By: Brendan Winters
Six years after Co-founding Pro Skills Basketball and coaching kids from 2nd grade through 12th grade year-round in basketball clinics, camps, AAU teams, and private training, I have a pretty good grasp on the areas most youth basketball players need to improve, and the basketball drills that can really help individual youth players get better.
Don’t get me wrong, there is no magic formula, but if the below 5 basketball drills (which I consider the top 5) are done everyday or almost everyday then with a little bit of good, old-fashioned hard-work, youth players can drastically improve their individual basketball games.
So without further ado, here at the top 5 basketball drills for youth basketball players!
#1 FORM SHOOTING
If done correctly everyday, this promotes muscle memory for young basketball players to develop great shooting form that translates to great game-speed shooting.
This is a basketball drill I did everyday growing up, and I believe it’s the main factor in my development into one of the best 3-point shooters ever in Davidson basketball history.
There are two ways to form shoot; one-hand or two-hands. Form shooting is done in close to the basket, about as far away as a layup, and is a slow, methodical drill.
Every rep needs to be carefully thought about and attempted to be done exactly the same. I teach a simple 3-step process of “sit, lift, dip”.
#2 TWO BALL DRIBBLING
Let me be very clear about this…This is NOT a game-like drill. This drill is simply for ball-handling improvement.
What I’ve noticed over the past 6 years is a real lack of dribbling skills in most youth basketball players. The majority of young basketball players can dribble with their dominant hand, but not their weak hand.
Doing basketball drills where a player dribbles two basketballs at once FORCES kids to:
A) Use their weak hand
B) Challenges their coordination
If a player can dribble two basketballs at the same time, well then he or she will definitely be able to dribble one very well with EITHER hand.
Beginner: Stationary Two Ball Dribbling Drill – Player gets in a wide stance, low stance and dribbles two basketballs at the same time (aka “pound”) or alternating (aka “pistons”).
Work on dribbling below the knees, below the waist, and also popping them all the way to the shoulders to work on strength.
Once these skills are mastered, players can move on to crossing the basketballs over, going through the legs (one ball through legs, other ball cross over in front), and going behind the back legs (one ball behind back, other ball cross over in front).
Intermediate: On the Move Two Ball Dribbling Drill – Same as stationary but now player moves with the ball. Begin walking in a straight line to half court and back using pounds or pistons.
Once mastered, pick up the pace and begin to jog. Increase to full-speed when ready. After the player can do this with ease, begin attempting the crossover, between the legs, and behind the back in a straight line.
Advanced: Players progress to a zig-zag pattern on the move with two basketball. Make sure to plant that outside foot and explode when changing directions. Players can continue to pick up the pace as their skills increase to challenge themselves.
#3 GEORGE MIKAN DRILL
The George Mikan basketball drill is named after the NBA legend, George Mikan.
He was post-player famous for finishing around the rim. This drill is a continuous layup drill geared to help young players with their layup footwork and finishing with either hand.
Beginners (one foot) – Player starts in front of the rim looking at the basket. Take a big step with the left foot towards the right side of the basket, jump off that foot, drive right knee up, and shoot layup off backboard with right hand.
Grab rebound quickly, and reset in front of the rim. Take a big step with the right foot towards the left side of the basket, jump off that foot, drive left knee up, and shoot layup off backboard with left hand. Grab rebound quickly, and reset in front of the rim. Repeat as necessary. No dribbling necessary.
Beginners (two feet) – Player starts in front of the rim looking at the basket. Take a big left-foot-right-foot step towards the right side of the basket, jump off both feet, and shoot layup off backboard with right hand.
Grab rebound quickly, and reset in front of the rim. Take a big right-foot-left-foot step towards the left side of the basket, jump off both feet, and shoot layup off backboard with left hand. Grab rebound quickly, and reset in front of the rim. Repeat as necessary. No dribbling.
Intermediate – Same as beginners except there is no resetting. Player continuously goes from right side to left side making without dribbling or the ball hitting the floor.
Find a good rhythm and continue as necessary. Players should be able to do one-foot and two-foot layup Mikans. See instructional videos below.
Advanced (Reverse Mikan Basketball Drill) – Same as intermediate, but instead of facing the basket, start under the backboard and face towards half-court.
Instead of doing normal layups, players will do reverse layups. Always use your outside hand and correct corresponding foot. For instance for one foot reverse Mikans, face half-court, take a big step to YOUR right-hand side of the rim with your LEFT foot, drive your right knee up, and shoot a reverse layup with your right hand.
Stay facing half-court, rebound the ball, and quickly take a big step to your left-hand side of the rim with your RIGHT foot, drive your left knee up, and shoot a reverse layup with your left hand. Repeat as necessary. For two foot reverse Mikans, repeat above except take a left-right step or right-left step into your layups. See instructional video below.
#4 WALL PASSING DRILL
Passing is a skill that is really overlooked and rarely worked on, yet it is crucial for young basketball players, especially guards, to be able to pass with both hands.
Beginner: Stand 15 feet or so in front of a hard wall (cement, brick, etc). Work on the basics to begin – chest pass, bounce pass, overhead pass – and make sure they are all done with proper mechanics.
For instance, with a chest pass, start with hands on the sides of the basketball thumbs pointing up, step into the pass and throw, flick wrists and finish with thumbs pointed down.
Ball should have back spin on it if thrown correctly.
Intermediate: Repeat the above, but before each pass, add a ball fake. For instance, fake high and pass low, fake low and pass high.
Advanced: Learn to throw left hand and right hand chest pass and bounce passes as well as left and right “wrap around” passes. Players should work on snapping their wrists to get more power.
#5 ONE-ON-ONE BASKETBALL
My game took off during my post-graduate year at prep school once I started playing one on one against the best players on my team, including current NBA player Jarrett Jack.
Of course, to get the most out of one on one there has to be rules, such as dribble limits. Also, players should seek out competition that is a bit bigger, stronger, faster, and generally better than them. While this can be frustrating, the rewards are great.
Beginner: From the top of the key, check the ball up and play. Five dribbles maximum. Only one shot.
If made, player keeps the ball. If missed, defender gets the ball and checks it up at the top of the key. Play by 1’s to 5 points. Play games from both wings and corners as well.
Intermediate: Same as above, but limit to 3 dribbles. Play by 1’s and 2’s to 12. Players can also now add in “live” dribble one on one where they must make a dribble move versus the defender.
To do this, offensive player starts from the “volleyball line” that is typically in between half court and the 3 point line. Defender starts at the 3 point line. Offensive player begins with a dribble and has 5-7 dribbles (depending on skill) to try to score. Again play to 9-12 points.
Advanced: In one-on-one, start by checking the ball, limit dribbles to 1-2. In games beginning with a live dribble, limit dribbles to 4-5.
Players can also add in rules such as players can only score on the left side of the court or right side, players have to score inside the paint, players cannot score inside the paint, etc.
There are so many different ways to play one on one basketball, and the trick is to use your imagination and make it challenging.
Don’t simply role the ball out and play with no rules. Make everything more difficult and game-like. Hard in practice equals, easy in games!
Ok, that’s it! There are a lot of other youth basketball drills players can do to get better, but these are the top 5. They’re not always fun, but if players invest some time into doing them then they will get better!