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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Man-to-Man or Zone for Youth Basketball

When it comes to youth basketball at the U10 level, I believe my thinking might be a little different than most. Young players get their fun from offense, and this fun determines whether they stick around the sport long enough to "get good". In my opinion, then, rules should be adapted to teach the game with the intent to develop basic offensive skills and enable young players to have as many opportunities with the ball as possible and with as much success as possible. In order to do this, I think it is necessary to restrict a little bit of on ball pressure and allow the player with the ball to focus his/her attention on handling the ball as opposed to being distracted by the defensive pressure. A novice basketball player is not yet skilled enough with the ball to execute most dribbling moves while seeing teammates if they have to also worry about intense defensive pressure.

For that reason I am not opposed to zone defenses at the youngest levels. Often times against a man-to-man defense, it becomes more of a dribbling game than learning how to move the ball and use your teammates. The best players who can dribble by defenders (who also haven't developed the quickness or balance to stay in front of them) usually take the ball and drive to the basket out of what, essentially, becomes an isolation type offense. In my opinion this is not teaching kids team offense, but rather a 1 on 1 style game.

Allowing a zone defense, and even restricting the point of defensive attack, takes a little pressure off the ballhandler that allows additional freedom of movement. Players can then learn to pass and cut, penetrate gaps - but stop when help is there (as they would against a good man-to-man), and move the ball from side to side a little easier. If I was the "basketball-czar" I might even institute a "no steal" rule from the ballhandler. You could intercept passes, but on ball you'd have to learn to move your feet and stay in front of the dribble instead of hounding them and forcing a turnover.

Any zone defense that is used, should not have built in double-teams or traps. "Junk" zone defenses like a Box & 1 or Triangle & 2 should also be avoided. Strategies such as this are obviously with the intent to give a team a better opportunity to "win the game", when the goal should be teaching kids to play the game. That being said, I also think there is a time to introduce man-to-man principles and would not be opposed to a quarter or a half of that - and certainly could play any zone with those principles in mind.

No player wants to leave the gym feeling inadequate with the ball - especially a 9-year old. When young players build some confidence through practice and repeated success, then we can gradually turn up the defensive heat so players can progress in the development of their offensive skills. It's not bad if offensive skills are a step ahead of defensive ones at the youngest ages. As long as youngsters demonstrate hustle, a nose for the ball, and the willingness to defend, they'll pick up man-to-man principles when the time comes

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