Each player will need a pair of basketball shoes. Make sure they fit well. They should have a good midsole, a broad base for support in the outer sole for stability and additional support from a stiff upper and ankle support. Well fitting socks should be worn. You can find some at the sporting goods store that are constructed to keep moisture out and away from the skin to prevent skin sores. A t-shirt and loose fitting basketball shorts are sport appropriate. Each player should also have their own practice basketball. It is not mandatory, but between games and practices they may want to practice more on their own time. The more practice they get in, the better player they will be.
Making a plan for the season is very critical. You want to make sure and instill in the children that although you'd love to win every game, winning isn't everything. First and foremost, is to have fun as they bond together as a team. You also want to make sure not to overwhelm the players. They can be given exercises to do at home when they are not at practice, such as jump rope, stretching, dribbling and shooting. But when it isn't fun any longer they lose interest, so keep it minimal. Remember that they are younger children and tend to get sidetracked with their interests and having an exercise routine prepared for each practice will make it easier for them. Let's face it, throughout a child's life routine is key to making things run as smoothly as possible. They get used to it and look forward to it.
Have a meeting with all of the parents prior to the first practice and let them know what your game plan is. Maybe you could all meet at your house or a parent's house. First, you will want to make a list of the player's names and telephone numbers. Make sure to give one to every parent. You will also want to make a schedule of all the games and practices to hand out. Tell them what you need from them, maybe rides for some of the kids to and from practice on occasion. The contact list you provided them will make it easy for them to contact one another and the support system grows from there. Ask for volunteers if you need them. Mention any fund-raising you have planned or suggestions for fund raising. This makes them feel like part of the team too. Tell them that no matter how well or poor each player may be, you will give them equal game time. After all, this is youth basketball and there will be plenty of heavy competition in the years to come. These are the early learning years, so there is flexibility here.
Make sure you have a list of questions and answers. Think about what the parents might ask you. Do their children need uniforms? How much will they cost? What if a game date changes? How will they be informed about things? Can they contact you directly? Do you have an assistant? What equipment do they need to purchase? Preparing yourself for this will alleviate a lot of aggravation, as the parents will realize that you are really prepared and serious about coaching their children. It will also help you keep yourself organized. You can also ask for one parent or set of parents to be the "caller" in the event that a game or practice has been rescheduled. You would be responsible for calling them and they would call everyone else on the list to make them aware of the change in schedule. You shouldn't feel like you have to take on everything. These parents that come to every game and every practice are dedicated and really enjoy doing things for the team. You'll be surprised, the more you ask and the more that you receive.
As a coach you need to assess your team to determine the weaker links and the stronger links, whether it's shooting, ball handling, footwork. This will enable you to place the players better. Practice games can also be a big help. It will allow you to set your players in the right formation prior to the real game. Johnny might be good at dribbling the ball with his right hand, but not his left. Sally is tall and terrific at dribbling with both hands, but she can't make the baskets. Hone in on their strong skills and build them up. Team them up with other players and let them work on their skills together.
Explain to the players that even though the opposing team may look scary, because they are taller, they may be slower. Give your team a sense of direction, by letting them know that they should play hard and as a unit. You don't want any superstars taking control of the entire game. It has been said in many different sports circles that a team needs three things to make it strong, purpose, self-sacrifice and trust. Instill these in your young players and they will carry it through their sports and professional careers throughout their lives.
Purpose defines who the team is. They should know they are a unit and not just a group of individuals. Each player's actions affect the unit and they are all working toward one goal. They need to be given a direction and in that direction they will find purpose. Each and every team player has a purpose. Sally is tall and can dribble incredibly with both hands. She has difficulty with making baskets. Sally's focus will be on making baskets, but her purpose will be in dribbling. Ken is shorter than Sally, he makes almost every basket, but his footwork needs practice. Ken's focus will be on his footwork, but his purpose will be making baskets.
