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How to Teach Young Children to Dribble a Basketball

Updated on September 10, 2017
Coach_Pickles profile image

Foremost expert in early learning in sports, Founder at Jelly Bean Sports, Father of 4, Masters in Human Relations, Educational Doctorate.

Young children practice dribbling a basketball
Young children practice dribbling a basketball | Source

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but in seeing with new eyes.

— Marcel Proust (1871-1922), French novelist

Teach Young Children, Ages 2-5, to Dribble a Basketball

The acquisition of competency in movement is a marathon not a sprint.

— Dr. Brad Kayden, Early Learning Sports Development Expert
Young children practice dribbling a basketball
Young children practice dribbling a basketball | Source

Basketball Kept Simple, Dribbling Made Fun

Dribbling is one of the fundamental skills children need to learn to play basketball. Highly complex in its coordination of movements, it is a challenging skill for young children to learn. Fortunately, there are certain modifications that can and need to be made to overcome these coordination difficulties.

Basketball and sports in general are still in their infancy in their efforts to understanding early learners and the early learning in sports process. Before now, there has really only been hints at thinking about sports through young children's eyes. What is typically lacking is strong teaching examples of something Active Learning theory calls NOVELTY AND CONTRAST. Sport is not completely void of novelty and contrast, as in the case of baseball helping young children to think of an alligator's mouth when opening their hands and fielding the ball. Sports needs more of examples like this. It is the novelty and contrast that young children, especially today with the help of technology, are enjoying more in other areas of learning.

The exercises and coaching techniques in this hub are especially designed to introduce you to the Jelly Bean Way, early learning teachings with novelty and contrast among other things. They are research-based, classroom proven and the way early learners love to be taught. Included for you are coaching videos. They will provide you context, a firsthand account of how the exercises are quickly set-up and easily executed by young children. It is important to note, this is early learning-oriented, not traditional basketball teaching. Yes, evidence of dribbling "phenoms" can be found floating around YouTube, but they do not represent the majority of young children's capabilities. We must keep our expectations reasonable.

Thanks for stopping by, if you like what you read be sure to follow Coach_Pickles to find other interesting young sports-related hubs like this one and to receive updates when new hubs are published.

Lesson Overview

Teaching Time: 5 Minutes

Equipment: Miniature basketball

# of Steps: 5

Ages Appropriate for: 2.5 years +

Level of Instructional Difficulty: Medium

Keywords and Phrases: shooting, pizza position, ear of the basketball

Teaching Objectives

Parent/coach will:

  1. better understand how young children think about sports
  2. better understand how to modify teachings to fit the ways young children think about sports
  3. keep sports simple
  4. make learning fun

The Assessment

As a matter of warm-up and timeout for a period of decompression from learning, I will usually let the children shoot for one minute increments several times throughout the class.

While this has nothing to do with dribbling, shooting for one minute increments gives me time to interact with kids on a one-on-one basis. I get to know who they are. For some kids it is just about getting them to open up and seeing me as someone they don't need to be afraid of. For other children, it can be a time when they tell me a little about themselves and we interact on topics that have nothing to do with basketball or what we are working on. Still others, this is a time to be silly, goof around a little bit and show them that I can be like a kid to.

While not an assessment in the truest sense of the word, it is, when working with young children, a way to get to better know my audience. Young children love to shoot and by allowing them to do more of what they love to do, they allow me to do more of what I love to do and that is teach them in simple and fun ways.

Teach Young Children How to Play Basketball - Ball Security

Jimbo holds the basketball tight
Jimbo holds the basketball tight | Source

Instruction

Step 1 - Ball Security #1

Even though the youngest of children struggle most with dribbling, there is still an opportunity for them to learn and to be challenged. When dribbling or any other offensive skill in basketball is broken down into its lowest common denominator, it is ball security that drives everything. As I often tell the parents in my classes, it is great to teach young children dribbling, passing and shooting but if they can't keep possession of the ball, all of those things do not matter.

Rule #1 - Ball Security is #1

The opportunity to teach young children ball security opens up amazing doorways to teaching basketball with new NOVELTY and CONTRAST as you will see from the video. Personally, teaching ball security is on of the most fun things I teach.

Jimbo Jelly Bean holds the basketball away from the defense
Jimbo Jelly Bean holds the basketball away from the defense | Source
Jimbo Jelly Bean dribbling shielding the basketball
Jimbo Jelly Bean dribbling shielding the basketball | Source

Step 2 - Show Me Your Muscles

Begin with the most fundamental dribble first, the Strong-Arm Dribble. It, as I previously mentioned, emphasizes children's focus to be placed on ball security. The Strong-Arm simply is a shield created by the off-dribbling arm to protect the ball.

