Planning a Youth Basketball Practice

A friend emailed and asked for advice, as he volunteered to coach his son’s youth basketball team. As in many leagues, most of the players are beginners, and teams only practice for an hour or two each week before playing their weekend games (and people wonder why youth leagues are overly-competitive with a 1:1 practice:game ratio; leagues are teaching parents and players that practice is unimportant, and games matter most, primarily because practices are inefficient from a profit standpoint). Here is a sample practice plan.

First, in an 8-week league with 8-16 hours of practice time, you cannot teach everything, so don’t try. Concentrate on a few things.

Second, the game is the best teacher. With such little time to practice, perfect is not the goal. Use practice time to practice game skills. If a player wants to be good, he or she must practice the specifics on his or her own. A youth league is not designed to develop great players. That’s why the basketball-trainer industry is flourishing.

Finally, players want to have fun. Fun is not a bad thing. However, the fun should have a purpose.

Start of practice: Dynamic Warm-up

I use a dynamic warm-up so I can teach basic movement skills. Many children cannot move well anymore. If you cannot move well, you are not going to play well.

I want to make sure that players can squat:

I also want to teach deceleration:


Next, I want to teach an absorptive landing:

Additionally, I use other exercises like skips, hops, sprints and more.

I end the warm-up with a fun exercise like the Mirror Drill:

After the Mirror Drill, I usually play a ball-handling tag-game to continue developing movement skills while incorporating the basketball. A couple examples (from beginner to more advanced):


Individual Tag


Speed Tag

For the most part, unless the players are very young, that’s going to be the extent of my ball-handling practice.

Next, I might use a game like 2v2 Rugby to continue with ball handling while adding game elements like defense, passing and lay-ups.

Depending on what I see during 2v2 Rugby, I might move to a lay-up drill or a passing drill. An example of a lay-up drill:

An example of some passing drills (simple to complex):


I emphasize transition defense, so a basic progression that I might use in practice for transition play:



Some instruction on scoring in a 2v1:

5v5 Transition

Depending on the age of the players, I would also add some shooting drills and would scrimmage 3v3 half-court and 5v5 half-court and full-court.

One shooting drill:

I use a decision-training style of coaching, meaning that I ask a lot of questions to help the players learn:

I use the drills and games to dictate the teaching. I start with the game and move to instruction based on the performance in the small-sided or modified game, rather than starting with a lot of instruction before playing.

Obviously this is not the entirety of drills for a season. However, I honestly do not do very much breakdown work in terms of shell drills, press breaks, structured offenses, etc. I use game forms and teach through the game forms and if and when something needs to be addressed or simplified, I simplify through a drill and then return to the game.

For additional drills, check out Cross Over: The new model of youth basketball development and/or Developing Basketball Intelligence. For shooting drills, check out 180 Shooter.

By Brian McCormick
Author, Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League

7 thoughts on “Planning a Youth Basketball Practice

  • Wanted your readers to see another link to one your mirror drill your mirror – where you “toss the ball toward the other end for the players to chase;whoever gets the ball is on offense going to the other basket,” other player plays defense. Think this is a great way to end the mirror drill. Ideally done with two coaches. Use it in soccer too – high energy drill that accomplishes a lot when you add the ball toss element.

  • Brian’s already seen the following comment on twitter. His response is a good one – Brian’s response to my message: “I prefer letting them explore first before dictating what is right & wrong. Mistakes provide opportunities for learning.” My response – “Lots of ways to skin a cat.” Key thing I like about what Brian does is that he gets kids involved and participating in the games he designs. Whatever you do, try to maximize touches and not have a lot of kids standing in lines watching others. Limit line drills. The tag ball handling and Long Island passing drills are examples of this line of thinking. So many variations you can do off the LI passing drills; be creative.

    Good ideas as usual, but still think you have to emphasize “the specifics” in the first few practices. What’s the point of doing it if they’re doing it wrong. I’ve coached in leagues with limited practice time & was able to pull it off. Have to give them the tools so they can practice on their own. Not every kid (most – why they’re playing rec) that is playing rec ball is going to go to a personal trainer. Looked back at a practice I conducted when my son was 6 or 7 years old. 6 key areas I focused on early:
    (1) Dynamic Warm-up – spend more time than most because kids don’t know how to move.
    (2) Maravich Drills – Something they can do on their own once taught – can go to Internet if they want to get better – our job is to expose them to info.
    (3) Dribbling Fundamentals – Technique than move to fun drills that BM shows like dribble tag.
    (4) Passing fundamentals – Thumbs down, palms out, back spin on the ball, receiver meets the ball – emphasis on how to catch the ball (Stationary as well as on the move)
    (5) Shooting mechanics
    (6) Lay-ups – Footwork & mechanics of 1 step take-off – some like to teach two-footed takeoff first. I don’t.

    If league only does 1 official practice a week, coaches should be able to organize practices off-site to get this work in (talk to the director.) One league allowed coaches to do this until we played our first game. I set up practices at an outdoor park. Easy to do in California.

    My theme is to design a program that will teach a kid how to fish once they’ve left me. Coaches of youth should strive to impact a kid’s fundamental skill level & teach them the proper technical skills then quickly progress to the tactical,

  • Obviously the skill level of the players will dictate how often you have to break down a drill, what drill/game you can use and how much instruction is required. I try to start with a game like tag or LI Passing or 2v2 Rugby and allow the game to determine my instruction, as opposed to doing a lot of instructing and breakdown work before the game. If I start a ball handling tag game, and the players struggle, I move to some stationary or individual ball-handling drills. I had to do this in India where children had never dribbled a ball before.

    My caution is that coaches tend to practice a technical skill until it is perfect before putting it into a game. I want to play a game as soon as the players have a rudimentary ability with the skill. If the player can control the ball while bouncing it, I want to move to sharks & minnows or red-light/green-light even though they are not perfect because I think more learning occurs in these games than by doing more straight-line drills.

    Shooting is the one area where I differ, as for the most part, you want children shooting only open shots, so shooting is a far more technical skill than passing or dribbling which are primarily tactical skills in their game execution, in my eyes.

  • If you were coaching a youth basketball team (say between 4th and 7th grade), what kind of offense would you use during games? What offense would you teach them, if any set offense?

  • I would start with Blitz Basketball and incorporate SABA principles. Emphasize SABA more and more throughout the season, and add more on-ball screens.

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