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Coaching Youth Basketball

by Ed Riley

Chapters 1-20

Coaching is not an exact science. Coaching at the higher grade levels is more opinion and preferences, than it is fact. There are certain things that every varsity player should know, like lay-ups, etc. For the most part, coaching at this level is a matter of team x's and o's.

Coaching youth basketball is different. It is more of an exact science, and that science's name is BASICS. Coaching at this level is a matter of how do you teach the basics, and choosing your priorities as a coach.

I am going to take you from the first moment you signed up as a coach and help you to choose your priorities and help you to teach the basics. I am not a basketball guru who has never lost a game. I don't have a long list of credentials. My resume doesn't even exist. But I do understand that the simpler something is, the easier it is to understand. I am going to try to teach you the things that I wish someone had taught me when I started coaching, and I'm going to make it very easy to read and understand.

CHAPTER 1 How did I get myself into this mess?

Let's see if this story sounds familiar. My daughter was in 4th grade and all of my daughter's friends were signing up to play basketball in the local church league, so of course she had to sign up. At the bottom of the registration form it asks the parent, "Would you like to coach?" I put "No" as my answer.

As I was turning it in, I thought about it again and then wrote in at the bottom of the page, "If you can't find anyone else, call me." The rest is history. Of course, they called me, one day before the coaches meeting. Does this sound familiar, or what? Most coaches are volunteers because no one else would do it.

So now that YOU are committed to coaching, what do you do next? You can try to find things at your local library telling you what to do. What I found were books for advanced coaches in a language that I did not understand. I found diagrams that looked more like ancient hieroglyphics, than I care to mention. Needless to say, it was hard to find anything of use.

Next I tried the local bookstore, to no avail. Then I tried the information superhighway, the internet. The real problem here is trying to find it all in one place. Most sites are for more advanced coaches. You can spend hours just finding one idea.

So what do you do? You got yourself into this mess, now let me see if I can help you through it.

CHAPTER 2 Choosing your team (or name your poison)

A lot of teams are arbitrarily divided up at this age, so that you don't get a choice. Think of it as drawing names out of a hat, and that's who you get. If this is the case with you, skip this chapter and go on to the next one.

Option 1 NO TRYOUTS You and the other coaches take turns choosing kids. In this situation, ask your child and other parents who are the natural athletes who are trying out. Next ask who can not walk and chew gum at the same time. Your best choice is to , DUH, take the natural athletes. This doesn't guarantee you a thing, but it let's you hedge your bet just a little bit.

Option 2 YOU HOLD TRYOUTS Being a beginning coach, this gets scary. This is your first chance to show the kids and their parents just how ignorant you really are. This is when most people go running to the library, the bookstore, or the internet. Fear not, I promise not to let you seem too ignorant.


  1. At least 3 whistles that work, you'll lose 2 of them before you ever get there
  2. Name badges that will stick to the players chest and back. Get a lot of them because the sweat will make them peel off.
  3. At least 20 balls. (Buy, beg, or borrow them)
  4. Enough mess bags for the balls. Most coaches forget these and it doesn't lend to your credibility to see you trying to juggle 6 loose balls when you walk in the door.
  5. Lots of patience (Valium's not legal)
  6. A clipboard with a legal pad on it. Even if you never use it, it makes you look official.
  7. A better wardrobe. If you walk in with 2 different plaids on, the kids will moan about being coached by a geek. Blue cotton sweats with a white golf shirt works just fine, and they're cheap.


Now that you have your supplies, you have to make some decisions before your tryouts. You have to make the most important basketball decision of your coaching career, what are your priorities? What are you going to try to achieve with this team? Is your priority going to be just to let the kids have a good time? Is winning going to be your #1 priority? Or is your priority going to be to teach the kids enough over the years so that they have a real chance at making their high school team? These priorities can not hold equal value to you. You have to choose one over the other.


If this is your only goal, quit reading this now. This book is not for you. Don't misunderstand me! I believe that you can make winning or learning fun, and I will help show you how. But if that is your only goal, find someone else to coach the team because these kids may want to go a different direction later on in life than to just have fun.


This totally affects how you will substitute. If you substitute to win only, half of your team may never see more than a minute or two of playing time in a game. If you coach a varsity team, your job depends on the wins and this has to be your priority. But this book was not written for varsity coaches. This book was written for the beginning coach.

In my experience, most youth coaches start out trying to teach and have fun, but end up coaching to win. For those of you who go for the almighty win, someone once posted on Chalk Talk. a youth sports website, this reminder to coaches: 20 YEARS FROM NOW YOUR KIDS WON'T REMEMBER WHO WON A PARTICULAR GAME, BUT THEY WILL REMEMBER SITTING ON THE BENCH, AND IF THEY EVER GOT TO PLAY. The words may not be exact, but it's content is true.


This is what I believe should be your priority as a youth coach. My favorite line I use is Coach - Teacher. I have recently added to it, Coach - Role Model. If my team loses, it's because I didn't teach them enough. If my team loses because of bickering between themselves, then I wasn't a good enough teacher and role model. If they see me screaming at them, and the refs, or whomever, then I haven't been a good enough role model. Your kids learn something new every day, what will you teach them today?

There is a really great aspect to teaching as your #1 priority, IF YOU TEACH THEM ENOUGH, THEY WILL WIN. (Reminds you of Field of Dreams, doesn't it?)

I believe that when you coach elementary through 8th grade, your job is to be a teacher. Time for you to choose, what will be your priority?

CHAPTER 3 - TRYOUTS (or your first chance to show your ignorance)

Keep repeating this to yourself, SIMPLE IS GOOD! SIMPLE IS GOOD! So why is simple good? The simpler your tryouts are, the less foolish you will look. What's the old saying, "You never get a second chance to make a first impression?" Start off simply.

Now that you have brainwashed yourself, the next thing you need to learn is control. Either you are going to control your players, or they are going to control you. So how do you take control in a positive manner, without coming across as a screaming dictator? YOUR WHISTLE!!!!

THE WHISTLE - your best attention getter. The secret is not to overuse it. When you blow your whistle, make it mean something. Have you ever known a family that yells at each other a lot? After a while they begin to ignore the volume and yelling doesn't mean anything any more. This principle applies to your whistle. If you blow it too much, it loses it's effectiveness.

Now, how do you gain control from the first moment you step onto the court? Blow your whistle and tell your kids to line up on the baseline. (That's the out of bounds line underneath the basket.) Explain to them that when you blow your whistle and yell, "baseline," they have 5 seconds to get there. If a player doesn't make it in time as you count out loud to 5, then the whole team runs two laps, full speed. Why should everyone run when only one player was late? It promotes teamwork, peer pressure, and puts you in the cat's bird seat. You are in control. You haven't yelled or screamed, but you are in control.


Ok boss, I took control, the kids are in a line, now what? Now you have the kids do a couple of simple drills for you. I will give you these drills in a bit. The same drills will work for 3rd - 8th grade. I would concentrate on ball handling drills. If you take kids who can dribble and pass, you are light years ahead of the game.

Here's an example: Let's say I have a kid who can hit seven out of ten free throws, but can't dribble or pass. Next I have a kid who can handle the ball very well, but can't shoot. In this situation, most people will say to take the shooter. I say take the ball handler. But the team with the most points wins, right? My question is how do you get the ball down the court into the shooter's hands. I take ball handlers because I can teach them how to shoot. In fact, the odds are I am going to have to teach the shooter the proper way to shoot anyway. So, if I have to teach everyone to shoot, I'll take the ball handler every time.

Another example: I have a girl on my team even as I write this. She out hustles, outruns, out rebounds, and can out shoot every one on the team. So what's the problem? Every time she touches the ball, she walks or travels with the ball. In one of our games she was able to steal the ball 5 times in about a two minute stretch. All five times she got called for traveling. The moral of the story, pick the ball handlers.


You number your tags one through whatever. As you pass out the tags, have the players write their name and number on a master log. Also have them put their phone # on this log. They must fill out two tags, one to put on their chest, and one on their back.


1. COUNT THE FINGERS Most coaches will say this is too basic, but it lets you see who dribbles with their head up. You stand on one baseline and the kids stand on the opposite baseline. You hold up your hands and they must yell out the number of fingers you are holding up, while they dribble toward you. If a bunch of kids are doing this, get your wife or husband or a friend to help you see who is actually yelling the right number while dribbling. Every 2 seconds or so, change the number of fingers you hold up. This will also let you know who needs glasses. List on your master log how you rate each player, 1-5 works well. Rate every drill this way.


There are several different types of suicides. This is a simple one.

  1. A. player runs from baseline to closest free throw line and back
  2. B. then player runs from baseline to half court and back
  3. c. then player runs from baseline to furthest free throw line and back
  4. d. then player runs from baseline to opposite baseline and back

Try running this yourself at full speed, and you'll understand why it's called a SUICIDE. Now the drill is to see who is fast, who is able to start and stop, and who has endurance. Have them all run a suicide, but they must slap the floor when they reach a free throw line, half court line, or a baseline. At the end, rate your players.