Have young children start by squeezing the basketball between their feet. This will stop them from running off during your two-minute spiel. Leave the basketballs in this position until you're ready to use them.

It begins with the following conversation:

Coach: Tell children, "Show me your muscles!" Have fun walking up and down the row tapping on young children's muscles and saying, "Man, those are some big muscles!" Young children love this.

This has nothing to do with basketball and yet everything about building in the novelty and contrast behind the ball security you must help them understand.

After children are posed and showing you their muscles, it is now time to create their Strong-Arm in step 3.


Step 3 - Strong Arm

Coach: Next show and tell children, "Make just one muscle with one arm." Then you will guide them in getting that arm to go from 90 degrees up and down to 90 degrees flat out in front of them. I have equated it to pounding your fist on a table but you can come up with your own fun example.

Coach: Next you will tell children, that should still have their basketballs squeezed between their feet, "I am going to come around and check your Strong Arm." This requires tapping on top of each child's arm to make sure it doesn't drop. As you do say, "Yep, that is a Strong-Arm! Good Job!"

Coach: Finally, have some fun with the children. Have one child push down on your arm. Let it fall or flop down in an exaggerated fashion and tell them, "Do you know what this is called? A noodle arm." Ask them, "Do we want a Strong Arm or a noodle arm?"

***Have kids shoot for a minute to get the wiggles out and then add a basketball to the instruction.


Step 4 - Basketball on Your Pocket

Back at the baseline.

Coach: Tell children, "Now, put the basketball on your pocket." Some won't have pockets and you will have to explain you want it where their pocket would be.

Coach: Next show and tell children, "Hold up your strong arm."

Coach: Show and tell children, "Place the basketball behind you." Turn your body from your belly button facing the children to 90 degrees to the side with your (opposite arm not holding the basketball) strong arm up.

Getting to this point it should not take you more then 2 minutes, ideally 90 seconds. Less is more when working with young children.

Fun Assessment

Next, I do a fun static assessment before getting them mobile managing the basketball.

I start by going up and down the line moving from child to child. When I am in front of a child, I try to get their basketball. The idea is to help get young children in proper position and then to think about protecting the ball. This usually comes pretty naturally for children. There are always a few that need help, spend about 10 seconds in adjustment otherwise ask parents for help.

It is important that you reinforce using the language I gave and don't vary because young children remember best the references not the concepts. For example saying, "Basketball on your pocket" yields far greater results than "Basketball behind you." Of course you can say, "Basketball behind you on your pocket." The novelty and contrast in this case being their focus on their pocket and strong arm.

Again, children usually catch on quickly to the cat and mouse nature of this exercise. Keep the mood light and stop to make quick fixes as necessary. Notice NO DRIBBLING has been expected of them yet. We are working on the fundamental positions that are behind dribbling and helping kids to get comfortable with them first.


Young children walk with basketball on their pockets shielding the ball with other arm
Young children walk with basketball on their pockets shielding the ball with other arm | Source

Step 5 - Walk

With basketball on their pockets behind them and strong arm out in front of them, the next thing to do is to get them moving. Instruct them upon blowing your whistle that you want them to walk up the floor. This process of managing both a basketball behind them and an arm held up in front of them while moving is what makes dribbling effectively so hard for young children to do.

Notice there is one thing missing? That's right, there is no dribbling. The dribbling element is something that can begin to be introduced around age five. Focusing on these basic components of ball security, ball on the pocket and strong-arm create a great foundation for the next steps of teaching dribbling technique.

It is here where you stop if you are working with children ages 2.5 to 4 years old. The lack the coordination combined with difficulty managing a cumbersome basketball makes it a challenge to do more than this at these ages. While some might be able to, there are better lessons and activities that the majority of children will have more fun doing.

If you are working with children ages 5 to 7 years old, repeat the exercise but add in the dribbling. Begin with them dribbling on the baseline, then bringing the basketball behind them to dribble at their pockets and with their strong arm and then get them moving with their basketball performing what is called the Controlled Dribble. It incorporates all techniques described.

Step 5 - Assessment

Play a game where the kids DO NOT dribble but instead focus on creating their Strong-Arms and keeping the basketball on their pockets. The objective of each child is to knock try and knock the basketball out of another child's hand while also protecting his own basketball with his own Strong-Arm.

