Build the Ultimate Elementary School Basketball Program
If you saw Steve Nash when he was a child, you’d never have guessed that he’d grow up to become the NBA legend he is today. The 2x MVP had just started playing basketball in 8th grade. Soccer was his main sport- and he also played hockey, lacrosse, and rugby. To the basketball coaches that see a like-minded young player experiment with 3-4 different sports and worry about a lack of “commitment” or “dedication”, Ron Yeung, manager of Canada Basketball’s Youth Development Program has a message for you: experimenting is OKAY, it’s NORMAL, and in fact, it’s BETTER for their development as an athlete in the long term.
Last week, Ron Yeung had some great insights for Coachbase as he talked about his experience developing Canada’s Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) program. With a population of only 30 million as opposed to the United States’ 300 million, Canada Basketball’s youth program has had a much smaller talent pool to draw from. In addition, basketball faces tough competition from other popular sports such as Ice hockey, Lacrosse, Rugby, Soccer and Baseball. With these factors in mind, Canada Basketball teamed up with sports scientists and researchers to develop the LTAD. Rather than trying to compete, Canada Basketball encourages it’s young players to build up vital motor and decision making skills by playing other sports. Moreover, the recently launched Steve Nash Youth Basketball program has given thousands of youth coaches the training and resources they need to coach basketball. If you coach an elementary or middle school team, these are our 4 principles that you can apply to create your own youth basketball program that will have your kids loving the game for life!
Realize that Movement Skills are the True Fundamentals
In his interview with Coachbase, Ron Yeung stated that he views his young players as “athletes first, basketball players second”. Whilst this may sound strange to the basketball coach, take an example such a young player who is having difficulty learning the 1-2 rhythm of a layup. On the court, the problem might be that the player is traveling often or frequently clanging layups off the backboard. The more fundamental weakness however, might be that the player struggles with skipping, a basic movement skill.
Canada Basketball calls these movement skills “physical literacy”: “the ability of a young child to “move confidently and with control” and also read and react to activities going on around them. The extent of a child’s activity from the ages of 0-12, during the most rapid stages of development of the nervous system, plays a key role in determining their physical literacy later on in life. Fortunately, most kids naturally enjoy being active! It’s up to you, the coach, to have them play fun games that will build a variety of different movement skills.
Build Movement Skills through Multiple Sports
To help youth coaches figure out which sports contribute to developing which fundamental movement skills, Canada Basketball designed the table below. Using Steve Nash as example, Ron Yeung explained how his participation in many sports, particularly soccer, influenced and helped make him a great basketball player: “You can see that there are many skills that transferred from soccer- for example when you see him on the court, his footwork is just amazing. Different skills that you use from different sports allow you to transfer those skills and get better at it.” As for the coaches worried about a lack of focus: “Kids will narrow down their sports in junior high to two sports that they’re really good at”, he says “but for the elementary school age, let them have fun, let them play, and try as many sports as possible.” We suggest that you take his advice.
Apply the Principles of Fun, Age Appropriateness and Progressions when selecting drills.
These 3 principles are vital for developing skills in young players and motivating them to stay in the game. Unfortunately, coaches often forget about them when they opt to run a layup line for 200 makes. Here’s what Ron had to say about each:
1. Fun- “First and foremost you want to make sure that your kids are having fun and enjoying the sport”. Fun should be your first criteria if you’re selecting a drill for an elementary school team.
2. Age Appropriateness- Have the sufficient motor and basketball skills been developed for players to run the drill?
3. Progressions- ‘Before we even get too specialized into basketball we need to make sure the kids have developed a base of motor skills. After that, we want to develop global players.” “Global players” are a term Canada Basketball uses to describe all rounded players that have worked on all the skills and trained to play in every position. As a coach, you need to understand why it’s important that even big players learn how to handle the ball and smaller ones learn to rebound, and how to make a drill more or less difficult depending on the stage of a player’s development (hint: find the answers in the resources below).
Think outside of the box to get inspiration for drills
Surprisingly, Ron said that one of the main groups that Canada Basketball works with are P.E teachers. Although these teachers don’t specialize in any sport, they’ve often got an extensive knowledge of games that kids love and can learn motor skills from. Often, these drills are then easily modified to make them more basketball specific. If you haven’t already, ask the P.E teachers at your school for advice!
Another great resource for drills Ron mentioned was the Canada Youth Basketball site. To help implement the LTAD, Canada Basketball has compiled a wiki of various fun drills for different age groups and skill levels. Aside from drills, there’s also articles on player nutrition and motivation. It’s accessible for free no matter where you are in the world, so check them out here.
These are the 4 principles we learned from Ron Yeung that help Canada Basketball’s Long Term Athlete Development Program consistently produce elite talent. If you’re an elementary coach that’s just starting out, or even an experienced veteran, there’s plenty of insights in here that you can apply to your own program. Coaching an elementary school team is never easy but the rewards are worth it when you can spread the love of the game to other young players.
Latest posts by Ron Yeung (see all)
- The Bean Bag Drill: Teach FUNdametal Basketball Skills at All Ages - April 28, 2016
- Team Canada’s Secret to Nurturing Young Talent - February 11, 2016