Know what matters when
One of the most important things about coaching youth sports is knowing what matters when. The temptation for any coach at any level of play is to see everything and try to address everything you see.
This is a mistake—a huge mistake. If you want to build a skyscraper, the foundation needs to be strong and secure first. And before you can get to all the pretty items of walls and windows and various finishes to make everything look nice and neat, you need all the support beams to be put into place. Educators call it scaffolding. Without all the strong things you cannot see, you cannot build the skyscraper. So it is for the development of the player.
But focusing on the foundation and the support beams is radically countercultural in youth sports today. Why? Two primary reasons.
First, putting the foundation and the beams in place rarely helps you win now. A focus on long-term strength and growth often increases your chances of losing, because you resist the temptation to scheme against the weakness of 10 year-olds. In a result-driven world where parents often lose their mind, this is a difficult thing to do. We are in love with the now, but a focus on the now often kills the well-being of the later.
Second, securing the strong foundation and a strong, unseen frame is a messy process. Building the skyscraper requires executing a precise and methodical plan. Basketball isn’t like that. It’s messy to learn. It requires a ton of free play and experimentation. The younger the player, the harder this is to watch and oversee. But it is absolutely, positively essential. Play is the foundation and the unseen structure required to build higher and stronger. And even to maintain that strength.
There is always something that matters more for a particular time, player, or team. The guide below is not comprehensive. In fact, it cannot be comprehensive, because there is no nice, neat, simple, obvious process a player goes through to become the best he can be. Things inevitably overlap.
Beware of subscribing to the notion that there is only one way things progress and happen in the development of good players. It doesn’t work that way. But there are principles to help us. The guide below should at least be a good start and helpful point of reference in your work with various age groups.