Ultimate Guide to Coaching Youth Basketball

Young boys playing basketball.
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Whether you're a seasoned veteran or a complete novice, coaching youth basketball can be a fun and rewarding experience. You'll have the opportunity to teach kids the fundamentals of the game as well as the importance of teamwork and the value of good sportsmanship -- lessons that may stick with them for years to come. To help kids prepare for the next level of competition, you'll need to teach them the basics of the game.

When Dr. James Naismith invented the game of basketball in 1891, there were only 13 basic rules [source: USA Basketball]. Since then, the game has become quite a bit more complicated, and in order to teach kids the rules, you'll need a basic understanding of them yourself. However, they probably won't be too difficult to grasp, and watching a few games could help considerably. Aside from knowing the rules, you'll also need an understanding of the necessary equipment and the basic skills required to play the game.


Another important aspect of coaching youth basketball is introducing your players to the concept of running plays. This will not only teach them about the importance of teamwork, but it will prepare them for the future should they choose to continue playing basketball. There are offensive plays, defensive plays and even plays designed to inbound the basketball, so having a few of each in your coaching repertoire is a good idea.

Coaching youth basketball has several benefits. Not only is it a way to get involved in your community, but it also allows you the chance to stay physically active and donate your time. You might even get as much out of it as the kids. The important thing is to make sure the kids are having fun and to encourage them along the way [source: American Sport Education Program]. For a basic rundown of the rules of youth basketball, keep reading.


Youth Basketball Rules

The purpose of youth basketball is to introduce kids to the rules of the game and prepare them for the next level of competition. It may seem overly simple, but you should start by showing them a basketball and explaining that the goal of the game is to shoot the basketball through the basketball hoop. Every time you do, you get two points [source: Danehy]. From there you'll want to give them a tour of the basketball court and explain all the lines. At the youth level, probably the most important ones to know are the out of bounds line, the half court line and the free throw line. Depending on the age of your players, you may also have to introduce the three-point line -- older players will be more likely to shoot and score from this line.

Once the kids understand the basic goal of the game and the layout of the court, you can start to teach them the fundamentals of how to play. The first thing they'll need to know is how to dribble. Simply put there are only two ways to move a basketball up the court. You can pass it to another player on your team, or you can dribble. Dribbling consists of bouncing the ball up and down on the court with one hand. If a player stops dribbling at any point or touches the ball with both hands, he cannot start dribbling again. This is called a double dribble and the other team would immediately gain possession of the ball. Similarly, if a player takes more than two steps without dribbling, this is a violation called traveling, and he usually would have to turn the ball over to the other team [source: Field Sports].


You'll also need to teach your players about fouls. A foul is committed anytime a player makes illegal contact with a player from another team. Two of the most common fouls in basketball are reaching in and illegal blocking. Reaching in is called when you try to steal the ball from a player and make contact with any part of their body. Illegal blocking is called if you make body contact with a player who is controlling the ball and your feet are not set. If the player who has control of the ball makes contact with you and your feet are set, then the foul would be called on him -- this is called charging. When someone commits a foul, play stops immediately. Depending on the violation, the penalty might involve change of possession and free throws for the team who did not commit the foul.

If you can teach your players these basic rules, you'll be off to a great start. Keep reading to gain a better understanding of the equipment you'll need to play the game.


Youth Basketball Equipment

The great thing about basketball is that you don't need much equipment. Unlike football and baseball, you won't need pads, helmets, gloves or baseball bats. All you really need to play basketball is a good pair of shoes, a basketball and a hoop. Of course it doesn't hurt to have a full court either -- and if you're playing in a league, you'll probably need uniforms, also.

Basketball courts vary in size depending on the level of play, but a youth court is usually 74 feet (22.6 meters) long and 42 feet (12.8 meters) wide [source: Coaching Basketball for Beginners]. At each end of the court is a basketball hoop. It can be anywhere from 8 to 10 feet (2.4 to 3 meters) high, depending on the age of your players. Your league will most likely provide you with a court, but in the event that you practice on a different court than the one where you play games, you'll want to check with the league coordinator to make sure you have all the right measurements.


Once you've got that squared away, you'll need some basketballs. These can also vary in size depending on your league, but many youth leagues, regardless of gender, often use a regulation size women's basketball, which has a circumference of about 28.5 inches (about 72 centimeters) [source: Griffith]. This is slightly smaller than a regulation size men's basketball, and it should be easier for younger kids to handle. Boys usually make the switch to a full-size ball around the age of 12.

