Youth Basketball: Teaching Offense to 9/10 Year-olds

I am often asked about how to teach offense to 9 and 10 year-olds. Those asking usually fall into two categories: 1) Those in rec programs and 2) Those in competitive programs.

While the former would like to win, it isn’t their overriding motivation. They really want to know how to teach offensive skills and what kind of an offense would be appropriate for that age group.

The latter group cares more about having a winning offense and less about teaching the whole group offensive skills. They will usually verbalize something about preparing the kids to be successful high school players, but inside they really want a group of the best 9-10 year old studs/studettes they can muster. After all, winning is their real motivation for asking my ideas about what kind of an offense to run.

I have consistently stated that I think 9 and 10 year-olds don’t need offensive systems. They need to be taught fundamentals–how to move without the basketball.

When one player has the ball, the other four teammates should be moving with a purpose without the ball. This means cutting to the basket for a pass, screening away for another player or moving to balance the floor. This is continuous motion, and when the player with the ball passes, that player also joins the purposeful movement. The player with the ball is looking to pass, shoot or attack the basket. On offense, it’s an unending cycle of cuts, screens and floor balance movement. If you teach these things to a 9 or 10 year-old, with everyone moving purposefully, in unison, you have offense. Some coaches either don’t understand this or still want to have a set offense.

So, quickly, here’s my idea about how to win at 9-10 y.o. basketball—and it doesn’t require much teaching of offense. Teach aggressive zone defense, trapping the dribbler at every opportunity (because they usually don’t dribble all that well). Force the other 4 offensive players to move well, pass well and shoot well from long distance—all of which they don’t usually do well at this age. Defense trumps offense here at this level. Teach aggressive team rebounding, especially from the zone defense. Teach fast break from every opportunity, utilizing the rewards of tough zone “D” and rebounding. The fast break will become your offense, resulting in layups and saving all that practice time trying to teach more sophisticated offensive sets.

The above scenario would work better for a competitive situation where they have more practices and more games to hone their skills. It works well for coaches who just want to win and aren’t too big on teaching skills. Competition leagues usually allow for more practices, an expanded game schedule where they gain playing experience, and have no rules about substitution (so the STUDS can stay on the floor together), pressing defenses or running up the score on opponents.

The biggest drawbacks for rec programs are lack of practice time and rules of play within the program. YMCA programs at this age level, as an example, usually require that everyone plays at least half the game, substituting every 4 minutes with an 8-minute running clock, have no fast break, no pressing defense, and a 20 point rule for stopping keeping score. In rec programs a couple of 2-man plays will work better than any offensive set involving 5 players who may have questionable skills. My opinion–I think designing offense at this age for rec programs is a waste of time. Teach the fundamentals instead and let offense happen as a result of play.

Frankly, no competitive offense will function well without each player being able to understand the nuances of playing both with and without the ball, keeping good floor spacing for the players, making good and timely passes, dribbling with control, able to finish at the basket, rebound, shoot, and play man defense. Having 5 players on the floor who can do all these things well, at this age, seems a stretch, much less to run a continuity, flex, 3-out, 4-out, or whatever flavor-of-the-week offense. Yet…coaches still want to have offenses that will have a WOW factor.

There are so many offensive elements that need to be taught, drilled and perfected at 1-on-1, 2-on-2, 3-on3 levels, before even attempting putting the five-man game together—and this is at the high school level. Sadly, lots of youth coaches think their group of 9-10 year-olds are going to be up for it.

If I haven’t dissuaded everyone yet, for those die-hards who must have an offense, here’s a place to begin. Go to this page on my website to read the rest of the article: