Archive for December, 2019

Here are some vital practice requirements for youth coaches that Jeff Haefner wrote:

In my opinion, this is something all youth coaches should adhere to when conducting practices…

1) Little to no standing in lines. Players should be active. Keep them moving. Improvise to keep them active (use stations, split into groups, use better drills, etc).

2) Lots of touches on the ball. Players should have a ball in their hands during a large portion of the practices. Sharing one ball among 10 players, severely limits their touches. Use drills for optimal development and touches.

3) Use small sided games (1v1, 1v2, 2v2, 3v3, etc) in addition to unopposed skill work (ex: cone dribbling). Competitive games are a dynamic and critical training tool for development.

4) Run some type of competitive 1v1 full court dribbling drill in at least 9 out of 10 practices. This is probably the best drill there is for ball handling, agility, on ball defense… do this daily.

5) Enforce the rule: Eyes on coach and listen carefully. When a coach is talking, require players to have their eyes on the coach and listen carefully. Be stickler. Have them sit out or do push ups any time they don’t abide by this rule.

6) Reward effort, not natural ability. If a player is trying hard, give them praise! Encourage discipline and effort. Really focus on emphasizing “effort”.

7) Be positive! Make things fun. There’s no need to yell. Give out high fives and lots of verbal praise when they do a good job. Set a good example by being a positive coach. We want to build up their confidence and make this a fun experience for the players. Keep in mind, you can still require discipline without yelling. For example, if they don’t listen, just sit them out of the activity for 5-20 minutes.

8) Allow Mistakes. Players will make lots of mistakes. That’s ok. That’s how you learn and “fear of failure” is probably the biggest hindrance to player development. Make sure they know it’s ok to make mistakes and they are in a safe zone.

9) Allow yourself to make mistakes. As a coach, you will mess up and make mistakes. Don’t worry about it. Hindsight is 20/20. I have been coaching a long time and I still make mistakes all the time. That’s how you learn. In addition, no one expects you to know everything on day 1. Slowly increase your knowledge and understanding of the game. As a coach, learning should never stop.

10) Eliminate the three Ls. Eliminate lines, laps and lectures. Running laps or wind sprints, especially without a ball, is a waste of time. All conditioning drills should be done with the ball in their hands. Lectures should be left for the classroom. Kids come to practice to be active and participate, not to be talked to for extended periods of time. Keep lectures short and concise. Players learn by seeing and doing.

11) Focus on player development! Put learning how to play basketball ahead of learning your system. This is paramount. Most of your time should be spent on things that will help players no matter what team or coach they play for in the future. Teach them fundamentals like spacing, cutting, screening, shooting, dribbling, 1v1 moves, passing, footwork, defense, and lay ups.


By Joe Haefner

Here is an effective tip for teaching skills in youth basketball. I picked this up from Bob Bigelow years ago.

With youth basketball players, it’s usually easier for them to learn skills that require the least resistance against gravity.

Footwork requires no gravity. Dribbling works with gravity. Passing works slightly against gravity. Shooting works against gravity.

So we advise to put more focus towards the skills where your players can see a greater improvement.


1 – You’re more efficient and effective with your time.

When it comes to shooting and even passing, there are limitations on the progress you can make regardless of the amount of time that you spend.

This is mostly due to natural physical and mental maturation. Things that you have little control over.

While with ball handling and footwork, your ceiling is much higher because it doesn’t have as many limitations due to maturation.

So let’s pretend you have a scale of 1 to 100 for rating the proficiency of skills. 1 being the worst. 100 being the best.

With shooting, your max might be a 40.

With ball handling, your max might be a 70.

2 – Players are more motivated.

From a psychological perspective, it’s also motivating because your players see more improvement.

This tends to happen when you spend more time on skills that have less resistance to gravity like footwork and dribbling.

I would even advise to film the first practice and maybe the first game. That way, your players and parents can visually see it.

Should you ignore the other skills like shooting and passing?

Absolutely not! I would still spend a significant amount of time on passing and shooting lay ups.

However, you probably want to minimize the time of shooting off the catch and shooting off the dribble.

Also, from a developmental standpoint, it’s hard to work on shooting form due to strength and coordination.

That’s also why we recommend smaller basketballs and lower hoop heights for youth players. You can spend a few minutes on form shooting this way.

If you don’t have access to lower hoops, you can also do form shooting against a wall.

Here would be an example of how you might approach practice planning with this mindset. This might work well for players that are 12 years old and under.

Skills primary focus – Ball handling and footwork

Skills secondary focus – Lay ups, passing, shooting

Offense primary focus – Cutting and getting open – V-cuts, L-cuts, basket cuts (give and go), and backdoor cuts.

Offense secondary focus – Introduce ball screens, introduce screens away from the ball, baseline out of bounds play, sideline out of bounds play, press breaker.

Defense primary focus – Defensive stance, 1v1 defense, positioning when 1 or 2 passes away, moving on the pass, sprinting to areas.

Defense secondary focus – Defending cutters, post players, ball screens, screens away from the ball.

Of course, there are exceptions. An advanced group of 11 and 12 year olds might be ready to emphasize more shooting and advanced concepts.

Then as the players mature and get older, you can shift more practice time towards shooting form and more shooting drills.

Around age 12 or 13 is when you can start to focus more on shooting form. The time put in leads to greater improvement and it can actually have a lasting impact. This often coincides with when players reach puberty.