4. ONE BALL SUICIDE - A dribbling drill - Have them compete in groups, so you can pay more attention to each player. They do a suicide while dribbling a basketball. They still have to slap the floor at the given intervals. This will start to let you see who your ball handlers are.

5. 2 BALL DRIBBLING a fun drill - So far everything has been serious, so you lighten things up a bit. This is where you need your 20 balls. Put 10 kids on the baseline, each with 2 balls. They must do a suicide while dribbling 2 balls. You will see balls flying in every direction. If you warn everyone that this will happen, the kids won't feel so stupid and everyone will end up laughing.

I personally have had my team doing 2 ball dribbling in every one of our learning sessions, for over 4 years. It let's everyone learn to dribble with their left hand. By the way, I don't have practices, I have learning sessions. Even the name announces to the kids why they are there.


You divide the kids into teams of five and let them scrimmage. The only rule is they are not allowed to dribble the ball. In order to move the ball down the court, they have to pass the ball down the court. If a player dribbles, the other team gets the ball. What you are looking for is who can pass the ball, catch the ball, move to get open, who can play defense, and who has the ability to see who's open. Again keep rating players on how well they do.


Go to your master log and count up how many points each player has. If you want to be fair, take the players with the most points. The only exception to this is if you have an extremely tall kid WHO IS COORDINATED. Take this player, because you can't coach height.


Many coaches may disagree with my choice of drills because they are too simple and don't allow the players to show you what they can do. Ok, I'll bite off on that. Here's the BUT, but these coaches forget that you are a beginning youth coach. Remember what I tried to brainwash you with in the begiining, SIMPLE IS GOOD. SIMPLE KEEPS YOU FROM LOOKING LIKE AN IDIOT. For a beginning coach what else do you need to know. Can they handle a ball? Can they pass and catch a ball? No dribble scrimmage will let you see if they can play defense. Can they move without the ball? Can they see the floor and who's open? You can answer all of these questions just by using these simple drills. Why complicate life? SIMPLE IS GOOD!!!

CHAPTER 4 The Ultimate Solution or Tylenol for coaches

Imagine a migraine so severe that you out into the middle of traffic, ask your friend to beat you with a golf club, and then run over you with their car. If you think I am joking, wait a while. These migraines don't come because of a loss, or the refs, or the other team. Headache Godzilla comes from your own team. This is the kid who is more cancerous than a prostrate. Able to leap all training with a single word. Can cause the rest of your team to crumble faster than the Demolition Man. This is your very own player with the ATTITUDE FROM HELL! This kid will talk bad about you and every player on your team behind your back, and be the most polite, courteous individual to your face. I call them KWBA - kid with bad attitude.

To go along with this, comes the main attraction, THE PARENTS FROM HELL! You aren't playing my kid enough! Why did Johnny play more than my Jimmy? If I were coach this is what I would do ...! Why didn't you play a zone against that team? These parents are enough to make you want to puke on your shoes!!! You will lose your hair, die of ulcers, or be a candidate for Frank's Funny Farm, if you don't solve these problems up front, before the season even begins. I have seen some of the best coaches quit because of these folks.

So how do you avoid these problems? Repeat after me, SIMPLE IS GOOD! If you don't want these problems, then solve them before they become a problem. If you don't want to deal with KWBA's and their parents, then don't let them become this way.

I have all my players and their parents sign a contract that states what is expected of them. It also spells out what will happen if they don't live up to these expectations. There are no surprises. Everything is out in the open for everyone to see. Here is my contract.


1. SCHOOL COMES FIRST Your grades and true class work come before basketball. I am not talking about extra-curricular activities. I am only referring to circumstances that will affect your grades. Do your homework and studying when you should. If you don't wait till the last day to do your homework or studying, school will rarely interfere with basketball.

2. ALL LEARNING SESSIONS ARE REQUIRED. We know that circumstances may arise where you must miss a learning session, (vacations, illnesses, etc.) When this occurs the player is to :

A. Inform their coach in advance, when possible B. Bring a note signed by their parent stating why

When "A" and "B" are completed, the absence MAY be excused. The first unexcused TARDY will be taken care of in our learning sessions, and parents making excuses don't work. The second unexcused tardy will be treated as an unexcused absence. Being grounded by your parents will be treated as an unexcused absence. Just don't do anything to get grounded. You are responsible for your own actions. A. the 1st unexcused absence will result in the player being benched the next game B. the 2nd unexcused absence may result in the player being dismissed from the team

3. All players are to treat teammates and coaches WITH RESPECT AND COURTESY. Behavior that puts other players or coaches down, results in profanity, or demonstrates lack of self-control, WILL NOT BE TOLERATED.

Any instance of this behavior will result in being asked to leave the learning session or the game. Such a request will be treated as an unexcused absence.

4. We know that being a part of this demanding basketball experience will require sacrifices, adjustments, and extra-ordinary commitment on the part of the players, their families, and the coaches. However we are working to achieve an extra-ordinary team and individual success, which demands extra-ordinary efforts on all of our parts. As they said in the movie, The Blues Brothers, "We are on a mission from God!" Your goal and our goal is to learn enough to win the state championship in the years 2004 and 2005.

5. Players will be constantly evaluated on their demonstration of coachability, hustle, mental and physical toughness, LOYALTY to the team, unselfishness, and the desire to improve their skills. Our goal is to have a team that constantly demands more of themselves than is demanded by the coaching staff.

6. The members of this team are expected to work harder than any other basketball team in the state. This is not a goal, this is an expectation.

7. Our job as coaches is to teach you enough so that you can be the very best you can be. Your job is to learn.

I agree to abide by the expectations described on this sheet. signed by PLAYER________________

My child has shared with me the expectations described on this sheet, and I will give them all the possible help and support needed to meet them successfully. signed by Parents ______________

Now you have experienced Tylenol For Coaches. Change the goals to fit you, ok! But don't change the meat of it. The real problem is that it has to apply to everyone, even your own child, no one slides. If you do follow this, you will have eliminated over 90% of all future problems. Life can be simple!!


This will be the second shortest chapter in the book. You know what supplies you need. You know how to hold tryouts and what drills to use. You know how to pick your team. You know how to avoid future migraines and hair loss. I have only left out one thing:


The chicken's way out is to put a list on the door of who made it, and run away. These kids deserve better than this. They came to your tryouts with hopes as big as Alaska. They ran their hearts out for you. They gave you everything they've got to give. They deserve better than a list on a door. They deserve better than a phone call.

Pull every kid aside, with their parents, and tell them why they didn't make it. Tell them you are proud of what they did that night and tell them what you would like them to improve on so they can make the team next year. Remind them that even Michael Jordan didn't make the team once.

To put a list on the door is like finding a note on your door at work saying, "YOU'RE OUTTA HERE!" WITHOUT TELLING YOU WHY YOU WERE JUST FIRED. These kids and their parents will appreciate it more this way than any other way you could do it. After you are finished, go find your local bartender, you'll still need them.


I am going to take a brief moment here to describe my Magic Wand Theory. Life would be wonderful if we all possessed a magic wand that when we waved it, everything came out the way we wanted it to.

Coaches believe in this magic wand, but it comes in a different form. We believe that if we just had one or two different players, life would be great. I have seen coaches drop kids that have been with them for three years, for a kid they know nothing about. Why? They hope to better their team. Most of the time, they go backwards.

A coaches true magic wand is hard work, lots of teaching, and keeping your players in love with the game. A coaches magic wand is the coach being prepared for their learning sessions. A coaches magic wand is repetition, and making the learning fun.

An old saying for you, "IF IT IS TO BE, IT IS UP TO ME!" Coaches of the world, you are the magic wand, in how you teach and how you get your kids to respond. TEACH THEM ENOUGH, AND THEY WILL WIN!

CHAPTER 7 - Setting Up Your Learning Sessions, imes Assistant Coaches, and More

Most of you will find out you don't have a choice about when you have your LS's - learning sessions. The school or league you are in will tell you when and where they are. Whatever they give, take and don't whine. The most precious thing a coach can have is gym time. If you are like me, some of you won't even get any gym time. Like me, you will have to rent every minute of gym time you get.


Start calling every elementary school in the area and find out if they rent gym time. The going rate for gym time is $5-$50 an hour. If you have to pay, then give your player's parents a bill every month that they owe. You may not get all of them to help out, but most will.

If the elementary schools don't work, try the jr. highs. If that doesn't work, try the sr. highs. If that doesn't work try the yellow pages under sports clubs, gymnasiums, basketball, volleyball, and what ever else you can think of. Every time you talk to one of these folks ask them if they know of anyone who rents gyms out.

Now for those few of you who have the privilege of choosing their LS times, find out when the mixers are, when the dances are, and when the football games are. Don't compete with those nights if you can help it, you'll lose.


Now, let's assume you get your gym time. Let's talk about the length of your LS's. The minimum time should be an hour. The maximum time should be two hours. If you have your LS's timed, you can more out of an hour than most coaches get out of two hours. Just like a school teacher has their class planned out for the next day, so must you. If you are going to play it by ear, quit now. But then again, if you were going to play it by ear, you wouldn't be reading this, now would you?

How many LS's should you have per week? As many as you can get!


