Practice Plan for 5th and 6th Grade Basketball
First, a key decision that you'll have to make is whether to run scripted plays. Last year, we did, but we had a group with a very high basketball IQ, with every kid having played for years. Even then, it was a struggle, if only because we practice one hour a week and there is little time for reinforcement. This year, we started out with running plays, but figured out that of the ten kids we have on the roster, four just don't have the experience to run the plays well. So, after five games, we decided to scrap the plays, keep the kids in a 1-4 stack, and then freelance depending on what the point guard does (I'll explain the 1-4 stack a bit later on).
Second, you probably won't have an optimal space to practice at. We're fortunate in that we have a half court of a middle-school gym, and this half-court also has baskets on each side, so that we can divide the group of kids into smaller groups for individual instruction. Most of the time we do not do that (nor does the team that practices at the same time). We tend to work with the group as one, trying to develop skills.
Third, we try to give the kids a few guiding principles to go on. Some, of course, will pick up the principles faster than others. Some have played more, some are better learners, some watch the game in addition to playing it and figure out what to do. But others show up because their parents make them, because it's something to do. Yet others don't want to show that they don't know, so they'll nod, not ask questions, and then make the wrong type of mistakes -- traveling, double-dribbling, three- and five-second violations. And, depending on their attention spans, they might make repeated mistake of this type during the season. All this comes with the rec league.
What are the basic principles? Here goes:
- Defend hard. No matter how skilled or unskilled a kid is with the ball, each kid has the ability to stay with the man he is assigned, guard him tightly, put a hand in his face, deflect the ball way. At this level, teams will have a chance in each game if they defend vigorously (teaching "switching" or "help" defense is something you'll need to do at some point, too).
- Play under control. Or, to quote John Wooden, "be quick, but don't hurry." Translated, play under control, don't force things, and take what's given to you. Translated further, don't try to throw a chest pass through the lane, pick up your dribble in the corner (where the baseline and sideline act as additional defenders) and don't try to dribble between two defenders.
- Use space well. Meaning, don't run right next to a fellow offensive player, unless a) to set a screen under the right circumstances (but not when the teammate has stopped dribbling!) or b) to take a handoff from a teammate who has stopped dribbling.
- Finish a play well. The teams who insist upon drilling on plays end up missing a lot of shots because the kids don't practice shooting. Teach the kids not to shoot when under the basket (as the basket poses an additional defender) and to take a good angle to the basket to enable them to use the backboard (you'd be surprised as to how many kids go straight at the basket, toss up a prayer and have it bounce out or miss totally).
There are probably others, but remember, if you have one hour per week, you are limited in what you can convey and teach. With that principle in mind, try to think of Mr. Miyagi in the original Karate Kid movie and create drills with enough repetition that the kids might just deep down remember to draw on one of them in a game. So, with that in mind, we separate our practices into 3 twenty-minute sessions, as follows:
- Talk with the kids about what you're trying to accomplish. Use "we" and not "you," remind them that everyone can make a contribution beyond scoring points, emphasize a few themes, encourage questions. Even ask whether you're being clear, whether something is working. It's okay not to know everything and to show them that you might be wrong on occasion. Take a few minutes for this.
- Three-man weave (sideways on your half of the court). The kids absolutely love this drill. The basic principle, as I learned from my junior high school's gym teacher, is "behind the man I pass it to and head down court." You probably can find this drill on YouTube, but it involves movement, precision passing and finishing. It also helps the kids get loose and get into better shape. I usually run this for five minutes.
- Two-on-none passing drill. (Four minutes). Here you have two lines that start under the basket, and they make quick chest passes to each other, halting between the top of the key and half court, then they do the same back toward the basket, with one player throwing a bounce pass to the other at the and for a layup. This helps them move quickly, make good decisions, and finish.
- Two-on-one drill. (Four minutes). We have found that scrimmaging or playing two-on-two or three-on-three ends up having the kids in a major defensive scrum that doesn't yield many baskets. So, we have the kids form two layup-like lines near where the key starts, and they try to get by the defender with crisp movement and passing (we switch the defender every 5 plays or so). The goal is to work a lopsided advantage and finish well. This drill also deals with too much unselfishness, because sometimes you'll find that kids are so unselfish that the last pass is under the basket, goes out of bounds. We also have the defender lay back or charge upon our instruction, to make the kids think.