It is important to be proactive and ask kids this question on the front-end. "Do we cry if someone gets our basketball or hits it out of our hand." Simply tell them that if they get someone else's basketball to give it back.

Teach Young Children How to Dribble - Backwards

Advanced Lesson - Backwards Dribble

As part of the assessment when I work with older children that are ages 6 and 7 years, I will have them perform backwards dribbling. As I have learned throughout the years, it often levels the playing field between those comfortable and those uncomfortable with dribbling a basketball.

Generally, it makes most children a bit uncomfortable. However, what it also does is helps young children generally focus better. The backwards dribbling teaches good form and body positioning because it challenges young children to focus their sights directly on the ball. The backwards dribble is an entry level approach to dribbling that is highly effective however well under-taught. Young children can make fast improvements in their dribbling technique.

Dribbling backwards will help you assess young player's:

  • Balance
  • Spatial Awareness - Avoid dribbling the ball off their feet
  • Comfort with keeping their head over the ball
  • Focused - They should be less distracted and more able to concentrate on what they are doing

Speed Dribble
Speed Dribble | Source

Advanced Lesson - Speed Dribble

A much more fun and much less complicated dribble, the Speed Dribble requires young children to move quickly as they dribble the basketball across the floor. For very young children, under age four, this could mean simply running without dribbling across the floor. This adaptation is an effective first step that we need to accept as part of the early progressions of dribbling.

Begin by asking, "Do race cars drive fast or slow?" Answer: Fast. "What happens if the race car driver goes too fast?" The kid answer, "He will crash!"

Next, describe what they will be doing, "The next dribble is called our speed dribble." Ask, "Do you think we will go fast or slow?" Answer: Fast. Ask, "What happens if we go too fast?" Answer: We will crash.Tell them, "Dribble as fast as you can up the floor but be careful not to do what?" Answer: Crash.

Get them dribbling up and down the floor.

Control them by integrating stop's using a whistle or red light, green light game.

Do not over-instruct here. The speed dribble will happen at a variety of rates among young children. They will naturally double dribble and travel for a time.

Referees understand young children's limitations when dribbling and so must we as coaches.


Instructional Reminders

  • Have patience
  • Be hands-off in your coaching
  • Teach to all children not just the best learners
  • Be kind, avoid frustration...have patience


Conclusion

The concept of doing these things is not a "dog and pony" show for the kids until they mature and are able to dribble "normally." Early learning in sports is a critical time for young children to establish fundamental movements and some basic understanding of the skill of basketball itself. If we put the skill of basketball itself ahead of children's building of their fundamental movements, a proficiency gap is created that will limit a young child's ability to progress from the basic fundamentals to higher order motor skill development stages where dribbling as we know it exists. Keeping basketball simple and making dribbling fun takes a concerted effort. Keep basketball simple by making dribbling fun. It takes a concerted effort but in the end it will be worth it.

© 2008 Dr Brad Kayden

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    • ellahall2011 profile image

      ellahall2011 6 years ago

      Very informative and fascinating hub.

    • profile image

      Professional Sports Fan 7 years ago

      So here are a couple of recommendations for younger players when it comes to dribbling drills. First, if a player is 5 or 6 years of age or younger, or even if the player is older but very small for their age, I recommend starting out with a smaller basketball.

    • profile image

      chrissy 7 years ago

      Hello. I'm a Mom, Brand new being called into coaching. In regards to this quote of yours, "Identify a point of reference, for example the baseline, where they should try to keep their feet planted." Where do they keep their feet? How do they posture their body? Are they to stand upright or bend over? Do they bounce right in front of them-if so how far out from them? thanks much. Chrissy

    • profile image

      1dave5 7 years ago from England

      If anyone wants to become a better ball handler then visit one of my hubs thats on ball handling.

      Thanks

    • Paul Edmondson profile image

      Paul Edmondson 7 years ago from Burlingame, CA

      Coach, I think you need to keep it real simple to teach young kids to dribble. Keep the ball on the fingertips, and your head up. Do the same with your other hand. From there they can learn all sorts of dribbling drills to improve ball handling.

    • profile image

      adriana  7 years ago

      I think you information is great

    • profile image

      eesti korvpall 7 years ago

      the sooner you start the better

    • profile image

      Jason Roatan  7 years ago

      Those children don't look very young. I already taught my 6-year old niece to dribble a ball.