This is a matter of preference. I am not a huge fan of it myself, but here are the pros and cons.

Pros - Two heads are better than on. They may see something that you totally miss. They may have a great idea or insight that you don't have.

For the younger ages an asst. gives you someone to do the substituting. Here is a cold dose of reality, every player who is not in the game will ask you, "When can I go in coach?" Not only do they ask you, but the same kid will ask the same question every 30 seconds. I miss watching at least 1/3 of every game because of this. There have been times when I have prayed for an asst.

When it comes to the older age kids, an asst. not only helps with the subs, but they can keep stats. You'd be surprised at how often the stats differ from your perception of the game. You may be ready to pull Suzy out of the game, when your asst. tells you that she just got the last five rebounds. Again, stats are for the older kids, for now.

Cons - No one else to confuse the kids. Have you ever told your child something, only to have them respond, "But mommy (or daddy) said I could." It's hard to find an asst. who has the same philosophies as you do.

What happens when the two of you can't agree on how to do something? You tell them one thing, the asst. tells them another. Schizophrenia is not a good thing in a team sport. Or what if you are not a screaming coach, and your asst. is? Remember, SIMPLE IS GOOD. If you want to have a asst. coach, then their job should be to field the "I wanna go in" kids.

Only after you have made all of these choices are you ready for the next chapter.

CHAPTER 8 - YOUR FIRST LS or are you sure valium's not legal?


1. A whistle that works

2. 5-7 pennies. These are mesh slip over tops that are all one color. You don't need these for boys, because they can go shirts and skins when they scrimmage. You have to have them for girls, cause a , dah, shirts and skins won't work.

3. 2 cheap balls for each player. Why 2? For 2 ball dribbling. You need enough mesh bags to carry all the balls as well.

4. Something to drink. I prefer vodka, but most bring h2o! (just joking)

5. Create some form that the parents fill out with names, addresses, phone #'s, e-mail addresses, child's name, Drs. name and phone #, insurance co. and policy #.

6. Masking tape

Hey, I never said you didn't have to spend a little money on the deal.

Ok, you're ready. It's time for your very first LS. Get there at least 20 minutes early. Greet the early ones and have them fill out your information form.

After everyone gets there and you have received all of your completed forms, you get to give that wonderful MONOTONE speech that we all loved when we were kids. "hello, my name is coach riley. I am here to teach you how to play the game of basketball. even though i am speaking in monotone, i expect to make this game exciting for you, blah, blah, blah!!!" I was so excited after my coach gave me one of these speeches, that I could have chewed glass. Never mind that I wanted to spit the glass at him. Whatever you do or say, DO NOT GO MONOTONE!!! PUT SOME EXCITEMENT IN YOUR VOICE.

Here is your #1 rule for coaching any youth sport, your kids signed up to play a game. To a kid, games are supposed to be fun. Thus, your LS's are supposed to be fun. Don't bore them with monotone. You have just become Captain Fun to these kids, don't disappoint them. The secret is, learning can be fun. Make learning fun for them. How do you do this? Oh, I forgot to tell you, if you are Captain Fun, then I am Admiral Fun! I will help you make your LS's fun.

1. Don't call them practices, like I just did. They are learning sessions. Sometimes what you name something, influences how people think about them. Your job is to make LEARNING FUN!

2. Make every drill competitive. Competition is fun because it's a game. At the same time, you are already beginning to teach them to be aggressive and competitive. Wait a while, you'll see why.

3. Every competitive drill has a reward attached to it, be it laps for the losers, a Tootsie Roll Pop for the winners, or whatever. Which reminds me, bring a bag of Tootsie Roll Pops with you to your LS's.

4. Praise them when they do something right. Too often coaches will yell and scream at a kid, or a team, for doing something wrong. But they will never say a word of praise for doing something right. Like the old saying goes, "You get more with honey than you do viegar, including better smells!" When they do something wrong, explain what they did wrong, and how they can correct it.

Now let's help you with your 1st LS. The most important thing for you to do is establish control. The first thing the kids are going to want to do is launch rockets. If there was a five point shot, that's where all the kids would try to shoot from. They will try to shoot as far away from the basket as they can. Your job is to control this, by taking control.

Here's where I differ from a lot of the bleeding hearts in the world. One of the most important lessons you have to learn is that kids want rules and routines. They want structure in their life. When their routine is disturbed, they get upset. If more parents understood this, there would be fewer problem children, but we'll leave that for all of the social workers of the world. Just trust me, you have to set some rules and give them a routine. Here are a few routines to follow:

1. Start every LS on time. Tardiness + 5 laps. Parental b.s. excuses don't count. Late - 5 laps, period.

2. Every LS starts with you blowing the whistle and yelling baseline, while you count to 5 out loud. If even one player doesn't make it in time, the whole team runs 5 laps. Don't worry about them running too many laps, kids learn quickly. They will make a game of it and stand in the middle of the floor waiting for you to blow the whistle and point to which baseline they are to run to.


1. Your 1st drill is to warm up and stretch. This 4 minute warm up will help you to avoid injuries in the future. You can find some drills in any exercise book.


The sooner they learn to handle a basketball the more fun it will be for everyone. First place everyone on a baseline with 2 balls. When you blow the whistle they have a race to see who will be the first to finish a suicide while dribbling 2 balls. Tell them this is a practice round.

The next few moments will definitely be a Kodak moment.. You will see balls flying in every direction, kids running after balls, and kids taking other kids loose balls, and every derivative thereof.

Once everyone has finished, divide them into 2 or 3 equal teams. Now they have to do it as a relay, team versus team. Part 2 to this is they have to scream and cheer their teammates on. If they don't cheer loud enough, their team has to run 2 laps. The winners do 2 laps or get a Tootsie Roll Pop.

Here's what you are achieving: They are dribbling with both hands, they are getting in shape, (I call this gaining their basketball legs,) and you are teaching them to cheer for their team. My 8th graders still do this drill in every LS.


Every 15-10 minutes let them have a water break. Time it and give them 2 minutes, blow your whistle, yell baseline while pointing to the baseline you want them to run to, and count to 5 out loud. They run if someone is late.

Once they are on the baseline, tell them to bring their own water bottle to every LS, and especially to every game. You make life easier if you make them follow this rule.


Divide them back into teams and now they do a one ball suicide. They must dribble right handed one way, and left handed back. Get them used to dribbling with either hand. Every time they get to a free throw line, half court line, or a baseline, they have to slap the floor while dribbling the ball. After everyone does this once, then they do it again competitively, losing team does 2 laps.


This is the game we all played as kids. They all line up on the baseline with 2 balls. You blow the whistle and they move toward the opposite baseline dribbling 2 balls. You blow the whistle again, and they stop. Stop - start them all the way down the court and back several times. Once they get the hang of it tell them to run, not walk it.


They are lined up on the baseline with one ball, while you are on the opposite baseline. They have to yell out how many fingers you are holding up, while they dribble toward you. When they make it to you, they speed dribble back to their starting baseline and do it again. This is a drill to teach them to dribble with their head up.

8. ANOTHER WATER BREAK - 2 minutes only


Use your masking tape, and tape a bunch of X's to the wall, about 3 feet off the ground. Line up your team about 10 feet away from the wall. Their job is to throw a bounce pass and hit the X.

First let's show them how to make a correct pass. You hold the ball about chest high with both hands, and step toward the wall as you make a bounce pass. To keep it simple, I won't go into the position of your thumbs, etc., for now. Just have them step forward with one foot as they make every pass.

After they get used to this, then make it a game. The first four to hit the X, 7 out of 10 times gets a tootsie roll.


Explain what traveling with the ball is and what double dribble is. After this you let them scrimmage for 10 minutes or so. This is just where you let them be kids and let them have fun.

After the scrimmage, have them all sit in a circle at half court, with you in the middle. Tell them that they did a lot better than expected and you are so very happy they are on the team. And remember, NO MONOTONE!!!!! Remind them when the next practice is and to bring a water bottle.

P.S. If it looks like you have lots of time left before you start your scrimmage, then have them repeat some of the drills, before you scrimmage.

After you are finally done, wait and make sure all of the kids get picked up by their parents. After you really are finally done, a major league drink awaits you at your local watering hole, because you deserve it.

CHAPTER 9 Ball Handling

Remember, ball handling is your your #1 priority, so you repeat the drills in LS 1. The only difference is it shouldn't take you as long to do the drills. The following is a listing of the old drills from LS 1, and the time you should spend on each one.

Every LS starts with blowing the whistle and yelling baseline, you know the rest of that story!

1. stretch and warm-up - 4 minutes

2. competing 2 ball suicides, losers do 2 laps - 5 minutes

3. Red light - Green light with a twist - Instead of yelling red or green light, hold your hand up for red light, lower your hand for green light. This makes them keep their head up while dribbling - 4 minutes. Afriend of mine from Chalk Talk gave me this idea. I will give credits at the end of the book.

4. X marks the spot, bounce passes only - 5 minutes

5. Waterbreak - 2 minutes

Now let's learn some new stuff.

