Coaching a “System” vs. Adapting to Your Personnel

In a previous article we talked about how successful teams and programs all have great structure, no matter the level of competition. In youth basketball, it starts with responsible and conscientious coaches who understand that kids need ample amounts of organization and instruction.

Coaches should always remember the adage: “Never assume anything!” They should expect youth athletes to forget things and be prepared to reteach fundamentals, drills, and plays on a daily basis.

Structure does not mean running a system regardless of the athletes' skill set. College and professional teams run systems, but they can recruit or draft athletes that fit their style of play.

There should be no systems in youth basketball. Coaches must have enough knowledge and experience to adapt to the athletes they have in their program.

Countless times I've heard coaches at the 5th and 6th grade level say, “We run a motion offense and pressure man-to-man so our kids must learn it.” First of all, most coaches don't really know what a motion offense is. I frequently see coaches use a series of down screens and call it motion, but there are a number of other screens and cuts that constitute a motion offense, such as up screens, shallow and flash cuts, zippers, post screens, and cross screens.

On offense, it should always start with teaching offensive footwork and cuts, as well as setting legal screens.  They can then work on 3-man, 4-man, and 5-man sets without defense. Once players have executed cutting and screening, then they can then work against defense.

Defensively, if a program doesn't have players that can pressure the ball and deny entry passes that initiate offenses you don't run a pressure man-to-man. The same common sense reasoning must apply when coaches insist on pressing full court because that's their “program's philosophy”. 

If the players don't have the speed or quickness to execute the press successfully, it must not be used. Coaches are better served to adapt to the abilities of the players in the program and teach accordingly.

If programs have quick players and coaches that know how to teach pressure defenses, by all means do so because it fits the players' skill set. But if coaches have bigger players that don't move their feet as well, try a different defense while your players improve upon their defensive footwork.

Instead of coaching a “defensive system”, work on individual fundamentals and communication as a team so that players can understand their roles and help the team succeed.

One great combination drill is the Dean Smith North Carolina half court no dribble drill. Players can cut and screen and move the ball but no dribbling is allowed. Not only does it improve offensive footwork, but it also eliminates the inefficient and senseless dribbling that is inherent in every youth player. Plus it helps defenders fight through screens, cover the cuts, and defend the post.

Whether we’re talking about offense or defense, adapting to your team's talent is an absolute must in youth basketball!