Written by Matt Jones
Like many other coaches, I have been able to coach basketball at a variety of levels and in a variety of different settings. Coaching at the NCAA DII level and the prep school levels are quite different from one another. Being a camp coach at a large state school and running your own camp in your hometown are quite different from one another. All these differences are what have given me the blessing of perspective.
Perspective is perhaps the greatest thing a young coach can obtain from my perspective.There are many ways to go about this craft we have all chosen and there is a unique beauty in that.
For me, my entire perspective has changed greatly in the past 12 months or so. Through a series of professional and personal events, my career in basketball changed direction (for the time being). Skill development has become my primary focus in my professional career. I hesitate to call myself a “trainer” but most people in my neck of the woods would refer to me as that. In my own mind, I am a coach searching for the right opportunity in his career and in the meantime has found an outlet to improve one aspect of his craft.
Over the last year, I have been able to work with players ranging from 6th graders to EuroLeague professionals. I have also had my first experiences working with high school girls which have been maybe the most enjoyable part of this learning experience. This wide range of players has given me a new perspective on youth basketball. I never had coached AAU, middle school, or high school hoops. I always got players when they were 18-19 years old and would have some sort of hot take as to how great or terrible their skillset was. This past year has changed my outlook and I am thankful for that.
A few general observations about player development in terms of youth basketball (ages 10-14):
Instilling a Discipline and Understanding of a “Good Athletic Stance”
One thing I notice over and over is how many players are too upright when they are on the court. None of us are at our best playing tall. We are slower to react, and our balance is lacking especially with the speed and physicality of basketball today. This needs to be reminded over and over to players but a worthwhile investment even if everyone involved is sick of hearing it. Having a good wide base with your shoulders back and your butt down is a position player of all ages should understand from an early age. If you’re in this position, you cannot go wrong on the basketball court. I spend a great deal of time reminding the players I work with to be in this position as they wait to receive a pass or as they are waiting to play defense in a workout or drill. Making comparisons to how a shortstop in baseball or a cornerback in football waits for a play to happen is a tool I use often.
Focusing on Shot Preparation Matters
People can argue all they want about 1-2’ing into a shot vs. hopping into a shot but the fact of the matter is that they are both needed. I spend time teaching both in every single workout session I conduct. The best players can do both. Middle school is an appropriate time to start exposing the different variations to players. I also will spend some time showing them inside pivot just for some further perspective. The other aspect of shot preparation is getting your feet set by the time the pass has arrived to the shooter. The term I use over and over is “Do Your Work Early!”. By the time the pass has arrived, all other motion should be completed from the shoulders down. All the player can do is begin their upward motion into their shot. I have had a lot of parents tell me that their young player’s release is too slow when in fact the shooting motion isn’t all that slow, it is simply that their feet are still doing too much by the time they catch the ball. Having a slower release in your upper body shooting motion can be compensated for by “Doing Your Work Early!” with your feet.
There is Time in Every Single Day to Work on Ballhandling
I have worked at a prominent college basketball coach’s basketball camp every Summer for the last 7 years and there is one statement he makes at every single camp.
“If you’re the best ballhandler and the best layup maker on your team, you’ll be one of the best players on your team until you’re about 14.”
I tell parents there is no magical formula to be a good middle school basketball player. If you’re a middle school player, be the best ballhandler and you will have no issues against pressing teams. You will get to the rim over and over beating your defenders off the bounce and shooting a bunch of layups and free throws. Also, the coach knows you can be trusted down the stretch of close games. With the power of YouTube, every young player has access to thousands of videos with different ballhandling exercise. I suggest to kids all the time to pick 5 new ballhandling moves and exercises every week. Practice those 5 drills or moves for 10-15 minutes every day for a week. The following week pick a new handful of them and get back to it. Keep things as fresh as possible. Cut out 15 minutes of Instagram, television, or FortNite every day to work on tightening up that handle. Every player has a little bit of time in their day to do ballhandling which can literally get done anywhere. Be the best ballhandler and always have a spot on a roster, it is a simple formula for young players!