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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Coaching Third and Fourth Grade Boys' Basketball

Many of you have linked to my posts about coaching second-grade basketball, which I did with a friend last year. We had seven boys and two girls on the team, and a majority of the kids had little knowledge of the game -- how to dribble, how to defend, how to crash the boards, how to shoot. The great news was that the kids were enthusiastic, worked hard, and progressed well during the season. We only had one practice per week (if that, as some weeks the gym wasn't available), but we drilled repetitively on some basic skills, tried to have a little fun, and had a good season. You can read about what we did in those practices here.

This year, we've moved up a grade. The league remains non-competitive (that is, the league doesn't keep score, even if the kids do in their heads), and, yes, man-to-man defense is still required (if I only could teach the kids the back-door cut -- which they're slow to grasp, we'd score layups at will all the time, because the kids still tend to crowd and overplay on defense). This year, the league is not co-ed, and we have a mix of third- and fourth-graders. Last year, we only had second-graders, so there is an upgrade in talent.

We've only had two practices, so I'll share with you what we're trying to accomplish in practice. We get about one hour, and we have either a whole "sideways" full court or half of one. Translated, we don't have a ton of space, so we make do with what we have. Here are some suggestions:

1. Make the most out of limited practice time. We only have one practice per week, so don't linger. Get the kids going, be organized, plan every minute.

2. We start with some simple talk about what we're trying to accomplish -- working on the fundamentals, looking to make a good pass, keep your head up when dribbling, sliding on defense, crashing the boards. That takes about 2 minutes.

3. We then spend about 3 minutes on defensive slides. It's a good way to get the kids' juices flowing, and we take them back-and-forth across the floor. We stop and start quickly, so they know that they'll have to move in short spurts and change directions.

4. Then we move into lay-up lines for about 3 minutes. Again, it's a good way to get started, and by this time we're ten minutes into practice and halfway through our first ten-minute segment.

5. We then work on dribbling drills for about 5 minutes. We do two drills, such as the "fingers" drill, where the kids dribble in place and switch hands on command, but they need to look at a coach and shout out the number of fingers he's holding up. This drill encourages the kids to look up and not at the ball. Then we'll do a stop and start drill, where the kids will dribble down the court and stop and throw a pass. We're trying to teach them to pass off the dribble fluidly -- so that they don't pick up their dribbles and hold the ball until the defense swarms.

6. We then working on passing drills for another 5 minutes. So, for example, two kids will make their way down the floor either chest- or bounce-passing the ball to one other. The theme -- make every single pass count. Make sure that the passes hit the kids near the letters, so to speak, so that they don't have to go reaching for the ball.

Then we have a one-minute water break.

The second segment of practice focuses on plays. So, we'll spend say 5 minutes on catch-and-shoot drills, as we try to teach the kids that when they're in close if they put the ball on the floor a defender will probably swipe it away. This drill is especially important for the bigger kids. Then we'll spend about 7 minutes on the give-and-go play and 7 minutes on setting screens. We tried the back-door play, but the kids aren't yet good enough to keep their dribbles on the one hand and do the cut on the other. We might continue to teach it, but at this age, teaching the pick-and-roll or the dribble handoff might be a better use of our time. After this 19-minute segment, it's time for another water break.

After the second water break, we'll spend 16 minutes scrimmaging, either 3 on 3 to emphasize defensive stops or 5 on 5. We can do better on offense in the former, but having 4 kids stand around isn't exactly optimal. We'll stop play to teach, so as to emphasize passing, not picking up the dribble too early, not dribbling into the corner, how to defend properly. After scrimmaging, we'll run a two-minute foul-shooting drill, and wrap up with the kids for another minute and then send them home.

The goal is to teach them more fundamentals, give them a good workout, and get them ready to play at a higher level, all the while having fun, which is the most important thing. This year presents different challenges from last year, as the baseline of experience is much greater than last year's. We're up for the challenge, and it will be interesting to see how well we can teach new concepts and how quickly the kids can grasp them.

I'd appreciate your thoughts on what works and what doesn't. What I just wrote is more in the way of a suggestion than a tried-and-true recipe. Thanks for your insights.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

my daughter is on a third and fourth grade instruction level team. The opposing coach was using the pick and roll constantly and actually bumped our girls 4 or 5 times with no foul being called. Did I mention they were up by 15 points with 5 mins to go. This is only the second game for the 3rd graders. I coached soccer where the rules were are well defined. Do you think this was good spotsmanship?Lisa

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