Basketball for kids should be fun for everyone involved—players, parents, and yes even the coaches. I have seen one very easy way for coaches to make a mistake and ruin the fun for everyone—including themselves. That mistake is trying to run complicated plays and offensive patterns with young players.
Players get frustrated because they won’t be able to run your players, coaches will be frustrated because of the players’ poor execution, and parents will be frustrated because their child is not enjoying the game. The good news for coaches is that you fix the frustration and can still run plays, but you have to use the correct ones. The best basketball plays for kids are the oldies, but still goodies!
Yes, the best basketball plays for kids are the ones that are simple to execute, but still teach the fundamentals of the game. You don’t have a lot of practice time as a youth coach—maybe a couple hours a week, if even that much. You want to spend that time working on fundamentals of shooting, dribbling, passing, catching, as well as teaching the rules of basketball and the rules of teamwork and fair play. It is a waste of time to practice patterns that your players won’t run during the games anyway.
Elementary age players simply cannot execute or conceptualize basketball patterns that involve many passes or specified cuts. Here are three plays to run with youth players that are simple, effective, and more importantly, teach the skills of the game. Your players will not be able to execute them unless you practice them repeatedly during your practice and warm up time.
1. Give and go or pass and cut. One players passes to another, then takes one step away from the direction he passed. That sets the defense up for an immediate cut to the basket. The player who caught the pass will throw the ball right back to the cutter if he is open. In addition to this being an effective play for kids to score off of, it teaches several fundamentals of the game.
Here are a few of the fundamentals to teach with the give and go: Fake a pass before you make a pass. Pass the ball away from the defense. When a pass is thrown to you, don’t wait for it to come to you, go after it and meet it so that the defense can’t steal it. When you catch a pass, have both feet in the air and land with both feet at the same time (jump stop) so that you can pivot either way.
When you land from catching a pass, look at the basket to see if there are any cutters open to pass to. If you do cut to the basket and don’t receive the ball, run back out behind the three point arc.
Your rule on offense should be that every time you pass to a teammate, you run the give and go play. If you don’t get the ball after you cut to the basket, you cut out behind the three point arc on the opposite side away from the ball
2. Pick and roll. Setting a pick on the defender guarding the basketball and then rolling to basket teaches these fundamentals. Setting a legal screen (pick). Dribbling off the screen with your head up so that you can pass to the roll player if he is open. Decision making to know if you should keep the ball yourself or pass it to the rolling player.
Passing to a cutting player. Catching while on the move and scoring without traveling. Have a name for this play if you want to run it so players will know when to run the pick and roll.
3. Handoff. You can start out with having one player dribble at another, make a jump stop and pick up the ball with another player cutting toward him to take the handoff. You can get a little more advanced by having a player pass to a teammate, then have a third player cut and take a handoff from the player who caught the pass.
You should only run that after they can execute a dribble handoff. Have separate names for handoff plays. Young players will not run this play on their own without direction from their coach.
Here is the most valuable concept that a coach can use that will improve your team’s offense. It is also a phrase that young players can remember and understand.
“When in doubt, spread out!”
Almost all of your opportunities to score will result from pass and cut plays or dribble drives to the basket. If you have players standing close to the basket, that will clog things up with not only your players, but the players on the other team who are guarding them will be in the way as well.
Teach players to cut to one of these 5 spots anytime they make complete a cut to the basket but don’t receive a pass, or if they are not sure of what to do.
-2 baseline corners, behind the three point arc.
-Free throw line extended on both sides of the floor, behind the three point arc.
-Top of the key, behind the three point arc.
-If they look at one of those spots and it is filled, just look for another. As soon as they see which one is open, they should cut to it.
Coaching youth basketball is a lot of fun. You can add to that fun by not expecting your players to run plays that are beyond their abilities. I emphasize again that the best basketball plays for kids are the simplest plays and the ones that give them a chance to learn the fundamental skills of the game. Stick to that plan and you are all set for a winning season no matter how the scores of your games turn out!