Coaching Youth Basketball: Teaching The Art Of Using Screens

Coaches write to me with questions relevant to the age groups they work with and to their youth coaching experience. It doesn’t seem to matter where in the world these coaches write from, their questions are echoed by dozens, if not hundreds of other youth coaches around the globe.

In order to adequately answer the questions I received from Wim C., a coach in Belgium, working with 6-10 year olds, I am going to need more than one article. Coach C. asks: “How do you teach the progression in one-on-one play, (in both) offense and defense?” He also asks, “At what age do you start using screens?”

In this article, I'll answer the easier question about when to start teaching screens.

Probably, age 10 is too early for most players. First, they have to be made to understand the purpose of the screen and how it works for that purpose. They will need to be shown how to correctly set a screen and told what the rules regarding screens are--close screening, moving, etc.

The easiest screen to begin with is one made away from the ball. Screening on the ball brings another defender to the ball, and without good ball handling skills, the dribbler will most likely be stuck. Since screens generally involve 2 offensive and 2 defensive players, it can get crowded and confusing in that space on the floor. So, I start teaching with 1 defender on the player being screened for, and the screener without a defender, beginning with screens to either shoulder of the defender.

The coach must walk players through the action, and try to keep it very simple and basic. Don’t bring in a bunch of options and make it confusing. So often, beginners will try to screen their own offensive teammates instead of the defender, so lots of explanation and demonstration needs to take place before continuing into the cut, receiving a pass and finishing the play with a shot or some kind of continuation action.

Start by explaining why screens are used. Show and explain how a screen is set on a player at the wing by a guard on that side of the floor. Walk the screener into place, using just the top-side shoulder of the defender as the screening point from the guard. (Diag. 1) Discuss why the screen is set so tight, and how the rules allow this for a side screen. Next, have the screened-for player cut over the top of the guard screen, touching shoulders with the screener and coming off the ball looking for a pass from the coach. Tell the cutter to locate the passer (coach) and make eye contact and give a target hand (the hand away from the defender just screened) for the pass to be thrown to.

Repeat this series of moves several times and get this much down, before attempting anything more. If they can’t get this, chances are they are not mature enough as players to grasp this playing concept. Leave it for later in their experience.

Diagram 1

Diagram 2

A variation that can be taught, once the guard-to-wing screen has been learned, is the post-to-wing screen. (Diag. 2) Make this a bottom-side screen (baseline), with the cut done the same as in the first scenario, but the player screened for is going toward the baseline and to the basket looking for the pass.

Once the above concepts are grasped, only then discuss and demonstrate what the person to receive the screen must do to set up his/her defender being screened. After successfully completing the addition of this maneuver, repeat everything already covered. There has been no pass yet to the cutter and certainly no finishing attempt.

All the above must be understood and practiced to competency before continuing the cut, receiving the pass (and finishing) or not receiving the pass and going into some kind of continuation pattern to get out of the way.

When working with youth, I rarely even get into screening, because of the time it takes to teach and the comprehension ability of most young players. Perhaps now you can understand why I think that ten year olds may find this too difficult. The playing experience of the youth and the teaching ability of the coach are the key factors to getting the whole set of screening action choreographed to perfection.

Next month, I’ll tackle the broader topic of teaching 1-on-1 progression.