Coaching Kids Basketball #1 Rule

Here's the #1 rule for coaching kids basketball. If you don't remember anything else, please remember this.

Youth basketball training should be fun!

coaching kids basketball

Photo: Some rights reserved by Play It Smart Centennial

The focus of practice for young players should be to awaken their interest and learn basic skills of their new sport while having fun.

That may sound obvious to you. But, I see it happen all the time...

Parents and coaches get so caught up in winning and making sure their kids get better and faster and stronger that sometimes the fun gets lost somewhere amid all the competition.

Sports psychologists have found that one of the two most important needs of young athletes is to have fun. The second, if you're wondering, is the need to feel worthy.

Studies also show that one of the top reasons young athletes end up quitting a sport is because it isn't fun anymore.

What a shame!

Coaching Kids Basketball
Kids are not mini-adults

Kids' little bodies and minds are growing and developing, and they can't handle or benefit from the same training regimen that older athletes can.

There's a book I've used often throughout my career, Successful Coaching, by Rainer Martens. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in youth basketball coaching.

The author identifies 4 different stages of training that athletes progress through. I think it's not only helpful for coaches, but important for our kids to keep these stages in mind when planning youth basketball drills and workouts.

Coaching Kids Basketball
Stages of training for athletes

6-10 yrs

  • Awaken interest
  • Have fun
  • Learn basic skills

11-13 yrs

  • Versatility
  • Proper technique
  • Preparation for increased training

14-18 yrs

  • Increased training
  • Special training (e.g., weights)
  • More competition

18+ yrs 

  • Top performance

Coaching Kids Basketball
Benefits of training depends on age & maturity

The benefits that athletes get out of training depend on their age and maturity. Their bodies have to be physiologically ready.

Before puberty, kids don't get as much value out of intense conditioning drills as older players do.

Aerobic training, for example, is less effective for younger kids. Their bodies aren't very efficient, and they can't tolerate heat very well. In moderation, aerobic training helps athletes become more relaxed and more energy efficient, but hard aerobic training should be avoided until after puberty.

Young players don't get a whole lot of value out of intense anaerobic training either. That's the type of short exercise bursts like running sprints, climbing stairs, or lifting weights that cause us to lose our breath in just a few moments. 

Anaerobic capacity is related more to strength and maturity than to training. And even though it helps develop neuromuscular skill, mechanical efficiency, and psychological toughness, there shouldn't be a whole lot of emphasis on it before the age of about 13.

Strength training exercises do help increase strength in youth basketball players, but until players hit puberty there aren't any significant changes in muscle size. Weight training at this level should only include light weights and few repetitions.

Coaching Kids Basketball
There is one thing not dependent on age

Skill development is on area that isn't dependent on age or strength or maturation. And for that reason, it should be the focus of every basketball practice.

Improving skills can start at any time. It just requires practice. 

Developing fundamental skills can begin at a very young age. Learning new skills is fun. And kids love showing off their new skills, too!

Coaching Kids Basketball
So, remember the 3 goals for athletes under 10 yrs old

Awaken their interest – Basketball is a new sport for them. Let them experience it and enjoy it without the pressure of having to be good. Just let them have fun!

Have fun – There should be lots of smiles and encouragement and kids feeling good about themselves. When basketball practice is over, leave them wanting more. You've done your job when kids are disappointed when practice is over and excited to come back next time.

Learn basic skills – Give players a good foundation of skills, so they can start to experience small successes and have fun competing on the court. But don't overdo it. The early years of youth basketball, up until kids are about 10 yrs old, is not the age to over-coach or demand perfection.

Keep it fun! 

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