We have had the pleasure of working many Austin Youth Basketball Clinics with former collegiate & pro player Mike Vandegarde. Mike has also worked for years as collegiate coach and has been a scout for the NBA for the last 15 years. Mike is also the proud father of two youth basketball players. We asked Mike: “What should parents, coaches and trainers focus on when teaching beginning youth basketball players?”
What to teach a beginning basketball player as they start to learn the game
How to Dribble:
Practice, Practice, Practice, that is how children learn how to dribble. Being able to dribble with both hands is the most important skill one can learn early on. Following that they need to learn how to dribble without looking at the basketball. Also, learning how to change directions while dribbling to get by defenders is when things really get exciting. They need to practice dribbling while going full speed. That means running and dribbling as fast as they can without losing control of the ball. These dribbling techniques can not be learned unless the time is put in by the player on the court.
How to Shoot:
Technique is the rule when it comes to shooting. The shooting hand needs to be under the ball and the guide hand needs to be on the side of the ball. The ball should not be deep in the palm of your shooting hand. Proper rotation and release is vital and that is very difficult for many younger children. As you release the shot the middle finger and pointer finger should be the last 2 parts of your hand touching the ball. A reverse rotation on the shot is best and that helps as the ball lands on the rim to make the ball go through the basket. Age, strength and size will determine the level of skill they can master in terms of shooting the ball. Different release points or very normal for kids early in the learning process. Weather the release is from the body, the forehead or the side it is most important to teach your kids how to shot with one hand and how to get the proper rotation.
How to Pass:
Being able to pass the ball makes playing the game with others fun. A simple chest pass, bounce pass, and overhead pass are needed from day one. Hands should be on the sides of the ball, and both hands should be used while passing. Many kids like to use one hand and that teaches bad habits. A chest pass should be straight with no arc and from chest to chest. A bounce pass should be the exact same form as a chest pass and should bounce closer to the receiver then the passer. Both these passes should have some backspin to make it easier to catch and softer on the bounce. The overhead pass is very similar to a soccer throw in. You have both hands on the side of the ball and throw from the top of your head to the receivers face. Passing is very much like dribbling. Practice is the only thing that will get you better.
How to make a proper lay up:
So many kids can not make a layup jumping off the proper leg and shooting with the proper hand. This is the best technique you will ever teach a child learning the game. You shoot a right handed layup with the right hand jumping off the left foot. The right knee should come forward and help propel the entire body up toward the rim. Just like you are skipping or jumping to touch something very high. A left handed layup is the exact mirror image. You shoot with your left hand jumping off your right leg. Once again the left knee will go forward as if you are skipping or jumping for something very high (videos are all over the internet to get this technique correct). Basketball is all about footwork and balance and learning to shoot a proper layup sets the foundation for everything your child will learn about the game. Kids get cut from middle school and traveling teams because they can not make a proper layup. Teach them early how to do it correctly.
How to Pivot:
This takes balance and proper technique. When kids first start playing games they get stuck when they pick up the ball after dribbling. They need to learn how to pivot to create good passing angles and passing lanes to pass the ball to a teammate. Kids need to learn how to pivot on their toes and stay on balance. There are 4 types of pivots. A right forward pivot, a right reverse pivot, a left forward pivot, and a left reverse pivot. Understanding each one takes time and practice. Being able to do just one pivot well will make a difference when playing games and not turning the ball over to the other team.
Triple threat position:
Triple threat means when you catch the ball you should be ready to dribble, pass, or shoot. This means catching the ball and bringing the ball to your chest with your strongest hand behind the ball ready to dribble, pass, or shoot. Every time you catch the ball you should teach your child that their first instinct should be to go to the basket with the dribble. Most kids just starting out need to get within 6-8 feet of the basket to make a shot. As your child gets a better understanding and skill level for the game they can tell when a pass or quick shot is the best option.
Everything I have talked about in this article takes time and practice to master. Children need to not only practice these skills but to practice them going at full speed. Games happen at full speed and kids need to practice techniques at full speed. If your son or daughter has a real interest in the game these early techniques are a necessity to building their skills for the future. We all want our children to have success in sports so go find a driveway, a park, a basement, or a gym and get started to today and share these great skills with them.