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
References: Bruce Brown, Proactive Coaching and Jack Bennett, Former Men's Head Basketball Coach University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.