How to Use Our Concepts to Teach Your 3rd Graders How to Play Basketball

I signed up for your website and I really like your concepts. They do make sense to me, but I wonder how your concepts apply to the age group that I coach. I coach 3rd graders (8-9 year olds). 

I wonder how your concepts translate for a 3rd grader? Do you still teach youth players to think “shot on the catch”? I have a couple of 3rd grade players that are skilled at drills and good ballhandlers but really have no clue how to play the game. They don’t understand what to do when they have the ball. What would you recommend to help them?

The simple answers is “Yes” Basketball Decision Training (BDT) and Zero Seconds training is appropriate for your 3rd grade age group. If I was coaching this age group I would train with these concepts as players would constantly have a ball in their hand (zero seconds training), or if they don’t have a ball in their hands, they would be asked to make decisions (BDT). I have trained your age group so I also have evidence of its effectiveness. Some of the videos on the website have young players demonstrating the skills and concepts.

What concepts translate for a 3rd grader?

All of our zero seconds concepts are a re-branding of basic fundamentals; shooting, passing, dribbling, catching and footwork. So all of these skills are applicable to your youth player’s development. In most cases these skills become more transferable because they are taught in the context of the game. The skills are mixed, and not trained in isolation. This is exactly how the game is played.

Basketball should not be a game of specialists. All players should be multi-skilled and multi-positional to be effective. We train all of our players, whether 6’8 or 5’11, the same way. We want them all to have the ability to shoot, dribble, and pass from all positions on the floor. We never limit a player’s development because of their height or size.

The skills also translate because we train players through decision training. This means that we train the mind and not just the physical skill. Players will learn not just what they need to transfer to games, but also how they transfer those skills to games.

Do you still teach a 3rd grader to think “shot on the catch”?

Yes… but most young players indeed cannot shoot and I am not sure of the value of worrying about shooting. I believe shooting is the most over-taught part of youth coaching. A lot of time spent on shooting would be better served developing other fundamentals. While some form progressions and teaching of what I call the “shooting cues” are important, I feel a youth coach can be more impactful in developing age appropriate skills like footwork, dribbling/ballhandling, and first step progressions.

Basketball Shooting Cues

I would especially emphasize attacking closeouts on the catch. Whether it is zone or player-to-player defenses I feel players must be taught at young ages to attack aggressively on the catch. It would seem like my answer to the question is “No” however I strongly believe you teach shot preparation even if you don’t emphasize the actual shot. So when we train with BDT we could change the progression of decisions, but really all we need to do is emphasize the attack and pass signals more than the shooting signal.

I feel shot preparation is so valuable to teach because it focuses the offensive player with the ball on the rim. This creates a more aggressive mindset than catching to pass, which too often as coaches we unknowingly develop in players. Catching to pass develops because we emphasize the running of patterns on offense. Players become so focused on running the offense that they become less focused on being an offensive player on the catch.

To counter this mindset I would spend time on first step attacks, counters and passes off the dribble to teammates in reaction. I would allow players to attack any time they see an opportunity to do so. I can still run whatever pattern of offense I want but I also want players to have the freedom and confidence in their skills to be able to attack at any time within that pattern.

To develop these skills I would focus on players fighting for their feet in shot preparation. The quicker players can prepare to attack the quicker they can get the ball to the floor to attack a closeout. If a player can learn to attack quickly and decisively off the dribble, and make passes off the dribble to open teammates, then I believe you can have considerable success on offense against any type defense at the youth level.

How do you explain BDT to your players?

We explain the decision-making concept to our players using the analogy of a football quarterback. We consider each player to be a quarterback. A quarterback has a progression of reads each time they drop back after the snap. They have a first (or preferred decision) to the receiver the route is designed for (or maybe their trusted receiver). If the first read is not open then they go through their progression of reads to determine an alternative decision. That alternative decision could be a pass to a secondary receiver, a dump-off pass to a running back, the quarterback could keep the ball and run, or some other decision.

The best quarterbacks have the freedom to make the best decision they feel available to them given their reads. In a similar way a basketball player who catches a pass must go through their progression of reads. Most players in your age group won’t have a highly developed ability to shoot the ball. So you can modify their primary read.

I would caution coaches however that too much guidance of a player’s progressions removes some of the desired freedom we are trying to develop. I would not remove shooting completely, but playing the percentages for your age group, I would de-emphasize it happening every time they are open. We do the same for some of our players at the university level.

What would you recommend to help players understand what to do when they have the ball?

The problem with drills is that often players get good at the drills through effort and repetition. This would be great if success in competition was based on their success in the drill. The key to any coaching is to make sure what you are teaching is transferring to game performance. All of our BDT drills address the concept of a player learning what to do when they first catch the ball. The more a player does the BDT drills, the more they will start to understand the context in which they apply their skills. 

This works even better if you combine BDT training with a games approach to coaching. A games approach to coaching means that your players will play small-sided games in practice, rather than do drills. I outline a number of them on the website that we use at all levels. Basically if you teach out of a 4-on-4 situation your players will develop a better understanding of the context of the skill or decision you are trying to get them to understand. This is because all of the game cues are present for them to understand what, why, and how they are doing something.

A games approach requires teaching. You must stop and correct quickly. Feedback is given in the stoppages in repetitions. It is also given when the coach stops the action. The coach should teach and then allow the action to continue.

It does take longer to see progress as your small-sided games will often look chaotic, disorganized and random. However if you combine it with the BDT drills they will improve. And isn’t that the goal? Development? For those coaches who just want their 3rd grade team to win and don’t care about development, then there would be a different answer. Press, foul more than your opponent (and thus get away with more fouls), play zone and run isolation plays for your more advanced players.


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