Game Day Readiness and Developing Offensive Strategy for Youth

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I receive emails from coaches all over the world whose coaching experiences and needs are varied but often faced by a number of novice youth coaches—boys and girls.  While I answer every one of their queries, it is hard to address them all in the form of an article.

This month's article is really a two-parter.  First, a coach wants to know how to best warm up their young players and to get them "up" to play the game.   Secondly, a coach asks what kind of offensive game strategy to use for 10-12 year-old girls.  (Go ahead and think boys or girls here!)

Answers to the first part:

Getting "game ready" is all about focus, both from the coach and from the players.  The coach sets the tone.  The coach keeps the focus centered on the game and the strategies he/she has been installing through his/her practice sessions.

The mental: Before the game, allow the players to stay loose with their banter and self-psyching antics, while keeping the silliness and distractions at bay.  Keep them focused on the game to be played.  Gather them together in the locker room for a pre-game talk, reminding them of the strategies you have been teaching for this game and any individual instructions for certain players.  Get them "up" with anecdotes, you-can-do-this-girls/boys rah-rah, and reminders of previous encounters, etc.  Even offer a blessing, asking protection for all the participants and that this be a well played game.  Get them chanting, psyching each other and generally excited before they exit the locker room. Remerber, these are young kids who may be nervous, but will usually not need the kind of coach's pep talk that may be normal at higher levels of play.

The physical: When your players come into the gym, 15-20 minutes prior to tip-off (youth), have them go right into warmup drills you have prescribed that actually get them warm, loose and ready to play.  These drills should be more than just shooting layups in a line.  Use drills that are game action with passing, movement, perhaps screens, and finishing at the basket from all angles, utilizing a variety of layups and short, spot-up jump shots.  Include in your drills FT shooting and shooting from each of the individual's playing positions--with some players rebounding while others shoot, then switching.  

Remember, there is a very limited amount of time to get physically ready, so work hard and be efficient.  If your players are dripping sweat from their pre-game warmups, they are "warmed up" to play.

Answer to the second part:

First off, there are a number of considerations, before the coach even thinks about offensive strategy, i.e.

--what is the player talent level;

--what is their level of playing experience (can't be much at 10-12 years of age);

--what is their basketball IQ;

--what is your experience as a coach, relative to their talent and skill levels--what can you do--your strengths and           weaknesses;

--what kind of defense are other teams using--man or zone, pressing, trapping--and have you prepared your girls to attack these;

--how many practice sessions do you have each week--how long are they and how many baskets do you have at your disposal--to prepare your players as individuals and as a team;

--are your players prepared to play defense (what about your defensive strategy?);

--can your players execute good fundamental play--pass, cut, screen, rebound for 2nd shots, make the transition from defense to offense (with fast break), can they finish at the basket, can they play up-tempo or do they need more deliberate controlled tempo????

Now, having satisfied that the girls are ready--or not--you can begin to formulate strategy.

Usually, it's a given that there won't be much experience amongst this age of team, nor will they be likely to have daily practices in a gym that's all theirs to use, or even several practice session per week.  So, the level of sophistication for any offensive strategy needs to reflect what they are able to skillfully execute and the time and space you have in which to practice. 

If they have decent fundamental offensive skills, including being able to move without the ball (you can teach this within your offensive strategy) and can attack and finish at the basket, then you can begin to lay in your team offense.

Consider this:  If you have 10 girls and only 5 have decent skills and/or basketball IQ, you can waste a lot of valuable practice time trying to teach a team offense.  While some may get it, others won't, and when it comes time to substitute during a game, you'll have confused and frustrated players on the floor--some who want to run the offense and some who haven't a clue to the offense.  Initially, not many 10-12 year old girls will even have a clue as to how a team offense works--they'll stand around or cluster around the ball, being more spectator to the action than participating in the action. They'll have to be carefully taught and brought along, raising their game IQ commensurate with their skill development.  (Use the KIS method and keep it simple!)

Perhaps it would be better here, to introduce some 2 or 3 man plays with more capable players and instruct the others in being role players.

(Of course, while you're building their individual and team offensive IQ's, there's the rest of the game to be taught--defense, rebounding, transitions from offense to defense and back, various out-of-bounds plays, the center jump to start the game, etc.)

Priorities for this age group, in descending order, all the while raising game IQ:

--Teach individual fundamental skills--both offensive and defensive, including rebounding;

--Teach team defense;

--Teach offensive transition, including fast break;

--Teach some simple 2/3 man offensive plays;

--Later, if appropriate, teach a simple team offense, including floor spacing of players, moving without the ball and rebounding for 2nd shots.  

Conclusion:  Learn to do a few things really well, rather than attempt to over-teach and have your girls be lost from over-load.