Photo By: Shane Pope
Working with young athletes can be a challenge if you don’t have much experience with it. It can be tough for people with many years in basketball to communicate with beginners who are just learning the sport. Follow these youth basketball tips to find the most success for working with young players:
- Focus on Fundamentals – The whole point of youth basketball is to develop basketball players for the future, right? They need to learn a variety of all around skills for a couple reasons. First off, it will help them to be well-rounded and limit weaknesses in their game. Secondly, it can be tough to tell where there true potential lies until several years don’t the road. Either way, having all around skills on both offense and defense will increase their future potential at whatever position they end up at.
- Don’t Overdo It – Specializing in a sport at too young of an age can have some serious negative consequences, including overuse injuries, burn out, and actually decreased potential in the sport. With summer leagues, traveling all-star teams, and year-round clubs available today, it would be easy to put a basketball in young players hands nearly 365 days per year. This would be a huge mistake. Athletes need to try a variety of sports and physical activities when they are young. This prevents the potential from overuse injuries and helps give them greater overall athletic potential for if they do decide to specialize down the road. Athletes also need a mental break from the sport to prevent burnout. If they play basketball every day, it may begin to feel like a job and they’ll forget why they are playing in the first place.
- Let Them Try Everything – You have no idea what these players will look and play like even next year, let alone at the peak of their basketball career. Youth athletes are capable of improving and developing at shocking rates. That slow poke on your team? He may be the best athlete on the team next year. That player who airballs every free throw? He might be money from 3-point land next year. The point is, youth athletes can improve both physical abilities and basketball skills very quickly. Don’t limit your tallest player to only working on post moves, they may never get taller and need guard skills. Your short players may hit a growth spurt and be needed in the post. Now is the time to let them develop all-around basketball ability. They’ll find what they are best at later.
- Keep it Simple – It can be tempting to try to to mix in advanced drills and strength and conditioning work, but it is important not to overwhelm your players. Young athletes can make progress on the simplest of sports training programs, so there really is no benefit to getting too creative too soon. Stick with the basic stuff that is proven to work. Those advanced tactics should be saved for years down the road, when they have stagnated in their progress.
- Develop Good Habits – Things like a proper warm-up and drill work are the habits that will allow them to flourish in the future, even if they aren’t showing great strides today. Having good habits and dedication is something that can carry over to all aspects of life. They may never make the NBA, but if they develop the intangibles, like work ethic, dedication, and a positive attitude, they will carry over to all aspects of their future. That will help in both athletics and the real world.
- Build Confidence – Expectations should be very limited for young athletes. Jitters are understandable, but they can be limited if your players focus on executing proper technique, as opposed to focusing on stats or points. For instance, a player can’t entirely control the number of rebounds they get, but they can focus on boxing out their man every time. These are attainable goals and focusing on them can take the pressure off somewhat. Negative reinforcement can cause big problems. The athlete shouldn’t be afraid of what a coach or parent might say. This can lead to discouragement and poor self-esteem in aspects outside of basketball.
- Encourage Work Ethic – A good work ethic can go a long way. Too many athletes judge themselves based on how good they are at their sport. Instead, athletes should be judged based on their effort, not their execution. Praising talent only leads to athletes judging themselves based on their talent, which is something they can’t really control. Instead, if they are judged and rewarded based on effort, they will learn to judge themselves based on effort. This can be applicable to all aspects of basketball. And anyway, in my experience, the youth athletes with the best work ethic are the ones that eventually look like they have the most talent in high school and beyond.
- Think Long-term – The long-term well-being of athletes should be the number 1 priority for any youth basketball team. Whenever deciding on any aspects of basketball games or training, ask yourself: is this in the best long-term interest of these athletes? Is playing in 4 summer leagues or training intensely 7 days per week really the best thing for them? Remember, you are molding young boys and girls into men and women, not just into basketball players.
It’s important to remember that young people playing basketball is still basketball, even if it doesn’t always seem that way. Patience is important when work with youth, elementary, and junior high athletes because they still have so much to learn about the game. Many of them only have exposure to the sport from highlights they have seen, which aren’t necessarily the best example for them.
Kids play basketball for one main reason – to have fun. So often coaches and parents forget that and try to make it serious and treat it as a career. There are basketball activities that can be positive, fun, and develop basketball skills at the same time. Following these youth basketball tips will help build a group of promising young men and women, regardless of their basketball future.