- Sportsmanship – Remember basic courtesy and good manners? Use your practices and games to reinforce these basic principles. Make sure your players can give a firm handshake with eye contact to officials and opposing coaches, as well as a high five to opposing players.
- Teamwork – Teach your players that “we over me” is what most often leads to “us over them,” in team sports competition. Encourage your players to be selfless and supportive teammates in both losing and winning efforts.
- Positive Attitude – Life is not fair and basketball is worse. Help your players get over it and still do what they need to do to succeed. Playing sports is one the best ways to practice overcoming adversity and preparing to handle tough times in life. Humor helps!
- Respect – Pay it forward and get it back. How a coach interacts with other adults–coaches, parents and officials–will naturally influence the behavior of your players. Be mindful that you are a role model and are always being watched. Insist that your players respect coaches, officials and opponents–like you do. Have the courage to enforce your rules with every player and parent involved with your team.
- Philosophy – Want a surefire way to be a great youth coach? Lighten up! Here’s a tip. Not one of your games will be Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Billions of people don’t even know you exist, let alone feel that your practices and games are important. Recreational league and even elite travel team coaches should understand that kids want to play sports and to have FUN! Let your players figure things out. Ask questions, but don’t give instruction or answers. Stop teaching so much and give your players a chance to learn. Watching them grow will be fun for you too!
- Communication – Have a team meeting to start the first practice of the season, or as soon as possible thereafter. Limit your postgame analysis to positive things that occurred in the game and deal with what went wrong by establishing a specific goal to work on starting at the next practice. Ask parents to delay or even eliminate the dreaded postgame interview with their child. When you need to correct a player, use the “compliment sandwich” State something positive the player did well, give a very specific correction, then restate the first positive thing.
- Continuing Education – All-star coaching requires continuing education. I have been privileged to learn the game of basketball from seven coaches who are in the Basketball Hall of Fame. Each one of them was always striving to learn more. In your efforts to learn, make sure the substance of the material is appropriate for the skill, age and maturity level of the players that you coach.
- Use Resources – There are several organizations that offer assistance to youth coaches. Do an online search for youth coaching information sources. Read books, watch videos and attend coaching clinics in-person whenever possible. One hour online could make you a better coach.
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Play to learn, play to practice, and you will win when you play in games. Remember how much fun you had growing up when you used to just go outside and play with your friends? We advocate using the “compete to learn” approach to practice–it lets kids play and have fun while competing. This type of practice, using competitive drills, does a better job of preparing players to compete in real games. Technically, this is called transference. What you do in practice carries over into what you do in games.
- Individual Skills – Want to improve your team’s ball handling? Games like dribble knockout are very popular. Every player must have his or her own basketball. Coach starts the game. Every player must dribble constantly, stay in-bounds and try to knock the ball away from all other players in the game. Lose control of your basketball or go out-of-bounds, and you’re eliminated. Boundaries for 10-12 players could start as half the court. After several players are eliminated, the boundary is reduced to only inside the 3-point area. Boundary is reduced again to the free-throw lane. Finally, when there are just two players left, they play the “finals” in the free throw half circle.
- Team Concepts – Run half your offense by playing 2-on-2 or 3-on-3 restricted to one side of the floor. For example, make even (by size/ability) teams and conduct a 10-minute tournament using an action like the pick and roll. Allow for 20-second timeouts and allow players teach themselves how to make the play work.
- Keep It Simple System (KISS) – Basketball is a simple game. Keep it simple! If you are a regular reader of instructional material, you might think that you need to have lots of practice drills and a complicated or intricate system to win games. No, you don’t. Establish one or two alignments and three or four actions, and that’s it. At the youth level or even in the NBA, most successful coaches try to have their team master a few simple things. 8-10 year olds can do this successfully. Try KISS at your next practice and even in your next game, your team will show instant improvement!
- Simple Transition Offense (Fast break/press break) – Score a lay-up in less than five seconds without dribbling.
- Simple Half-Court Offense (Ball movement/teamwork) – Everyone must catch and make a pass before anyone can shoot!
- The Best Offense Ever Designed – Give the ball to Michael Jordan and get out of the way. You can’t get much more simple than that! However, that is an actual “play,” as it is part of the “complicated” triangle offense. The triangle is a patterned motion offense that has several basic actions such as give and go, pick and roll and give the ball to Michael and get out of the way — otherwise known as a clearout. By the way, that offense has won nine NBA championships and you, even as a youth recreational league coach, can run some of its actions to win games in your league.
Make All-Star Memories
The experience of playing on a youth sports team can affect a child’s development as a person. How will you affect your player’s communication, cooperation, goal setting and work ethic? How will your players remember this experience 10 years from now? Most won’t remember the score.
If your team employs the ritual of getting together after every game for ice cream or pizza, takes a field trip to a college or pro game, or attends a movie together, your players will remember those good times long after they forget the score of the game. Parents sometimes enjoy these social events more than the kids.