I make it a point to never judge a youth coach by his game skills. I always judge a youth coach by his practices. Youth basketball shouldn’t be about wins and losses but about truly creating a love, understanding and appreciation of the great game of basketball. So when I watch a youth basketball practice I really look for 5 things to see if the coach knows what he is doing and if I can recommend that coach to parents.
1. Player Development
This should be the focus of every single practice. Time has to be devoted to ensuring that players are working on their individual games. This includes time that is set aside for shooting, passing, dribbling and individual defense. I firmly believe that youth basketball should ban zone defense because it teaches kids nothing but laziness. Every good youth coach plays man-to-man defense and teaches the kids correct principles, but that is a whole other topic. If I see a coach who has his team split into groups to work on passing or screening or ball handling then I see a coach who is a teacher and focused on the right things.
I’ve always taught that proper skills are learned through proper repetition. Coaches that teach skills and then allow the players to master the skills are the best coaches. Kids enjoy learning and overcoming things that they can’t normally do. For some kids it is a simple thing like a jump-stop that they struggle with. Once a skill is mastered then the coach can move on. Always give praise when a skill is mastered.
3. Simple Drills to Build Basic Skills
When I watch coaches I don’t want to see them spending an hour teaching a ball handling or passing drill that he learned from the Globetrotters. The simpler the drill the better the skill to be learned. For example, to teach speed dribbling let the players dribble as quickly as they can up the court. Allow the least amount of dribbles as possible. If kids learn and understand the basics and why they are doing the simple drills they’ll appreciate them and grow from there. It sounds basic, it is basic but that is what youth basketball is about.
Good youth coaches recognize that not every player is of the same development. For example, we all know the kids that grow before the other kids and are a foot taller than everyone else. Match those kids together. Match skill sets together but never let the best player dominate the worst player. That doesn’t get anyone better. Teach the best kids that they should want to go against the best kids and your whole team will grow and improve.
5. Positive Examples
Players know they are going to get coached. They know that a coach will get after them and push them to be their best. The best coaches know that each kid comes before the game. They take the time to talk to them and teach them. When doing a drill they realize what their responsibility is and they coach that way. Coaches can push kids and should push kids. It is important to work to get the most out of someone. When they give all they can then the best coaches step in and praise the efforts knowing that the love of basketball is something that must be nourished at that age.