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Friday, January 04, 2008

Basketball Practice for 7 and 8 year-olds

I've noticed that several of you have reached this site by Googling things such as "basketball practice for first graders," so I figured I'd share the wisdom of what I've learned and tell you about the one-hour practices that we run.

1. Team Meeting. We talk about what we need to do, what we've accomplished, protecting the basketball and going after rebounds (some of the kids stand flat-footed after a shot). This takes all of a minute.

2. Defensive Slides. We used to do some jumping drills to warm up, but we go straight into about 3 minutes of defensive slides. I take the kids sideways, back and forth, stopping and starting. It's a good way to get their footwork going and to get them warmed up. Our league requires man-to-man defense, so this is a good way to remind them not to cross their feet.

3. Dribbling Drills. Only half the kids can dribble the ball well repetitively. The rest lose the ball pretty quickly, and some double dribble, either by stopping and then starting again or by using two hands. They just don't get the playground experience kids did 30 years ago, and they're so scheduled they don't play much pickup. As a result, we try three drills:

a. The "Fingers" Drill. I have them stand in place, look at me and shout out the number of fingers that I put up. The goal here is to get them to dribble the ball and not look at it. That's important, of course, because if they can dribble without looking at the ball they'll find the open man quickly and make a good pass, and, also, of course, because they can see where the defenders are and better protect the basketball. We ask them to switch hands, too.

b. The "Dribble to Half Court and Back" Drill. We have them stand at the baseline and dribble the ball to half court and then back. Remember, we're playing on "sideways" courts that are typically found in elementary school gyms in our parts, and not the "full length" court (there are two "sideways" courts for every full length court). The goal here is to get them to dribble quickly but under control, and every now and then my assistant and I pop into the lines to make the kids shift hands or protect the ball better.

c. The "Protect the Basketball" Drill. This is a great drill. We have two kids dribbling the ball while, at the same time, trying to take the ball away from one another. This drill compels the kids to angle in toward the defender and dribble the ball slightly behind them, near their hips. The kids love this drill, have fun "going at it," and some have become better dribblers because of it.

We do these drills for a total of 10-15 minutes, depending on how they are going. So right now we've used up about 15 minutes total.

3. Passing Drills. Put simply, we have kids work on their chest passes, bounce passes and overhead passes. My assistant and I jump in and out of the passing lanes, compelling the kids to make decisions, such as throwing an overhead pass or a bounce pass (yes, given that the kids are considerably shorter than we are, we duck down to make the situation look more real). We stress to them the importance of throwing a crisp pass, one that hits the teammate at the letters so that they can make a strong move or take a shot without diving for the ball, without the ball hitting their feet, etc. Most kids aren't crisp enough passers yet. We usually take 5-10 minutes with these drills.

4. Situational Drills. We do the following drills:

a. Layup Lines. To make things more interesting, we have the player in the rebounding lane throw a bounce pass to the player in the shooting line.

b. Follow Your Shot Drill. A coach throws a pass to a kid a few feet inside the foul line, and the kids are to catch the ball and shoot it without putting it on the floor. The reason for this is that if the kids are in this close and open, there is no need to put the ball on the floor (most kids will lose possession, and it's a good habit to teach at this age -- avoid wasted energy). The kids then are encouraged to follow their shots twice, so that they learn the importance of staying at it and fighting for a rebound (you'd be surprised how many kids forget that they can pursue the ball after they've shot it). This drill proved very productive, as the kids showed a lot of energy following their shots in our last game.

c. The "Dribble Hand-off" Drill. We didn't necessarily want to teach this drill, but the requirement of man-to-man defense compelled us to do so. Why? Because the kids cover each other like gloves, and there really isn't a lot of room for good chest or bounce passes. These kids are too young (read: too inexperienced) to learn a high-post offense or a 1-4 stack, so what we do is have one kid dribble and then stop, and have a teammate trail him, take a handoff and then either shoot the ball or dribble toward the hoop (all the while, we ask the player doing the handoff to slide toward the basket, a poor person's version of a pick and roll, as the handoff can serve as a pick). The handoff ends up freeing up someone for a drive or a shot. Our kids play tough defense in practice, but, again, this drill paid dividends in our last game, as we were able to get the ball inside pretty effectively.