When it comes to basketball uniforms, the standard is a pair of shorts and a basketball jersey, which resembles either a tank top or a sleeveless shirt. There are several different styles, so at the end of the day, it really comes down to your preference. Your players should also have a good pair of basketball shoes. High tops are preferable because they protect ankles and help to prevent injury, but any athletic shoe with a rubber sole will do.

Now that you have a basic understanding of the rules and equipment you'll need to play basketball, it's time to learn more about the skills your players will need and how to teach them. Keep reading to find out how it's done.


Teaching Basic Basketball Skills

Basketball might seem like a difficult game to play, but anyone can be competitive if they master three specific skills: dribbling, shooting and playing defense. As a youth coach, these three skills should be the main focus for your players. To teach them the basics, you'll need an understanding of the mechanics behind each skill.

Dribbling looks simple enough, but in reality it can be a difficult task to master. You may want to start by having each player on your team bounce a ball up and down on the court with two hands. Once they get a feel for that, have them do it with one hand. Now, here comes the hard part. Have them dribble with one hand without looking at the basketball. This is perhaps the most fundamental skill necessary to be a good basketball player, and it is important to introduce it right away at the youth level [source: Faucher].


Next comes shooting. Rather than just letting your players aimlessly throw the basketball at the hoop, you should do your best to teach them good shooting form. Start with the feet. A player's feet should be roughly shoulder-width apart when preparing to shoot the ball. Next, the player's eyes should be focused on the hoop. With both hands on the basketball, your player should have their shooting hand (dominant hand) behind the ball and their balance hand on the side of the ball. Both elbows are bent, but the elbow on the shooting arm should be directly under the ball forming a 90 degree angle. If the form is good, it's time to shoot. Simply tell your players to push the ball toward the hoop using their shooting hand. The balance hand is there to do nothing more than steady the ball. When the ball leaves a player's hand, their wrist should be flexed to put spin on the ball and their arm should be straight up in the air. This is called a follow-through, and it's important to hold the follow-through until the ball hits the rim [source: Wissel]. Once your players get the hang of shooting the ball, you can move on to defense.

When it comes to defense, players need to be able to shuffle their feet side to side. Their feet should be slightly wider than shoulder width apart and their knees slightly bent. One hand goes up high in the opposing player's line of sight, and the other stays low so it can be used to steal the ball. Simply having your players use this form and move side to side can be a good way to teach them the basic mechanics of playing defense.

Keep reading to learn about drills that can help you teach these fundamentals.


Youth Basketball Drills

Now that you have a basic understanding of the skills necessary to play basketball, you'll need a few drills to help teach them to your players. The goal is to have fun while doing it. Again, the best place to start is dribbling. If a player can't dribble the ball, he'll have a difficult time moving it up the court.

"Heads up direction change," is a simple, fun and effective drill you can use to improve your players' dribbling skills. Have your players spread out evenly along the base line, each with their own ball. You'll stand at center court and have the kids dribble in whatever direction you move. The point is to teach your players to dribble with their eyes up, so don't say the direction out loud as you move. As they start to get the hang of it pick up the pace and change direction more frequently [source: Basketball Drills & Plays]. Use this drill every few practices and you'll have all star dribblers in no time.


"Lightning," is a fast paced shooting game that your players are sure to love. Here's how it works. Have all your players line up at the free throw line. Only the first two kids in line should have a basketball. The first person in line shoots a free throw. As soon as the ball leaves his hands the next person in line can shoot. If the first player makes his free throw, he gets his own rebound and passes the ball to the next person in line. If he misses, he has to make a basket before the person behind him does. If not, he's out of the game. This continues until there is only one person left standing.

The "zigzag drill" is a great way to teach the fundamentals of moving defensively. Stand at center court and have your players form two lines at the base line. The first two kids should be in their defensive stance with their backs to you, and when you say "go," they'll move in a zigzag pattern toward half court. Three steps in each direction should be plenty. When they reach half court the next two kids in line repeat the drill until everyone has done it at least once. When they get the hang of it, you can add a player on offense dribbling the ball as well [source: Winters].

Keep reading to see what offensive plays you can teach your young basketball players.


Offensive Plays for Youth Basketball

When you really break it down, the goal of basketball is to score more points than the other team, and in order to do that you're going to need some offensive plays. At the youth level, the plays you teach should be relatively simple yet effective. The concept of running plays is an important one, and as your players move up to higher levels of competition, they'll thank you for introducing it to them.

