Coaching Youth Basketball in the 21st Century

John Kessell of USA Volleyball wrote a compelling article about coaches and their self-improvement titled “We Coach the Way We Were Coached.

Well intentioned and even trained coaches enter gyms all over America, and train their athletes the way they were trained.  That the science of sport – of biomechanics and motor learning and other disciplines – have researched and found better, more efficient and more successful ways of training, simply seems not to matter, or this information has not reached down to these levels.

In one instance, I sent a fellow coach several articles showing that static stretching before practice does not prevent injuries, nor does it warm up an athlete for dynamic performance. The coach, however, insisted that despite the research, his players needed to stretch before practice. Why? Coaches constantly complain about the lack of on-court practice time, yet spend 10-15 minutes stretching despite its irrelevance to injury prevention and performance enhancement.

Has nobody seen the extensive Center for Disease Control study showing that in over 300 stretching programs viewed, none reduced injuries?  Was it that long ago that these players would sit at a desk for hours, practically immobile, and then hear the recess bell ring, and fly out to 15 minutes of all out activity, and come back in with maybe a scraped knee? None of them ran and stretched in advance of their chosen recess activity, they just went straight to playing.

Beyond stretching, many teams use drills that have little relevance to the game or in some cases develop bad habits.

Why spend 10-15 minutes doing stationary ball handling drills? Why spend 10 minutes doing a three-man weave (with players traveling all over the place), but then run a fast break where players do not pass and run behind the pass receiver? Or, teams run a two-man fast break where the rebounder outlets and fills the wing, but in 5v5 action, the rebounder trails on the opposite side of the court as the ball handler.

With limited practice time, these drills should reinforce your system of play, rather than contradict it.

Many coaches love to condition at practice. In some cases, it appears like the only thing that they feel confident doing.

Anson Dorrance, who has won almost 20 NCAA Division One soccer titles, writes in his book Training Soccer Champions – “Conditioning is homework.”  I see coaches creating conditioning stations vs. skill development stations all over the US. Athletes with only 100 hours of practice total until season’s end, yet there they are,  learning to hop hop hop…doing situps, jumping rope, etc. What do these kids need to get better at most of all? Playing volleyball…yet we continue to run and condition them. WHY?

Sure, conditioning is a part of basketball. But, if you run an active practice without wasting time, conditioning comes through the skill development. Even at the high school and college level, I play a lot of 2v2 and 3v3 fullcourt which works on conditioning better than running line drills or, even worse, hitting the track. I have no idea why high school and college programs use the mile or 2-mile test as their fitness test, and youth teams certainly do not need to waste their time with this type of conditioning.

Not to mention the coaches who make players run when they violate some rule of the coach. What are they learning by running? That getting in shape is not good is one thing that comes to mind…Teachers know that mistakes are simply opportunities to teach. Coaches it seems think that mistakes are opportunities to make kids run, not teach.

Nobody gets better without making mistakes. When coaches demand perfect practice, players lack the opportunity to challenge themselves outside their comfort zone because they cannot risk a mistake.

Some coaches played for great coaches in their careers, and they should use what they learned. However, not everything that your coach did was sacrosanct. Every year, we continue to learn more about coaching, learning, performance training and other subjects pertaining to team and individual player development.

Rather than coaching as you were coached, the Youth Basketball Coaching Association was founded to (1) make you think about the way that you coach and (2) provide resources, courses and clinics for coaches looking for the latest information pertaining to coaching youth basketball.

4 thoughts on “Coaching Youth Basketball in the 21st Century

  • Do you not subscribe to the concept of dynamic stretching? I thought getting the core temperature up and doing movement stretching exercises for a few minutes to start practice was a good thing. Don’t most Division 1 programs do this? Is this wrong?

  • I would not compare what I do with 8-10 year-olds with what I would do with college players. There are few similarities. College teams have almost unlimited practice time – few coaches actually keep their weekly allowances under the 20 hours mandated by the NCAA. Most youth coaches have 1-4 hours per week. College athletes are elite athletes; 8 year-olds are not.

    I am not against dynamic warm-ups. However, I find that I do them less and less, and typically to teach basic athletic skills, not necessarily as a warm-up or because I believe that the players need stretching. With girls, I primarily do the ACL-prevention exercises based on a couple research studies.

    I think there are other ways to raise the core temperature.

    But, I also believe that if your pre-practice warm-up is a dynamic warm-up, then you should use the same warm-up as your pre-game warm-up. Games are usually of a higher intensity than practice, yet many teams that use dynamic warm-ups in practice use only lay-up drills to warm-up before a game. If the dynamic warm-up is not imperative before the higher intensity activity, why is it mandatory for a lower intensity activity?

    Again, I use a short dynamic warm-up usually incorporating ankle hops, squats, 1/2 speed and 3/4 speed sprints, back pedal, carioca, single-leg hops and lunges. But, I use the warm-up for ACL prevention and to create a break between the daily activities and basketball practice.

    As for college coaches, most rely on habit. Some stretch; some do dynamic warm-ups. One of the top volleyball coaches in the country uses a 5-minute warm-up with jogging, carioca, lunges, side lunges and not much else.

    When I played in junior high school, we did 4 1/4 speed runs/back-pedal, 4 1/2-speed runs/back-pedal, 4 3/4-speed runs/back-pedal and 4 full speed runs/back-pedal and then moved to lay-up drills where we had to make 20 in a row as a team. Nobody in four years had a pulled muscle or significant injury beyond one player who sprained his ankle repeatedly.

  • I’m a high school coach, and we used the dynamic warmup for both practice and games. We received some raised eyebrows from people, but I just told the kids to take pride in the things we believe in. We didn’t have many injuries, and it did help with flexibility. I also have heard from many coaches that if you added up all the time you stretch during the season, you could have used that time to master something more important.

  • I use a dynamic warmup for both practice and game situations. We do 2 knee high runs to 1/2 court each followed by a backpedal run, then 2 heels high runs, again followed by backpedal runs, the 2 carioca runs to 1/2 court and back. Then we only spend 8 minutes stretching out out achilles heels-calves-quads-hamstrings-hips-core-chest-shoulders-triceps-biceps-forearms. Tehe we are on the court doing a passig and moving drill before we shoot layups. I believe i getting a preliminary sweat going before we actually start the real practice/game and focusing on what we need to get done before our time is over.

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