Now we've been at it for about 35 minutes or so, and we take a water break for a minute.

5. Scrimmaging. The kids love this, of course, and I bought some mail-order pinnies so that we can distinguish the "teams" from one another. We have an odd number of kids, so we shuffle them in and out, and I keep the game to 3-on-3. The reason: first, we avoid clutter in the half court (we don't scrimmage full court at this age) and can teach better and, two, we let the odd kid take a breather. I try to create evenly matched teams, make sure every kid gets to handle the ball, switch the defensive matchups and stop play to teach. For example, if a kid double dribbles, I try to correct the mistake. If a kid loses the ball because she dribbles in front of her instead of protecting it, I'll stop play and teach. I try to be encouraging and not single anyone out. The scrimmages prove to be great exercise and get the kids in better shape for the games. On my particular team, the defense is better than the offense, but I assure the kids that no one will defend them as tough as they defend themselves (this has proven true so far -- they really go after the ball). Where we have trouble is on offense -- we really don't have a super-talented kid who can score at will (but few teams do).

6. Wrap-up. I call the kids together, take 30 seconds to review things to work on, congratulate them on improvements, have everyone put their hands in and say "Team" and then say goodnight.

As I blogged before, I wished we had a zone defense requirement so we could emphasize ball movement through passing more, but we don't. As a result, we've improvised on offense and make the best of it. Kids today don't necessarily have the hoops savvy we did way back when. The game isn't instinctive to them, so only a few know about setting screens, going for rebounds, etc. We're working on their games, and it's been fun.

A great book to get is Dave Faucher's book "Coaching Youth Basketball." Faucher once coached at Dartmouth, and his book is excellent. Some of my practice plans derive from his book, and I confess that I would have been somewhat lost at the season's outset without it.

By no means am I an expert, and I welcome your suggestions too. That's the great thing about coaching. Coaches are willing to share, and coaches learn from one another. I picked up a few things at my daughter's practice, one at the water cooler, and a few by watching TV.

Please take a moment to provide comments as to your suggestions. I look forward to seeing what you do in practice or what you've seen.


Anonymous fern69 said...

This is great information for us first time coaches. Thanks for putting this out there.

11:21 PM  
Blogger SportsProf said...

You're welcome.

I'm still trying to put in a play, but I think only half the kids will get it. One reader suggested a stack, and in my absence another dad taught the pick and roll. Only one player, though, tried setting picks this past weekend, and the best ballhanders didn't recognize them.

We did teach the dribble handoff, and I might try a variation of that. A 1-4 stack could work, but I'm not sure all the kids will get it, and it's relatively late in the season.

I hope you're having fun!

5:57 PM  
Anonymous Jeff in NC said...

Perfect tips. I just finished coaching my sons 3/4 soccer team and now I'm on to his 3/4 bball team.

If I can get them to dribble and pass, I'll consider that an accomplishment.

I also signed up to coach a 7/8 b-ball team, so these tips will help me with that team.


2:35 PM  
Anonymous Odds said...

I got some great ideas out of these tips! Thanks for sharing your them.

9:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is EXACTLY what I've been looking for! I've been volunteered to coach the 8 and under team here and although I've played since middle school, I have no idea where to start with 6 to 8 year olds.

Thanks for this great post!

3:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great, simple steps that can easily form a foundation of a good practice. Thanks for posting this. I'm another ball player that's played every level of basketball there is, and yet I was dumbfounded at our first practice. I know what they need to know, but not how to show them. Thank you!

12:39 PM  
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11:09 AM  
Anonymous Eric said...

What size basketball are you using with 7/8yr olds? I suggest 27.0 rather than 28.5 (oficial womens ball), but am meeting some resistant from others. I coached HS varsity girls hoop for 14yrs, and feel we can teach better techniques with the smaller ball at this level. Thoughts?

