Lessons From Coaching a Youth Basketball Team

Coaching a youth basketball team requires more than just teaching the X’s and O’s of the game. It involves creating a positive and inclusive environment where players feel valued and motivated to improve. Let’s explore the key takeaways from methods shared at the Basketball Manitoba Super Coaches Clinic presentation by Chris Oliver on coaching a youth basketball team. 

The clinic shares insights and experiences from coaching a U12 basketball team for a season, and highlights the benefits of coaching creating a growth-oriented environment, not only for the players’ development, but also for the coach’s satisfaction and growth.

Youth Basketball, Psychological Safety and Belonging

One of the main takeaways is that Chris Oliver tries to create a positive and growth-oriented youth basketball environment, where players feel psychologically safe, have fun, and see their progress. The clinic discussed the significance of creating psychological safety for every player on the team. For players to be the best versions of themselves, they need to feel they belong in the practice environment and that it’s okay to make mistakes. By fostering a culture of acceptance and support, players can develop confidence and enjoy the game, leading to better performance and a more positive experience overall. As a bonus, with a sense of belonging, players become more confident and motivated to continue playing and improving.

Youth Basketball and Noticing Progress

Noticing progress, not just success. While success is important, Oliver stressed the significance of noticing progress in a players’ development. Acknowledging even the smallest improvements can greatly motivate players to keep striving for excellence. By focusing on progress rather than solely on success, players become more motivated to work hard and improve their skills. Coaches can foster this process by recognizing and celebrating the progress made by players. Acknowledging the improvements in the learning process, provides players with a sense of accomplishment and keep them committed to continuous improvement.

Youth Basketball, Developing Versatility and Adaptability

To prepare players for the challenges of the game, Oliver stressed the importance of developing versatile skills. Players should be encouraged to attempt different passes, including behind-the-back and over-the-head passes. By allowing players to experiment and problem-solve during practice, they become more adaptable and better equipped to handle various in-game situations.

Developing players’ adaptability, creativity, and self-regulation, are essential for helping players cope with the dynamic and complex nature of basketball. Adaptability can be improved by practicing with different scenarios, challenges, or constraints that require players to think creatively and solve problems. Adaptability can also be enhanced by exposing players to different styles of play, opponents, and situations that force them to learn and grow. By developing adaptability, players can improve their basketball skills and performance.

Ballhandling and Comfort

According to Oliver, ballhandling skills and comfort with the ball are crucial, especially at the youth level. He believed that being comfortable with the ball translates into better shooting, passing, and decision-making abilities. Providing players with numerous opportunities to practice dribbling in representative environments helps build their confidence in their ability to find solutions to game problems. Therefore, he encouraged ample opportunities for players to practice ball-handling in representative environments where players are safe to explore their possibilities without hindering them with tons of technical or tactical details. Design situations for players to self-discovery and learn through struggle that leads to improvement.

Task Simplification and Key Features

Oliver emphasized the importance of simplifying tasks without removing key features of the game. While simplifying drills and situations, he ensured that fundamental aspects of the game were still present. For instance, when teaching ball-handling, he encouraged players to explore different ways to go between their legs or pivot, allowing them to develop a versatile and adaptable skill set, rather than a fixed one based on what a coach feels is the only or best solution.

Rhythm and Shooting

Basketball is a game of rhythm, and Oliver highlighted the significance of connecting rhythm with shooting. He introduced a drill where players clapped three times between their legs before shooting, helping them develop a consistent rhythm for their shots. By incorporating rhythm into shooting, players can improve their shooting accuracy and timing.

Providing players with numerous opportunities to practice dribbling helps build their confidence and translates to improved shooting, passing, and decision-making abilities. Rhythm can be improved by practicing with music or other auditory stimuli that provide a steady beat like the clapping example provided. Rhythm can also be enhanced by using drills that involve different types of footwork, ball handling, and shooting techniques. Oliver refers to these type of drills as mix drills. By developing a sense of rhythm, players can improve their basketball skills and performance.

Constraints and Game-Like Situations

Encouraging players to learn from their own experiences, feedback, and reflection, rather than relying on external instructions or demonstrations is a big takeaway from the clinic. Oliver used constraints to encourage players to find solutions and think creatively during game-like situations. By placing limitations on certain actions or movements, players were challenged to explore different possibilities and develop adaptability on the court. Constraints fostered problem-solving skills and improved decision-making abilities.

Using constraints fosters problem-solving skills and improved decision-making abilities by providing players with opportunities to explore different solutions and discover the most effective ones for different situations. It can also enhance players’ perception and action coupling, which is the ability to perceive relevant information from the environment and act accordingly.

Communication and Understanding

In his youth basketball environment, Oliver encouraged open communication with players, creating a safe space for them to ask questions and seek clarification. By prioritizing psychological safety, players felt comfortable expressing their understanding or seeking guidance when they were unsure. This approach facilitated better comprehension and helped players develop a deeper understanding of the game.


Coaching youth basketball extends beyond teaching the technical aspects of the game. It involves creating a positive and inclusive environment, emphasizing progress over success, and focusing on fundamental skills like ball handling and shooting. Chris Oliver’s coaching lessons from coaching a U12 basketball team provide valuable insights for coaches at all levels. By implementing these principles, coaches can foster a love for the game, nurture player development, and create a positive and empowering experience for young athletes.

Watch the full clinic presentation here: 

Learn more about constraints and the Basketball Immersion methodology:

Is There a Better Way: Chris Oliver Basketball New Zealand Tour

Using the Constraints Led Approach to Develop 1-on-1 Skills


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