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Youth Basketball Plays

In the basketball environment today there is a strange dynamic in place. Our youth basketball scene is pushing set plays, zones, and trapping defenses. Yet in the world's highest level of play, the NBA, the emphasis is on the foundations of the game; passing, dribbling, and shooting. We have our priorities backwards and there must be a monumental effort to change the status quo.

Behind the scenes at an NBA practice is an amazing experience. Rarely does the practice go beyond the fundamentals of the game. Coaches preach about passing and catching because they know turnovers will get you beat. The post work on shots around the block and in the paint. Guards work on cuts to get open and catch the ball ready to shoot. If you think the highest level is complicated at practice time you are in for a big surprise.

Meanwhile, the youth movement and its coaches seem to be moving so fast in their philosophy and teaching. Having seen my share of youth basketball I have a pit in my stomach every time I see what is really going on.

a. Why are we teaching plays in 4th grade?

b. Pressing and zones should not even be a consideration, let alone a part of the actual game.

c. The game is presented in a "whole" concept and stays that way all the way into competition. The "whole-part-whole" method has been left in the back seat of a cab somewhere!

d. The practice time to game time ratio is reversed. It is about a 1:1 relationship in gyms across the country. Practice and play for an hour each is a dangerous combination and does nothing but teach bad habits and misses out on the real teaching kids need.

e. Games are the emphasis and practices a formality, instead of the other way around.

When a youth coach goes fast both he or she and the players miss out on 90% of the game. Isn't it sad to think that many of our youth basketballers are experiencing only 10% of the greatest game in the world!

Maybe I've got my old school goggles on, but running plays without a clue how to play the game is ludicrous. That is the equivalent of expecting a baby that just learned to walk to take off on a dead sprint the next day. Would you send your son or daughter out driving a car at 16 without knowing anything about the fundamentals of driving? We would never think of it, yet we do the very same thing with our young basketball players.

I am personally pushing for a standardized youth basketball curriculum based on fundamentals and skill progression. As skills are learned, young players gain confidence and look forward to the next skill they can master. The next time you watch a youth game see if you can see skill mastery, confidence in self, and great enjoyment in the game. It's hard to smile when you are confused, isn't it?

Randy Brown has passion for the game of basketball. He works as a basketball consultant and mentor for coaches. Visit him at for free resources, Q & A, newsletter, and coaching programs. A speaker and writer, he has authored 75 articles on coaching and is nationally published. His 18 years in college basketball highlights a successful 23-year career. Mentored by Basketball Hall of Fame coach Lute Olson at Arizona. Resume includes positions at Arizona, Iowa State, Marquette, Drake, and Miami of Ohio, 5 Conference Championships and 5 NCAA appearances. His efforts have helped develop 12 NBA players including Steve Kerr, Sean Elliott, and Jaamal Tinsley. To contact Randy, email him at