Here are a few simple ways to help your young player or youth team improve their basketball skills as they train.
When your young player is practicing it is much better to split drills into smaller sets with quick breaks in between. For example, if you want to shoot 50 one dribble jump shots going to the right, it is much more effective to shoot 5 sets of 10 rather than 1 set of 50. In between sets shoot 2 free throws while you are recovering. Young players should work in short intervals of time and then change the skill they are working on. The younger the player, the shorter the attention span. If they stay too long with one activity they will lose focus and may become fatigued. This can lead to mental errors, poor muscle memory, and potential injury. By varying the training routine your young player will stay fresh and focused throughout their entire training session. This goes for those parents that are coaches too. Try to keep each drill or segment of practice short. Go hard, get a quick rest to recover and then go hard again. Try to limit each practice segment to no more than 10 minutes. Again, the younger the players, the shorter the segments. Marathon practice sessions are rarely the answer. Train hard in shorter bursts!
When young players are first learning a new skill it is important to make sure that mistakes are encouraged. This may seem counterintuitive, but there is a lot of research that shows pushing to the edge of our comfort zone is where real learning occurs. There are going to be numerous unsuccessful repetitions as a young player makes adjustments and struggles to master the new skill. If the focus is on learning, that will reduce the players fear of failure and lower their stress level. This is the type of environment where the most learning will occur. Remember, skill building is confidence building. If young players are competing in a drill before they have learned the new skill they will most likely revert to their previous habits in attempt to “win”.
Separate learning from competition, but both need to be a part of your young player’s training. Game-like situations force players to use a multitude of skills under real conditions. A tremendous amount of skill improvement can occur when young players are put in positions to have to make quick decisions and utilize the skills they are developing. Short squad games with less than 5 players are a great way to give players more chances with the ball. Play more 3 on3 or 1 on 1. Competitive drills involving multiple players can be effective in motivating young players to go hard so long as they are maintaining the fundamentals while doing so. Coaches, that is why it is important to continue to “coach” and make corrections while a drill is going on. Don’t be a silent observer, you must be giving players feedback to help them adjust their technique and improve.
Use different drills to work on the same skill. If you want to work on passing, don’t always have your young player(s) pass back and forth using different types of passes. You could have them passing to each other with a defender in the middle putting pressure on them. You could work on knocking over cones with different types of bounce passes. You could work on passing the ball into or out of the post. The possibilities are endless, but for just about any basketball skill there are multiple drills that can be used to work on the same skill. Coaches, make sure you don’t get stuck in a rut at practice. Vary the drills to keep your players on their toes and help them apply their skills to new situations.
A key component to maximizing any training session is to incorporate multiple skills into every drill that your young player practices. Work on layups by adding a crossover dribble prior to the layup. Add a square up or v-cut prior to driving to the basket for a layup. Make a cut to the basket after a pass prior to shooting a layup. Again, just by adding another component to every drill your young player(s) practices their rate of improvement will accelerate. Coaches, this is a very simple principle that will help your team improve quickly. Maximize your practice time by adding a secondary skill to every drill you use with your team.