PASSING - The first new drill is a pass and catch affair. Half of your players stand on the baseline, while the other half stands on the free throw line extended. Each player on the free throw line, lines up across from a player on the baseline. This way they can pass to each other. Every time they pass the ball, make them step into the pass. They take one step toward the player they are passing to.

Every time they catch the ball, they should give the passer a target and take one step toward the passer with their hands outstretched to recieve the pass.

I know this seems too simple but it is necessary. When my daughter was in 4th grade, she was a head taller than the rest of the kids. She was also the best pure shooter on the team. Guess what, she only scored 6 points the whole season because she couldn't catch the ball. That ball would bounce off of her chest, her legs, her hands, and even her head. She got more passes stolen away from her because she refused to take the step to receive the pass. I can not stress it enough that these kids need to learn how to make shearp, crisp passes and move into the pass to receive it.

RING OF FIRE - Five players or more stand in a pretty wide circle, with one more player in the middle of the circle. The player in the middle has a ball, and a player on the circle has a ball. The middle player bounce passes it to a player next to the outside player with the ball. At the same time, the outside player with the ball passes to the middle player. The middle player catches and passes to the next player, while reciving a pss from the last player with the ball.

Confusing? Kids love this drill so I am going to take the time to explain it. Imagine you have a big pie cut into 5 pieces. The center of the pie is where your middle player stands. Now each piece of pie is numbered one through 5. At the crust of each piece of pie stands your outside players, 1-5. Your middle passer passe to 2, and catches one's pass. Then passes to 3, while catching 2's pass. Now do you understand it? If not, draw it on a piece of paper. Once the player in the middle has passed it to everyone twice, they switch places with someone on the circle and they start passing and catching. You do this until everyone has done it. What do you learn from this drill? TO pass, catch, and use your peripherial vision. TIME - 15 MINUTES

You know what we really need to do? We really need to forgot about this book for a second and get a big ole butterscotch or chocolate pie, marangue on top, add a glass of milk, and say LIFE IS GOOD!

WATER BREAK - 2 MINUTES - blow whistle, yell baseline

Last but not least, you now let them scrimmage for a little bit, but they aren't allowed to dribble the ball. It's a no-dribble scrimmage. After 5 minutes or so, then let them dribble.

A side note here. Some of you are screaming right ow about shooting drills, right? Don't be concerned with shooting, teach them ball handling first. Once you let them start shooting, you have just unleashed a major force of nature, and forces of nature are extremely hard to control!

You now have all of the ingredients for your second LS. Remember b-all ed's Rule #1 - NO MONOTONE!!!! You have to make your learning sessions fun and exciting. Mr Monotone is anything but fun and exciting. At the end of oyur LS tell them what a great job they did and reward them with a tootsie roll pop. (I wonder if the Tootsie Roll company will pay me for giving them a plug?) Last thing you give them is their homework. They are to dribble a ball, using their right hand, then their left hand. They are to dribble all around their neighborhood for at least an hour.

Now you have survived LS #2. It wasn't so bad, was it? Heck, you don't even need a bartender after this one, or do you??

CHAPTER 10 Basketballese or Basketball language

We are now going to create our own language. Most of these are words you can use for as long as you are around the game. An asterisk beside a word means that it is for your and my use only.

MAN-2-MAN DEFENSE OR M-2-M - This is where your players guard one of their players on defense.

ZONE DEFENSE - This is where your players cover a specific area on the floor, rather than a specific player.

THE PAINT - This is the painted or shaded area from the free throw line to the closest baseline.

BASELINE - The out-of-bounds line behind each basket.

3 SECOND AREA - You can not spend more than 3 seconds at a time in the paint, or the other team gets the ball.

THE BLOCK - This is the one foot painted black rectangle on the floor on each side of the basket.

HASH MARKS - These are the little painted lines on the floor around the paint, where players stand during free throw attempts.

TOP OF THE KEY - The area outside the little circle that 1/2 surrounds the free throw line.

3 POINT LINE - This is the area outside of the top of the key and then diagonally toward the closest corners of the court.

***BALL *** - This is what a player yells when they are open for a pass.

DOUBLE DRIBBLE - Where you dribble with both hands at the same time.

WALKING - This is where you have the ball and you move both feet before you start your dribble.

***THE LANE*** - This is a term we will use for a designated area in our fast breaks. The lane is the area right beside the out-of-bounds line that runs down the length of the court. Both sides of the court have a lane.

OPEN LANE - This is where there is a straight path to the basket without a defender in the way.

STRONG SIDE OR BALL SIDE - This is the side that the ball is on.

HELP SIDE OR WEAK SIDE - This is the side of the court where the ball isn't.

FAST BREAK - This is when the other team shoots, we get the ball, and take the ball the length of the court as fast as we can for a quick basket.

OUTLET PASS - This is where you get the rebound and have to go the length of the court. The 1st pass you make to start the ball down the court is the outlet pass.

I know I have given you simple definitions and slightly slanted ones at times, but these will work for everything we need them for. There are a million other words, but you now have the basic ones

CHAPTER 11 Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall

Your team mirrors you! What does this mean? As your mood goes, so does your team's. You are their teacher, their mentor, their role model. Your players look to you for experience and value your opinions.

Examples: If you go into a game worried about the outcome, your team will worry about the outcome. Many a game's been lost because of nerves. If you think the refs suck, so will your team. If you aren't having fun, neither are they.

I honestly believe that COACH - TEACHER AND ROLE MODEL. Be careful what you say and how you act around your team. Sports need to be a positive experience. Make sure your team doesn't miss out on a fun time because of you.

Here's an example. I have a friend who coaches a successful team, at least it's successful according to the win/loss ratio. So what's the problem? This coach screams so long and loud at his players that they either hate him, or tune him out. Every time he loses a game he blames the refs. So what? Well, every time his players make a mistake in a game, or at home, or in school, they mirror their coach. It's never their fault, it's the ref's, or the teacher's, or someone else's fault. These kids have learned from their coach that it's ok not to take responsibility for their own actions, just blame someone else.

If my team loses, I look at it like I didn't do a good enough job teaching my team the game. But it's more than this. I also won't let my players blame anyone else. If we lose, my players know it's because I didn't do a good enough job teaching them and they didn't do a good enough job learning. My players learn a lesson in life, RESPONSIBILITY!

There's another by-product of this way of thinking, MY TEAM DOESN'T WHINE ABOUT THEIR LOSSES. The end result of this is that neither you, nor your players have to listening to a bunch of screaming or whining, so we have more fun.

Everything boils down to your priorities. If all you want is the almighty win, then that's all your team will want. You will hear this again and again in various forms, your kids won't remember the score of a game 20 years from now. What there will remember how they got screamed at and treated by you.

CHAPTER 12 Defense

Ever heard that defense wins games? It's a true. Here's a little secret, ever watch a game on t.v. and you see those big long arms just flailing away on defense? That's not as important as your footwork. Proper defense is all about where and how you place your feet. If you can teach your players the proper footwork, you'll be light years ahead of the pack.

MOVING RIGHT OR LEFT - When the player you are guarding goes to the right or to the left, you slide your feet in the appropriate direction. We all hace a natural tendency to cross one foot over the other when we move from side to side. This is the wrong way to move. It is a natural habit, and it takes a lot to break a natural habit. Do the defensive drills I will show you in every LS.

Stand up! That's right, grab the book and stand up. Now imagine you are defending a player who is right in front of you. Now imagine they start to move to your left. Now take your right foot and cross it over and in front of your left foot. This feels natural, doesn't it? All of a sudden the player you are guarding makes a sharp move to your right. Your natural instinct to to cross your left foot over your right foot, in order for you to go right. When you do this you just got your feet tangled up, didn't you? I have actually seen players fall down, tripped up in their own feet.

The correct way to do this is to slide your right foot toward your left or visa versa when the player you are guarding goes to the right or left.

So now you understand right and left. So what do you do when the player you are guarding moves forward? You run backwards whenever possible. Never turn around and run forwards, unless they are past you and you are chasing them. Now that you understand footwork, here are some drills.


Line up half of your players on the half court line about 8 feet apart. The other half line up on the extended free throw line, also about 8 feet apart. All players face you. They watch your hand signals and when you point right, they slide that way. Point left, they slide that way. Get them used to sliding, then have them go backwards and forwards. This may seem too simple a drill, but remember, most of you are trying to teach 3rd and 4th graders.


You need a long narrow space. Divide the width of the basketball court into three sections. Each section should be about 15 feet wide. Now imagine each section running the length of the court. Now you have three sections that are 15 feet wide by about 100 feet long. Have a player with a ball at one end of a section and another defensive player 4 feet in front of them. The player with the ball is not allowed to dribble outside their section. They are to dribble the ball the length of the court, making the defender slide right, left, and go backwards. At the other end of the court they switch roles. You can have 3 groups go at once with the court sectioned off this way. Drill time is 10 minutes. As they get better at it, reduce to 5 minutes or less.


This is just a fun deal where you have all the kids line up on the baseline. They are to run backwards the length of the court and back again. Top 3 finishers get a tootsie roll.


