The “Play the Game” Basketball Coaching Philosophy

OK, let’s get into the details of the basketball coaching philosophy we call, “Play the Game”.

(If you haven’t read our introduction to this philosophy, we recommend you go to our coaching youth basketball page and read that first.)

In order to teach this to your youth basketball team, you’ll use four steps:

1) Play a “mini-game”

2) Assist players with finding out what skills they need to improve on

3) Introduce and teach these skills

4) Perfect these skills in another “mini-game”


We’re honored that Tom Nordland (creator of the “Swish” videos) has agreed to contribute a “How to improve your shooting skills” article series to our site.
Check it out here

Play a “mini-game”

As your team comes together for the first time, the kids are all at different levels when it comes to their basketball experience.

Some of them may have shot the ball around before, but very few will know the difference between a guard and center or between a blocking foul and traveling. Most of them probably never even heard of these terms before!

So, what do most coaches do? They run the kids through some warm-ups, then get a shooting or dribbling drill going. Remember the danger of this approach we brought up when we introduced this basketball coaching philosophy?

It’s difficult for the players to understand how these passing or dribbling techniques relate to the game of basketball because they’ve never actually played a game of basketball before!

Instead, you’ll devise a “mini-game” designed to work on certain aspects of the game. As an example, you may have a 3 on 3 game where each player must dribble and then pass to a teammate. No one can shoot until the ball has been passed to each of the three offensive players.

The players will be forced to work on skills (dribbling, passing, shooting, defense) without realizing it. In their eyes, they’re just having fun playing a “game”.

Assist Players in Realizing What Skills Need Improvement

Here is where this basketball coaching philosophy really shines in regards to coaching youth basketball.

As you observe your team, look for a good time to stop the “game” and ask questions about any mental or physical errors you’ve just observed. Probably the best time to stop the action is if you see the players having difficulty carrying out the main objective of the “mini-game”.

You want to ask questions that will lead them to realize what the goal of the “mini-game” is, what they must do to achieve that goal and what skills they need to know and use.

If you see the players struggling with the 3 on 3 we mentioned above, you may stop the action and ask things like:

Coach – “What are we trying to do during this game?”

Players – “Pass the ball three times before we shoot.”

Coach – “What else do you have to do before passing?”

Players – “Dribble”

Coach – “Right. So you need to know how to dribble and pass. What else is important to getting your team to the point of shooting?”

Players – “Being able to receive the passes.”

Coach – “Good! So, wouldn’t it make sense that we work on your dribbling, passing and receiving skills?”

Do you see the magic in this basketball coaching philosophy? Did you tell your players they should work on passing and dribbling drills?

No, by asking some good questions, you’ve lead them to the realization that if they work on these skills, their level of play will go up and the games will be even more fun as they pass, dribble and shoot better.

Isn’t this basketball coaching philosophy a big change over how you were taught? If you’re like us, your coaches just told you to work on various boring drills before you had any chance to play (which is what all kids want to do – play!).

Asking questions instead of “telling” takes a lot of practice. And it takes patience to wait for your players to realize your points on their own.

They may not always understand where you’re trying to lead them right away. Don’t get impatient! Continue questioning, give them two options to choose from until they go “Ah ha!”.

Take the time to get good at this basketball coaching philosophy of asking questions.

What a pleasure it is to see kids want to work on drills and develop their skills after they realize why it’s so important to do so. It’s very different than having them “schlep” through them just so they can get back to playing basketball.

Introduce & Teach the Skills

Now you can break out all those basketball drills you’ve been dying to teach!

Your players will attack these drills with enthusiasm because you’ve helped them understand and internalize that this is how they’ll become better basketball players.

Perfect the Skills in Another “mini-game”

We’ve arrived at the final phase of the “Play the Game” basketball coaching philosophy.

After your players have practiced the drills, now set up another game situation. We would recommend that you set up the next “mini-game” so that the players experience success when using their new skills. A good way to do this is to set up lop-sided games.

Set up 3 on 1 or 3 on 2 games. This way, the players will have success with their passes, shots, dribbles or whatever because the defense is overmatched.

Keep your eye on when it gets too easy, though. You want your players to have success as they develop their skills, but you also want them to be challenged as they grow. Gradually move them from 3 on 1 situations to 3 on 2, 4 on 3 and then up to evenly matched teams.

We hope you see the benefit of the “Play the Game” basketball coaching philosophy. Your players get to “play” more and they become excited with the idea of working on the proper drills to develop their skills.