Self Sacrifice comes into play as the players' mindset becomes more a team. There are certain things that need to take place, not necessarily all at once for the youth players. But, keep in mind that the mold begins here, so you want to start some of it at this level. They need to make every effort to be at practice. There may be a cool movie on or a friend's birthday party to go to, but they need to make every practice. The effort made now will pay off in the end. The parents can also help with this portion.
Trust is one of the most important factors in creating a strong team. You, as the coach, must keep your promises and follow through at all times. Parent and players are relying on you heavily. It helps that, for example, if you promised Jimmy a certain position you give him that position. Nothing hurts more than a coach not keeping his word. Promises extend to parents as well. If you promised that Joe's dad could help with practice on Saturday, make sure he doesn't just sit around watching the practice. Put him to work. Be fair to everyone, keep your communications open and you will gain trust from the players and their parents.
Sometimes you will, as coach, run into a parental situation. There are several moms and dads that fall into certain categories. There may be the dad that feels his son is a far superior player than the others and want him to have extra playtime. You wonder if he thinks you are being fair. There's the mom whose daughter was yelled at all of last season by the other coach and she wonders if you will be the same. That's why the earlier mention of having a meeting with the parents is a good idea. You can reassure them that you will give equal time to each player regardless of their experience and let them know how they can help. A standard practice you will need to incorporate in your coaching is to continually praise the players for their jobs. This is truly what they need. The encouragement will go a long way and they will feel more trusting in you for acknowledging them.
Another important factor in creating this dynamic team of yours is the practice. It can actually be more fun with youth teams, because they are used to playing together, jumping rope and running. These are great exercises for them. Other practice ideas that will keep their minds and bodies occupied are balancing their weight evenly over both feet. Bending their elbow 90 degrees so that the upper arm is parallel to the floor. Remind them to keep their eye on the rim, not the ball. When they shoot for the basket they need to follow through by letting the ball roll off their fingertips.
They can practice by balancing the ball on their fingertips, not their palm. This should be an interesting practice. Keeping their knees bent and using their legs to help shoot the ball into the air is another good exercise. You can also have them run very quickly from sideline to sideline. At each sideline they should stop, turn around and continue to the other sideline.
You will want to demonstrate these skills to your team. First, go over a brief explanation of the practice. You want to keep this brief, because these are younger players and it's easier for them if you provide a brief and quick explanation, then demonstration. The fingertip practice, for example, you may want to call simply, "the fingertip practice." Explain it to them. Then show them how to do it. When you have finished explaining the skill and demonstrating it, tell them why it's important. Try making a basket without following through with the tips of your fingers. They will see the difference between the two shots and it will help them visualize the necessity in the skill.
Visualization is important to the younger players. It also carries more weight when they see their coach running from sideline to sideline along with them. They realize the coach is one of them. He not only tells them how to play the game, but he really knows how to play the game.
An important skill to go over with them many times is the free shot. When it comes to free shots, explain to them how it works and why it is important. They are, after all, "free shots." The importance is that when given this chance, you want them to make the basket. This is something that you can never have too much practice at. Have them practice this over and over again. Explain the stance, the arc and the set point. It is common practice for the body to be turned to the right if the player is left handed and turned to the left if they are right handed. The open stance sets the stage for the overall shot.
Distance of the ball is controlled primarily be variations in the arc. This will be a little more difficult to explain to younger players. If you show them by your own stance, using your legs and middle body to shoot the ball, then release quickly, it will give them an understandable visual. Try this from several different locations and try different arcs, so that they fully understand.
The set point would be the final focus. Once they have the stance pretty well under control, knees bent, and middle of the boy ready to force the ball upward, explain to them that this is where the set point is determined. They should be in line with the basket focusing on where the ball is positioned in their hand. The ball should be in their eye view before proceeding with the throw. If they practice this consistently you will be amazed at how well they will do with free throws. It's all about fun, as you already know. Just remember to encourage, encourage, encourage.