1. you have a team

2. you have an assistant or you don't

3. you have had 2 LS's and have the material for the third one

4. for your 3rd LS take the drills from the first two, add the defensive drills, end up with a no dribble scrimmage, which turns into a dribbling scrimmage

5. You have ball handling drills, passing drills, defensive drills, and scrimmaging without dribbling teaches them to move to get open without the ball.

6. You will have survived 3 LS's without a nervous breakdown or losing your hair.

7. If you are not using monotone, then you and the kids should have had some fun!!


CHAPTER 13 Incoming! Shooting Skills

Feel pretty good about yourself, or is it sure of yourself? Everything should have gone ok up to this point, right? No major blow-ups, you've been in control, and you have put on the pretense that you know what you are doing. Everything is right with the world until now.

And the title of this chapter is *****INCOMING*****

Now it's time to teach your players to shoot. First you need to understand the technique - form.

1. Keep your knees slightly bent

2. Your shoulders should be square to the basket

3. Your shooting forearm should be straight up and down. If you are right handed, your forearm should be straight up and down and in line with your right shoulder, and visa versa if you are left handed.

4. Your shooting hand should be parallel to the ground and you look like a waiter carrying a tray.

5. Your non-shooting hand should be gently helping to hold the ball in place when it is in your shooting hand.

6. At your player's ages, your feet are spread apart about 6-8 inches. And your right foot is slightly ahead of your left foot if you are right handed. Visa versa if you are left handed.. When you shoot the power comes from your legs. Your kids will try to shoot stiff legged, with their knees bent. WRONG! To start your shot, you bend at the knees and you almost squat as you go down. Next you come up in a fluid motion and end up on your toes. Try this in your home, without a ball. It does not feel natural. Especially when you concentrate on keeping your forearm straight up and down the whole time. Your forearm and elbow will want to go sideways, parallel to the ground. Wrong! You will look like a chicken flapping it's wings. Your forearm stays straight up and down.

7. When you release the ball, your shooting arm should be pointed toward the basket and your hand and wrist should be at a right angle to each other. Hold your forearm up and down in front of you. Now hold your hand at a right angle, aimed in front of you. If it doesn't look like a cobra, you know, the snake, then your aren't doing it right. If it looks like a cobra, then this is the exact position your hand ends up in after you release the ball.

So now you have to practice this form a lot before your next LS because you have to teach it to your players.

IMPORTANT - IMPORTANT - IMPORTANT !!! Do not try to teach them by you shooting at the basket. Teach them by passing it to them, using the proper technique. Why not shoot? You don't want to embarrass yourself because you can't hit the broad side of a barn, now do you.

The last thing is that you should have arch on your shots, or passes. When you explain this to them, tell them that their shot should look like a rainbow.


Line up half of your team on the half court line and the other half about 6 feet away from them. Each line must face the other and each player must have a counterpart on the other line they can pass to. Have them practice their one handed shoots to each other. You will constantly have to remind them to arch their passes and to only use one hand to shoot. Their natural tendency is shoot two-handed, break them of this habit in the beginning and you have made life a lot easier.

DISTANCE - or are you sure valium's not legal???

This is just a side note to warn you about kids, basketballs, and shooting. You see, kids want to be cool. Shooting short shots are for wimps. Cool people shoot rockets from half court. It doesn't matter if they miss 99 in a row. If they make the 100th, they are cool.

Your job is to control where they shoot from. After every drill, yell baseline, count out loud to 5, and you know the rest. Now, every time they are on the baseline, they aren't allowed to dribble the ball. If they dribble while you are talking to them, you lose. So, if they dribble while on the baseline, everyone runs 2 laps. You have to maintain control.

lay-upS & DRILLS

Let's assume everyone is right handed. Place a player on the block to the right of the basket. They are to take one step toward the basket with their left foot and shoot. Don't let them dribble, just one step and shoot. Now here's comes part 2.

When you shoot a lay-up, pretend there is a rope connecting your right elbow and your right knee. As you go up with your right hand to shoot a lay-up, your right leg should be going up at the same time. If you are left handed, then your left elbow and knee should be connected. You can actually practice this while sitting in your chair at home.

These are the simple mechanics for a lay-up. Now let's get them to do it on the run. Line them up on one of the baselines. They are to run at half speed to the half court line and jump off of their left foot as far as they can. They have to jump off of their left foot. Make it a contest. Whoever jumps the farthest, gets a tootsie roll pop.

When they are jumping off of their correct foot every time, now you need to make a slight adjustment. They need to jump high and far, not just far. A little thing I do is to lay down on the floor on my side. They must jump over me off of their left foot. (Don't lay facing the kids, because they will get the family jewels if you do. I'm so stupid, I had to learn the hard way.) When they get this down to a science, tell them this is exactly how you want them to move when they go for a lay-up, up and out!

Now is when you let them try a lay-up and actually shoot the ball. No dribbling, have them run and shoot. When they can make this shot without dribbling, 5 out of 10 times, then you let them try it while dribbling.

After they perfect the right handed lay-up, you teach them the left handed lay-ups, using the exact same steps, except you reverse the hands, elbows and which foot you jump off of.

If you can teach them how to make a lay-up, with either hand, on a consistent basis, you will be one to two years ahead of everyone else. In fact, I know varsity players who can't make a lay-up with their reverse hand. This is the most important shot you can teach them at this age. Every LS from now on should contain 10-15 minutes of lay-ups. For left handers, just do everything in reverse. Their left elbow and left knee work in tandem etc.

You now have enough material for your first six or seven LS's. If you can get your players to learn these simple steps, you will have taught them enough to win a lot of games. But more importantly, you, my friend, are becoming a coach and COACH - TEACHER AND ROLE MODEL. You are teaching and so far you have not had to scream at a single kid. SIMPLE IS GOOD, ISN'T IT?????

Chapter 14 Choose Your Weapon: Man to Man or Zone

You are the only person who can choose what defense you will play. At the younger ages your league may make you play a zone defense, leagues are funny that way. If you do have a choice, here's what you need to decide, are you there to teach the kids, or to win? If you are there to win, you play a zone defense. If you are there to teach your kids, teach them man-2-man defense.

Earlier I have repeatedly stated that coach should equal teacher. Zone defenses don't teach the kids much. M-2-M defense is what most good high schools, and nearly all colleges use. My goal has always been to teach my girls enough so they can make the high school varsity team, so I teach m-2-m defense. As I said, only you can choose for your team, so I am going to go into both defenses.

I will start with the zone defenses. A zone defense is where a player is assigned an area of the court to guard. If an opposing player comes into their area, or zone, they play defense against that player. There may be a 100 different zones, but this gives you the basic concept.


1. A tight zone will force the other team to have to take longer outside shoots. It is very hard to get the ball inside the paint, for a short short. (See, I used a basketball word, "Paint," and you knew it. Pretty soon you'll be a pro!"

2. Zones allow your players to be in a better position for a rebound.

3. Your players aren't constantly running as much, so your team doesn't tire out as quickly.


1. The players that know how to play m-2-m have an edge when they try out for the varsity team.

2. Yes, you have to work harder when you play m-2-m, but you get more steals. You force the other team to take bad shots, and to make bad passes.

3. A good full-court m-2-m will make it harder to throw the ball inbounds, without you stealing it. When someone has to throw the ball in bounds, they only have 5 seconds to do so, or the other team gets the ball. A good m-2-m will stop them from accomplishing this at least 2 to 3 times a game.

4. Once you throw the ball inbounds, you only have 10 seconds to get it across the half-court line, or the other team gets the ball. M-2-M will stop them from accomplishing this, at least several times per game.

On the surface it may seem like it makes sense to play a zone, but a good man-2-man defense will be a good zone defense most of the time.

Simple Zone Offense

Put 5 experienced coaches in a room, tell them they have to agree on whether to play m-2-m defense or a zone defense. Also tell them to choose what type of zone defense they would play, when they do play zone. Then lock the door behind you and leave them alone for two hours. When you come back to check on them, you'll be able to hear the shouting coming out of their room from at least a mile away. Come back after 4 hours, and you will find 5 coaches who have screamed so much they lost their voices. What defense to play is a never ending debate amongst coaches. The one thing all coaches will agree with, if you don't plan on playing defense, then plan on losing.

Rather than try to tackle a million different defenses, I am going to give a few that work well for beginning players and beginning coaches. First we need to go into players position and their roles. All of these will be simple definitions that can be contested by various basketball gurus, but these definitions will work for our purposes.

Some coaches and teams number the positions. Almost every college uses the numbering system. I am going to avoid the number system because I want to make sure I don't lose you.

POINT GUARD OR #1 or PG - Think of the point guard -PG, as your primary ball handler. After you have had several LS's, you'll be able to tell who can dribble and pass the ball the best, this will be your PG. At the younger ages they tend to score a lot. As they get older, they score less and become more of a play maker and floor general.

SHOOTING GUARD OR #2 or SG - This should be your 2nd best ball handler. Your SG and your PG will be the primary people to bring the ball down the court for you.

SHOOTING FORWARD OR #3 or SF - Their primary job is to stay closer to the basket, and get the 8-10 foot shoots and to rebound.

POWER FORWARD OR #4 or PF- Their job is to rebound and shoot from within 3-8 feet of the basket.

