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.
When working on ball handling at the youth level keep it simple. We emphasize equal hand symmetry, the ability to change speeds, create space with back up dribble, and 1-2 change of directions of moves. The ball handling video below shows these simple concepts in place at a high level.
Competitive vulnerability is the willingness or degree to which our players expose themselves to loss or embarrassment in a game or practice environment in order to further improve. Our desire for our teams and players is that they play with no fear regardless of the competition and are focused on the present moment with great attitude and effort versus being preoccupied with the outcome or looking bad in front of others. Looking back at my career I can recall two stories where I shut down to protect my ego and was not competitively vulnerable.
My first story involves my Sophomore year in high school. It was over Christmas break and we had a high level player from an out of state school come in to practice with our team. This player went on to play at Connecticut and won a National Championship as their starting point guard. He was very good and we all knew it. I was partnered with him during two one on one drills and I shut down. I did not play with great effort and I went through the motions. He crushed me in the drills and I just went through the motions pouting to protect my ego so I could say to myself that hey you got beat bad because of your effort not because you need to significantly improve. I was preoccupied with comparisons and outcomes. If I could go back to that moment I would scream compete with no fear and the more you do this the better you will become. I missed out on a great opportunity to get better and I was not competitively vulnerable.
The second story is from my Freshman or Sophomore year in college. We were playing Eastern Michigan who had a guard by the name of Earl Boykins who went on to have a long career in the NBA. Earl was 5’5” and the quickest player in the country in my opinion. I was sitting on the bench and Earl made a three in front of us and said I am going to score 40 on you guys. After some time went by my coach told me to check in to the game. As a point guard, Earl and I would be matched up against each other. I got into the game and Earl could smell the fear. He picked my pocket two straight possessions around half court. Again, I was not in the moment and was fearful of getting embarrassed. My thoughts centered around fear and embarrassment which ended up being the outcome. I was skilled and athletic enough to bring the ball up the floor and simply enter it to a teammate but I was not mentally tough in the moment and did not embrace the situation. I was not competitively vulnerable and missed a great opportunity to get better as a player.
The mental approach our players take to each practice and game plays a significant role in their growth and development. Encourage your teams and players to be competitively vulnerable and embrace challenges as an exciting opportunity to improve. With this mindset joy for the game improves and the results will take care of themselves.
“The tougher my opponents, the more they present me with an opportunity to live up to my full potential and play my best.” - Pete Carroll, Head NFL Coach