1:36 PM  
Blogger draftsman of leisure said...

thanks for this! this is my 1st year coaching and this helps alot. its hard to go back and try to teach a bunch of kids at different levels what you now know instinctively. thanks

8:45 AM  
Blogger andy said...

Thanks for the article. It was helpful and we had a successful year, with coed 3rd and 4th graders. When the year started, I wondered why I did this to myself. But as the year went on, the kids learned, became respectful, more disciplined, and most important - became friends and a team.

Just one story to share. We had 3 games or scrimmages, vs other area teams of the same ages, on a 8 foot hoop. The first game finished 10-8 with us the 8. 3 weeks later, we won 22-16.

Game 3, was a "parents night". It was a full gym that night, with standing room only. A huge surprise, being a small school. Both schools announced parents at halftime, as well as having younger grades do a dance from each school. It was great.

The end of the game winded down with our team trailing by 4 points with about 20 seconds left. Our offense was typically a 1-2-2. #1 brought the ball up. Both the 2-3 guards and the 4-5 forwards took places on the lanes. When the ball came across half court, the 2 would go across the lane and set a pick for the 3, and vice versa for the 4 and 5. It helped free up the kids and get good shots, and keep them moving.

So, we score to go down 2 points with 13 seconds left. The other team's coach (much to my dismay), calls a timeout and has his team dribble in the back court for 9 seconds to waste time, and then dribble over half court. Note, we cannot press, so there is nothing to do but see seconds drop off. Well, as their guard goes over half court, he dribbles the ball off of his foot, out of bounds, our ball, 3 seconds left. I call timeout.

So, off the cuff I change it up, using the same screen play. This time we had our 2 best shooters, both smaller kids, line up at the 4 and 5 positions. This time, the 2 and 3's came down and set picks for the 4 and 5 to run up, instead of across the line as usual. Our #1 was told to throw it to the first open player, and that player should turn and launch it.

It worked to perfection, the small boy at the 4, gets a pick under the basket from the 2, runs up and gets a great pass between the 3 pt line and half court. The boy turns and throws it up with all his might. The ball hits the backboard, spins like a toilet bowl, and it falls out. The gym goes crazy in cheers and sighs.

Yes we lost the game, but the kids were all on edge, all performed to perfection, and were the least nervous of anyone in that building. I couldn't have asked for anything more. I told this story for weeks, and to this day, parents and school faculty comment on that night. Those are the moments that drive sports.

All the hard work, is worth it in that moment. Both as a coach, and as developing players. It is something, no one will ever forget.

2:52 PM  
Anonymous Issues in Sport said...

They are fairly common, but to do this effectively, you must create a variety of features. Start by keeping a low dribble, or a figure eight pattern five times, then reverse the pattern an additional five times.

2:55 AM  
Anonymous Professional Sports Fan said...

In today's competitive age, you better be ready to put the ball on the floor. Even centers and power forwards are becoming more versatile than ever, raising the bar of competition with every year that passes.

1:25 AM  
Anonymous MB - Chicago said...

GREAT information for the novice coach - some great drills and my kids have improved dramatically from the last couple of games. Thanks for the terrific information.

4:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great information. I played b-ball from 9 yrs old through varsity but am now 40 and was just nominated as my son's team's head coach. These drills are perfect for his team, ages 6-7. I really appreciate it and am now ready for our first practice. Thank you very much!!!!

9:53 PM  
Blogger Eli Gonzalez said...

I once coached a High School Varsity Boys team but really struggled on how to "ease" my 9 year old into basketball. Thanks for the GREAT INFORMATION! Even going as far as telling your congradulating your players on their improvements which is a HUGE part in a childs wanting to continue to work on his game.

8:48 PM  
Blogger Meghann Geyer said...