CENTER OR #5 or C - Primary rebounder, shot blocker, takes shots close to the basket.

Now before the more experienced of you go off on me, I am giving you simple explanations for youth basketball. A major word of warning, do not use the terms shooting guard or shooting forward in front of your players. If you do, you just gave them a license to shoot every time they touch the ball. Trust me, this will be something that will be nigh unto impossible to break. Just use the terms guards and forwards.

Now isn't this chapter supposed to be about zone defenses? Yep, Yep, Yep, but I had to describe the positions and job descriptions before the rest of this would make sense.

2-1-2 ZONE DEFENSE - Put your PG on one end of your free throw line. Put your SG on the other side. Place your PF on one block and your SF on the other block. Now place your C in the middle of the paint. You should have a big X, or a 2-1-2 zone. Each person has to defend about a 6 foot area that surrounds the spot they are standing in. When an opposing player comes into their area, they must guard that person.

How do you explain this to your players? Have them stand on their assigned spot. You hold a basketball, don't dribble it, and slowly walk the perimeter around your players. As you enter a player's defensive area, have them yell "Mine!" They are informing their team mates that they have the player with the ball. You have also started a major trend, communication amongst your players.

As I said, move around and get the appropriate players to defend you as you enter their area. Start slow and then move faster. Next, place other players outside the defensive players and have them pass the ball around the zone. The purpose is to get your defensive players to cover at the appropriate times.

2-3 ZONE - PG on one end of free throw line, SG on other end. Your other 3 players form a line a foot or so from the block, away from the basket. Place your players and walk around them, making them yell "Mine!" when they are to cover you. You will find that most of the time your players will end up in a 2-1-2 formation anyway, it's one of basketball's mysteries!

1-3-1 ZONE - PG is between top of key and free throw line. SG, C, and SF form a line across paint between the block and the free throw line. The PF is back closer to basket. Again, walk it and make sure they know how to play their positions.

For now this is all you need. Anything else will be too much to learn. I would start with a 2-1-2 and branch out from there. There are all sorts of reasons to use a zone and also different variations of these zones. I am just trying to give you some of the more simpler ones.

CHAPTER 15 - The Ants Go Marching One by One

How does the old saying go? "There comes a time in every man's life when ---" When you say run for the hills screaming, the parents are coming, the parents are coming.

So far you haven't felt like or even acted like a total idiot. You should be feeling pretty good because everything seems to be in it's place and life is good, right?

If you ever wanted to hide, now is the time. You have been through 3-6 LS's and your worst problems have been the kids, and you are in control of them. All of that is about to change. Now is the time when the "parents from hell" start to raise their ugly cobra-shaped heads.

It all starts very innocently. Before or after a LS, a parent will come up and ask how little Johnny or Susie are doing. You give them a positive, but standard reply, "They are doing great!" Everything seems to be going well. The parent doesn't say anything else, so you seem to be off the hook.

A minute goes by and the parent is at your side again. "By the way, any idea who your starting 5 will be?" BOING, BOING, BOING!!!! Redlights start flashing and day becomes night. The "parents from hell" just surfaced.

You will tell them that you aren't even close to that stage and they will extol the virtues of their kid. Next they will start downgrading the other kids in an almost politically correct way.

So how do you handle this? Do you have a conversation with them about the kids? Do you politely tell them that your job is to coach and you aren'y ready to discuss those issues. Or do you ignore them?

The answer to this lies in your personality. Do what feels natural to you. Here is what I would do, but it's just one option. I would ignore him. As soon as it started, I would excuse myself and become Caspar! I don't like to start a conversation that I know will end up in me telling the parents to shove it.

I have this inate belief that most of the good things in life are done for the wrong reason. I also believe that adults screw up things for kids more than kids do. Here you have a perfectly good kid whose parent is getting ready to make you hate that kid being on your team. It's not fair to the kid, but it's totally unfair for you, a volunteer, to have to put up with the grief that parents give you. So I ignore them.

Here's another great idea, with only one lousy side effect. Hold closed LS's, no one but players allowed. This will reduce the parents ability to talk to you and especially with any knowledge of the team. So what's the side effect? When parents stay and your LS is over, you get to go home. With a closed LS, you have to stay until the last player gets picked up by their parents. Me personally, I wait with the players rather than give the parent from hell more of an opportunity to corner me. And while I'm thinking of it, if you start giving your players a ride home, just figure that you have adopted a permanent passenger.

Ready for the next part of the saga. You might have 2-4 sets of the "parents from hell." If this happens to you, set up a long term tab at your local watering hole, because you'll need it.

The only reassuring thought about the "parents from hell," is that they never give up. By the way, I was only kidding about it being a reassuring thought.

The best way to be handle these parents is by getting them to sign a contract, and I already gave you an example of one you can use. Give yourself a break, GET EVERYONE TO SIGN A CONTRACT BEFORE YOUR FIRST GAME. I believe in solving problems before they can become a problem.

My last pearl of wisdom concerning parents, kids, and you as a coach. Never ever give a player a ride home, if you are the only other person in the car. There is a big thing going on about sexual advances by coaches toward female, but especially toward male players. All you need is one player or parent who is mad at you and willing to lie. Don't ever give a kid that ride without someone else being in the car. Remember, even one hint of a rumor about this type of conduct will screw you up for the rest of your life. And it will mess up up your family and their reputation as well.

CHAPTER 16 - Defense Wins Games (but it's not very popular)


You are probably confused, no? You should be. I'm talking about zone defenses and in the very next breath I have you dealing with the "parents from hell." Trust me, there is a method to my madness. I am trying to keep you on a timetable and it's at this time that the parents start to raise their cobra heads.

When I read a manual on how to set up my computer, or digital camera, or whatever, I only read the part that I need right then. I never read the thing from start to finish, and I figure some of you are like me. A lot of you will probably only read the chapter that applies to you for that next step. This is why I had to deal with the parent issue, because it was due to come up in the scheme of things.

MAN-2-MAN DEFENSE - Defense is going to be one of your biggest challenges. Defense isn't a high profile affair. The crowd doesn't go ooohhhh,or aaahhhhh, when you play solid defense. Let a kid make a 3 pointer and see how the crowd reacts. There's just no glory in playing D. And yet, most coaches will agree that defense wins games. So let's see if we can climb Mt. Everest by making defense fun.

Proper defense is played with your feet, not with your arms. I have given you drills for proper footwork and they should be used in every LS. Kids learn by repeating things over, and over, and over again. When they do their defensive drills, make sure you have some type of treat or special reward to give them. I don't care how badly they do the drill, as long as they are showing improvement, give them a treat. Reward your kids for learning defense. By the way, I never gave out treats for shooting drills because these are too much fun for the kids. I reward them for doing things that aren't traditionally considered to be fun.

Now let's talk about a good defensive stance. Standing straight up with your knees locked isn't the way to do it. Defense is all about moving quickly in any direction. Basketball is about running, in particular, sprinting, moving side to side, and running backwards. You can't do this with locked knees.

The proper stance is to have your knees bent and your feet spread apart by at least 2 feet or more. Your arms should outstretched to make you as wide as possible. Your hands should positioned with palms up. This should make you only about 2/3 of your normal height. If this is the case, your stance is on the money. Now teach your kids this stance.

Once they have their stance, here's a little defensive drill. They all line up about 6 feet apart, in their proper stance, facing you. They are to watch you and follow your movement. You move quickly to the right, they move. You go left, they move as well. You go backward, they follow you. Watch them the whole time and make sure they keep the proper stance. Do this several times for practice. When you feel they know it, divide them into 2 teams. One is offensive, one is defensive. The offensive player is to run down the court at half speed while moving right, left, backwards, and forwards. The defensive player is to stay within 3 feet of the offensive player, and they are always to stay between the offensive player and the basket. Do this without balls. The offensive player's goal is to get past the defensive player. Remember, only 1/2 speed. Have them do it the length of the court. Once they hit the opposite baseline, they switch positions. Offense becomes defense, and defense becomes offense.

After they do this several times, now you make it a contest. You already have them in two teams, so everyone goes twice. Whichever team stays with their player the best wins. The whole time this is going on, have each team cheer for their team mate who is currently competing. Let them know that if a team doesn't cheer loud enough, they run a suicide. If you do this with every competitive drill, you will have one of the most positive vocal teams in your league. Teamwork is a wonderful thing and you will have just taken a major step in developing teamwork. By the way, the losers of the competition do a suicide while dribbling two balls. Kids love games and will actually look forward to this part of your LS.

After the losing team does their suicide, give everyone a water break, they'll need it. Then sit them down and explain what they need to look for from the offensive player. You shouldn't watch their eyes or even the ball. At this age tell them to watch the offensive player's waist. Where ever their waist goes, so to do they go. Players will fake you with their eyes, their heads, the ball, their hands, but where ever the waist goes, the player will follow.

Now you ask the losing team if they want a chance to get even using this new info, and you have them compete again, loser does the suicide. Again the cheering must come into play here. This is a drill I would do every LS. In later LS's have them go full speed.

CHAPTER 17 Man To Man Defensive Spacing

Here are some simple rules concerning m-2-m defense.

