Foremost expert on early learning sports development. Founder at Chicago-based Coach Pickle's Jelly Bean Sports.
Dribbling A Basketball Introduction
This How They Play article offers coaching solutions for how to teach young children to dribble a basketball. Part of my Jelly Bean Way early learning sports development series, it focuses on the special and unmet needs of children ages 2.5 to 5 years old.
For the vast majority of early learners, dribbling a basketball is a challenge. Traditional coaching techniques often require some modifications. Less about conforming young children to fit sports, we must conform sports to fit young children. The Jelly Bean Way will show you how to teach young children in the ways they learn best. Good luck and enjoy!
Note: One important skill this article will emphasize beyond dribbling is the importance of teaching young children ball security.
How to Teach Young Children to Dribble a Basketball in One Minute
Step 1: Place basketball on pocket
Step 2: Create a strong arm
Step 3: Dribble
Watch our animated video- How to Teach Young Children to Dribble a Basketball
How to Teach Young Children to Dribble a Basketball (Video)
Do three and four-year old dribbling "phenoms" exist on YouTube? Yes, of course! After reading this will your child be one? No.
The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but in seeing with new eyes.
— Marcel Proust (1871-1922), French novelist
How to Teach Young Children Basketball General Teaching Objectives
- respect children, start by giving them credit for their innate intelligence
- conform basketball to fit children, do not conform children to fit basketball.
- introduce modified dribbling techniques, some that don't require dribbling
- keep basketball simple and make learning fun
Dribbling A Basketball Assessment
Dribbling a basketball assessment asks young children one simple question:
"What is dribbling?"
It is very likely some or all the children will start dribbling in an effort to tell you what it is.
How to Teach Young Children in the Ways They Learn Best
Ask, Listen & Repeat
The assessment question, "what is dribbling?" is part of the Jelly Bean Way. We use questions to help build young children's positive attitudes, love of the game and coachability.
Young children are thinking reasoning persons. Recognizing this starts by giving them credit for their innate intelligence, The use of such a probing question begins the process of what I call, "ask, listen and repeat."
- ask a question
- listen to young children's answers
- repeat their answers back to them
Listening to young children's answers and repeating their answers back to them without inserting my own opinion is catalytic for making kids coachable. It helps even the youngest athlete practice:
- better listening
- critically thinking, and
Three essential life skills but also important attributes sports science has found to exist in the "coachable" athlete.
3 Most Important Fundamentals of Dribbling A Basketball
The three most important fundamentals of dribbling a basketball are:
- ball security
- ball positioning (in relation to the body), and
Teach Young Children How to Play Basketball - Ball Security
Basketball Dribbling Keys to Success
"The skill" of dribbling a basketball is more than just the act of dribbling itself. Keys to success also involve developing children's mindfulness around two other key areas, ball security and ball positioning.
Basketball Dribbling: Ball Security Exercises
Ball over the head
- ask children to line up on a line with their basketball over their head
- proceed to knock the ball out of their hands walking up and down the line
- children will laugh as you do
- tell them to go get the basketball and return to the line holding it over their head
- repeat knocking the ball out until one of them holds the ball tight so you can't
- focus on that child holding it tight
- continue to tap on his/her ball
- ask, "Are you holding the ball tight or soft?"
- the example should begin to seed through the rest of the group, test others ball
- have fun faking getting frustrated not being able to get their basketballs
Ball at the belly button
Repeat the above exercise. However instead of the children holding the basketball over their head, they should hold the ball at their belly button. This is a different position and so it requires them engaging a different set of muscle groups. I often need to adjust them from hugging the basketball and show them how to as I say, "hold the ball by its ears."
You can repeat these ball security exercises several times throughout a practice.
Basketball Dribbling: Body Positioning Exercises
Strong Arm with Basketball on Pocket
- start on baseline
- instruct to hold the basketball on a pocket
- with other arm have them create a muscle
- show them how to rotate their muscle arm down and in front of them
- tell them this is their "strong arm," it will stop someone stealing their ball
- test their strong arms make sure they don't fall when you push down on them
- have them walk across the floor, basketball on pocket, strong arm & not dribbling
- repeat walking back but ball is on the opposite pocket & with opposite strong arm
- test their strong arms as they walk
Strong Arm and Body Rotation with Basketball on Pocket
- upon their return to the line, I tell them I am going to take their basketball.
- I ask, "Do you want me to take your basketball?" They say no.
- show them how to rotate or move the basketball on their pocket behind them
- adjust those who rotate the basketball the wrong way, holding it in front of them
- ask for their strong arm again
- check their strong arms
- tell them you are going to steal their basketball
- restate rotating the basketball behind them when you try
- try to steal their basketballs
- watch them rotate them rotate and have fun protecting their ball.
