I came across a YouTube video of former Canadian Olympic Women’s basketball coach Allison McNeill titled “Developing Players’ Decision Making.” The title caught my eye and I watched all 75 minutes of the video. And while I doubt any drill will create impeccable decision making (see our post on There Is No Magic Drill), I think there were some really good youth basketball drills especially for players that know the rules of the game and need to develop their IQs.” These drills could be applied at any level, but are best suited for players in middle school. I have broken down how and more importantly why a few of my favorite drills from this video would work in a youth setting to provide a Cliff Notes version of the long video.
Youth Basketball Drills Should Teach Spacing
How the Drill Works: Coach gives each offensive player on the box a number one through four. Player One chooses either a wing or a corner. Once she has her position, player two chooses to go to a wing or corner where Player One is not already located. By the time Player Four goes, she has to recognize where everyone else is and make the logical decision to space the floor. Eventually, you can have the team play four on four after that sequence. Coach McNeill even has these players start to recognize when to go backdoor and when to take a dribble handoff, but I’d suggest getting the baby steps down first.
For more details of how this drill works scroll to 40 minutes into the YouTube video.
Why Do the Drill: After coaching a 6th grade team with only three players that had more than a year of experience, I realized that simply saying “5 out” was taking a lot for granted. Players were constantly in the paint which meant we couldn’t drive. Since players physically couldn’t reach the hoop from outside, it meant we couldn’t score. And as much as I try to encourage players to be good teammates, hustle, and play defense – when the team isn’t scoring the players simply don’t have as much fun.
Get Drills that Build Offense & Defense
How the Drills Works: Players start in a line with the first two in line on offense and the closest one to the rim on defense. The ball gets self-passed out to the perimeter and from there it’s live 2 on 1. It’s a similar theme with 3 on 2.
For more information skip to about 49 minutes into the YouTube video.
Why Do the Drills: From the defensive perspective, when new players hear the term “man to man” they assume that by guarding number twenty-one they are doing what they’re supposed to do. In reality, they totally lose track of the ball and are in awful position to rebound. When they play 2 on 1, they become more instinctive in terms of stopping the ball and recognizing that they need to worry about all players on the floor.
From an offensive standpoint, Coach McNeill was hammering home two points. First, attack until someone guards you. Too often players get the ball in a game situation and panic to pass it to a teammate when nobody is within ten feet of them. This habit gets corrected in this drill. Second, Coach McNeill tells the players without the ball to relocate when an offensive player is attacking.
In youth basketball drills fewer players means that all players are more involved and the coach also has less to watch which should improve feedback to players. It also enables players to get up more shots and find open teammates in a drill where the offense has the numbers advantage, which again allows players to enjoy the game more than the typical 5 on 5 setting. Additionally, it’s the type of drill you can do without much court space and could even be done on side hoops.
Teach Players, Not Robots
How the Drill Works: There are 6 defenders on the court that are restricted by where they can go on the court and three offensive players that have no restrictions on where they can go. Coach McNeill stressed the spacing of “side, middle, back” with the three offensive players.
For more details skip ahead to 1 hour and 11 minutes into the video.
Why do the Drill: In the leagues that I am most familiar with pressing is not allowed until players enter 7th grade. Obviously some leagues have different philosophies on this issue, but regardless there comes a point where a player is faced with a full court press. This is always a huge ordeal for youth coaches (myself included). Regardless of how many minutes we’ve wasted carefully choreographing a press break in practice, two minutes into the next game a timeout is being wasted to explain the press breaker again. This drill teaches players to relocate, ball fake, and dribble with a purpose instead of teaching a robotic set play. The challenge is significantly greater than 5 on 5, so if an offense is successful in breaking it, it should provide confidence that a press can be broken in a game.
Emphasize Hustle ahead of Set Plays
How the Drill Works: There are two teams so use two different colors. Team A goes down and tries to score against Team B in a two on two setting. Immediately after Team B gets the rebound or forces a turnover, they outlet to one of their teammates on the sideline and step off while the offense has the misfortune of having to sprint back on defense to stop the offense.
For more details skip to 1 hour and 4 minutes into the YouTube video. This is the hardest of the four drills because as you may see in the video players are easily confused by who throws the outlet pass and fail to get back. The longer you watch though you start to see players recognizing their role in the drill.
Why Do the Drill: Much like the three other drills mentioned here, there is more space for scoring and less chaos for coaches to analyze and offer stronger feedback. This drill teaches players the value of sprinting and seeing the ball in transition offense and also teaches defenses to sprint back and communicate in transition. These are essentials that often get overlooked at the youth levels, but are much less complicated to teach than a flex offense or a thousand baseline out of bounds plays.