1. If the player you are guarding is faster than you, then play about 2 to 3 arm lengths away from your player. This way even if they have the first step on you, you can stay with them better.

2. If the player you are guarding is slower than you, then you can stay just an arm's length away, meaning you can guard them closer.

3. The closer to the basket your player is, the closer you should guard them.

4. When the ball is on the strong side, play closer to your player. Remember, strong side is the side where the ball is.

5. When the ball is on the weak side,(the side where the ball is not,) play 3 arm lengths from your player. This way you can watch your player and the ball at the same time.

6. If you get screened and your player gets away from you, yell switch. This way your team mates will know to try to cover your player. If this happens, you need to look for the player your team mate was covering, and now you cover that player.

7. Never end up playing defense directly under the basket, this is the most useless place on the floor. If you find yourself in this position and opposing players have you trapped there, use your butt and start slowing pushing their players out and away from the basket.

These are just a few of the more simple rules, but remember that simple is good. Now here's a drill to help teach spacing. You position the offense in a 2-1-2 zone position. Now assign a defensive player to every offensive player. You take the ball and walk around the court and explain how the defense should set up and move depending upon where the ball is.

When you have the ball on the right hand side of the court, the defenders on the right side should be playing closer and tighter defense. The players on the left side should be 3 arm lengths away from their player. They should be watching their player and the ball at the same time.

When the ball is on the left side, the players on the left side should be playing a closer and tighter defense. The players on the right side should be about 3 arm lengths away, so they can watch their player and the ball at the same time. You need to be constantly moving to see if your players are making the necessary adjustments.

Now you switch and the offense becomes defense and the defense becomes offense. After everyone seems to be comfortable with this, let the offense pass the ball around. The defense is not allowed to steal the ball, and the offense is not allowed to shoot. After a while, switch offense and defense again.

If they have paid attention and tried real hard, reward them, let them scrimmage. They have to use m-2-m defense and are not allowed to shoot from more than 8 feet away from the basket. Don't worry about your offense, just watch to see how they do on defense. Make sure that when they move right or left, they are sliding and not crossing their feet. When they move backwards, make sure they run backwards.

It's probably time for a little re-assurance. Many of you coaches will be screaming at me about offense. I haven't gone into triple threat positions, or plays, or very much at all about offense, thus I am frustrating you. Believe me, you're ok. Life is still good. You can't put the second story onto a house until you have laid your foundation, and m-2-m defensive principles are your foundation. Even if you plan to play a zone, you still have to teach the basics of m-2-m to make a good zone work.

For those of you who are frustrated, you can spend some time now in your first year and be done with it. What's the alternative? I've seen teams spend a part of 4 years having to re-teach m-2-m because they didn't spend enough time the first year. Me personally, I'm the laziest individual in the world. I would rather do something right the first time, even if it takes longer, than to have to re-do it.

Remember my original situation about the coaches in a room trying to decide on what defense? If you have 5 good coaches they will all agree that you have to know the basics of m-2-m for any zone to be effective. The more time you spend on m-2-m, the more solid a foundation you are giving the kids.

CHAPTER 18 - The Littlest Offense

We have all heard of the Littlest Angel, The Littlest Engine, etc. Now we have the Littlest Offense. I have briefly touched on this, but now it's Hammer time.

Go watch any 3rd-6th grade game and here is what you will see. The guards will dribble the ball from New York to L.A. and back, while the forwards seem to move within a 2 foot circle. The forwards don't move to get open. Go to a game and watch. If I'm not right, I'll buy the next round!!

Just a little side note here, I don't use the term center with this age group. In fact, even as we speak, I don't use that term with my daughter's 8th grade team. I have 3 forwards. I mention this so you don't get too confused, and ask, "Well, what about the center?"

The Littlest Offense comes in 3 and 1/2 parts. I like that, 3 and 1/2, kinda has a ring, 3 and 1/2!! I'll go into the half first.

1/2 - Getting your whole team to dribble with their heads up. If you can accomplish this early in the season, then Helen Keller had nothing on you. I actually checked into buying neck braces for my team so they couldn't look down. My wife told me I wasn't allowed because it would constitute cruel and unusual embarrassment.

Anyway, if your team can keep their heads up while dribbling, then they can see who's open. You will gain 4 to 10 points a game this way. But 4-10 points isn't much the beginning coach might say. Now it's time for a reality check. Here's the score of every game my team played in 4th grade. It's kinda like, Where's Waldo, look for the pattern.

W 4-2 W 6-2 W 4-0 L 6-8 W 7-4 W 4-2 W 12-10 L 8-10 W 9-8 W 14-8

See the pattern? The cool thing is, you will get just as excited about a 4-2 win as you would a 40-36 win. If your team can keep their heads up and pass to the open man, you could win every game because of heads up play. (Sorry about the wet humor, I couldn't resist.) So now you know the 1/2.

1. Getting your forwards to move to get open. Every LS you have should end in 10 minutes of scrimmaging without dribbling. When you can't dribble, everyone is forced to move without the ball. If you do this enough in your LS's, then 2 things will happen in your games. Your forwards will move to get open because it is now a habit. AAANNNDDD, your guards are now used to passing the ball rather than dribbling across the country. If you can teach them this, you will be 3-4 years ahead of everyone else. This no dribble scrimmage works at any age.

Several weeks ago I was talking with some 8th grade coaches when I came up with one of my normally stupid ideas. Why not put together a team of coach's daughters to play in a tournament. No one is allowed to be on the team except coach's daughters. Of course I'm foolish enough to say I would coach it.

Remember the chapter "The Ants Go Marching One By One?" As soon as I realized that now the parents would all be coaches who would want to put in their 10 cents worth, (I would say 2 cents worth, but we coaches think our opinions are worth more!) I freaked out and headed to my usual watering hole. Yes folks, I can be real dumb!!

Any way, I figured my biggest challenge would be how to get them to play as a team. We had our first of only 2 LS's last night, and we scrimmaged, talked, scrimmaged, and talked for 2 hours. Our scrimmage was a no dribble scrimmage against my regular team. By the end of the LS, they were working as a team and I was extremely proud of them. How did I get the parent/coaches to keep their yaps closed? I offered to let them coach and I could sit back and critique, amazingly, I got no takers. By the way, I will tell you later on in the book how our tournament turned out, once we play it.

The point is, "no-dribble" scrimmages work, regardless of age.

2. I know I have mentioned this before, but pass and cut is part 2. Every time your player makes a pass, they cut to the basket looking to get the pass back. At the younger ages, this will make you look like a basketball guru.

3. Pick and Roll - This is a little harder to teach. A pick or a screen is really hard for younger kids, but so is riding a bike and they learn how to do that!

Here's how to teach a screen to younger kids. Tell them that they are a detective who has to sneak up on the bad guy and stand to the right or left of the bad guy. By the way, the bad guy is the opposing player who is guarding their teammate with the ball. Their job is to block the bad guy and stop them from following your teammate. The dribbler's job is to dribble around you and run their defender into you, so the bad guy can't follow the dribbler.

The hard part is the person doing the blocking has to keep their feet planted in one place. If they move their feet, they just fouled the other player. The next hard part is that they can't lean their body into the defender, because that too is a foul. The last part of this is that they can't use their hands or arms to block the defender. The way to avoid hands and arms is to have them cross their arms across their chest. The real secret is to get the defender to run into you. This is a pick or a screen.

So what is a pick and roll? Once you succeed in the pick, then you break to the basket looking for a pass or a rebound. All colleges and pro teams use some form of a pick and roll. This offense never goes stale, you can use it forever.

Remember, simple is good? Guess what, there is no more offense to teach you. If you can teach your team these 3 and 1/2 things in the first year, you will have accomplished what it took me 3 years to accomplish. Don't try to get fancy or complicated. You may be ready to learn new things, but your kids won't be. Remember, this game is not for you, it's for the kids. Except for some inbounds plays and things, I have just given you your whole first season's offense. If you can accomplish what I've taught you, you will be a basketball god in your league.

Thought this chapter ended here? Wrong!! I have a friend who has a rather great website and he is one of the 2 people who get to see this before it hits the web. My friend read chapter 18 and e-mailed the following suggestion. He achieved something here , that I could never do, he wrote it well. After reading my last sentence, see what I mean, I can't write worth a _ _ _ _!!! The following is written by Steve Jordan, aka Alaska Coach. His site and Coach Jackson's website are my basketball Encarta. And heeerrrreeee's Alaska!!

Ed "you mentioned the pick and roll. I think you should add a paragraph about how the screener should "roll." I , too, teach arms over the chest, but then have the kids lean on whichever elbow bears the brunt of the contact. The body weight freezes the defender and allows the screeners something to use as a pivot point. The end result is a perfect seal position, for a moment anyway. Too many kids will run up and bang into the defender, jump around and race to the hoop. This makes for a sloppy pick and a tough passing target. A beautiful pick is deliberate and methodical. The extra time creates extra space and gives the offense more options."

I read this and re-read it, and boy did he hit the nail on the head. For those of you who have never seen screening at the younger ages, it can be extremely ugly. Here is some of what you will see:

1. Your player is about to screen a defender, so they run into the defenders back and almost knock them over. This is a foul on your player.

