I love the game of basketball. Most of my life has been centered around the game since I was a young kid. First, as a player, I was fortunate enough, through hard work and dedication, to have the opportunity to reach the division 1 level as a college player at Kent State. Then, as a coach, I have had the privilege of working with kids from the elementary level all the way up to division 1 college players. I have been involved with coaching high school, travel, and AAU teams. Through Head Start Basketball I have run camps, clinics, and tournaments. I have been training players of all ages for years. I love learning more about the game and sharing that knowledge with players. Lately I have been focused on expanding the impact that the game has on young people by using basketball to help build character and teach life lessons. Basketball for young players can be a great experience or it can be significantly less! I believe there are six things that should be part of every basketball experience for young players.
No matter how many players are participating in the program the coaches should have a practice plan that maximizes time with the ball. There should not be long lines of kids standing around waiting their turn. I’m amazed by the number of times I see this happen, even with experienced coaches. Players should be moving and doing. Drills should be selected with skill development, activity, and fun in mind. No one learns from standing around for 15 minutes listening to a coach talk. Players should leave the practice, camp, or training session better than when they walked in and they should have had fun while doing it.
Coaches should be positive role models for players, parents, and other coaches. That means building rapport with the players. Being enthusiastic. Making positive comments. Not arguing with officials. Providing feedback on performance that is intended to help players improve.
There should be a focus on teaching kids how to play, rather than teaching them plays.
Coaches should use the game of basketball to teach more than the game. Character, leadership, teamwork, resilience and many other life lessons can easily be incorporated into any basketball program.
Some people think sportsmanship and competitiveness are mutually exclusive. They believe that a player can’t be truly competitive and yet a good sport at the same time. I disagree. I teach my players to compete as hard as possible inside the lines. We respect our teammates, our opponents, and the officials before, during, and after the game. Hopefully that effort results in a victory, but if not we are proud of the fact that we played the game the right way.
If the game isn’t fun why would any kid want to play? I understand better than most people that as you climb the ladder of competitive basketball it gets more serious. Ultimately, there is work to be done if a player wants to excel at the game. However, I do not believe that fun and hard work can’t occur simultaneously. As coaches it is our job to challenge players with new methods for learning the skills of the game. That can be done through game-like small sided games, competitive drills that keep score, and well-designed practices that maximize opportunities to play and limit the amount of time spent standing around.
When parents are respectful to both teams, to the coaches, to the officials, and most of all their own child, everybody wins. This type of behavior creates a positive atmosphere that is conducive for player development. If you have attended a game where parents are screaming at coaches, or players, or officials, or each other you know how uncomfortable that situation can be. If you are a parent, help set the tone for other parents by being respectful of everyone’s role at the game.
Remember that you are a parent, not the coach, so please do not coach your young player from the stands. It’s confusing and distracting for players and IT DOESN’T HELP THEM PLAY BETTER!
When these six components are present in your young player’s experience I know they’ll want to come back to the game of basketball over and over again! To me, that’s what it’s all about.
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