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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

More on Coaching Third and Fourth Grade Boys' Basketball

In my prior post, I described how our first game went. We excellent on offense, were good at rebounding, outscored the other team significantly but didn't pass the ball well, didn't screen and sometimes ran into one another on offense. So. . .

At our practice last week, we emphasized passing, dribbling with the player's head up, screening and moving without the ball. We only get about one hour, we spend a bunch of time on fundamentals, and when we got to the screening, rolling and two on one drills, suffice it to say that practice didn't go great. We didn't have enough time to put in plays, and I'm still not sure that with only one 55-minute practice per week we really can get the kids to remember set plays from week to week (some aren't even 9 yet). Walking out of the gym, I said to my co-coach, "Well, we'll see how they do on Saturday."

Before the game we warmed up with layups and a two-on-one drill (as we find ourselves frequently on fast breaks, with two of our guys against one defender). I took a few of the kids aside and reminded them about screening, showed them where to set screens and to call out screens to the better ballhandlers. I didn't expect much except this -- we have a bunch of talent on our team, and the kids can run.

So what happened? Well, we "won" by an even bigger margin than the week before. With the first game jitters out of the way, our kids played with more focus. As it turned out, despite the uneven practice, what we said about dribbling with heads up, spacing, passing and setting picks started to take root. Two players set screens that enabled dribblers to go in for layups. Some kids showed nice moves when they switched hands while dribbling. On the fast breaks that we had, they filled the lanes nicely and evenly. By games end, we had five kids sprinting down the court. Now we need to work on finishing plays -- we put the ball up too hard on the breaks, and missed more layups than we made.

Our league is non-competitive, so there is no official score, and there is no playoff system. Our goal is simple -- to help the kids play together better, to have each kid improve week to week and to have fun. The kids inspired us by how hard they worked. We don't yell at them (this is a recreational league -- a kids' game that's supposed to be fun), just to them, reminding them about keeping their hands up on defense, about staying with their man, and about looking for screens. We take care to point out to the kids what they did well when we take them aside to coach them on what they can be doing better.

So what's the message in all this? Here are a few:

1. Focus on the fundamentals. Make sure each kid can handle the ball, dribbles with both hands and with his head up. One of our fastest players focused on dribbling with his head up -- he played a much better (and more controlled) game.

2. Emphasize crisp passing all the time. We have a saying: "Make every pass count." That means don't throw the ball at someone's knees or feet, give them the ball chest high so that they can move right away when they get the ball. I took a few of the kids aside before the game and told them that my challenge was for each of them to have at least one assist.

3. On defense, tell the kids to hustle a little bit more. Translated, that means that we teach them to step in front of their opponent's "strong" hand and make them switch hands. Our best defenders picked up on that early, and they created steals when the opponent tried to switch hands or reverse course. It's a good skill to teach, and you can disrupt the rhythm of even the best players on the other team. We also encourage deflections, and we're working with the kids to stay under control. Yes, we have a few kids who bump into their opponents a bit too much.

4. Stay with the kids on screening. Remind those who seem more inclined to do it where to set the screens. Right now, we're focusing on screening the player guarding the ballhandler, to enable the ballhandler to swing around the pick for a layup or short jumper. We're not as advanced as to have off-ball screens, but we'll get there. The kids saw the results of the screens -- they were pretty good.

5. Be patient. Stay with the drills, and the kids will get better at them. Repetition is key.

6. Finally, let the kids be themselves. The talented ones figure out good ways to get to the basket, and the rest crashed the boards. Emphasize team work and hard work, and good things will happen. Be positive, be encouraging, and even the least talented kids will improve. All each kid needs is for someone to be patient with him and guide him. This isn't rocket science -- it's teaching good skills.

Have fun!


Blogger Escort81 said...

It's a good thing that Ed Stefanski is not your GM!

It sounds like your approach is well considered and the kids seem to enjoy playing. What's not to like?

11:08 PM  
Anonymous The Sports Curmudgeon said...


Two important things you cite here are: Focus on fundamentals and Be patient.

Would that all of the coaches in youth sports would follow those two guidelines...

I officiated youth sports for 37 years. That is what sports at the level you describe is all about. I wish you and your team well.

Oh, and by the way, if you find the opportunity to teach any of the parents of the kids on your squad patience and the belief that the world is not aligned to cause their child harm or unhappiness, you will do that kid and his parents a lot of good too.

Stay well.

Happy Holidays.

9:13 PM  
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11:14 AM  

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