Youth Basketball: Playing to learn

March 19, 2018

If you’ve been to a youth basketball game, or any youth sports game I am sure this scene is all too familiar…. 

  • Coaches yelling out plays only for the kids to run them completely wrong

  • Coaches yelling at players because they ran the plays wrong

  • Parents yelling at coaches

  • Coaches fighting other coaches or parents fighting other parents

  • Kids crying

Let’s take a step back and all remember that in YOUTH sports, meaning 6th grade and below, kids should be playing to learn, not always playing to win. Don’t get me wrong, kids need to learn to compete by experiencing the joys of victory and the emotional pain of a hard-fought loss but, more importantly, they need to be learning the game in the process. 

There are very few youth sports games that are won or lost based on the X’s and O’s the coaching staff drew up. Most games are decided by who has the best player, who plays the best as a team, and who plays harder and together. 

As most of you know we have been doing a ton of work with USA Basketball lately. I want to take this week’s article as an opportunity for you to see what they preach to youth coaches across the country. If you are coaching youth basketball this winter, I hope you can implement these 10 important tips into your program!

  1. There is no such thing as an “Elite” youth player, stop telling your kids this

  2. There is no such thing as an “Elite” youth team, quit labeling your team as this

  3. No young tall player should ever be called a “Big” or a “5 man” based off of size

  4. Players should be position-less

  5. There is no place for zone defense

  6. 80% of youth practice should consist of skill development and fun game play - the other 20% on team concepts and strategy

  7. Young players who cry after a loss reflect the coach’s emphasis on winning

  8. Coaches should never tell a kid what they are not, but rather what they can be

  9. Avoid running plays, just teach them how to play

  10. The pick and roll is a travesty when only done with the teams most talented player

Whether you agree or disagree, generally, these 10 tips will do more for the development of your players in the long run, than winning every single youth basketball game. Think long term development, not short term success at that age!

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