2. Your player sneaks up on the defender, stands straight up, knees locked and the defender runs into your player. This sounds right, right?? Wrong, with their knees locked, your player will normally fall down or stumble. Now they are out of the mix for several seconds until they regain their feet.

3. Your player will run up to the defender, not wait for their team mate to run the defender into them, and then roll to the basket. The net result is that they never ever set the screen for their team mate.

Without waiting for the body contact and without a slight lean on the elbow and side, it is hard to actually block the defender and stop them from fighting through your pick. By slightly leaning, you will have your knees slightly bent so you don't fall, stumble, or look like an idiot. AND, you maintain your proper stance and footwork. AND YOU STOPPED THE DEFENDER from following your team mate.

So why am I spending this much time on screens or picks? Because this is one of the 3 major weapons or offences you will ever learn. Don't ask me what the other 2 are, because I haven't decided which ones they are yet, only kidding!

Chapter 19 - Solving Rubik's Cube

Solving Rubik's Cube? This is where I take all of the stuff I have given you and put it into a nice, neat package for you. The following is a learning session schedule for your next LS that incorporates (take heed, I just used a 50 cent word) everything we've gone into up till now. Also you need to follow the suggested time guide. This way you will get the most out of your allotted gym time.

  1. Warm-up - 4 minutes
  2. 2 Ball Dribbling - 5 minutes - First they the dribble length of the court and back. Then divide them into 2 or 3 competitive teams and they do a 2 ball relay suicide. The first kid gets done and hands the ball to the next team mate in line, and so on. Losing teams do 2 laps.
  3. Ring of fire - 5 minutes - see Chapter 9 for the Ring of Fire drill
  4. Water break - 2 minutes and they need to be on the baseline at the end of the 2 minutes
  5. Short spaced drill - 5 minutes - see Chapter 12 for this drill
  6. Backwards racing drill - 4 minutes - again see chapter 12 - to make it more interesting, divide them into 2 or 3 teams and have them compete in a relay. Losers do 2 laps, winning team gets a tootsie roll pops.

Gym time is so valuable that you really do want to get the most out of the time you have, so time everything you do. So far you have spent 25 minutes of your LS. Most of you will find that you only have an hour of gym time, so you are close to halfway through.

  1. lay-ups - 7 minutes - Have them start at half court and they have to do their lay-ups at 1/2 speed. You will find you are constantly reminding them to go off of their correct foot. Spend 4 minutes having them do it with their natural hand, then 3 minutes with their opposite hand.
  2. Water break 2 minutes
  3. Shooting - Pass drill - 3 minutes - you will find this in Chapter 13
  4. Screening - 5 minutes - Divide them into groups of 3. One person has the ball, one is the defender who guards the ball handler, and the last one is the screener who sets the screen on the defender. Keep on reminding them to roll to the basket after they set a SOLID SCREEN.
  5. Now you have 18 minutes left in an hour long LS. This is where I would spend 5 minutes on an area that you feel they totally screwed up on.
  6. The last next 8 minutes I would let them do a no dribble scrimmage.
  7. The next 3 minutes let them dribble while scrimmaging.
  8. The last 2 minutes will be something new. Blow your whistle and yell baseline. Once there yell ball count. This is where they have 30 seconds to collect all the balls for you and put them into your ball bags. This saves you lots of time and energy.
  9. Yell baseline, then tell them what a great LS they had and thank them for paying attention. Now you pass out your tootsie roll pops to those that won them.

You have just finished an hour LS. If your LS's are longer than this, then spend more time on your drills, especially lay-ups. Also spend some time on your defensive foot work, like the Electric Slide drill.

You have now solved Rubik's Cube. Everything has come together for you. At the end of this LS you don't even need to go to your local watering hole, because this can be simple and SIMPLE IS GOOD!!!!

Chapter 20 - "And now a short note from our sponsor!"

No! No! No! This is not an ad, I wouldn't do that to you. In fact, here's a fun tip for you. You know those annoying phone calls you get that want you to buy something? Next time they call, here's what you say - "Sure I'll listen! I just applied for bankruptcy and I need new credit cards, do you offer those? You see my bankruptcy has NOT been discharged and I'm looking for a way to buy a lot of things!" These folks will freak out and hang up or find a way to nicely hang up.

Anyway, I feel that you and I have come far enough along to have a little one-on-one here. As you can tell, I have thrown a lot of my own beliefs and values in here. Why? Because I can! As if you didn't know, I'm the author, remember?

One point I want to make here, is that there is more than one way to skin a cat. For every viewpoint I give you, there are at least 100 different ones. Please understand that a lot of my viewpoints represent that of the minority. Most coaches want to win at all costs. I'm not like that, and I hope you won't be either. Here's an example.

Your 6th grade team is losing by 1 point and you have 5 seconds to go. Your right handed guard steals the ball from the other team and they are on his/her left side of the court. Naturally they dribble down the left side of the court and have a chance at making a lay-up from the left side of the basket. If they shoot the lay-up right handed it will probably go in. If they shoot it with their left hand it may not go in. What do you teach them to do?

Most coaches would scream bloody murder if their player tried it left handed and accuse them of intentionally trying to lose the game for them. AND they would probably see limited playing time for the rest of the season. This is
the majority point of view.

I think differently. My job is to teach these girls enough so that they can make their high school varsity team, and that includes opposite handed lay-ups in pressure situations. I want my player to shoot the lay-up left handed. In 6th grade it doesn't matter who wins or loses. What matters is are you teaching them good habits. If my player misses, I applaud them for doing it the right way. It takes 3 days to create a habit, it could take years to break one.

A side note to this scenario, most kids want to win. This being the case, if they know what you expect them to do, they will learn to do opposite handed lay-ups because they want to win. TEACH THEM ENOUGH TO WIN!!!

Now to stray back to my original point. Not all of you are going to buy into my belief system and that's ok. I just wanted you to know that I realize I am giving you a slanted perspective of the game. I only hope that it's a viewpoint slanted in favor of the kids and not the almighty win! When these kids hit 9th and 10th grade, the game is all about winning. Let's not make them old before their time. Basketball is always going to be about learning, but especially at the younger ages.

Some of you are going to adopt some of my viewpoints and some won't. The thing is, if you want your son or daughter to make the varsity team, you still have to teach them.


  1. Can they make a right and left handed lay-up
  2. Can they dribble with either hand or are they one dimensional
  3. Do they hustle every minute they are on the floor - no one wants a lazy player
  4. Are they coachable? Do they listen and follow instructions
  5. Do they play defense as aggressively as they play offense
  6. ***** DO THEY HAVE A GOOD ATTITUDE *****?

OK, so now you are saying I have totally lost it. You are coaching 3rd graders so why am I talking about the varsity team? That's an excellent question! I have just as excellent an answer. Because at the beginning of this book, I had you decide on what your priorities were as a coach. If your goal is to be a teacher of the game to your players, I believe that you need to know what you should teach and WHY you should teach them.

On the flip side, if all you want to do is win at the 3rd-6th grade levels, then here is your formula, teach them a tight 2-1-2 zone defense and don't let the other team get a shot close to the basket and this also stops the other team from getting many rebounds. You will win a lot of games. There is an inherent (another 50 cent word) problem with this. The other teams will be learning m-2-m defense during these 3 years. When the kids hit 7th grade, the other teams have learned and gotten better, and yours is still playing 3rd grade ball. You will lose by some pretty large scores.

Let me give you another example, it's the same thing as with my daughter's height. My daughter was 5'8" in 5th grade and one of the tallest players on the court. In 8th grade she is 5'9" and everyone else has caught up with her height-wise, and a lot of girls are now taller. These other teams will surpass you if you don't keep teaching. (OK, the analogy made sense to me before I put in on paper, oh well.)

My main point is that you have to have short range and long range goals. I'm trying to teach you more long range goals. Will they help you in the short run? Of course, but sometimes they could hurt your win - loss ratio. Sometimes your parents will question and criticize your tactics. If you want to stick to your priorities, you better have broad shoulders. There will be times when you are slammed and dissed so hard that you even think about quitting this stupid job. But then, you will see a kids face after they have used what you have taught them in a game, and that smile makes it all worthwhile.

The last part of this one-on-one is to remind you why you took the coaching job in the first place. You didn't sign up for the ego or power, you signed up so your kid and a bunch of other kids could play a game. And remember - these kids signed up to play a game. AND GAMES ARE SUPPOSED TO BE FUN, DON'T LET THEM DOWN!!!!

Another little side note here: If you ever feel I am losing you and you can't follow a concept or an idea, e-mail me at firepow55@aol.com I do answer my mail. Thanks for bearing with me and allowing me a platform to spout off on.

PS - Remember I used that saying earlier about skinning a cat. I wonder where that came from? And why would anyone want to skin a cat? Can't use the hide or the meat, now can you?

Continue to Chapters 21-34

Thanks to Coach Steve Jordan of the Coach's Notebook and Coach Jarry Dean Jackson for helping to compile this book from the World of Sports Chalk Talk message board.

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