Playing Next Year: Job #1

At a recent holiday party, the conversation turned to one couples son (age 9, I’ll call him Joe, not his real name) who is playing recreation level basketball. Joe is on a team with a capable coach who runs terrific drills and keeps practices a lot of fun (according to his parents).

The problem lays unfortunately at the coaches feet and in his desire to win over what should be his #1 priority. Apparently, the coach instructs Joe and several other players to get the ball to one particular player. If players get rebounds, they are told to immediately get rid of the ball and move away.

Because the team is so young, there is no real offensive system, the coaches use  a set play where “Ed” gets the ball to “Randy”” who shoots, pretty much every time. Set plays are a big no-no in my opinion (I’m backed up by article after article  about why having a set play at this age is a mistake).

I’m a huge proponent of giving all of your young players a chance to score and to contribute to the team. This way, every single player becomes part of the  team and gives you the leverage to keep even those disinterested kids focused (peer pressure!). Teamwork is also my own coaching success strategy; far too often  teams lose because their star player doesn’t feel well, play well or the other team figures out a way to shut him or her down on a given night. I feel like if  I have a team where every player can contribute, then we ultimately have a chance to win every game.

The bonus (and the real reason) for developing such teams, especially at young ages is that kids just want to play. They are more interested in fun than in winning. When I ask kids if they would rather win every single game during the season, or get a chance to play all the positions and have fun they vote for playing and fun, not for winning. Sure, winning feels great. But I can tell you from personal experience that it feels a hell of a lot better when everyone on the team feels like they contributed to the victory.

Meanwhile Joe is completely discouraged and no longer wants to play basketball. It’s a shame and a tragedy. I’d say with certainty that a someone coaching kids younger than 14 in semi or non-competitive leagues should have a singular, overriding goal each season.

That goal is to simply get 100% of your team back again next season.   By teaching them teamwork, the basics of the game this isn’t impossible. It’s Job #1 for me, especially for the girls that I am lucky enough to coach.


Teaching Fundamentals

It all seems to come back to fundamentals. I took an hour today and went to see the local high school girls team play and was surprised, but happy to hear the head coach really focusing on the fundamentals.

More than once, I heard him tell his girls to “box out” and to get their arms into the right shooting position. The team played a very simple man-man, highly aggressive defense all game and used one particular very athletic player to create problems for the other team. I also really liked how he yelled “ball” and “open” to simply indicate that someone needed to cover the ball or pass to the open girl. I’ll steal those calls straightaway for myself!

On offense, they used a pretty good looking motion offense and did a good job of setting screens again and again. It payed off and they won going away.

At our 5/6th grade game tonight, we again focused heavily on defensive basics and continued to work on the core elements of the motion offense. We struggled a bit, but because we’re a big, athletic team we won easily although that wasn’t what really mattered. Our biggest problem actually, is lack of focused practice time to hammer home these concepts.

I think the girls are starting to respond to the repititions however (getting set up, moving around and triple threat) although they still dribble way too much. It got so bad at the end of the 2nd quarter, we made them play an offensive set with no dribbling allowed, just like a drill we use during practice. That calmed them down a little which was good.

Part of what we’ll be working on going forward is spacing, motion and more passing with lots less dribbling.

To Yell or Not to Yell

Is Too Much Yelling a Bad Thing?

Is Too Much Yelling a Bad Thing?

As a coach, I’m extremely supportive, but extremely vocal. Someone asked me recently if I had noticed that the amount of yelling a coach does drops dramatically as you get to higher and higher playing levels. Some college basketball coaches don’t say a word during games. I hadn’t ever though it it like that (and am not sure it’s actually true… Bobby Knight.)

I’m of two minds when it comes to yelling as a coach during games. In the past, I’d yell and scream at the top of my lungs both giving the kids encouragement, but also giving them instruction. The more I read about this and the more I think about it though, the more I want to reserve my loud voice for practices and stay much quieter during games.

I am beginning to think that games should be played by the kids using what they have learned during practice. The question I’m struggling with now though is that delicate balance between being overbearing and supportive. During games, the kids should be totally focused on using the skills they have been working on at practice – to some degree, it’s like taking a school test for them. My role isn’t to give them the answers, but to have taught them enough to figure it out on their own in a live game.

This doesn’t mean I’l be silent of course, it just means that I’ll focus my game energy on watching what’s going on (maybe I need a little notebook like Bobby Bowden carries around to scribble impressions and notes down) and providing bench players with guidance and teaching.