- Jab Step Drill. (5 minutes). You might need to search this on Google or YouTube, but this drill involves a ballhandler with a defender up close on him. The ballhandler then establishes a pivot foot and jabs his foot in one direction, then the other, trying to get the defender to bite and move in the opposite way of where he wants to put the ball on the floor and then try to make a basket. We've had great contests of will, some good finishes and a lot of fun. You never know who can smoke who and who can defend. It's a great drill to get the kids more confident in their abilities both to handle the ball and be an up-close defender.
- Shoot off the Blocks. (5 minutes) Both sides of the lane have a square about 5 feet from the basket. We line 5 kids on a diagonal (45-degree angle) from the blocks and have them shoot off the backboard from both sides, trying to get them so focus on finishing, to speed up the line and to make shots. The importance of this drill? Many teams cannot finish. We've taught the weakest players to shoot using this drill, and some of the best athletes figure out that using the backboard makes sense. Interestingly, our less athletic teams fare better at this drill than the most athletic teams. At one point in practice this year, our kids hit 18 of 20 shots. Good stuff. Each line has 1 basketball.
- "Princeton" shooting drill. (5 minutes). We saw Princeton use this drill before a game, and we adopted it. Basically, you have two horizontal lines, one starting on each side of the lane, both about 8-10 feet from the basket. The kids on left dash to the center of the lane, and the kids on the right hit them with a chest pass. The receiver then shoots it. We teach the "LEEF" principle (push with your Legs, Eyes just slightly beyond the front of the rim, Elbow beneath the ball and Follow through). Using this drill, the kids learn to catch and shoot and adopt a shooting philosophy (shoot it slightly beyond the front of the rim). We use two balls in this drill.
- Chase drill. (5 minutes). We have two "layup" lines, one on the right near the top of the key, one a few feet to the left of the left lane line between halfcourt and the top of the key. We give the ball to the player in the right line, and then yell "go." The kid in the left lane "chases" the player with the ball, in order to pressure him. The goal is for the kid in the right line to make the basket under pressure.
- Rebounding drill. (5 minutes). There are two lines. One is under the basket, the other at about 12 feet (3 feet before the foul line). The player in the lane under the basket throws a chest pass to the player in the other line, who then takes a shot. The passer "rushes" the shooter, but is instructed not to try to block the shot. The two players are supposed to jostle for the rebound, trying to box each other out.
- Switching drill (3 minutes). One coach plays the role of a player near the low post. The other coach plays the role of the defender of the point guard. There are two lines -- the point guards near the top of the key, and then the low-post defenders. We let the point guard blow by his defender, and then the low-post defender is supposed to dash before the point guard to cover him. Not a very complicated drill, but it's important to make sure the kids keep their heads on a swivel.
- Situational Matters (10 minutes). We'll typically work on an inbounds play and showing kids some basic concepts out of our 1-4 stack offense (two wings, two posts and a point guard). We try to work with the kids on passing and screening, passing and moving and screening and moving. This isn't easy; some kids get it, some don't, but it's the best we can do in a short time. Even if you don't run plays, you must show the kids what to do when they do not have the ball. After this, we wrap up practice.
There are more drills that you can run. You can have all sorts of dribbling drills (dribbling the length of the floor with the good hand and then back with the bad, have the kids shout out the number of fingers you put up (so that they keep their heads up when dribbling), play dribble "tag" -- dribbling the ball with one hand while trying to steal their "tag" partner's ball with the other) and passing drills (basics of overhead passes and bounce passes). We also on occasion run pick-and-roll, give-and-go and handoff drills.
We tend to review the prior week's game closely and then figure out what we need to work on. Each week, it's something different, whether it's setting a high screen, fundamentals of a defensive stance, figuring out what the opponent's "bad" hand is and forcing him in that direction, foul shooting, something. The key thing is to be organized, make it fun and plan every precious minute. The kids will appreciate the discipline, they will try to keep up with each other, and they will see themselves getting better.