Basketball on the Edge – 10 Frequent Mistakes Made by Youth Basketball Players (and How to Correct Them)

As the parent of a young basketball player you are always looking for ways to help your child improve their skills. As a young player learns the game they will frequently make many mistakes that may frustrate you as a parent. Remember, mistakes are a critical part of learning any new skill. There is more and more evidence showing that struggling with skills just outside of your comfort zone is the best way to improve. If your young player isn’t struggling to learn new skills, chances are they aren’t getting better.

Basketball is considered a late specialization sport. That means that developing overall athleticism and a love for the game at a young age is important. Mistakes are a part of that process. We don’t want your young player to be the best 9 year old basketball player, we want them to have fun with the game so they continue playing until age 13 or 14 when they should begin to focus on maximizing their basketball training if they so choose.

Here are 10 mistakes that young basketball players frequently make and one simple tip on how you or their coach can help turn these early weaknesses into strengths.

1. Not being able to pivot without traveling.

Often, young players move both feet while pivoting or fail to pivot at all. Footwork, agility, and coordination are basic athletic skills that can be practiced. A simple way to practice pivots is to dribble down the court and jump stop. After the jump stop, use two pivots to rotate 360 degrees back to where you started. Then, continue dribbling down the court.

2. Defending with the arms instead of the feet.

The inexperienced defensive player will attempt to “hug” the offensive player and control their opponent’s movements with their arms. The key here is to remind young players that defense is played with the feet rather than the arms/hands. Practice a zig-zag drill where the defender guards the offensive player as they dribble down the court in a zig-zag pattern. The defender should keep their hands behind their back.

3. Shooting Off-balance.

Most young basketball players struggle to shoot the ball with good balance. They are often moving very quickly on the court before they shoot. This can lead to shots being taken with poor balance making it much more difficult to make shots. Teaching young players to shoot using a 1-2 step rather than a jump stop will improve their balance and help them make more shots.

4. Attempting difficult or impossible passes.

Turnovers are the name of the game in youth basketball. Passes thrown underhand, across the court, or to a guarded teammate are common. A great way to improve passing skills is to play more short squad basketball (2 on 2 or 3 on 3). These games produce more chances for a young player to have the ball in their hands and pass to teammates. They will gradually learn when and where to pass the ball the more game-like experience they get.

5. Not catching passes securely with two hands before trying to dribble, shoot, or pass.

Passing and catching are basic athletic skills that young players often lack, especially at game speed. Young players should always be reminded to catch the ball and get in triple threat position with their knees bent and head up. Playing catch and getting in triple threat after each catch can help to build good habits.

6. Not using a screen by going shoulder to shoulder.

Whether it is a ball screen or off the ball screen, not going shoulder to shoulder with the screener makes it easier for defenders to stop the offense. Screening and using screens while rubbing shoulders helps to reinforce this important concept.

7. Failing to help a teammate when they get screened.

Young basketball players are so focused on guarding their man that they often fail to recognize their man is about to set a screen and their teammate needs help. Showing players different screening situations and reminding them that if their man screens they need to help can increase a player’s ability to react correctly.

8. Not holding the follow through when shooting the ball.

I always tell young players to imagine their parent is trying to take a picture of them shooting the ball, but they are a little slow with the camera. As a result, the player needs to “pose for a picture” and hold their follow through in the air until the ball goes in the basket. Both the shooting hand and guide hand should remain high in the air after shooting.

9. Dribbling the ball too high.

A high dribble leads to the ball being stolen or losing control of the dribble. Focus on basic dribbling technique while emphasizing the need to keep the dribble below the waist. A stationary figure 8 dribbling drill or executing a crossover dribble while on the move are simple drills that can improve your young player’s dribbling.

10. Failure to stay between their man and the basket.

Young players have a tendency to follow the ball and so as a result they frequently get out of position. An easy concept to teach is the idea that there is a line between the offensive player and the basket and the defender should always stay on that line whether they are defending the ball or on help side.

Have patience with your young player. Help them build the skills they need to be successful at higher levels of basketball. Understand that learning new skills requires young players to struggle and make mistakes. If your young player loves the game they will begin to master the skills needed to avoid these mistakes.

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