoy some short term rewards for their team that season, but it’s unlikely that coaches down the line would use the same exact plays. Practicing the same set plays over and over again provides little future value. Given your players the building blocks that will enable them to succeed in any system.
7.) Having no season plan for practices
New youth basketball coaches often ask the question, “Where do I begin?” It’s a great question. New and experienced coaches should not only ask, “Where do I begin?” but also, “What should I teach in the middle and at the end of the season?” By starting the season with an overall practice plan, you can begin to think through when the best time to teach certain concept will be. I’m a big believer in starting out teaching defense. I like starting with defense because if we can slow down opponents from scoring, we should be able to compete in most games. I also like incorporating into early practices how to deal with ball pressure, full-court presses, and half-court presses. If teams don’t know how to handle those, you can be on the bad side of some big losses. There’s a lot to teach youth basketball teams, and the order you teach it in can make a difference. Think through when the best time is to teach shooting form, in-bound plays, your offensive flow, rebounding, passing, etc. Just as a good coach plans each practice, a good coach will have an overall plan for the season.
— Michael O’Halloran — O’Halloran is the author of 30 Youth Basketball Practice Plans and Never Forget They’re Kids – Ideas for Coaching your Daughter’s 4th – 8th Grade Basketball Team. He has coached basketball for 15 years.