As we reach February many youth basketball programs have been practicing consistently for up to three to four months and practices may have become somewhat monotonous for both players and coaches. Below are five potential strategies to breathe some life into your practices.
Situation Games: Add a 10 minute block to your practice where you play out various situations in one to three minute mini-games. These tend to be focused and intense segments that your players really enjoy. Examples can include:
Shorten Practice Time: Keep practices intense and crisp but shorten them to one hour. You will be able to keep your players attention better along with keeping the intensity high. Sometimes less is more especially at this time of the year. Additionally, by ending practice sooner it may allow you or your staff to work more individually with certain players on specific skills areas following the scheduled team practice time. Your players will appreciate this individual or small group time.
New Drill, Game, or Set: Add a new finishing at the rim game, a different competitive shooting game, or set which the players have a say in to give them ownership. There are hundreds of different drills and games in our library at youthbasketballdevelopment.com or simply go online and search.
End Practice on a Fun Note: John Wooden, in his book They Call Me Coach says, “End practice on a happy note.” This could be done by doing your team’s favorite drill or playing some type of game. For this reason we do not recommend running conditioning drills at the end of practice. If conditioning is an issue there are a lot of transition drills to get your players up and down the floor with a ball in their hand along with working on team defensive concepts.
Cancel Practice: Instead of having practice, cancel it and go as a team to your local high school or college game. Emphasizing fun, life-long participation in basketball is important. Having your team find a positive role model or group in basketball that they identify with and makes them say, “I want to be like them or I want to be a part of this group.” can be a very powerful motivator for long-term commitment and improvement.
In an ideal world our kids and youth players would all be intrinsically motivated to play basketball and improve their skill level. Playing basketball and working on their skills at home would make them feel good and provide a sense of accomplishment versus being extrinsically motivated for rewards or an adverse punishment. However, this is not always the case. Below are some ways to improve intrinsic motivation as well as when extrinsic motivation can be utilized and useful.
Ideas to improve intrinsic motivation:
Best uses of extrinsic motivation or small rewards:
Once basic skill levels and initial intrinsic motivation has been established external motivators should be phased out as they can be detrimental to long-term participation secondary to basketball and skill development potentially feeling like work or an obligation.
Use them both
By utilizing both intrinsic and extrinsic motivational factors and finding the right balance for your child skill level and enjoyment of the game can grow.
We believe that for ages 12 and under no zone defense should be played as a player to player or man to man defense better develops the individual skill related to guarding a player both on and off the ball. Attached with this link are 18 different team defensive games for ages 9-12 that can be utilized to teach the core defensive concepts of proper stance, vision, anticipation, communication, and toughness.
Youth basketball State Tournaments and rankings have become widely prevalent over the last 10 years in multiple states. If you have ever been at one of these events, coached in one of these events, or have been a part of a youth association board meeting where State Tournament participation and rankings have been discussed you realize quickly that parents have come to hold these events and rankings with some importance. At Youth Basketball Development we believe these “State Tournaments” and rankings of youth teams ages 9-14 are detrimental to long-term development and participation in sport and have little bearing on future success. We understand this may anger some but feel strongly that it is the truth for multiple reasons.
Current research has shown that overemphasis on results and short-term success in youth sports (State Tournament Championships and rankings) may limit the benefits of participation, and could increase the risk of injury, burnout, and disengagement from physical activity. Additionally, emphasizing short-term results at the youth level has been shown to lead to early single sport specialization and highly intense overtraining during childhood years. State Tournaments and rankings are results and winning oriented. As such, State Tournaments and rankings inherently put results and winning ahead of development and ahead of participation. Research also shows that competitive success at the youth level correlates modestly at best or not at all to success at the senior level.
State tournaments and rankings at the youth level are created by business organizations looking to generate revenue. For a lot of parents we tend to value ourselves by how well our children do and that our children’s behaviors and accomplishments are a reflection of us. Because the results of our children’s actions can sometimes be outside of our control such thoughts and actions can be toxic for ourselves and our children. Additionally, children are very preceptive at picking up on our verbal and non-verbal energy and aim to please their parents. If your energy as a parent or coach is tied to qualifying for or winning a state championship and improving team ratings our children will pick up on these cues and tie their own self worth to these results. This leads to fear of taking on challenges, anxiety, and greater dropout rates.
Is it actually a true State Championship?
The short answer is no. The State Tournament is used to determine the best team in a particular state and by definition is considered to be the top achievement in the state (again, this is heavily results oriented which at the youth level has been shown to lead to multiple negative long-term effects). For a true State Tournament to occur all similar sized schools and associations in the entire state would participate. In the vast majority of cases this is not the case as in order to participate a large entry fee may be needed, which inhibits lower income communities from participating, schools and parents may choose to opt out of participating due to travel and expense concerns, and in some cases your team may have needed to participate in a certain amount of prior tournaments owned by the organization running the State Tournament. A youth State Championship is a championship by title only and not a true State Championship of importance.
Youth sports is about improvement, positive core values and relationships, playing with great effort, and fun. Winning is important but not at the expense of long-term development. Parents and associations that focus on small improvements and developing a work ethic versus results and winning tend to have competitive, growth mindset oriented, and high performing children.
