Learning the fundamentals is crucial for youth basketball players, which is why practice plans should be specifically geared toward helping different age groups hone their skills. Obviously, skill sets will be different for each age group, and things like timing and type of drills will need to be tweaked. In this article, we’ll go over basketball practice plans for elementary schoolers, middle schoolers, and high schoolers. From these, you’ll get a good idea of just how to structure your practices to get the best possible results from your players.
There are certain elements of a basketball practice plan that should be included no matter what age your players are. At the same time, basketball practice plans need to be tailored depending on physical stamina, strength, mental and physical aptitude, and skill set. The timing of the practice also needs to be considered — for example, younger players will have shorter practices that include more hands-on learning of the fundamentals, while high school players will spend most of the practice time applying those same fundamentals in game scenarios. Ultimately, there are universal elements that need to be in every successful practice plan, but those elements are varied depending on age and skill level. As well, different practice plans will have different emphases, and it’s important to have these in mind as you draft your own plan so that the focus remains strong throughout the practice.
This is a time period when kids are just starting to learn about the game. It’s crucial to integrate a sense of structured fun into things at this point in time, as younger players will be less resilient when it comes to pressure. The main goal you should have in creating practice plans for this age group is introducing them to the basics of the game, while maintaining a safe and fun learning environment. Some of your emphases with this age group could focus on things like listening skills, staying positive, teamwork and supporting others, and quick decision making. As the players progress, there will be time to focus on things like advanced footwork and form, but in the beginning stages, fostering that supportive environment and emphasizing core values are the most important things you can do. Doing this will ensure that the kids will want to come back. Retention is key at this juncture.
A sample basketball practice plan for an hour long session for this age group could include about six blocks of time. Each block should have a different emphasis. They could include things like basic layups, dribbling, passing, basic footwork, defense/offense, and then a final scrimmage to give them a feel for what a real game might be like (this is a good way to encourage friendly competition as well).
A few important skills to develop early on are how to get and stay open, how to pass to open players, how to get rebounds, and 1-on-1 defense.
In this instance, including a dynamic warm up is probably a good idea, just because the practice time is longer than it is with younger players, and they’ll be more prone to injury if they don’t warm up properly. Dynamic warm ups raise the body’s core temperature and lower the risk of injury. Dynamic warm ups for youth basketball players usually consist of movements like high kicks, walking lunges, knee to chest, and leg swings. With middle school-aged players, the focus can be aimed more at technique and transitioning, and less on basic sports concepts like listening and good sportsmanship. For example, when practicing dribbling, you could integrate layups (standard and reverse) and finishing, not just dribbling in isolation. Connect the movements and skills together, so that transitions are easy and seamless. Practice ball handling with jump shots, so that the players learn how to move from one to the other.
Practices should become gradually more sophisticated when working with older kids, to include not only transitions and drills, but half and full court scrimmages and hypothetical situations like reaction rebounding and transition offense.
This is the time to really work on refining skills and also correcting bad habits that might have been accrued in past years of playing. For example, one practice could focus on passing and receiving skills and decision-making drills without dribbling allowed. Also, in terms of emphases — these kids are mature enough to talk about what the focus should be for the season. As a coach, you can involve them more in the discussion, which will do two things. First, it will make the players feel important and included, and like their opinions matter. This will, in turn, give them a sense of agency and personal responsibility in regards to their place on the team. Team captains ought to take on leadership and liaison roles, but a conversation about priorities should include the team as a whole. More than in past years, the players need to be on the same page and possess the same goal(s).
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