How to Teach a Basketball Skill (The Right Way)

Photo Credit: AmherstCollege via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: AmherstCollege via Compfight cc

I want to tell you a story. Don’t worry, I’ll keep it short…

A couple of days ago I went to the gym to get up a few shots like I do most days. On this particular day there was a team of somewhere between 8 – 12 year olds on the court directly next to mine. Between drills I was sitting down to rest and have a drink when I overheard their coach explaining the retreat dribble to his team.

He explained that when performing a retreat dribble you must turn your body to face the sideline, take a couple of steps back, and then push off and explode past your defender. Now there’s nothing much wrong with that explanation except for one thing…

He explained it all while sitting on the bench with his players surrounding him. There was no demonstration.

I’m sure you can imagine the chaos that followed. Every player was doing something different. Dribbling with the wrong hand, walking backwards instead of sliding; and all the while the coach never once got off the bench. He sat there yelling out to the players doing it wrong. Every kid.

I have a high level of respect for anyone who volunteers their time to help out our youth, but this can’t happen. It’s not helping the players at all and that’s our main goal.

But the story got me thinking… what is the right way to teach players a skill? I put that question to a couple of coaches that I’m close to, combined it with my thoughts on the topic, and the following is what I came up with.

Here’s what I consider to be the ‘right way’ to teach players a skill.


1. Introduce the Skill

This is the quickest step. The first thing you’ll want to do is introduce the skill to them by name. Let them know what they’re going to be learning.

If you’re coaching players older than the youth level, this step will take you 5 seconds to tell them what they’re going to learn.

For youth players, I like to spend a bit more time on this step asking questions and engaging their mind.

For example:
“Today we’re going to be learning how to do a crossover. Does anyone know what a crossover is?”
“Has anyone ever used a crossover in a game before?”
“Does anyone know WHY we would want to use a crossover?”


2. Demonstrate and Explain

It’s very important that the skill is demonstrated correctly. If you can’t do it, get an older player to do demonstrate while you explain.

Demonstrate the skill slowly, step-by-step, and without defense. Make sure you emphasise the key teaching points while you’re doing it. Always demonstrate the skill a few times.

For the crossover the key points would be…
1. Push off hard on the outside foot.
2. Change of speed.
3. Keep the ball below the knee.

After you’ve finished demonstrating the skill, there are two things you should always do…

1. Ask them to repeat back what the key points are.
2. Ask them if they have any questions about the skill.


3. Initial Practice

Now allow the players to start practicing the skill themselves. Do we expect them to be perfect at it in the first five minutes? Absolutely not. Let them make mistakes. Let them lose the ball a few times.

Depending on the age, don’t worry too much about speed at first. It’s more important that they learn the fundamentals of the skills first.


4. When and Why to Use the Skill

I like to talk about this immediately after they practice for a couple of reasons…

1. They’ve got a grasp on how to do the skill and know what it feels like to use it.
2. If we talk about it before practicing the skill, I feel like it’s too much information for players to process at once. They’ll forget how to perform the skill.

This step is the most commonly skipped over step in the teaching process. No matter how well you teach the skill, no matter how well they learn the skill, it’s all irrelevant if they don’t know when and why to use the skill during a game of basketball.

We have to put the skill in game context. This involves adding a defender and demonstrating times during a game when the skill should be used. For the crossover, show that when the defender impedes your dribbling lane, you crossover to evade the defender.


5. Repetition

There is value in repetition, as tedious as it may seem. It’s what makes the miraculous seem effortless – Pat Williams*

This is where the hard work begins. This is the step all players must dedicate time to if they want to get exceptional at a skill.

As a coach, you must learn what stage of learning the skill that each of your players is at individually. While some of your players might pick up the skill quite quickly, there will be others that won’t. And you need to always be pushing each of your players just a little out of their comfort zone

Referring back to the crossover skill, for those that are able to do it quite easily you should stress speed and keeping their head up; while for those struggling to learn the skill you should allow them to go at their own pace and properly learn the fundamentals of the skill.


6. Incorporate the Skill into Live Play

Once the players have become proficient at a skill it’s time to take the next step and incorporate it into live play.

This can be in the form of drills that incorporate the skill and even real games.

This will be a gradual process as the player begins to feel more and more confident at the skill they’re trying to learn. If you’re coaching youth basketball, encourage your players to use the skills you’ve been learning. It doesn’t matter if they make a couple of mistakes. If it works, their confidence will skyrocket.


7. Repeat Steps 5 and 6 – A Lot

The more you repetitions a players puts into learning a particular skill, the more confident they’ll become at performing it. The more confident they become at performing it, the greater the chance they’ll use it during a game.

Until finally they use the skill during a game without even thinking about it. That’s the level we want to achieve.


Key Teaching Bullet Points

• Don’t only critisize and correct a player if they’re performing the skill wrong. It’ll ruin their confidence. Make sure to praise them on a part of the skill they’re doing well before correcting them.

• Praise progress, not perfection. Encourage them that they’re making progress.

• Never be sarcastic and laugh when a player can’t perform the skill correctly. This should go without saying but I see too many trainers do it without realising that it’s hurting the players confidence.

• Emphasise mistakes will happen. It’s a step all players have to go through on the way to mastering a skill.

• Give feedback individually. Although if the whole group is doing the same thing wrong (which usually means we didn’t demonstrate and explain it thoroughly enough) get everyone to stop and go over what’s going wrong.



In summary, the 7 steps to teaching a new skill are:
1. Introduce the skill.
2. Demonstrate and explain.
3. Initial Practice
4. When and Why to Use the Skill
5. Repetition
6. Incorporate Skill into Live Play
7. Repeat steps 5 and 6

This is the step-by-step process that I use and encourage others to use. The most important one you need to remember to incorporate is the ‘When and why to use the skill’. That’s the one I see way too many coaches leave out. It’s important!

Do you have a different process of teaching a skill or any feedback on my process? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!


how to teach a basketball skill, how to teach basketball

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