SportsProf

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

More on Coaching 3rd and 4th Grade Basketball

We're about halfway through our season. Our league randomly assigns players to teams. There's no evaluation period, no selection of players, and no room on the sign-up forms to tell you how tall a player is, how long he's been playing, etc. As a result, you don't know the type of team that you'll get. So, you tailor what you teach and coach to the talent that presents itself.

This year, we were given for the most part a team of speedy players with a good amount of stamina. Each player has a good concept of the game, at least about as good as you could expect from a contemporary third or fourth grader (in contrast, our team in the second-grade league last year had kids who didn't know that you aren't permitted to travel or dribble with two hands). These kids are far more scheduled than I was as a kid, so they don't play as much pick-up ball and they don't watch many games on TV. That becomes an issue because they don't know the vocabulary as well. Terms like "watch the pick", "follow your shot", "switch" have to be taught with much more precision today. They are athletic, but collectively they don't know the nuances of the game the way my friends and I did when we were kids.

With that as background, here are some observations:

1. Larry Brown (and others) are right when they say teaching is coaching. Many successful coaches have been quoted as saying that they enjoy practices more than games because practice is where they can teach. That's so true. We don't do much teaching during games. Yes, we might remind the kids of a few key pointers before the game and in between periods, but we get our teaching in during practice. Sure, the kids learn by experience from their games, but they pick up the fundamentals and some basic offensive and defensive concepts during practice. For this reason, practices are a lot of fun.

2. You have to be creative when you get only 55 minutes for practice each week and practice on only a half court. We break our practices down into three 17-minute segments, with two intervals for water breaks. We plan each minute (I write our drills down on 3 x 5 cards the day of practice, and we stick to the plan strictly).

Segment 1

Review of what we're trying to do (2 minutes)
Defensive slides (2 minutes -- these get the blood going)
Layups (2 minutes -- and sometimes we'll challenge the dribbler to make him put up a soft enough shot, because seldom does a player get an open layup)
"Fingers" dribbling drill (2 minutes; they kids face a coach, who holds up fingers, and the kids have to shout out the number of fingers the coach is holding up. This teaches the kids to look up when they dribble).
"Go at it" dribbling drill (2 minutes; we pair two kids up, and each dribbles the ball while trying to take away the other kid's ball. This causes the kids to protect the ball).
"Length of floor" dribbling drill (3 minutes) The kids dribble quickly with their heads up, switching hands.
2-on-1 drill (4 minutes). This teaches the kids when to go to the hoop, when to throw the right type of pass.

BREAK

Segment 2

Breakaway layup drill with trailer (4 minutes). We do this drill to get the kids under control and put up a soft shot when they have a breakaway. This drill has 3 lines. The dribbler, a defender, who releases a few steps behind the dribbler but who chases the dribbler, and another offensive player, who is supposed to follow the shot and put in a miss.

Catch and shoot drill (4 minutes). The goal here is for a kid to float through the lane with hands held high, catch a high pass and put it right up (and not let the ball touch the floor).

Pick and roll drills (while also teaching switching on defense) (6 minutes). Two of our players have picked this up more quickly, and they've set some really good picks to free up dribblers. Several are good at identifying picks and switching. We've taught this each week, and the kids are picking up the principles more and more.

Rebounding drill (3 minutes). The kids work on blocking out and then protecting the ball in a "triple threat" position once they secure it.

BREAK

Segment 3

A 3 on 2 drill (7 minutes). Our kids defend very well, and sometimes 3 on 3 scrimmages produce nothing more than steals or turnovers. We want to stress passing here, and we'll leave one man uncovered. The goal will be to find him. Screens are encouraged.

3 on 3 scrimmages (7 minutes). The kids love this activity, and we'll restrict defending to the foul-line and back so as to let the offense operate on the perimeter. Otherwise, nothing gets accomplished.

Foul shooting (2 minutes).

Wrap-up (1 minute).

As you can see, we cram a lot into our allotted time.

3. You should tailor your coaching to your team. We have a very athletic, fast team. We also have one player whose hustle and work ethic are so strong that the others follow suit. The result is a relentless defense (whose weakness is that the fastest players tend to gamble for steals) and fast-paced offense that sometimes is undisciplined but that can score points. We have two units of five, and the older, more experienced players can run by just about anybody. The younger, lesser experienced group shows more teamwork, and several of those players are outstanding defenders who steal the ball and block shots. If you don't have speed, slow it down, work on defending aggressively, and then stress more screening and passing. Put simply, figure out what works for the kids you have and go with it.

4. Don't favor players, including your own kids. My co-coach reported that he was at another sports' activity that got snowed out within the past few weeks. The parents then said that they would take their kids to their basketball games. Some of the parents lamented the coaching in our league, saying that their kids played on teams where the coaches ran plays for their own kids. Another parent there (the parent of one of our kids) said without prompting that we don't do that, that we try to spread the ball around, that everyone gets a chance and that the team responds to our style. And that's true. Our kids make great contributions, but basketball is a real meritocracy, and if you do favor your own kids and don't let the talent rise to the top (or, if your kids are among the best but you don't have them share the ball), your team won't perform and kids won't try hard in practice or think they can make a difference in games. Each kid plays half the game, so it isn't like they're vying for playing time. Some kids get the ball more than others because they rebound it or steal it and start a fast break, but within reason they try to find an open player and share the ball. Yes, we remind them constantly to play unselfishly, but you need kids to be at least temporarily selfish to want to put the ball into the basket. There's plenty of playing time for everyone, and there seemingly are enough touches for most players.

