Basketball on the Edge – What Should a Youth Basketball Practice Look Like?

As a parent of a young basketball player what should you be looking for in a youth basketball practice? There are youth basketball coaches with all different styles, abilities and knowledge of the game out there coaching kids. The good ones have certain characteristics and run their practices in such a way to help every player on the team improve their skills.

The first thing that should be happening is that every player should have a ball in their hands for the majority of the practice. The coach should be using drills that enable every player to be working with the ball. That means a lot of dribbling and shooting drills where each player is moving through the drill with his or her own ball, not waiting for the ball to be passed to them or standing around waiting for their turn with the ball. The drills should be simple to understand so that time is not lost explaining a complicated drill. Repetition builds skills and skill building is confidence building. Good coaches have a practice routine that incorporates many of the same drills every practice to reinforce key skills like a crossover dribble or a layup with the weak hand and then challenges players with drills just outside their players comfort zones.

Players should be encouraged to make mistakes. There is research out there as described by Daniel Coyle in his book The Talent Code that says the most beneficial type of practice occurs when the player tries to do something that is just a little too hard for them. The coach should be affirming that struggle. For example, when the player shoots a layup on the left side with their left hand, but misses the coach should acknowledge that the player was pushing themselves to learn something new even though they might have easily been able to make the shot with their right hand. This is great advice for parents too. Recognize your young player’s effort as much as their accomplishment. If parents and coaches praise the effort of a young player the child will connect their hard work with success. Sometimes praising an accomplishment will result in complacency. Young players have to be willing to look or be bad at a skill in order to get better at it. Coaches should be praising kids who are trying new skills during practice.

On the other side, a good youth basketball coach shouldn’t have 30 different “plays”. First of all if the team is only working on plays, that is a lot of standing around listening to the coach talk and explain what must happen to make the play successful. There are usually 5 kids on the floor during this time and the rest of the team is just standing and watching (and maybe listening depending on how long the explanation takes). Secondly, the younger the players the less likely it is they will remember the plays under pressure in a game situation no matter how many times they go over them. Time working on plays is time that could be spent improving the skill level of every player on the team. An organized team should have a couple of out of bounds plays, and maybe 2 or 3 offensive plays that they can execute. Any more than that is a waste a valuable practice time. A more skilled team will win more games too.

A youth basketball coach should be teaching and playing man to man defense. Many youth leagues ban zone defenses, but even in those that don’t, a good coach should be teaching man defense. As players get older and zones become a part of the game, those zones (at least the good ones) are based on man to man principles. Youth league zones usually involve 5 players standing in place with their hands in the air. That does not teach young players how to play. I understand why some coaches play a zone. It gives up mostly outside shots and keeps the ball out of the lane. Most youth basketball players aren’t great shooters from 17 feet. A zone may help the team win more games, but is that really the point of youth basketball? Or is developing the skill level of the players more important? Remember, skill building is confidence building.

Look for some of these things the next time you attend one of your young player’s practices and make sure the programs and teams your child is a part of have good coaching. Your young player will be better for it.

If you are a coach looking for some great drills to use in your practices or a parent looking to help your child get better check out our Make the Team Plan on

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