This is an excerpt from Survival Guide for Coaching Youth Basketball 2nd Edition eBook by Keith Miniscalco & Greg Kot.
Now the fun starts. Everybody likes to score, but very few people know how to shoot. In youth basketball, players are so consumed with reaching the rim that they don’t care how they do it. They’ll throw the ball any which way to get it near the hoop. This can make for some creative on-the-fly decision making as players try to score by any means necessary: over the shoulder, behind the head, backing up, falling down, through the legs. In a kid’s world, it’s all about whatever it takes, right?
So the first question a coach needs her little scoring machines to understand and answer is, What is a good shot? In youth basketball, a few factors constitute a good shot. Is the shooter open? That is, is the shooter a safe distance from the opponent so the ball won’t be blocked? Is the shot within shooting range - can the shooter easily reach the basket using proper technique? And is the shot the best opportunity to score, or is there a teammate closer to the basket who would have an even better scoring opportunity?
Each outside shot uses basically the same technique. Shoulders should be relaxed and squared up to the rim, with the feet evenly spaced and shoulder-width apart (see figure 3.6). The shooting hand should grip the ball with the pads (fingertips and top of the palm) on the seams, slightly to the right of center if the right hand is being used and slightly to the left of center if the left hand is used. The guide (nondominant) hand should lightly grip the ball on the outside edge of the ball opposite the shooting (dominant) hand.
Each shot should begin with the ball in the shot pocket, about waist high, at a relaxed distance from the body with elbows bent. Location of the elbow as the ball is placed in the shot pocket is key. If the shooting elbow is out too far ahead of the body, the ball will be too far away from the shot pocket. If the elbow is too far behind the body, the ball will be jammed into the player’s gut. The ideal position for the shooting elbow is next to or alongside the body. Knees should also be slightly bent, and the head should be level.
The shooter then lifts the ball to the face until the elbow and upper arm of the shooting arm are parallel or almost parallel to the floor. As the ball is lifted, the knees bend farther. This is called a coil and helps give the shot proper rhythm (see figure 3.7).
The ball should move in one continuous smooth motion through the area in front of the face and as the shooting arm extends above the head as the ball is being released. The head should remain level through the entire motion. The shooter should push up onto the toes and finish with the shooting arm extended above the head with the wrist snapping the ball at the finish. The middle and index fingers should point directly at the rim (see figure 3.8).
Players can work on this technique by taking a series of shots a few feet from the basket. A lot of kids like to mess around by taking impossible shots from midcourt and beyond as they wait for practice to begin. These shots are fun to try in playground games like H-O-R-S-E, but they don’t produce great shooters. Players who work on their shooting form by taking 20 to 25 shots a day (or more) a few feet away from the rim at the gym or in their driveway will build muscle memory and rock-solid technique that will lead to more baskets in games.
The outcome of most basketball games turns on the execution - or the lack of execution - of a few fundamentals. In most games, on up to the professional level, whichever team scores the most layups and prevents the most layups usually wins. Layups! If we’d only made our layups! If you’ve ever talked to a coach after a losing game, you’re likely to hear that lament a few thousand times. Yes, missed layups can drive any coach nuts. And, yes, most missed layups can be traced to lousy technique. The way out of the loony bin starts on the first day of practice with players learning the proper technique.
Layups are the cornerstone shot of any offense. But they are not an easy skill to learn. Many high school players don’t have the proper footwork to make a layup, can’t make one with either hand, or sabotage a good shot by taking a bad route to the basket. For the grade-school beginner to master this skill, it should be broken down into parts. Once again, feet first!
Many layups succeed or fail based on the path the shooter takes to the basket. The best angle for a layup is through "the gate," the point between the low block and first small hash mark on the free-throw lane line. It’s amazing how much better shooting percentage will get once players start paying attention to this often overlooked detail. Instead of finding themselves too far under the basket to use the backboard properly or too far away so that they end up taking a running jump shot, the through-the-gate route gives the shooter an inviting 45-degree angle to the backboard, ideal for banking the ball into the basket.
Footwork is important. Coaches should have the players start several steps away from the basket and choreograph their footwork on how to approach the basket. For right-hand layups, players step with their left foot (see figure 3.9a) and go up with their right leg and right arm. They should cradle the ball slightly to the left of their bodies and bring the ball through the area in front of their face before finishing with the right hand in an open position toward the basket (see figure 3.9b). Left-hand layups are just the opposite. Players step with the right foot and go up with the left leg and left arm. Players cradle the ball slightly to the right of their bodies and bring the ball through the area in front of their face before finishing with the left hand open to the basket.
For beginning players, work on the footwork without a basketball at first, then add the ball without requiring a dribble. Once the footwork and shot technique have been grasped, add the dribble. Most backboards have a painted square above the rim. Players need to see the square and aim for the inside of the square when they shoot a layup. So encourage players to have their head level and eyes up as they approach the rim. Keep in mind that at younger ages, traveling violations might not be called during games as much, and in some cases not at all. Shooting a layup could take several practices to learn, and some players may require even more time. Once the players have the proper footwork down and can combine it with dribbling, two more ingredients are required:
- Speed. Players need to accelerate toward the basket as they prepare to shoot a layup. The faster a player is able to approach the basket, the better able the player is to launch off the floor and toward the rim with the ball.
- Ball position. As players step through the gate toward the rim, they should use the cradle technique to slow down slightly so that they can move the ball across their bodies into the launch position, up through the face area to the basket for a soft finish.
Players should work on mastering the footwork from both sides of the basket. Launching off the proper foot on either side of the basket is crucial to making the layup. Encourage the players to use the left hand and right hand from the appropriate side of the basket, even if they continuously miss the shot with their weaker hand. Applaud the effort, regardless of the results. At this stage, getting a player to use either hand for dribbling and shooting layups is a huge accomplishment and should be acknowledged.
Developing a reward system for making a layup or dribbling in for a basket with the off hand is left up to the discretion and budget of the individual coach. Some coaches would call these bribes, and others would call them inducements. But occasionally, they are a great way to get the attention of players who essentially try to play the game with one hand tied behind their back.
Learn more about Survival Guide for Coaching Youth Basketball 2E.