Businesses that are in charge of youth rankings do so in order to promote competitive balance, seed tournaments, and drive traffic to their websites. These rankings are based on winning. As previously noted a heavy emphasis on winning and results at the youth level is to the detriment of development and participation. There are also many other ways to promote competitive balance.
When signing up for youth tournaments there can be different levels of competition of which to participate (A, B, and C or highly competitive, competitive, recreational, etc…) or tournaments based on school size (large school and small school divisions) which would not involve rankings. Also, youth basketball associations have become heavily reliant on outside tournament organizations to run and organize tournaments due to organizational ease. We recommend supplementing a few of these tournaments with “jamborees” by inviting two similar sized or competitive teams to your school and playing two games on a Saturday morning. Parents and kids love it because there are less negative parental and coaching behavior concerns related to outcomes, they do not consume a full day, are cost-effective and easy to organize, and are competitive and developmentally based.
If your youth association does make the decision to participate in a youth State Tournament remind your coaches and parents that it is not a true State Championship, has limited bearing on future success, and we are emphasizing great effort, improvement, our core values, and fun over winning a youth tournament. This should lead to a positive experience for all involved and greater long-term success.
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The practice of incorporating a dynamic warm-up routine for youth basketball players for ages 9 and up has become common practice. However, there is wide variance in what is actually performed. As coaches we want our dynamic warm-up routine to be simple and efficient. Below, based on our literature review, are common concepts to incorporate in a dynamic warm-up along with two sample routines. These routines could be done in a hallway or commons area prior to the assigned start of practice to allow greater efficiency of valuable gym time.
What to include for a 5-10 minute basketball dynamic warm-up:
After performance of a dynamic routine we recommend at the start of your practice plan performing non-live basketball specific drills at increasing intensity to further engage the basketball specific musculature and nervous system. Such drills could include ball handling, pivoting/footwork, finishing at the rim, passing, shooting, or progressive transition work up and down the floor with no defense involved (on air).
Example of an evidenced based dynamic warm-up routine:
The most extensive and researched dynamic warm-up out there currently:
If you are a youth coach or organization that is looking for what is currently considered the best researched and evidence based practice for a dynamic warm-up routine then we recommend the FIFA 11+Kids (link to manual). This program, performed two times per week, has been shown to significantly reduce injuries in football (soccer) players as well as improve physical performance. One drawback is the program takes 20 minutes to perform and for basketball we recommend not doing exercise 7 (roll over) based on the hardness of a gym or hallway floor compared to a grass surface.
Written by Katie Larson, PT, SCS, CSCS
This is a good link for six different finishing drills that can be used in a group practice setting. Finishing games for 9-12 year olds.
When teaching shooting mechanics to ages 5-8 we keep it simple and emphasize just three things. See the video below.
This is a difficult question that many large youth associations must tackle and and the current evidence out there is poor. After a PubMed search we were unable to find any good-quality articles from peer reviewed journals that directly addressed this issue. The current basis of recommendation for when to start A and B team versus equal level teams is based on expert opinion and customary practice. Below is a list of common arguments for initiating A and B teams as well as arguments against.
Arguments for an A and B team:
Arguments against an A and B team:
Emotional stress and B team stigma. If youth associations, coaches, and parents emphasize that getting the opportunity to play and player improvement is more important than outcomes or what team you were on in middle school the stress or stigma of being placed on an A or B team can be partially mitigated. Additionally, there are countless examples of B team members going on to have successful high school and college sport careers. In fact, several studies have shown that competitive success at the youth level correlates modestly at best, or not at all, with long-term senior success (early success is not a valid predictor of long-term success). Just because your youth team won the so called 6th Grade State Championship does not mean they will automatically have great success in high school.
Early drop out. The main reasons cited for dropping out of basketball is lack of playing time, not having fun, lost ownership of experience, afraid to make mistakes, and feeling disrespected. There was no note of an A and B stigma for dropout reasons reported.
Equal coaching quality. It is extremely important that the quality of coaching and practice opportunities be equal at the youth levels for ages 14 and below for proper development. By doing this you are just not focusing on early maturing kids who are more advanced compared to their peers and thus are developing potential late bloomers as well.
So what age should we start an A and B team? It is important that whatever age your youth association decides to form an A and B team that your reasons are in alignment with your youth association philosophy and that the youth association and high school coaching staff are on the same page. There are many factors that go into this decision such as number of players, gym space, skill level and talent of players in each age class, coaches available, high school staff preference, and what neighboring youth associations have chosen to do for whom you play against. In our opinion and based on our research, it is not necessary to provide A and B teams for children under the age of 12 (elementary aged children) and that A and B teams can be initiated for those 12 and older (middle school age children from 6th grade above) as appropriate.
Other alternative to A and B teams. No set rosters (roster fluidity) and no posting of teams to take the focus away from team assignments. Teams at the different age levels are thus interchangeable to provide opportunities for athletes to gain confidence and at other times, “stretch” their abilities to promote growth. The coaching staff considers the competitive level of each athlete prior to assigning them to league/tournament experiences and practice and game schedules are posted on your youth association website and emailed to families. If adequate gym space and coaches the teams can do fundamental skill work and games together and then break up into separate teams for team offensive and defensive concepts.