This earlier post generated an email from a reader soliciting my thoughts on coaching youth sports.
When my children were young, I coached youth baseball and basketball (both boys and girls) for eight years, so I developed some definite thoughts on that rewarding experience. The following are my top ten suggestions for coaching youth basketball (basically, 12 years of age and under), but the principles can be applied to any youth sport:
1. Get a whistle for practice. It’s difficult to run an effective practice without one.
2. Don’t criticize the physical mistakes that your players make during practice or a game. It took me awhile to figure this out, but it’s absolutely the right approach. A good coach always wants the players taking risks to try to make good plays. If the players are worried about getting criticized for making physical mistakes, then they will be less inclined to take the risks necessary to make good plays.
3. Limit practice time to no more than an hour. The attention span of children is limited, so you reach the point of diminishing returns after an hour or so that make practices drudgery for the kids. Emphasize making practices fun. It’s always better to stop practice a bit too early than too late.
4. Organize your practices tightly. Children actually enjoy the regimentation of a well-organized practice.
5. Emphasize playing the game during practices. For example, the majority of time in my basketball practices involved the players running the 3-on-2-on-1 drill, which allows the players to play the game while allowing the coach to teach after a specific good or bad play is made during the drill. The players uniformly love this drill because it allows them to play the game.
6. When correcting a player’s physical mistake during the 3-on-2-on-1 drill, always start with a compliment of the player, then provide the instruction for correcting the mistake, and then follow it with another compliment. Pretty basic stuff, but it’s amazing how many youth coaches fail to follow it.
7. The only time that I would raise my voice with a youth player is when they were doing something dangerous or not listening during practice. There is a difference between not listening — which a child sometimes needs to be jolted out of — and a failure of concentration, which is more common. The latter is really the same as a physical mistake and should be dealt with in the same manner.
8. Teach the players a special under-the-basket in-bounds play. You would not believe how many easy points your team can score by having the players learn and execute a good in-bounds play under the basket. I used the stack play where the four players not in-bounding the ball line up on the side of the lane where the ball is being in-bounded. Upon the in-bounding player slapping the ball, the first two players in the stack take off for each corner of the court, the fourth player in the stack takes off backward, and the third player fakes a quick turn away from the basket and then simply turns around toward the basket and moves toward the player passing the ball in from out-of-bounds under the basket. The play almost always resulted in an easy layup.
9. Teach the players to run the in-bounds play under the chaos and pressure of game situations by periodically blowing the whistle during the 3-on-2-on-1 drill in practice and yelling “Run It!” The players were taught immediately to stop the drill and line up in the stack under the basket as if they were in a game situation. I would play the ref and hand the in-bounding player the ball promptly regardless of whether the other players were ready. This taught the players to react quickly and get ready during a game by yelling “Run It” whenever there was an in-bounds play under our basket.
10. Finally, have fun. Young players reflect the attitude of their coach. If you are having fun, then it’s likely they will, too.