Basketball on the Edge – Positionless Basketball is the Key to Player Development

Youth basketball players should be given the opportunity to play and gain experience at all positions. No matter how tall, short, fast, or skilled a player is, all players should spend some time on the wing, in the post, and at the point. Why? As youth basketball parents and coaches we are trying to develop well-rounded, multi-skilled players. Telling a third or fourth grader that they are a “post” player and never letting them touch the ball more than 5 feet from the basket hampers their development and limits their opportunities as they get older. By the same token, a shorter player who is a “guard” never learns to play or defend in the post robbing them of an opportunity to develop valuable skills.

I have coached in rec league games where coaches have screamed at players who get a rebound, “DON’T DRIBBLE! GET THE BALL TO JOHNNY!” How is that player ever going to improve their dribbling if the coach won’t allow them to do it in a game? Keep in mind, this was a rec league, not a high level high school or AAU game where they may be more emphasis placed on winning.

Why is it important to play positionless basketball at the youth level?

We don’t know what a kid will look like after puberty.

This is the most important reason for teaching kids to play basketball, not teaching them a position. The tall kid in fourth grade may end up being 5’10” and the short kid may end up being 6’5”. Kids develop and mature at different rates. Sometimes the hit a growth spurt early, sometimes they hit one late. The fact is parents and coaches have no idea what their young athletes will look like when they are 18 years old. When I work with players as a basketball skills trainer I see far too many kids that have been told at a young age, “You’re a post player”, or “You’re a point guard”. If a player only gets to play with their back to the basket or only with the ball in their hands, they never learn to master all aspects of the game. This limits their chances for success as they advance through the ranks while their bodies and their athleticism develop. By developing all their skills, players can be more confident that no matter what position they end up in as a high school player, they will have an all-around skill set they can depend on anywhere on the court.

Every player needs all the skills.

Post players need to be able to handle the ball and shoot from the outside. Guards need to be able to post-up and defend larger players. Gone are the days when big players were anchored to the block, never dribbled, and took all their shots within 3 feet of the basket. In today’s game every player needs to be able to handle the ball, shoot from deep, and be a good passer. Watch offensive basketball at every level and you will see coaches spreading the floor with interchangeable players. Don’t limit a young player’s opportunities to develop these skills by saying “You’re a post.” Where will those “posts” be in 5 years when they max out at 5’9”? Conversely, a guard who can score in the post adds an element to his or her game that makes them more versatile and difficult to defend. The more skills young players develop the more opportunities they will have to play as they get older.

How can we as parents and coaches help develop the all court skills that every player needs?

Practices should focus on skill work.

Youth coaches that spend the majority of their practice time going over offensive plays while most of the kids stand around are doing a disservice to their players. At the youth level, the best way to improve as a team is to improve the individual skills of each player. If I have better ball handlers, shooters, passers, and defenders than the other team chances are I will be more successful no matter how many “plays” my team can run. Make sure every player, regardless of size or skill level, is spending time with the ball in their hands during practice. Short squad games give all players more chances to develop skills under game-like conditions. Challenge yourself as a coach to create better practices that kids love and will make them better. Resources are out there to help you do just that. Check out our “Make the Team” Plan at for some great drills to improve your practices.

Make positions interchangeable.

Whatever offense a team chooses to run should allow for players to play and learn multiple positions. Even if you have set plays, every player on the team should be given an opportunity to work at all the spots. If you run a truly positionless motion type of offense, all the better. Tall players will end up with the ball on the perimeter while guards may end up posting up after making a basket cut. Give all your players a chance to become versatile players.

As a coach make sure parents understand your philosophy.

Make sure parents know that you will be giving everyone an opportunity to play different positions. Make sure they understand that skill development is your focus, not winning games. Again, that doesn’t mean you’re not trying to win, just that you aren’t going to give the ball to your best player the whole game and have everyone else stand around watching. You might be able to win with a zone, or a half-court trap, but you have made it your priority to teach kids how to play the game the right way. Make sure parents understand that.

Parents and coaches make sure you balance the need for success today vs. long-term success.

What is your goal as a parent or a youth basketball coach? Hopefully, it is to develop good basketball players on the court and good people off the court. Don’t sacrifice the long term goal of player development in attempt to win a few more fourth grade games. As a coach, give every player an opportunity to develop their skills in practice and in games. As a parent look for coaches and programs that focus on skill development and playing the game the right way. Don’t let your child be typecast as a “post” or “point guard” and only develop those parts of their game. The more well-rounded your child is as a player and an athlete, the greater their chances for long term success.

Positionless basketball helps players develop the all-around skills necessary to be successful in today’s game. Where your young player is today matters much less than where they finish when they are older.

Bottom line, the more skilled player will always have the advantage over the player that is less skilled.

Check out Kevin Durant talking about his development as a young basketball player.

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