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Tips for Youth Coaches

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Have Fun

Although the athletes need to work hard and improve their skills, they don't need a drill sergeant.  No kid ever performed better after being yelled at.  The most important thing is to have fun and enjoy the experience so that they don't get burned out.  Many skills can be taught through games and competitive activities that keep the kids engaged.  Practices cannot always be fun, but keeping the kids engaged will keep them coming back and working hard.   Moreover, you need to have fun.  Coaching a competitive basketball team is a lot of work and a big time commitment.  As you have fun so will the athletes.  If you don't enjoy working with youth, its going to be a loooong year.

Progress is More Important than Winning

When coaching youth the first goal should be teaching proper skills.  We all want to win and winning is a great experience for the team.  However, at this age winning and teaching are not always completely complementary.  Sometimes we teach bad habits to exploit weaknesses in the competition or hide weaknesses on our own team.  We trade future success for today's win.

Sometimes we have teams where winning is unfortunately not in the cards.  If you measure your success only by wins, a struggling team and coach can quickly become demoralized.  Practices stop being fun and progress slows down.  Always keep in mind, the progress the players make is a much better reflection on your coaching ability than the number of Ws you end up with.  The goal is to prepare the team to be winners at the next level of competition and to learn the skills that will help them enjoy basketball for the rest of their lives.

Focus on Skills

At young ages, we strongly recommend not having too many set plays.  Most coaches find that they are more successful when they can run a few plays really well than a lot of plays poorly.  One approach is to start the year with a good play against a man D, and a good play against a zone, then focus practice on the fundamentals that will help them to execute the plays successfully.  As the season progresses and the players get proficient you can slowly add new plays, or even better, variants of the existing plays.

It takes a long time to teach a group of 4th graders a complicated play, and during a game, it only takes one kid forgetting where to go to ruin it.  When plays are too complicated or there are too many, kids often focus only on trying to be in the right spot and do not develop the basketball fundamentals and decision making needed to excel and feel comfortable in a game.  And if you change your mind and try a new play, you are starting all over.

Remember, good skills will translate into any plays.

Teach Sportsmanship

Although most of our players will not grow up to be sports superstars, they do need to be superstars at interacting with others.  For many of these kids, competitive sports provides the first opportunity for them to have to perform in intense stressful situations and they need to learn how to interact with their peers, their managers and their competitors.  Teaching them to always respect others and treat others fairly regardless of the situation may be the most important skill you teach this year.

Play Man Defense

Man or zone?  This is often a hot debate.  However, Coach Lewis recommends that coaches teach and play Man-to-Man defense as much as possible.  It is true that there are many advantages to zone, especially at young ages when the offenses you will face struggle with ball handling and passing and cannot shoot from the outside.  In man, early on kids will get beat and you may give up layups and open shots.  You will probably win more with zone.  However, man D teaches many essential skills and principles that youth need to learn while they are developing.  Coach Lewis has found that on average boys who have played predominantly zone struggle to compete when they get to the high school level.  

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Although we encourage you to develop your own coaching philosophies and base your coaching style on your personnel, here are a few tips we have for new and experienced coaches getting started with youth.

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