Basketball Dribbling Exercise
- line up on the baseline
- dribble across the floor
- dribble back
- repeat using a strong arm
- repeat using the other strong arm
The Mental Zamboni
Giving young children short breaks acts like a Zamboni that resurfaces the ice at each intermission of a hockey game. Free play breaks can help to reset young children's brains, break up learning and set them up to review what they just learned.
I suggest 3-5 short free play breaks, at least one minute in length throughout a 45 minute practice.
Basketball Dribbling: "Is that My Ball?" Exercise
Given you have already taught them how to hold the basketball tight and how to rotate the basketball so it won't get stolen, there is an opportunity inside one of these one-minute free play sessions challenge young children. It is a fun process for them and a time of assessment for you.
- walk around the room asking, "Who's got my ball?"
- make eye contact with a young child and gently ask, "Is that my ball?"
- the child will invariably say no.
- I will then ask, "Whose ball is it?" He/she will then tell me "It is my ball!"
- When I tell him/her it is my ball, young children will usually run away, show me their strong arm or position the ball behind them and then show me their strong arm. .
The interaction is important because it mirrors what players on offensive in basketball typically do when they are confronted by the defense. The "Is that My Ball?" exercise further establishes the importance of ball security and POSSESSION of the ball.
Basketball Dribbling: Strong Arm Game
A ball security game where:
- kids DO NOT dribble
- they creating their Strong-Arms
- keeping basketballs on their pockets.
- they try and knock the basketball out of another child's hand
- while also protecting their own basketball using their Strong-Arm and Body Positioning previously learned
It is important to be safe. Reinforce the importance of children only hitting the basketball not the other player.
Basketball Dribbling Advanced Lesson: Backwards Dribble
Highly effective yet under-taught is the backwards dribbling of the basketball. Young children can make fast improvements in their dribbling using this technique.
Dribbling backwards will allow you to assess young player's:
- Spatial Awareness - Avoid dribbling the ball off their feet
- Comfort with keeping their head over the ball
Teach Young Children How to Dribble - Backwards
Basketball Dribbling Advanced Lesson: Speed Dribble
- ask, "Do race cars drive fast or slow?" Answer: Fast.
- ask, "What happens if the race car driver goes too fast?"
- children will answer, "He will crash!"
- introduce the term "speed dribble."
- Ask, "Do you think we will go fast or slow?"
- children will answer: "Fast!"
- Ask, "What happen if we go too fast?"
- children answer: "We will crash!
- tell them to dribble as fast as you can up the floor, but be careful to not 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.
Remember the most important rule in basketball is ball security. Teaching all other skills does not matter if a child cannot possess the basketball. There are several non-dribbling exercises I've shared here that should help you navigate the challenges of working with the special population of young children.
Further by keeping dribbling simple and making learning fun, young children will feel more connected and confident about their skills. We have to begin doing a better job of seeing all the components of dribbling to be able to effectively introduce young children to basketball.
Best of luck to you and please share your successes and feedback. It inspires me to keep sharing new information that will make a difference in your work with young children.
All the best,
Dr. Brad Kayden "Coach Pickles"
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2008 Dr Brad Kayden
ellahall2011 on October 02, 2011:
Very informative and fascinating hub.
Professional Sports Fan on December 12, 2010:
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.
chrissy on October 20, 2010:
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
1dave5 from England on June 06, 2010:
If anyone wants to become a better ball handler then visit one of my hubs thats on ball handling.
Paul Edmondson from Burlingame, CA on May 05, 2010:
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.
adriana on May 05, 2010:
I think you information is great
eesti korvpall on April 05, 2010:
the sooner you start the better
Jason Roatan on February 09, 2010:
Those children don't look very young. I already taught my 6-year old niece to dribble a ball.
coachjen on November 05, 2009:
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!
Dr Brad Kayden (author) from Atlanta, GA / Chicago, IL on March 28, 2009:
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.
Dr Brad Kayden (author) from Atlanta, GA / Chicago, IL on March 28, 2009:
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!
Kaly Shippen on March 28, 2009:
I am going to use several tips from this article in an upcoming dribbling camp we are doing! Thank you!
increase vertical on December 16, 2008:
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...
Dr Brad Kayden (author) from Atlanta, GA / Chicago, IL on March 14, 2008:
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.
shahgul on March 14, 2008:
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
Dr Brad Kayden (author) from Atlanta, GA / Chicago, IL on March 02, 2008:
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.
bob basketball on March 02, 2008:
not very valuable information