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Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Coaching Second-Grade Basketball

As the New Year approaches, I'd like to share my thoughts on our non-competitive league, where we have a 45-minute game each Saturday and one week night practice. So far, it's been a lot of fun and the kids have improved each week, but I have the following observations:

1. Our league's rules compel teams to play man-to-man defenses. I think this is a mistake, as does another dad, who's a middle-school teacher who coaches his school's boys' b-ball team. The reason: not every kid can handle the ball, a majority can't blow by a defender on a dribble, and not all understand the "triple threat" position. As a result, defenders play chest-up defense (even if they may not begin to guard opponents above the foul line and even if they may not double team, it's still hard for the refs -- HS kids -- to police those rules constantly), and passing has all but been eliminated. While, sure, purists love man-to-man defense, the rule that you have to play it constantly means that you've eliminated passing from all but very close distances.

2. Most kids don't have the fundamentals down. They're okay passers, and they can become decent defenders, but the dribbling is lacking. My guess is that the average kid isn't as good a ballhandler as the average kid was, say, 30 years ago. The reasons for this: 1) there are many more "little league" types of sports now than there were then, so kids don't play pick up hoops nearly as much as they did three decades ago, at least in suburbia, 2) the advent of dozens of TV channels and video games, making kids somewhat less likely to go outside and play, 3) the security consciousness of parents who don't want kids to roam the neighborhood gathering kids to play games the way they used to and 4) kids don't watch games as much on TV, which means they aren't picking up the nuances about the game that we did years ago (such as the importance of setting picks, cutting, etc.). Put differently, of the 9 kids on my team, only 4 can move the action significantly through the dribble. Of the five others, one is getting there, two sometimes dribble two-handed (and have to be reminded they can't), and two are wont to dribble in front of them, guaranteeing the ball will be slapped away.

We're drilling as much as we can, but I doubt that kids work on their games much, if at all. Why? First, it's cold in this neck of the woods, so kids won't get outside to practice. Second, they play games season to season, so they probably don't play much pickup in the off-season. Those who do will end up getting better. We'll keep on stressing the importance of dribbling, and hopefully our exhortations will resonate with the kids even after the season is over.

3. The kids work really hard and want to get better. They defend tenaciously, and they get into it. One kid really surprised me in our last game, about 2 weeks ago. He seemed tentative, but he guarded ably a kid who was several inches taller, much stronger and who called for the ball in the low post. The boy on the opposing team didn't score in the fourth quarter, and it was fun to see the smile on our player's face when I congratulated him on his effort.

4. They learn, but they're attention spans are short. We put in three new drills that helped solve a few problems. First, we started a "follow your shot" drill, where the kids take a mid-lane shot and then follow it up and get two more chances to put the ball in the basket. We also stressed to them that they needed to hit the boards when either our team shot or the other team did. We ask them a question: "who owns the ball?" and have them shout out "we do." Put differently, they're polite kids for the most part, and we want them to be more aggressive and go for the ball.

Second, we started a drill where, again, mid-lane, we toss them the ball chest high and teach them to shoot it once they catch it. Many kids are prone to trying to put in on the floor, and most will lose the ball. We worked that hard both in practice and before the game, and that drill resulted in our getting better shots and not losing the ball.

Third, we started a play to cure our most significant problem -- kids who either pick up their dribble and get stuck, with nowhere to pass because they're covered like a glove, or, alternatively, kids who are stuck because after they get the pass they're covered like a glove and aren't confident enough to put the ball on the floor. It's the old version of the dribble handoff, and what we do is have a kid dribble, with a teammate trailing him, and then have the dribbler stop and hand it off to the trailer, who then either drives toward the hoop or passes it back to the initial dribbler on a give-and-go. That play created many open looks in practice, especially among the four best players on the team. We also ask the kids a question: "What's the most important thing we do on offense?" They respond: "Protect the basketball." We have explained -- and they get it -- that they have to be careful with the ball when we have it and not lose it to the other team.

5. We still work on defensive slides, dribbling drills (including having the kids look up at me and shout out the number of fingers I'm holding up so that they get used to dribbling and not looking at the ball), passing drills (chest, bounce and overhead) and layup drills, and we'll probably teach a pick-and-roll soon. They're pretty eager to learn, they practice hard, and, in the end, and most importantly, they're getting good exercise and having a lot of fun. Typically, there aren't more than say 10 baskets scored in a game (although there is one kid whose mom played college ball who can shoot from outside; we haven't played his team yet).

It's fun to see how much the kids care -- a few keep score in their heads, even though we don't as a rule keep score. We've more than held our own, and thanks to a few books, watching games and even watching other teams practice, we've come up with some good practice plans to make things interesting. I look very much forward to the rest of the year and seeing more improvement from the kids.

