The New Coach

Youth sports are a great way for kids and parents to engage in their communities. Unfortunately, that engagement can sometimes feel more like an obligation than an opportunity. So you have been marked as your team’s new youth basketball coach - now what?

Today, we will review some high level topics that will help first-time coaches succeed at all levels of youth basketball including coaching philosophy, structuring practices, and coaching in-game.

Fundamentals of Youth Basketball Coaching

Unless you have a young Michael Jordan or Sue Bird on your team, it is likely that the “basketball” aspect of being a youth coach will take a backseat to teaching fundamentals like teamwork, respect, and sportsmanship. Here are some great ways to keep your young basketball players focused and working together:

Preach a positive attitude - Kids get upset about the silliest things (adults too, come to think of it). This is even more true in competition. Establish the primary goals as being putting forth effort and having fun rather than winning, scoring points, etc.

Encourage teamwork - Along those lines, youth athletes often struggle within the team dynamic. Teamwork can be taught both verbally and through drills in practice. More on this in the following section.

Discuss Sportsmanship - If your basketball team learns nothing else, they should at least develop a good sense of sportsmanship through athletic competition. This boils down to respect for teammates, coaches, and opponents alike.

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Youth Basketball Practice Planning

Youth basketball practices can be a tricky thing. Players may be at different ability levels, and many will lack the attention span to participate in complex or lengthy drills. Thankfully, there are a litany of ways to make practices both fun and productive for young basketball players.

  • Practice set plays. If you are unfamiliar, see our list of can’t miss basketball plays for kids for ideas. Not only will this improve your team’s chances of success, but it will likely make for a more fun practice experience for the kids.

  • Warm-up before diving into practices. Although kids can seem indestructible, they are not. It is recommended to give players at least five (5) minutes of active warm-up time before practice begins in earnest.

  • Set a schedule. The most important way to ensure that your team will get a productive practice is to plan it out with as much detail as possible. This can include a warm-up, drills, working on specific skills, one-on-one games, scrimmages, and much more. Without a detailed plan, youth players tend to lose focus and the practice can devolve into chaos.

In-Game Basketball Coaching

After practices and warm-ups come the games themselves. No one is expecting a youth coach to deliver high end tactical decisions, but the role of a basketball coach is still an active one. Coaches must call timeouts, make substitutions, call out plays (dependent on age and ability) and more. We recommend focusing on the following to make sure you are up to the task:

Learn Youth Basketball Rules

This goes for all coaches in all sports - you must know the rules of your game. For youth basketball, this may also entail learning any special rules which apply to your league. Some prospective coaches reading this may be in the dark about the rules of basketball in general.

The fundamental rules of basketball are covered well in the wikipedia article entitled rules of basketball.

For more studious individuals, the full NBA Rulebookis available to the public. This is certainly a longer read, but it is relatively easy to jump around to relevant sections. Most likely your youth basketball organization will not be too concerned with items such as video review or goaltending.

Consider When and How to Make Substitutions

Beyond understanding and teaching the game, perhaps the most important job of a youth coach in-game is to make substitutions. Young basketball players are sensitive to things like who plays when, being taken out of a game, or being left on the bench. It is vital that all basketball coaches learn the temperaments of their players in addition to their ability level to best handle these issues.

In an ideal situation, coaches will be able to achieve the following throughout the game:

  • Ensure that each player gets meaningful playing time.

  • Take players out if they are struggling emotionally or need a teaching moment of any kind.

  • Putting players back in even if they are having a difficult time. This can be a tricky decision to make, but goes back to developing an understanding relationship with each player to understand what will be best for him or her.

Keep Youth Basketball Fun

Sports are meant to be fun. This is even more true at the youth level. If your kids are having a good time and learning to work together, that’s a great place to start. It can be easy to pile undue pressure on ourselves as coaches and as parents to young athletes. Sometimes, the best way to be a good coach is to take a step back and remember it’s just a game.

Set expectations with parents, work with assistant coaches, and make this season a great one.