Youth Skill Development (3rd-6th Grade)
Over the past 14 years I have had the opportunity to train and work with a number of different players. Some were very skilled and others not so much. One thing I have learned is to base my skill development on the player's ability and not my own expectations. I can't expect every 6th grader to be able to do certain skills like shoot the ball with proper form, be able to handle the ball with their weak hand, or have good footwork. Every kid is different with contrasting abilities and skills. What I do expect from my younger players is NOTHING. Everything I do with my players are based on their skill level. I may have a 3rd grader that can shoot the ball with proper form, good footwork, and can execute different dribble moves. At the same time I may have a 6th grader that can barely catch the basketball.
So how can you develop a kid that's as young as third grade that wants some training in basketball? I have a few tips and ideas that I use when I am working with young players.
- Develop training based on their skill level - Like I mentioned before, every player is different. I may have a player that's in the third grade and have a good understanding on how to shoot the basketball. If that's the case I may not have to spend as much time on teaching that player how to shoot the basketball. We may can spend more time on working with his weak hand or developing his footwork. I always try to cater each training session to that particular player. I've had players in the past that were in 6th grade that had the skills of a high school player. They could handle the ball with both hands, finish with both hands, great shooting form, and had the footwork to execute dribble moves like a step back or up and under. So with a player like that I could demand more and have higher expectations.
- Praise effort more than outcome - Players that are just starting want to see immediate results. They hang their heads if they are not making shots or losing control of the basketball. I always tell my young players that I want "Progress over Perfection". I don't want them to do it perfectly. I don't mind seeing them make mistakes. I actually want to see them make mistakes. As long the player makes the effort to get better and put in the commitment they will see the improved results. By giving more praise on trusting the process and giving effort they also learn how to be patient and overcome adversity.
- Quality over quantity - A big pet peeve of mine is seeing young players shoot outside their range with horrible mechanics. Ok, I get it. I know you want to shoot the three like Steph Curry or Kyle Korver. But physically you are not ready. Players between the grades of 3rd-6th should really concentrate on QUALITY over QUANTITY. When learning how to shoot they should spend a lot of time shooting form shots and one handed shots close to the basket. It's not about getting up hundreds of shots with improper mechanics. It should be about good quality shots that are concentrating on form and technique. I like to spend about 10 minutes on form shooting really focusing on mechanics and then get into spot shooting about 10-12 feet out.
- Give constant feedback - Giving constant feedback is huge when it comes to development. Until a young player understand what they are doing you must constantly remind them. I like to use short phrases or key words when giving feedback. I may use statements like "Snap your wrist", "Hold your follow through", "Pound the ball" or "Drop your hips". This way I won't interrupt the flow of the drill and I can continue to coach on the fly. Don't just give feedback to let them know what they are doing wrong. You must also give them praise. This lets the player know when they are doing something right and encourages them.
- Make sure they have fun - Of all the points I've mentioned this could be the most important one. For a player to continue to want to do skill development it must be fun to them. They have to understand that it takes hard work to succeed in basketball, but at the same time they must enjoy themselves. This can be done in a variety of ways. My favorite way is to have players make game winners from the free throw line or while doing shooting drills. If they miss, not big deal. We just say the game went into overtime. We continue going into overtime until they hit the shot. You can make it very personal by asking them to name a team they may play in conference.
I believe it's very important to teach the younger players how to play correctly. It's ok to sacrifice a little more early for sustained success later. I tell my players and parents I would much rather have a player to only be able to shoot 10-15 feet away from the basket with perfect form than have them chucking the ball from the three point line. So in the beginning we may have to sacrifice some distance, but in the long run it will help them more. The main focus should be to make sure the players are learning the correct way.
If you have any questions or comments about this blog or anything else, be sure to leave them below in our comment section or email me, email@example.com.