    • profile image

      coachjen 8 years ago

      Thank you so much for these wonderful tips. My husband and I have volunteered to coach a team of Under 7's at our local YMCA and plan on starting with your hub about dribbling and shooting at our first practice. My daughter is so excited for the season to begin to play pizza position!

    • Coach_Pickles profile image
      Author

      Dr Brad Kayden 8 years ago from Atlanta, GA / Chicago, IL

      Kaly,

      Very good. It is a great system that, as you will find, really makes sense for young kids. They do more than just follow directions. As surprising as it might seem for 4 and 5 year olds to do, they quickly find focus and actually begin to think about what they are doing.

      Within each beginner athlete is incredible potential and it is up to us, as coaches, to first build the synergy with kids to make the inroads to unlocking that potential. That is what you are doing by opening up your drills telling them a story. Storytelling is one code or combination for unlocking beginner athletes' potential. However, storytelling isn't always easy for many coaches, especially those have trouble thinking outside the box or letting go of their pride.

      Beginner athletes have very specific needs that require us, as coaches, to fearlessly act unhibited and often, without losing control, return to the ways we once thought as children. This is how kids think, what they expect and respect and what more youth coaches need to remember.

      Kaly, people like you who've expressed commiting to teaching in the ways that I write about will almost automatically be taking the needs of the beginner athlete into consideration. The rewards for doing so are exhilarating and fun. I find there no better student to teach then beginner athletes. The teacher arrives when the student is ready. Beginner athletes (before age 7), I have found, are always eager and ready to learn and this gives me, as a coach, performer and educator, great purpose. However, they as we've talked about, learn differently and require a different type of coaching style.

      I believe we no longer have to ignore or believe that beginner athletes are overly difficult to coach or outright uncoachable. They just don't respond well to adult-style coaching methods.

      Good luck with your upcoming Little Dribblers camp! Let me know how it goes.

      C. Pickles

    • Coach_Pickles profile image
      Author

      Dr Brad Kayden 8 years ago from Atlanta, GA / Chicago, IL

      Increase vertical, thanks for taking the time to write in your appreciation. The beginner athlete is something of an anamoly. If we, as Americans, continue to go on ignoring their needs we can expect that the rest of the world is going to pass us up on the world's larger athletic stages.

      Thanks again for the vote of encouragement!

      C. Pickles

    • profile image

      Kaly Shippen 8 years ago

      I am going to use several tips from this article in an upcoming dribbling camp we are doing! Thank you!

    • profile image

      increase vertical 8 years ago

      I do agree with this.. You keep rocking... Thanks for the excellent Hub!... keep going on with the good process....This hubpage is very useful and filled with lots of interesting links stuffz...

    • Coach_Pickles profile image
      Author

      Dr Brad Kayden 9 years ago from Atlanta, GA / Chicago, IL

      Shahgul, thanks for reading "How to Teach Young Children to Dribble a Basketball."

      Try it. You will have to see it to believe how well it works. The one thing I don't talk about is how I get into dribbling instruction with the kids. Keep in mind they are young children when I ask them this question. "What are the three most important things you need to know to play basketball?" The answer: Dribbling, Passing, and Shooting. Simple, but rarely do children know all three. We can help them in this way better understand the basic components of basketball faster. After posing my question I say, "Today we are going to work on dribbling? What is dribbling?" And you know the rest.

      Enjoy and have fun with it. I do.

      Good luck,

      Coach Brad

    • profile image

      shahgul 9 years ago

      i think your instructions and the backwards dribble was very interesting and i like the way u explained it.well done.but i must tell u that now im going to use some of YOUR infomation in my assessment if u do not mind.thank you

    • Coach_Pickles profile image
      Author

      Dr Brad Kayden 9 years ago from Atlanta, GA / Chicago, IL

      Mr. Basketball, thanks for reading "How to Teach Young Children to Dribble a Basketball."

      I admit, my coaching philosophy working with young children (ages 2-8) is unconventional. Considering the differences in young children's development coaching sports skills are not about winning or taking them further faster. If we are to coach young children and do so effectively, it is necessary to keep in mind the ways they think before we impose text book coaching examples. This is necessary if we expect they are going to retain what we teach them. The top three characteristics coaches from all competitive levels have stated they look for in players are: 1) a passion for the game; 2) a positive attitude; and 3) coachability. This instruction is designed to inspire all three characteristics in young children and prepare them for their progression to new levels.

      Good luck in your specific search for dribbling information.

      Coach Brad

    • profile image

      bob basketball 9 years ago

      not very valuable information