On the move
By Greg Bach
When it comes to youth basketball, it’s no secret that kids love shooting.
But becoming proficient at knocking down shots requires focusing on a component of the game that often gets overlooked in the teaching process: footwork.
It’s what creates separation from defenders and helps produce scoring opportunities; and neglecting to teach it can sabotage shots and lead to stagnant scoring.
“Great shooters understand how to move without the ball,” says Bobbie Kelsey, a former standout player who helped Stanford win the 1992 national championship and who has coached in the WNBA and the collegiate ranks for more than 20 years. “The best players have the best footwork because they can create space with their feet. That’s how you create space – not with the ball.”
When coaches emphasize footwork and movement, and players embrace its importance, positive results often follow.
“Players create opportunities to score because of their footwork, their conditioning and their understanding of how to move without the basketball,” Kelsey says. “Eighty-five percent of the time you don’t have the basketball, so you have to understand how to create space for yourself and create opportunities for your teammates to pass you the ball.”
Kelsey was a two-year team captain at Stanford and was voted the team’s Most Inspirational Player on that ’92 NCAA title-winning team. She also is the creator of the Get your butt in the Gym basketball camps where she works with young players helping them learn and enjoy playing the game she loves.
We caught up with Kelsey to get her insights on coaching kids:
SPORTINGKID LIVE: What’s a common mistake coaches at the youth level make?
KELSEY: I hear coaches all the time say, ‘We’ve got to shoot fast.’ No you don’t – you have to create space fast, because if you don’t it doesn’t matter if you shoot fast because you’re probably going to miss it; or the defense can block it; or you are going to mess with your mechanics because you are trying to shoot it fast without the footwork. If you don’t get that core footwork in sixth, seventh and eighth grade you are going to be in trouble.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: What would you like volunteer coaches to keep in mind as they work with young athletes?
KELSEY: To remember how hard it was to play this game. It’s not an easy game to play and I think parents forget that. Starting out, kids aren’t even coordinated enough to do the things in basketball that you have to do to be really good at it. That’s why it takes so long to be good at basketball; or if you don’t work at it you’re not going to be good at it. So, I would encourage the first-time coach or the volunteer parent – the one that played basketball in junior high school 25-30 years ago – to remember how hard it is to catch the ball, not travel, get it to a teammate when the defense is trying to take it, and then make a basket. And then do it over and over. And secondly, that they are kids and this game is supposed to be fun. Nobody is getting a scholarship at age 10. Parents need to relax and let it naturally happen and if it does great, and if it doesn’t that doesn’t mean the kid isn’t going to be successful in life.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: What’s the message you try to instill in young athletes who participate in your Get your butt in the Gym camps?
KELSEY: If I don’t believe I’m good and can do something then nobody else is going to believe it. But I can’t lie to myself. So, if I haven’t worked on my ball handling and they steal the ball, that’s on me. Confidence comes through practice. I always end my camps by telling the kids that if you don’t practice, you’re not going to be confident. And you’re not going to be confident unless you practice. It puts it on the player. As a kid, if you really want to be good at it and you love it, you’ll work at it. When you reap some of those benefits it feels really good, too.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: How can coaches create a culture where everyone is pulling for each other?
KELSEY: You give them examples of what that looks like because if you want kids to emulate and model something you have to show them what that is; and you have to call them out when they don’t do it and bring it to their attention without being mean or making them feel bad. Tara VanDerveer, my coach at Stanford, always said, ‘Don’t be different. Be the same person whether things are going your way or not.’ And that’s just good life advice because we know in life sometimes things are not going to go our way. We have to be consistent – and that’s what coaches want from players. So, you have to help them do that, whether they are in the game or not. So, when somebody does do that it’s throwing a party, as we say. When you notice a kid who, when it’s not going their way is still cheering and they’re up and they have a great attitude, you are calling that out because kids want praise. So if they hear you praising someone for doing something that you have asked them to do, or they are being a good teammate, most kids want that attention too so they are going to do that.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: How can coaches help kids embrace playing defense?
KELSEY: You can’t be a one-dimensional player. Shooting is one dimension. We always talk about being a complete player. What does that mean? It means being a great shooter, a decent passer, a good ball handler who doesn’t turn it over, a good defender, and a good teammate who is cheering when we’re not in the game. These are things we talk about all the time. It’s just that the sexy part is the shooting and the scoring that gets all the attention. In your mind, if you want to be a complete all-around good player then playing defense is a part of that – so we don’t leave that out of the equation.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: During your playing days at Stanford how did you handle games where shots weren’t falling?
KELSEY: I knew it would eventually because I had worked on it, so I wasn’t too worried about it. But if my shot wasn’t working in a particular game I was going to figure out how to help my team in other ways – whether that was playing great defense or cheering on my teammates.
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