Developmental Priorities: Beginners

Grades 1-4 – Ages 5-10

Learning to love the game is without fail the most important developmental principle at younger ages (and as you will see, increasing the love is most important at all ages). It is not overstating things to say that it doesn’t matter what you want to teach them. They need to think the game is fun. This one thing trumps everything from a developmental standpoint. 

Young players are not developmentally prepared to ‘work’ at the game without burning out. Let the game be a game. Take every effort to make it fun. You want them to learn, of course, but it better be fun. This is their foundation for the future. Give them what they want. 

The younger or more inexperienced the player, the less I tell them to pass. This may sound crazy, but it is by design. The more a player handles the ball, the more confident he will become in his ability to play the game. Ball-mastery or ball-confidence trumps spacing and movement and making the ‘right’ play. Let them dribble. Encourage them to dribble. They will pass when they have to. And that is enough. 

Dribbling, passing, catching, shooting. With real defense and game-like feedback. This is fun to them. It is also messy. But it is the first step to a real basketball future. You cannot play the game without being confident with the ball. It all starts here.

Feel comes before form. But too many adults want to impose form onto young players. So we create boxes and rules and regulations to make the game nicer and neater. This makes parents feel better, but it makes players worse. Teaching feel requires giving space to make a mess. It requires the blank sheet of paper and colored pencils. Let them draw. Do your best to get out of way. 

Too many coaches think that good teaching means a lot of good talking. This is nonsense. If you want to help develop players who can really play, you need to create the kind of games and situations where they can develop a feel. Passing back and forth in a line is fine, but it is not enough. They need games and action and feedback that matters. Relax on the form. Focus on feel.  


In most of life, parents and adults know what is best for their kids. But there are some ways in which kids know better. Kids want to play. They aren’t afraid of failure. They don’t care about the score. They don’t care about all the rules or whether or not someone traveled or touched the line. They want to use their imagination and play. And I think they are right to do so!

Kids wants to imitate what they see players do on television or what they older friends do on the playground. They want to use their imagine. But they will fail. No worries. Let the rules and teaching be broad enough to capture the imagination. It matters more than the details…by far.


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