5. Always remember the goal: to give the kids a good learning experience, to help them improve, to let them have fun, and to have them want to play the following year. There's not much to add here. We can see that the kids are enjoying themselves, we talk to the parents about how their kids are faring, we send e-mail updates after games to talk about how the team did (we do not single out individuals in communications, because we are stressing the team's performance and the players' interactions with one another), and we see the kids improve. Occasionally we do e-mail a kid's parents separately to compliment their child's play, and occasionally we single out a kid's play during a game or practice to show the right way to do something. Most importantly, we have fun. We'd like to think that we create a positive atmosphere where the kids come willing to work hard and extend themselves -- they give us a great effort. It's fun to watch.

At any rate, we run different drills in different practices and emphasize different themes before different games. During the games we shout out reminders about keeping hands up, switching on defense if a player gets screened and taking their time when they don't have an opportunity in transition. Most of all, the coaches enjoy watching the progress the kids have made and watching them put into play the elements of the game that we stress in practice.

How about you? Do you have any coaching techniques to share? I'd be most interested.

9 Comments:

Anonymous phoenix life insurance said...

I coached a team when my son was in the 4th grade. It was comprised of mostly new kids who had never played together before in an organized league. The kids were great and I enjoyed it. HOWEVER, there were two parents who literally took all the fun away. They behaved as if that elementary aged league was a make it or break it for the NBA. It soured me.

11:46 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

I am retired now, but played hoops in high school and college. Your practice plan is remarkable. Is it you own, or one you adapted from another?

8:20 AM  
Blogger SportsProf said...

Doug:

Thanks for the compliment.

I read Dave Faucher's book on coaching youth basketball. Coach Faucher coached at Dartmouth, and I picked up on some of the drills he suggests. Our local high school coach runs clinics, and we adopted some of those drills too. Then, my co-coach and I improvise. The slides get the blood flowing, and the give and go, pick and roll, 2-on-1 and 3 on 2 drills are our own. In addition, I've read articles about Roy Williams, and they taught us to plan every minute.

We figure that by drilling the kids, the kids will remember some of what they learned in games. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't -- they're young. They are screening better, and they are looking pass when we remind them. We have a fast team, so at a certain point we let them run by the other team. Bottom line: it's fun!

Do you have any suggestions? We'd love to hear them.

Phoenix Life: I hear you. Some coaches are like that, in that they are very competitive, emphasize their own kids, etc. Right now, the parents are outstanding. Friends have warned me it gets worse.

7:39 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

I have never coached kids quite this young. I coached my kids when they were a bit older. You covered most of what I would like to see presented, and probably better than I ever did.

In segment three, try to occasionally offer some variety. Maybe cut some time out of 3/2 and 3/3 to teach the kids one or two situation specific plays, e.g. inbounding under own basket or how to double team an opponent (and the inverse, how to beat a double team). You know the kids and what they are ready to learn, so these are just suggestions.

But, and you said this very well, let them have fun.

6:38 AM  
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11:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It really is a joy to coach kids this age. Great advice and I appreciate you posting this.
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7:35 PM  
Blogger JStedman said...

I am coaching girls 3rd grade basketball for the first time. The team is all over the board in terms of skill level. I like your practice agenda it's very organized which I love. Would you be willing to share more? I could send you my email? Thank you!

9:54 AM  
Blogger SportsProf said...

Hi JStedman: You can e-mail me at sportsprof@comcast.net, and I'll be happy to share suggestions. The key things to remember are the following:

1. It's the rec league, so the key thing is to make it fun for the kids and appeal to the art of the possible.

2. That means that some kids will only be able to play defense, while some might be better coordinated, can advance the ball and score.

3. Repetition is critical. I had a big kid who couldn't do much, but we worked on a pass and shoot drill where we had him flash into the lane, catch and shoot it. The first few practices with this drill didn't go well, but weeks later he was score four baskets a game (in a league where teams might score only as many as 12 baskets a game).

Hope that helps.

8:17 AM  
Blogger SportsProf said...

Hi JStedman: You can e-mail me at sportsprof@comcast.net, and I'll be happy to share suggestions. The key things to remember are the following:

1. It's the rec league, so the key thing is to make it fun for the kids and appeal to the art of the possible.

2. That means that some kids will only be able to play defense, while some might be better coordinated, can advance the ball and score.

3. Repetition is critical. I had a big kid who couldn't do much, but we worked on a pass and shoot drill where we had him flash into the lane, catch and shoot it. The first few practices with this drill didn't go well, but weeks later he was score four baskets a game (in a league where teams might score only as many as 12 baskets a game).

Hope that helps.

8:18 AM  

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