Coaching youth basketball is many times a volunteer service.  Coaches don’t get paid or at least not enough to make it their full-time job. Teams might practice one or two days a week for an hour. Games are every Saturday for a couple of months. It’s not that serious, right?

Let’s even say middle school coaches get a small stipend and they get to practice every day. But they are teachers who have a million other things to do and it’s not like church league or middle school basketball includes million-dollar contracts with signing bonuses and endorsement deals.

Yet, how do these coaches act on the sidelines during games? It’s no different than players acting like they should make shots without practicing them. If you’re in middle school, you’re around 13 years old.  You’re not supposed to be very good yet and that’s ok. That doesn’t mean the coaches should be the same.

However, from what I can see, there’s a severe lack of teaching going on. Anybody can coach basketball, but who can teach it? There are lots of people who can yell “Rebound” or “Make a Layup.” Thanks, Captain Obvious.

Who understands what players need to be able to do so that they can make a JV team or a high school team, much less college or anything else? Who can make sure their players have food before and after games  I don’t mean steak dinners.  I mean something as simple as a sandwich. It seems like so many young players in today’s game aren’t learning what it takes to be successful in the game or in life and they aren’t really taking care of themselves either.

Coaches take games so seriously. How seriously do coaches take the preparation before the games? Even if you only have one practice for one hour a week, you should take that practice very seriously.  It’s the only one you get. Instead, coaches don’t seriously consider how they conduct practice.  Either that or there is a complete lack of understanding of what practice should look like. If you want to coach the best players one day, help the ones you have to be their best. It will prepare you to coach the best players. If that’s not your goal, that’s ok too. That doesn’t mean as coaches we shouldn’t teach these kids how to play with our maximum level of physical and mental effort.

Kids are “playing” basketball ball “year-round”.  Yet, the lack of skills and IQ is disturbing. Kids are playing the game and that’s great. However, they aren’t doing the things it takes to be great. They aren’t getting better. They are just repeating the same bad habits over and over again.

Are coaches showing kids what it takes and kids aren’t doing it?  Is it because those things aren’t fun or flashy so that coaches don’t want to teach it and players don’t want to do it? Is it because as coaches we get bored with them and we want to move on? I suppose that teaching plays could be considered more fun. As coaches, we probably feel like we are more a part of the process if we have all of these great strategies that help us win.

Phil Jackson is known for the triangle, but let’s think about who he coached. To say that he wasn’t worried about skill development would be dumb. But there’s a big difference in developing Michael or Kobe and developing most middle school or high school basketball players.  I know those things aren’t glamorous or flashy. In fact, they can be straight-up boring, but it’s what most players need. And it’s not about you.

If players aren’t willing to do those basic, boring, mundane tasks, then they aren’t willing to do what it takes to be great.  Why don’t we take coaching youth basketball more seriously? Is it because we don’t get paid much for it? These kids aren’t very good. So they deserve to be treated as lesser players? They don’t need to be coached. They need to be taught. Maybe coaches don’t know what to do, or they are afraid to admit it? Is that they think they know? No matter what the situation, the kids are the ones to suffer.

After coaching at every college level for over half my life, I’m used to spending hours watching of film, writing scouting reports, writing practice plans and game plans for my teams. Working with countless kids at summer camps for weeks every summer wasn’t a way to make money. It was a way to get better at my craft.  It was my job, but it was also a passion.  Watching those hours of AAU and high school basketball, and watching hours and hours of film wasn’t punishment or a job, it was an education.

Now I am coaching youth basketball. There is no film to watch or game plan to come up with.  The only question I have to answer is how can I help them get better today. I have to figure out, how I can give them the tools to help them make their middle school team or their high school team. If we win, that’s great. But the real question is how can I do a better job of teaching them how to play both individually and as a team.

It’s hard when kids don’t know what the free throw line is or why it’s even there, but it’s fun to watch them learn. Coaching kids who “know the game” but who don’t know how to play should be easy but so many times they aren’t taught how to play the game which means they struggle against equal competition.

The NBA isn’t going to suffer because of poor youth basketball coaches.  The college game will be just fine too.  Most youth coaches will never coach an NBA player and they probably won’t be the reason an NBA player makes it there anyway.  Youth coaches can impact kids.  They can make the game fun. They can help players improve and learn how to play the game. Youth coaches can teach players what it means to compete and work hard.

This takes time. It takes a willingness to spend as much effort on preparing and executing a good practice as we would yelling and screaming at a referee in a game that most people won’t even remember one month after it’s over.


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