Thank you for the information. I am "coaching" my sons team which is 13-15 year olds so I am not really having to teach them much as they all have played for years and know what they're doing. I was recently asked if I would also coach my daughters team whihc is 7-8 year olds. I do not know nearly enough that I feel I am warranted to coach but they had no coach so I felt bad. Our first practice is Monday night and I have really been stressing about it and I feel better having found this and feel like I can use alot of this. Thank you so much! The internet is a wonderful tool sometimes!

10:39 AM  
Blogger Patrick Conroy said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

12:26 AM  
Blogger Patrick Conroy said...

Great practice plan. I believe you and are on the same page. What about teaching them your basic pass and cut? Pass to the wing, fake to the opposite side you passed through then cut ball side. We are running this with my 3rd grade boys team. The seemed to pick it up pretty well. -Coach Patrick

12:28 AM  
Blogger Patrick Conroy said...

5 Out Motion Offense - Cutters

This 5 out motion offense is an extremely simple offense to teach that could be used for a number of reasons.

Primary offense. Throughout my varsity career, we utilized this offense with great success because it opened up the lanes for dribble penetration and cuts that allowed us to utilize our team's quickness. As a freshmen in high school, I saw Cedar Rapids Prairie win the Iowa state championship using this as their primary offense.

Easy To Teach - This offense could very easily be taught in one day!

Delay offense. If you want to hold the ball until you get a lay up or the final shot to end the quarter, this offense is ideal for those situations.

Foundation for any motion offense at any level. This offense can be used as a building block to teach your players basket cuts, back cuts, and how to react to dribble penetration.

Great For Youth Teams - Great foundation as mentioned in #3 and you can teach more options as the team progresses.


Rule 1 - Pass then basket cut. After the basket cut is made, fill the open spot along the baseline.

1 Cuts and fills the opposite baseline spot.

Rule 2 - If the player in front of you cuts, replace him.

3 replaces 1.

5 replaces 3.

Rule 3 - Cut Only When You Pass The Ball or when the player with the ball is looking at you.

Rule 4 - The ball should only be dribbled to improve floor balance or beat the player.

Rule 5 - Avoid passing to the corner & keep the ball above the free throw line extended.

If you're coaching a youth team, I'd also be hesitant towards placing this rule. With youth teams, you want to allow more freedom.

Teaching Points To Better Execute The Offense:

These are some things that you will want to teach your players along the way. Be careful on teaching these points all at once. Otherwise, it can overwhelm them.

All cuts are finished at the rim.

Passer must watch the cutter all the way though. This helps with timing for the next player filling the vacant spot.

When replacing the cutter, wait until the player with the ball is about done looking at the cutter. This will help with timing and setting up the defender for a back cut or straight cut.

Back cut when the defender is near 3-point line. Some coaches like to say on the 3-point line, 1 step from the 3-point line, or 1 foot from the 3-point line. It's up to you to decide what works best for you.

Always have the ball in triple threat and be ready to dribble penetrate. This offense can sometimes lull the defense to sleep which gives the ball handler opportunities to attack the basket.

12:39 AM  
Anonymous Plaque said...

Handsmacking is a drill that is used for the game of basketball. Strengthening your hands is important for all areas of the game. Handsmacking is a drill that allows you to strengthen your hands and fingers.

12:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow! This is a coincidence. I was looking for some new drills and I came across your practice. As I was reading I looked to see if my name was attached to it because this is exactly how I run my 8U practice to the tee. I have been coaching for 20 years and have developed my own teaching methods, at least that's what I thought.

4:27 PM  
Blogger Jamar Lockwood said...

I coach a 6_8 old team we run plays we run picks and roll it take a lot of time but when they understand u will win a lot of games my team 4 _ 0 and we work hard on it more then 30 in guy and a lot of post at And go shots workout and keep two people on baseline so keep space on court and and one in paint one top of key it teach kid to see the floor a lot more and u can make passes and u make lest turnover

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I coached youth basketball for girls from 3 to 6th grade. Just wrapping up 6th grade year. Two things I learned. Defense, defense, defense. Teach them spacing, triple threat position, and drills to slide there feet. 2nd, teach kids to dribble both hands, crossovers to change direcroons. Good ball handler a must.

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