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!
How to Play Low Post in Youth Basketball
The days of sky-hooks and Dream shakes seem to have been replaced by 7-foot stretch 4’s and never ending lobs to the rim.
Guard play has unquestionably become the main focal point of basketball. We see it even at the youth level.
No one wants to be a big man anymore and kids and parents will lobby hard to become a point guard… “my kid is gonna end up being ONLY 6’9” anyway!”
And with the AAU style of pressing and fast breaking all game, every game, you don’t see a lot of teams taking the time to run offensive sets and feed the post.
There is no wonder we are seeing less skilled post players! Maybe I’m naive, but as the son of a 1970’s NBA 7-foot center and a former 4-man myself, I still like to believe that there is room in the high school, college and NBA games for a back-to-the-basket ass-kicker. Hopefully we’ll see a game changer drafted #1 next month.
All that being said, here are 5 keys to playing the low post position in basketball that can help younger players learn to become more effective on the court. Now if we could only get these AAU run-and-gun games to slow down and guards to feed us the ball!
#1 Play Low and Wide
This may seem counter intuitive, but effective post players need to be comfortable in a down, athletic position. No, this will not take away their height advantage and if players are properly taught to be strong with the ball, this will not set them up to be stripped by smaller guards.
With the amount of contact that takes place under and around the basket, if a post player is not down and in a strong balanced position, the inevitable bumps and pushing will render a post player completely ineffective.
Young players must get used to having a wide, low stance. Yes it is uncomfortable at first and yes legs are gonna burn, but playing too upright is a great way to be one of those players that people label as a big softy.
#2 Don’t Be Afraid to Slow Down
We always teach guards moves that help them to change speeds and change directions. Those guards that are effective scorers have a tremendous ability to quickly change speeds and be deceptive.
A player that plays at the same speed all the time is easy to guard and the same goes for post players. Even before they catch the ball, post players should be deceptive when they work to get open.
Getting in a low post position shouldn’t be a non-stop wrestling match. With proper post footwork, reading angles and having a little deception in your game, post players shouldn’t have to pile drive someone to get the ball.
Coaches, please teach your post players how to get open!!! Young players also need to be taught that when catching the ball with their back to the basket, sometimes it’s better to slow down, be strong with the ball and survey the scene.
Believe me, I know what young post players feel like when they catch the ball and they have a bunch of aggressive, gnat-like defenders reaching and slapping. But if properly taught, young players can catch and keep their heads up before making a post move.
Even after making a move, it is ok for post players to make fakes and pivot. There is a fine line between playing too slow and waiting too long versus being deceptive, and this is a line that players have to learn themselves. But man, I miss seeing the fakes and footwork from players like Hakeem!
#3 Use Both Hands
This is a lesson that I was slow to pick up on. Even when I got to college, I was predominantly a turn over my left shoulder, right hand finisher.
In the college ranks, this was figured out by my opponents pretty quickly and my game suffered because of it. Young players need coaches that push them to practice weak hand post moves and encourage them to push through the struggles of missing shots in practice…and do it over and over and over and over again!
#4 Embrace Contact
As crazy as this sounds, growing up in Texas, if I wanted to play basketball in middle school, I was pretty much forced to play football.
I didn’t like it and my parents tried to fight it, but to no avail. As it turns out, football had a huge effect on my basketball game. I no longer feared being hit, pushed or slapped on the basketball court.
I came to love that under the basket contact and I began to initiate that contact most of the time. Don’t get me wrong, I do not think basketball should be played like football, but basketball is a contact sport and post players are going to get pushed, elbowed and slapped.
Those post players that learn to embrace that contact have the best chance at being effective offensively and defensively. Again, it is imperative that young players are taught to be strong with the ball and play in a balanced position.
#5 Run the Court and Crash The Glass
Ok, I realize that’s two keys, but both are strictly determined by effort. We hear it all the time, “the guards aren’t feeding me the ball”, “no one passes to my son when he posts up” and blah, blah, blah.
On one hand I respect the concerns and agree that young guards should be taught how to make a post entry pass, but on the other hand, I was taught from a young age that if I wanted the ball, I would have to go get it.
Throughout my career, coaches would praise my “ability” to run the floor. This was hammered home by my parents and only reinforced when I watched Karl Malone play (definitely watch the 0:50 mark!).
Sprinting the floor got my team and myself countless easy baskets and made me feel more involved in the game. But, it was something that I focused on and made a strong commitment to be good at….and it’s only running!!
Lastly, crashing the boards for offensive rebounds not only lifts up a team, but can lead to game changing plays. Good offensive rebounders refuse to be boxed out. Nothing is more frustrating than to see a big man take the contact from a box out and then give up.
“Well Coach, he boxed me out.” Bull! If you are truly hungry to get a rebound, one effort is not going to cut it! We try to teach post players the swim move to avoid a box out or spin off the box out or use footwork to get around a box out. Whatever it is, truly great rebounders REFUSE TO BE BOXED OUT!!
By: Brendan Winters
Shooting is perhaps the most important skill in basketball. Typically, especially at the youth level, if you can shoot, you will play. Of course, as you move up levels, many other skills come into play such as ball handling, passing, basketball IQ, defense, athleticism, etc., but ALL teams, regardless of level, need shooters!
When I was growing up, I always got a certain amount of playing time simply because I could shoot. I was rarely the most athletic or strongest or best ball handler. I played mainly because I could shoot, and I worked unbelievably hard to become a great shooter. However, my shooting form, I believe, was very inefficient. I was taught to shoot the ball extremely high over my head and pretty much jumped as high as I could every time I shot the ball. I never teach kids to shoot that way today because it’s too difficult and inefficient. Take a look at how I shot the ballhere – it went in usually, but I know I spent way more hours than I would have had I had better form! I think Steph Curry has pretty much the perfect shot – check out Sports Science break it all down here! Although players can, like me, become good shooters with imperfect or inefficient form, I wouldn’t recommend it. It takes many, many more hours of practice than players with simple, proper form. Because of this, we came up with a much simpler shooting formula, and it all starts with 1-hand and 2-hand form shooting!