For Coaches
Practice Protocol: Do your sessions ENGAGE and EXCITE?

Practice Protocol: Do your sessions ENGAGE and EXCITE?


By Greg Bach

One of the most pressing challenges for youth basketball coaches is running practices that keep kids engaged and excited – every time they step on the floor.

“We talk about this all the time,” says Kathy Olivier, the head women’s basketball coach at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas (UNLV). “We try to figure out ways for them to enjoy it.”

When practices feature lots of fun, blended in with good coaching and maximum effort, learning flourishes.

And youngsters embrace the experience.

“Sometimes people don’t even know they are going hard when they are having a good time,” says Olivier, who enjoyed a standout career as a player at UNLV, where her 18.1 points per game scoring average ranks second all-time in school history. “Everyone needs to be included, where they are participating and giving it their all, because that is what youth sports is all about.”

When Olivier runs competitive team drills that the players are dialed into, the impact is obvious.

So, it’s crucial that volunteer coaches strive to achieve the same. 

“Our team doesn’t even know at times that they’re giving 100 percent because they are enjoying it,” she says.

Keep these pointers from Olivier in mind as you work with your young players:

Laughter – it really does make a difference: “I have so many people that come up to me and talk to me about the time they were 10 years old and they were at our camp and they remember how we would kind of laugh with each other,” Olivier says. “That’s a big part of camp – you’re laughing through the mistakes and then you’re correcting them.”

A ball that’s dribbled off a player’s foot, or an air ball on a lay-up drill aren’t reasons for a coach’s blood pressure to shoot up or a player’s confidence to diminish. Instead, laugh it off as Olivier suggests, make the necessary corrections, and get back to work. Youngsters will remember those good times for the rest of their lives, and when looking back on their experiences will appreciate how their coaches addressed the miscue.

Help kids feel good about themselves: Olivier’s staff, and players, run their Lady Rebels youth basketball camp every year, and a focal point is making sure they are connecting with every youngster and boosting their confidence and self-esteem.

“We are mentors and we make everyone feel really good about themselves,” Olivier says. “There is a fine line between correcting them all the time and making them feel good. So, when you are working with kids you have to find something to tell them that is good and then you can build on that.”

Power of positivity: “I feel coaches have got to be supportive and not constantly pointing out the negatives of what they’re not doing,” she says. “You can’t point out all the negatives; you’ve got to point out the positives and make them feel like it’s the greatest thing ever and then kids will continue to play, enjoy it, and they’re going to work that much harder and be that much better.”

Accentuate accomplishments: “I just feel like you make an impact when you’ve made them feel like they have accomplished something,” Olivier says. “So, you have to find a way to do that.”

Basketball Practice Coaching Encouragement

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