This afternoon, I conducted a basketball clinic for children who had never played basketball. I knew that it would be a challenge when the boys and girls ran around throwing and kicking balls into the handball/futsal goals prior to the start. The children wore F.C. Barcelona jerseys and handball shoes. This was different than doing previous clinics with beginners in India where the children were happy for any activity. These were children with choices, and they had made their choice not to play basketball.
As I watched them play around prior to our start, I realized two things: (1) it is much easier for a small 10-year-old to kick or throw a ball into a large goal than it is to make a basket in a small circle 10 feet in the air; and (2) the relative absence of goals in soccer makes playing around with the ball without shooting seem purposeful and gamelike.
In a game, of course, there is a goalie which makes scoring in handball and soccer/futsal more difficult, and basketball is comparatively easy when looking at the number of shots made per minute in the NBA versus the EPL as an example. However, when children are playing around – when they are engaging in unstructured activities before choosing a sport to play on a team – they can throw a ball through a big goal and feel a sense of accomplishment and ability. Shooting at a 10-foot hoop is a far more daunting task.
As for soccer, children are happy to dribble around or juggle a soccer ball because there are few few shots and fewer goals in a game. In basketball, however, it is putting the ball into the basket that is the attraction, and for a young beginner, this is a complex task, often made more difficult by a coach or teacher giving numerous instructions before one can even attempt a shot.
Think of the numerous things a beginner basketball player must learn: rules, dribbling, passing, shooting, defense, etc. How many players quit before they even have a chance to learn these skills because the game seems too complicated or the learning takes too much time and/or is too boring?
Is there a way to simplify the game to make the entry into the game easier for young children? Can we make the skills easier to learn? As I asked before, how necessary are rules with beginners?
Would basketball be more fun for younger players if the rims were bigger? Do playgrounds have adjustable rims so children can play on rims that are more age-appropriate? In a sport like soccer or handball, children use the same sized goals as adults. However, the goalie changes in size, meaning that the ratio of size between the goalie and the goal gets smaller as players get older and better – therefore, the game grows increasingly more challenging as players improve. In basketball, a sport without a goalie, the opposite is true: the challenge is really never greater than when a child plays basketball. The ratio between the size of the shooter and the height of the basket gets progressively smaller as players get older, so the challenge actually gets smaller as players improve (this, of course, assumes that children are using a 10-foot hoop; I never went to a school with a lower hoop, but I know some leagues and schools do start children on smaller baskets; however, I also know when I coached u9 AAU, players played on 10-foot baskets).
Is there a way that we can change the game without changing the intrinsic dynamics of basketball to make it more accessible for children? If so, why aren’t we doing it?
By Brian McCormick, M.S.S., PES
Coach/Clinician, Brian McCormick Basketball
Author, Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League