The kids get frustrated because they aren't hitting that many shots, but we're making sure they're playing more under control and taking better shots. As I tell them, the thing about good shooters is that they aren't afraid to miss. That doesn't mean we want to turn these kids into gunners, but we want them to accept the fact that they have to take 'em to make 'em, and that they need to rebound from a few bad shots/misses and keep on working hard. So far they get that, and it's been fun to watch their determination.

Everyone gets to play 2 quarters in a game, and two kids each week get to play 3, and I rotate who those kids are every week. I try to split my top four into groups of two, to make sure that I have at least 2 ballhandlers on the floor each quarter. Sometimes there are 3, and that's when the team plays its best. The other kids are still learning the game. They know they need to get open on offense, but sometimes they are so far away from the action that only Chris Paul could find them open (and the average eight year-old can't begin to throw the ball that far). We encourage the parents to have their kids watch college games to get a better sense of the game, and it's hard to tell if anyone is actually doing that.

At any rate, there are always numerous plays each week to keep the kids coming back, and for me the greatest reward is to see the smile on a child's face after she or he has done something in one week that he couldn't do the week before. If my assistant coach and I can cause those smiles to recur weekly, then we're having a great time (and, hopefully, so are the kids).


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well I'm coaching a 2nd Grade team and found this blog through Google. I worked on the exact same items as you said during our practice and it seemed to help (so I hope) in the game. I'd like them to learn something, and have fun so I think we're well on our way. I'm trying to come up with a simple play on the offensive end as it is strictly swarming kids in our league..

6:44 PM  
Anonymous Mace said...

I am also coaching 2nd grade BB and we have been using a stack play.

There are so many variations to this play.

In bounder A can pass to BCD.

BC can go right or left.

D can go in or out.

Also at warm up prior to games I have the boys line up in 2 lines and each do a bounce pass and then a layup.

Instead of having 8 kids firing up 4 balls and get hit, hurt and looking like they don't know what they are doing at least we can look like a team.

My best player got hurt last week and cant play for a while due to loosing a few teeth.

I advise your kids wear mouth gaurds.

7:23 PM  
Anonymous LGriff said...

I found this blog through google too. Thanks for the excellent ideas. I'm coaching 2nd/3rd grade basketball, and although I've played all my life, I had no idea what second graders could and couldn't do.

I agree with you about only playing man to man. We have a league rule that the kids can't steal the ball off the dribble and we still end up with kids getting stuck with no one to pass to. If they played zone, the kids could get used to passing around the outside of the zone a bit.

Thanks again for the ideas and I love that at the end you stressed keeping it fun. My goal for the kids to learn the rules and some fundamentals but most importantly for every kid on my team to have so much fun that they come back next year.

12:36 PM  
Anonymous frustrated mother said...

My son plays second grade bball in a competitive school league and it's turning into a nightmare. He is great at dribbling, lay ups, and free throws, but he never does any of those thing in his games. He doesn't understand the plays and is afraid to get hurt so won't steal the ball or get rebounds.
His coach is frustrated because he wants to win above anything else. This coach also coaches my son's baseball team. My son is pretty good at baseball, so his coach expected the same performance in basketball. I am very frustrated and never want my son on a basketball court again. Will a noncompetitive league take the time to teach plays and strategies in a less threatening way? My husband played bball in highschool and his sister played in highschool and college, so I guess we are hoping he could play too.
Are we giving up too soon?

frustrated mother

7:34 PM  
Blogger Bob said...

Wish I would have found this blog earlier.

I run a league for 2nd-6th graders in a small community. We have a man-to-man only rule as well as a rule that prohibits players from defending their man outside the three point arc. Although I can see your point about players not being able to just pass the ball around, there are also many reasons why we want players to learn man to man defense.

First, players need to learn to move to get open. I have rarely seen a player who was such a good defender that they can shut out an offensive player who is moving to get open in the elementary grades. Teach your kids how to get open.

Second, teaching defense is really important at an early age, kids need to understand the principles of Ball-You-Man, and the earlier they figure this out the better off they will be in the long run. Players dont learn this playing zone, they just learn to guard a spot on the floor and thats bad in the long run, players can learn to play zone when they get older really quickly if they can play man to man, but not the other way around.

Finally, at the elementary grades, coaching should be all about 2 things, teaching players the fundamentals of the game, and developing a love for the game. We do keep score in our games, players and parents need to learn to win and lose, coaches too...

If your kids are having trouble getting open teach them to move without the ball, if they are having trouble with handling the ball make them dribble with 2 people on them. Dont get discouraged and understand that they are kids, they are resiliant, it upsets you a lot more when they struggle than it does them... stick with it and keep it fun.