Last night, I tried it out and felt a lot better about things, I was calmer, and more collected and really watched my players play. I saw a few things that I didn’t like, things that I thought we had practiced enough but now know we still have a long way to go, even on some fundamentals.

Are you a yeller? Have you ever thought about not yelling as much?

You Volunteered to What?

That feeling you had when you told your kid “Sure kid, I’ll coach your team” is now long gone and you find yourself sitting at the coaches meeting in the dead of winter. All you can think of is that you haven’t thought much about whatever sport it is you volunteered for since you were 13 and have no clue where to start. Your wife (or husband) thinks you are crazy for volunteering and your kid has hopes for a championship ring.

The league gives you a packet of info with some rules and a roster and tells you good luck and have fun. They also mention, though everyone in the room snickers that coaching isn’t about winning but about giving your kids a good experience. As you leave, you overhear several other coaches talking about specific kids (none whom you have never heard of) and you start to wonder what you have gotten yourself into.

Sound familiar?

It should, because I believe it is the common experience most of us have when our children are old enough to play organized sports andwe are dumb enopugh to volunteer. I remember volunteering to coach tee-ball for my 2nd grade girl a few years ago and found myself scared to death at that first practice, eager faces looking up at me and me thinking to myself, what am I doing here!

Relax. It is going to be Ok. I’m here to try to help. I’m going to talk about the basics on this blog and focus on the learning part of coaching, not the winning (for real!). Over the next few posts, I’ll outline some best practices and insights from my own experiences. Take what I say with a grain of salt of course, but use what you like with your own child and the rest of your team to provide them with a great experience so that they not only enjoy themselves, but will want to play again next season (and pray that they get you as coach again!).

Stay tuned for some upcoming posts on:

  • Tryouts and drafting players (typically starts around 4th grade)
  • Developing a real practice plan
  • Setting yourself for success by managing parents upfront
  • Dealing with over aggressive coaches
  • Dealing with over aggressive kids on your team
  • How to pick as assistant coach
  • How to manage the roster (literally, a template)
  • Reviews of coaching aids and tools
  • Reviews of team web sites
  • More… much more!

I’m so excited to write this blog I can hardly contain myself. If you are interested in co-authoring posts, please do contact me right away!

Must Listen Audio

If you care about being a great coach, listen to this:


This is a recording of an interview and transcript that we [Breakthrough Basketball] conducted with Coach Don Kelbick.

Don has tremendous experience and knowledge about the game. He was a college head coach and a college assistant for 25 years. Currently, he trains numerous NBA players, including Bruce Bowen, Raja Bell, Carlos Arroyo, Guillermo Diaz, Rob Hite, Rasual Butler and others.



Welcome to my new “Coaching Youth Sports” blog. This blog is being written for 2 reasons. I had been keeping a blog over on Weplay but decided to use WordPress to get more flexibility and options. I had a few good posts that you can refer to over there including on on “Winning” that I think is worth reading.

First, I’m addicted to coaching youth sports teams and want to document the experience so that I can continue to learn how to be a better coach. I’ve been spending my time coaching my 2 daughters (one is in 4th grade, the other in 6th grade) and have been really trying my best to take the focus off winning and to instill a love for sports in all my players.

Secondly, I’d like to put together a comprehensive set of links, tools and references for new coaches. The lack of training offered by local towns and leagues is appalling. We rely on each new coach to come in and develop their own practice plans and to act like real coaches but give them no guidance. Maybe your town has developed some good strategies to handle this.. if so, please contact me and let me know about them!

As a coach (and I think a good one), I hate to think that different kids are getting such different levels of quality within the same programs. It’s not right and not fair to those kids who get stuck with lousy coaches.

Enjoy and please do comment all you want!

Lastly, if you are interested in co-authoring this blog with me, please do contact me! I am really focused on girls sports, but it’s only because I don’t have a son to coach!

So they are documented, here are the rules of my blog:

  1. I get the final word but will do everything in my power to NEVER censor myself or your comments. That said, I reserve all rights to delete your comments if they are overly rude, insensitive and/or abusive.
  2. My comments in no way reflect the official position of my employers or the town/program I am coaching for.
  3. Everything on this blog is my opinion and my opinion alone.
  4. I will try to blog about coaching only but other stuff will come  up every so often.
  5. I’ll try to respond to every single comment and/or email you leave for me.
  6. I will try to never identify any of my players by name, the programs by name or the parents by name. I’ll make up names and teams if I have to in order to protect identities.

Please do enjoy the blog!