The most basic of offensive moves is the pick and roll, or screen, and your players will need to know it in order to effectively run plays. A pick and roll involves two offensive players from the same team and one defensive player. The object is for one offensive player to block another offensive player's defender so he can get open for a shot or to receive a pass. It sounds simple, but the execution can be difficult. The offensive player setting the pick must have both feet set before the defender makes contact with them, otherwise it's a foul [source: McCarthy and Prosser]. When run effectively, it's a great way to help a player get open.


Even the simplest of plays in basketball tend to involve a pick and roll or screen. Here's one you can try with your players. Have three players stand outside the three-point line, one at the top and the other two at each side. The two remaining offensive players should stand down low on either side of the basketball hoop. Match up a defender with each offensive player. Now you're ready to begin. Have the player at the top of the three-point line pass the ball to one of his teammates on the side, and then have him follow his pass and set a screen for the player with the ball. The player with the ball should dribble around his teammate and then head straight for the hoop. Simultaneously, the other three players on the court should move away from the hoop to draw their defenders away and open up the lane for an easy layup.

This is a great first play to teach your players. Once they master it, you'll be able to add more layers, and it'll become even more effective. Now it's time to talk about defensive plays. Keep reading to find out more.


Defensive Plays for Youth Basketball

Any coach will tell you that you can't win games without good defense, and you can't be a complete basketball player without being a good defender. We've already covered the basics of a good defensive stance and outlined a drill to help your players master it, so now it's time to talk about team defense. There are two basic defenses your players should know, the zone defense and man-to-man defense.

In a zone defense, each player on the court is responsible for defending a certain area rather than a specific player from the other team. The most common is a two-one-two zone, meaning there are two players at the top on either side of the free throw line, one in the middle a little farther back and two more down low on either side of the basketball hoop. This type of defense makes it hard for offensive players to dribble to the hoop and make an easy shot. Just make sure that your players don't get lazy. A zone defense doesn't mean your players should just stand in one place. They need to move within their designated area and adjust as the offense moves the ball. The goal is to force more outside shots [source: Miniscalco and Kot]. Once your kids get the hang of playing zone defense, you may want to try introducing man-to-man defense.


Man-to-man defense requires a greater individual effort from each player on the court, because each is solely responsible for one player on the other team. The goal is to keep one's player from getting the ball and scoring. The biggest problem with a man-to-man defense is that it allows the other team to take advantage of the weaker players on your team, and it may tire your players out faster, too. Unless your players are fairly advanced for their age, it's probably a good idea to stick with the zone defense [source: Miniscalco and Kot].

Lastly, you'll need some inbound plays. Keep reading to find out more about them.


Inbounds Plays for Youth Basketball

Inbounding is an essential part of basketball. It happens every time the ball goes out of bounds, after the opposing team scores a basket and after many types of fouls as well. Usually it's pretty easy, especially in a youth league. One player on the court just has to get open so the person inbounding the ball can pass it to them, but every once in awhile you'll need to inbound the ball below the basket, and all of your players will be guarded. On top of that, they'll only have five seconds to get the ball inbounds. That's why you're going to need a few good plays to make this task easier.

The first play is simple. It's called the stack, and it's typically easy to set up. One player, the inbounder, stands out of bounds with the basketball, just to the side of the backboard. The rest of the players line up behind one another about 5 feet (1.5 meters) across from the inbounder and face him [source: Adkins et al.]. Now, you'll need a signal. Slapping the ball is usually a good one. When the inbounder slaps the ball, the three players who are closest to it run across the lane in the opposite direction from the ball. The farthest player runs toward the ball so the inbounder can pass it to him for an attempt at scoring.


Another common inbound play is called the box set. Once again, the inbounder stands out of bounds with the basketball just to one side of the backboard. The other four players line up in a box, two about 5 feet (1.5 meters) off the baseline on either side of the backboard and the other two at opposite sides of the free throw line [source: Adkins et al.]. This time, when the inbounder slaps the basketball, the two players lined up in front of him run toward the players opposite them and set screens. The other two players run toward the screens and use them to get open. The first option is the player closest to the inbounder, who should be open for an easy layup, and the second option is the player up top at the free throw line, who should be open for a shot.

Mastering these inbounds plays will help your team be effective from underneath the hoop, a situation they're likely to find themselves in often. Hopefully, at this point you feel like you have a basic understanding of how to coach youth basketball. For more information, check out the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

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