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Youth Basketball—Teaching Balance And Control

Everything has its process—a beginning, a middle and an end or final result.

I was taught that learning is a process that passes through three phases before

reaching the final phase of excellence. 1) The initial phase is where we don’t know what we don’t know. We’re “newbies” without an inkling of what we are about to attempt. We’re like new-born babies, with a clean, empty slate. We’ll call this phase, “Unconscious incompetence”. 2) As we begin to take on information and act on it, we are learning how to apply this information, but we still don’t perform the skill well. We can glimpse the future and see others who are farther along the learning curve and we know that there is more. We’ll call this phase, “Conscious Incompetence”. 3) Now we have arrived at a plateau where we know enough to perform the skill we’ve been trying to attain, and we can perform it but, perhaps not well all the time, because we still have to think about it. The longer we stay in this phase, the more we learn, the more we practice the skill, the better we become at performing the task. We’ll call this phase, “Conscious Competence”. 4) With each plateau, we’ve built new information upon the foundation of the information and skills we learned before. If we’re out of phase 3, we’ve entered the phase of excellence, where a task can be performed without having to think about it. The skill has been learned. We’ve risen above the others who are still going through the learning curve. We must, however, be guarded now about thinking we’re better than everyone else. We must be cognizant that there are others—many others—who have also attained this level, and their skills may be at a higher level. We’ll call this phase, “Unconscious Competence”.

This article illustrates the first level, by assuming the youngsters in your charge

know little or nothing about the game of basketball. Before we can run, we must pass through competency phases of crawling and walking. So, we begin at the most elemental level, breaking down information that must be assimilated along the long road to unconscious competency.

First, show them around the playing floor. Talk to them about the lines and

places on the floor and what they mean. Explain to them that in every sport there are certain things which players must have in common. In this article we take the first step—teaching balance and control.

There are a lot of subtleties in the game of basketball that are as important to

playing the game as are dribbling, passing and shooting.

Usually, as a player grows in the game, balance and body control become less of an issue. But, for the young player, these things are very important, for without their mastery, the game will not be played well. Again, these things need to be taught.

The first thing we do is to demonstrate a good stance, universally referred to in

sports as the “ready stance”. We want the feet under the player and a little wider than the hips. Drop the hips and flex the knees a little. Don’t bend over at the waist, but keep the back fairly straight without being stiff. Keep the weight evenly distributed on both feet with the point of balance being directly below the buttocks and between the feet. This puts the point of balance at the mid-point of the body. The arms are loose, hanging down and slightly bent at the elbows with the hands in front of the hips, open and ready to react.

A player standing up straight, with the feet close together, can be knocked out of position and off balance easily, and is slower to react. The “ready stance” gives the player a stronger base for balance and the ability to react more quickly than an upright stance.

I have the players line up along the end line and I go down the line checking their

stances for the right look and for balance. I then have them stand up and go into a balanced stance. I push each player in different directions to test their balance. Everyone must pass this simple test before we can continue. If a child cannot pass this test of balance, the chances are that child will have difficulty with most large muscle activities.

A child without good balance will not be able to have control while dribbling

or moving around the floor.

Now, with all the players on the end line, we will teach them how to run up the

court, under control (as fast as the individual can go without sacrificing control), and come to a stop in two steps (1-2 stop). On the whistle, they will run forward and on the next whistle they must come to a stop in two steps without losing their balance, taking more steps or falling over.

In order to do this, we must teach them to drop their hips and widen their stance

slightly as they begin to stop, all the while keeping the body weight (center of gravity) over the “mid-point”. It won’t take long for them to accomplish this.

Once they have this part, on the next whistle, they will reverse and run backwards, repeating the same balanced 1-2 stop. We keep this back and forth exercise going until everyone has the concepts and the balance and control down. Do this drill in as many consecutive practice sessions as needed to get it right.

We go back to the end line to teach the stutter-step. From a balanced stance, we have the players jog in place, barely lifting the feet from the floor as they jog. We have them alternate the tempo, speeding up, slowing down, etc. When they have this part, they move up the floor, varying the tempo of their movement, giving them the stuttering effect. Then add the whistle. Run hard, on the whistle get the body under control (as in the 1-2 stop), and do a stutter-step, then proceed to run hard until the next whistle. Be more interested in balance and control than speed! Emphasize quickness, never going so fast you’re out of control.

Now, you can back up to the first drill and put the two drills together. Do the forward, 1-2 stop, backward 1-2 stop, forward, stutter-step, etc. We’re beginning to put together a sequence drill.

Next is the open-step. With the players on the end line, have them do a stutter-step in place, then place weight on the right foot, faking a step to the right. Then, push off the right foot while stepping out to the left with the left foot. Have the players imagine a defender standing in front of them and they have to sidestep the opponent. We want to have them think we are going to our right, hence the fake step with the right foot. Then we abruptly step out in the opposite direction of the fake, an open-step with the left foot. We do the same thing in the other direction, starting with the stutter-step. Fake with the left foot to the left, put weight on that foot and step out to the right with an open-step with the right foot.

Now have them slowly progress up the court: Stutter-step, fake going right, then open-step left; continue up court, stutter-step, fake left, open-step right. We step it up a little, after they’ve gotten the hang of it. Have them jog until the whistle blows, then stutter-step and follow this with the fake and open-step. They continue up court, and on the next whistle, stutter-step, then fake and open-step to the other side. Continue alternating the sides until they have it down well.

After each individual skill has been learned, now the coach can put all these skills together into one drill I call the Balance & Control Sequence Drill. Each drill is performed in the sequence as related above, with little pause or coaching during the drill. Run this Sequence Drill every day, until there is general mastery by each player—the “Unconscious Competence” factor.

[by: Ronn Wyckoff]