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How to coach youth basketball: Part 2

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The second in a series from Pounding the Rock's resident coach.

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Last year about this time I wrote a piece about coaching youth basketball.

I wrote it because I assumed that many Pounding the Rock readers translated their passion for the Spurs into coaching youth teams for their sons or daughters.  From the comments to that piece, I think I was right.  Perhaps the most gratifying comment was from a Spurs fan in China who said he would translate the piece into Chinese and share it with his local team.

In honor of our fellow Spurs fan in China, I present Coaching Youth Basketball, Part Two.

Part One focused on your role as coach.  As some of you may recall, after 8 years of coaching college basketball, I was lucky enough to coach my son Pablo on his 11 and 12 year old teams.  That allowed me to transition from college coaching without going cold turkey.  It also allowed Pablo and me to experience a different relationship than father-son.  Put simply, coach-player has different nuances than father-son -- primarily the involvement of many other players (unless you have 10 children).  Luckily, Pablo was both the best player on the team and also a willing and able passer.  As a result, we were able to use his skills to enhance the experience of everyone else on the team -- Pablo could draw the defense to him and set up the other players so they could get the ball and score more points than they could on their own.

That made the "team" part of coaching easier.  As a coach, my other job was to make sure that all the other players could develop their individual skills so that they could be better players and we could succeed as a team.

The Spurs deservedly receive abundant credit for coaching the team concept, but get less credit for the other half of the equation - coaching individual skills.  The best designed play in the world will not work if the players don't have the individual skills to set the right screen, deliver the right pass, and make the shot at the end of it.  The design of the play depends on the players to both do the right things and to do them correctly.

The Spurs coaches spend countless hours making sure that the individual components work in harmony with the bigger picture -- when the ball moves, the players pass it well, catch it well, screen well, and finally shoot it well.  When the last player in line makes the shot, that result flows from both the design of the offense, but also Chip Engelland, shot doctor extraordinaire

Remember that the Spurs were able to acquire Kawhi Leonard relatively cheaply largely because many believed that Kahwi's shot could not be fixed.  Chip fixed it.


Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

But let's not start with shooting. Instead, let's start with the hardest thing to coach -- rebounding.  How many times do you hear coaches shout "box out!!" at their players?  Short answer:  Constantly.  But how many 12 year old players can translate the words "box out" into something that tells them what they are supposed to do?

All coaching involves communicating basketball concepts into actual instruction as to what the coach wants the player to do.  The words "Box out" do not communicate to the player what we want him to do.  More accurate words -- and more instructive -- are "get in the way".  In other words, the defensive player needs to "get in the way" of the opponent so he can't get to the rebound before you do.  This concept is the way to teach rebounding.

How do you "get in his way"?  First, last and most important - the player must know where the opponent is.

This leads to the most important thing about defensive rebounding:  The defensive player must take his eyes OFF the ball when a shot goes up.  This is so important I will repeat it.  When the shot goes up, the defensive player's first look must be away from the ball or the rim -- he must turn his head, find his opponent, and then GET IN HIS WAY.  This is done by going towards that player (NOT towards the rim) and placing your body between him and the rim.  Because you will want to catch the ball if it comes your way, logic dictates that the defender then put his back on the opponent so the defender is facing the rim when the ball rebounds off the rim.

And because the ball will be coming down from a 10 foot high rim, the hands need to be high, with the fingers pointed up.  When the player does all that, while in his opponent's way, the player can catch the ball as it caroms off the rim.  That, my friends is the essence of defensive rebounding.

Offensive rebounding is the inverse.  When a shot goes up, the offensive rebounding player must assume the shot will miss, and determine the most likely place it will go.  Normally -- long.  75% of shots go away from where the shot is taken.   Which means that the good offensive rebounder often tries to seal the defender under the rim so he can retrieve anything that bounces long and away from the rim.

Of course, if the defensive rebounder does what many do (turn to stare at the rim instead of just getting in the way), the offensive rebounder can go wherever he chooses - generally to a spot closer to the rim that the inattentive defender.  Or in this instance, MUCH closer.

For both offensive and defensive rebounds, the final step is to secure the ball.  Rebounds should be grabbed with two hands, "chinning" the ball if at all possible.  (This means what it sounds like, putting the ball directly in front of the chin, with elbows pointed out.)

In the alternative, one can "rebound and wrap" - to picture this, watch what Tim Duncan does with the ball right before tip-off. He essentially hugs the ball, which when done during the game, makes it impossible for anyone to knock it away.


After all, the last thing you want to happen after the player has done everything right to get the ball is to then have it poked away, often leading to an easy dunk or lay-up by the other side.

Stay tuned for future pieces on shooting and defending.   I hope this helps.