At The Youth Level - Teacher Or Coach?


I have written about this before, and I believe that every player needs and deserves a teaching-coach in the early years. Each skill needs to be broken down into building blocks, where the level of difficulty can be raised as the individual grasps and possesses the skill before moving on. A coach can make a big mistake thinking that all players are capable of grasping the same lesson at the same pace as every other player. It doesn’t happen in the classroom so why would we assume the playing floor is somehow different?

One of the big problems in youth programs is that qualified teachers are rare. Often, youth team coaches try very hard to do the best they can with limited knowledge. They may have little or no playing or teaching experience. Our most skilled coaches, who could possibly be the most effective teachers, come into the picture later on in a player’s career. By then, many incorrect habits have been set and coaches don’t have the time, personnel or perhaps the desire to back up and re-teach skills.

Too often, youth coaches are not thinking beyond the current season while trying to make winners of the players he/she has now.  No thought is given to the players’ development for the future.  When a coach thinks like this, it is selfish and coming from pure ego.  The child is not important – only the coach’s vision of success.  This kind of thinking hurts the children in the program and continues to give youth sports a black eye.

In my many years of coaching and directing youth sports, I was witness to these kinds of coaches.  For this reason, I joined with many other coaches, parents, youth sport administrators and understanding individuals around the world to advocate that youth sports be for the youth – not for the adults.

Show me a basketball coach, parent or program administrator who believes that youngsters under the age of 11 should use a regulation ball or regulation rim height, or who advocates pressing defenses and zone defense at a young age and I’ll show you adults out of touch with reality. They do not understand anything about child psychology and are in a program like this for their own selfish motives.  These adults are ego-driven, more concerned with winning than with child/player development.

Kids need to develop basketball skills, have fun and grow in the game, at the same time developing life skills that will serve them throughout their lives.  They need role models who model good judgment, good behavior and are responsible adults.

The game of basketball is over-coached and under-taught. Not many coaches can really teach – especially at the youth level where teaching is crucial.  We teaching-coaches have to be able to recognize even the smallest skill weakness and be able to break down the skill for the player to better understand and execute. Everything about successful teaching is about paying attention to the details!

This is what decided me to write my book and then to create my teaching DVD, both named, “Basketball On A Triangle:  A Higher Level of Coaching & Playing”. (  Everything I write about in my book and show in my 4-hour DVD is designed to teach a coach, player or parent of a player the details about how to teach and how to perform every individual skill in basketball.

Phil Jackson, in talking about the success of the Chicago Bulls, stated, “paying attention to basics is the key to success—passing, foot work, (floor) spacing.”

I have always said, that since I can’t play the piano, how can I teach someone to play the piano.  It’s hard to teach something you can’t do yourself.  Even if a coach can play the game at a decent skill level, can that person actually teach a young child from the beginning how to dribble, pass, shoot, etc.?  So often, coaches run drills and expect kids to learn from the drills.  First, however, the skill must be talked about, demonstrated and practiced.  Then drills can be used to impress the skill into muscle memory and to allow the coach to observe and correct skill weaknesses.

We have as varied number of ways of teaching skills as we have coaches.  We all borrow from other coaches, and that’s a good way to learn what to do, but we need to understand the “how”.  There’s so much available for those wanting to grow as teachers of the game.  There are websites by the thousands, books and videos.  Watch games on TV and study the action instead of watching for entertainment value.  Watch games being played locally.  A keen observer can pick up a lot – both to try and not to try.

It’s important that a youth coach develop his/her own style, rather than trying to copy another coach.  We don’t know what the talent level of the other coach’s players are, the amount of practice time they have, the number of baskets, assistant coaches, balls, and many other factors that can separate any two teams.  The copy cat coach may be trying to copy things he/she doesn’t understand how to implement or is trying to do so with the wrong group of kids or under entirely different circumstances than the coach being copied.

By definition, teaching requires that learning is taking place.  Just because we show something doesn’t mean it’s being learned. The identification and perfection of details in teaching fundamentals sets the teaching-coach above the average coach. Details, taught with repetition, and drilled to perfection, will allow the teacher to now begin to coach.  Coaching is not teaching.  We teach in practices and coach during games.  Coaching is the manipulation of players versus the clock and the competition.

The teaching-coach’s greatest attribute may just be in making the little things work well which makes the big things work.