Good luck.

3:08 PM  
Blogger joe said...

thanks for the tips, I am a newbie going to my first meeting today, then coaching my 2nd grade son's this season. I played in HS but without this site, I would not know where to start. thank you

6:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Frustrated mom-

Competitive 2nd grade league and win at all cost at that level is a recipe for disaster. Let the KIDS be KIDS. Teach them a couple of fundamentals and TEAM play and they can move on to 3rd grade. Relax, it will come together

3:37 PM  
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10:46 AM  
Anonymous Issues in Sport said...

This is a great game for beginning players and coaches. Take a small portion of the court, like a half court, give each player a basketball that they must dribble and play tag with. If any player loses control of the ball they are immediately out. While tagging a player the ball must be kept in close control. For a more advanced version of the game, it is a great idea to attempt to knock the ball away from the opposing players, instead of tag them.

2:57 AM  
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1:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a teenager coaching a 2nd grade bball team this helped me very much to gain control of my team. Thanks.

7:25 PM  
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8:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bob is right about the "D". We played all zone with my oldest son. When the other coach finally tried to teach a man defense the kids were slow to react and had very slow feet. In games when he tried to go man they always got beat or were called for reaching fouls. Now with my 2nd grader I'm coaching nothing but man, I feel as Bob does that the core of good defense is hustle and quick feet, which is lost in a zone only defense.

2:23 PM  
Blogger Sinfonian said...

I too coach my son's 2nd grade club team. We're non-scoring and many on the team are new. I learned HS ball from a former NBAer and love the game. I'm all about fundamentals at every level so that's what I'll teach. I may get to pick and roll but for now, I just want everyone to be able to make a layup. Every kid is different and deserves to play. I look forward to doing more like you. Thanks!

1:14 AM  
Anonymous Joel said...

Thank you for the post. As a first-year coach with 7-8 yr old girls, your blog is invaluable. I'm going to be "borrowing" your practice ideas for tonight. Can't believe it took me a month to stumble across this through Google.

Thank you for sharing this information.

4:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wish my daughter's 2nd grade coach would read your blog. They have limited time for practice (league allows 1 hour/wk) and we are 3 games into the season and he has yet to teach them any offensive play. They look completely lost on the court because they have nothing to try to execute, whereas the opponents are running a couple of siimple scoring plays. I tried to talk with him after the last game, he got defensive with me and I came off looking like "that parent" but I really just wanted to ask him to teach them something to help them at least compete. Losing 30-0 at this age is painful to the girls.

8:20 AM  
Blogger SportsProf said...

The dilemma coaches have is the following: (i) some coaches stress fundamentals to the point where the kids don't know about spacing, movement, etc., while (ii) some coaches stress plays but no fundamentals, with the result that kids can slam the ball off the backboard because they are unable to finish. That said. . .

a) hopefully each team has some good, okay and fair players. You need 1-2 kids per 5-kid unit who can force the action. That's key and can cover a lot of ills.

b) the kids need to work on dribbling and finishing (shooting from in close, off the backboard from the side, catching and shooting.

c) the kids need to defend great. Great defense at this age creates steals, which create fast breaks, which create offensive situations where the defense isn't set, which creates baskets.

d) the kids might be able to learn 1 or 2 simple plays off a high screen. when we coached, we worked on that but that was it. Only 1 second-grade team ran an offense, but they practiced nothing else. Most teams' offenses resembled a rugby scrum.

So. . . hopefully your daughter's team has a kid or two who can put the ball in the basket, a few who can on occasion, and then plays tenacious defense and creates points off steals.

I wish each league would try to make the rosters equal and then give coaching protocols to the coaches. Unfortunately, that doesn't always happens. Stress to your daughter that she can make a difference by playing hard, screening and defending well.

5:30 PM  
Blogger markcannon8 said...

I coach a 2nd and 3rd grade team, and I have def learned that zone doesn't help these kids a whole lot. Most of the teams in my league play zone and not man to man which I am trying to teach my kids. The problem I am facing is that the kids cant get close enough to shoot bc of the zone. What drills can I make fun to teach them passing and moving with the ball and without it? And how do I beat a zone with this age group lol?

8:45 AM  
Blogger KFouss said...

I also coach a second grade boys team and I feel like your frustrations came right out of my mouth. I'm definitely going to try out some of your ideas in practice this week. Thanks!

5:41 PM  
Blogger SportsProf said...

Thanks for your comments and keep them coming.

The key thing at that age is to work on fundamentals, so that they know good dribbling, crisp passing, good defending and perhaps how to set a reasonable screen. I'm going to post a practice plan for my fifth and sixth grade team soon, so be on the lookout for that.

Thanks for your posts.

7:57 PM  

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