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How to Teach Young Children to Pass a Basketball

Foremost expert on early learning sports development. Founder at Chicago-based Coach Pickle's Jelly Bean Sports.

Boy standing with basketball on his head

Boy standing with basketball on his head

Teaching Children to Pass a Ball Properly

Passing the basketball is a skill that, when done proficiently, can be more revered than shooting. However, teaching naturally selfish young children to share the basketball is not always easy. The Jelly Bean Way is to begin the process by opening young children's minds. We get them thinking about the animals on the farm before using one of those animals, the chicken, to begin the process of teaching young children how to pass a basketball.

It seems so simple but it is part of a broader example of how to effectively teach young children to pass a basketball. Without help, it can be tricky to get young kids to remember what you teach them.

In this article, the goal is to keep sports simple and make learning fun. I'll set you up for coaching success as I share our passing process and the fundamental movements to keep in mind when teaching young children how to pass a basketball.

Lesson Overview

  • Teaching Time: Five minutes
  • # of Steps: Four
  • Level of Instructional Difficulty: Medium
  • Ages Appropriate for: Four years and older
  • Keywords or Phrases: Chicken wings, ears of the basketball, step

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.
Boy passing

Boy passing

Lesson Prep

Arrange the group upon the baseline and give them each a basketball. Start by standing in front of one young child. Ask them to pass their basketball to you and to tell you their name. This is the first of a two-step process. It is more challenging for young children then you might think because it forces them to do two things at the same time.

Continue down the row expecting each young child to pass you the ball and tell you their name. After the third child, instead of going to the fourth child, return back to the first child.

By this time, you will likely have lost their attention. Don't draw attention to yourself. Stand there with your arms out ready to catch their pass. Eventually, they will either see you or another child in the group will tell them to pass you the ball. They will probably also forget to also tell you their name. Stand there holding the ball and stare at them before asking them, "What's your name?" You will then bounce pass the ball back. Continue jumping around to different children and have fun with the process. Keep the group on their toes. Connect with every child.

This assessment exercise is more than just fun for kids. It can show you what you are working with and how comfortable the kids are with the idea of passing and catching the basketball. Just getting this basic knowledge shows them how the learning process can be fun and prevents me from setting my expectations too high.

3-Step Passing Instruction

Passing kept simple

Passing kept simple

Basketball Passing Lesson Guide

Once you've assessed your kids, you can now start the proper lesson. Get them back on the baseline and tell them to get a basketball and squeeze it tightly between their ankles.

Step 1

I like to begin instruction with a story or with an easy question and answer session. The following is the routine I use to introduce passing in a way that young children can really relate to.

  1. Ask participants, "What types of animals live on the farm?" Allow them time to think and respond. Make sure everyone in the group responds with at least one animal. Ideally, a chicken will have been named. If not, say it. Otherwise, you can ask, "Who said chicken?"
  2. Next you can ask, "What sound does a chicken make?" and "How does a chicken flap its wings?" Now it is time to put it all together by telling young children to show you their chicken wings and bawk loudly. Get them pumped up by bawking loudly. This is good stuff that kids love that makes learning passing fun.
  3. Next you will say, "Pick up your basketball by its ears." I love saying this to children because it engages their imagination with something that increases their ability to better retain what they are learning. "Do basketballs have ears?," I ask. Of course they don't, but this is a perfect opportunity to talk about hand placement by pointing to the basketball and asking children where the ears would be. I'll ask if it is on the top, front, or bottom. Children know where the ears will be and that is on the side of the basketball. That just so happens to be where they need to hold the basketball when they pass.

Step 2

  1. You should now have young children standing with their hands on the ears of the basketball and holding the basketball with their chicken wings (their elbows should be out). It is now time to add the step.
  2. While standing on the baseline next to them, hold your basketball by the ears with your chicken wings (remember, elbows out). Demonstrate how to step with one foot. Simply say "step" before stepping forward and then "back" when returning both feet to the baseline. Repeat this 10 times (five times with the left leg, five times with the right leg).
  3. Halfway through demonstrating the step, begin demonstrating how to extend their chicken wings to simulate the passing motion. Step back while bringing the basketball back to the chest.

Step 3

  1. Now put it all together in a quick review. Hands on the ears of the basketball, chicken wings, step, pass.

Teaching the Different Types of Passes

Now that the basics are covered, you can focus on teaching the different types of passes in basketball. In the case of early learners, I focus on the bounce pass, the chest pass, and the overhead pass. These are the three big passes in basketball.

When teaching passing, many like to pair children up with other children. I find that, when working with younger children, more time is spent chasing after the basketball then working on skills. This is where the parents come in.

There are three passes to learn. Between teaching each pass, I will allow children one minute to go and shoot. Breaking up the instruction like this helps to better maintain young children's focus.

It is important to review the fundamental principles of passing before teaching the individual passing techniques. The Jelly Bean Way is to focus on:

  • Hands on the ears of the basketball.
  • Chicken wings.
  • Step...pass!

Teaching the Bounce Pass

The bounce pass, as the name implies, requires the basketball to hit the floor prior to arriving at its recipient. Placing a marker or a dot between each pairing of young children will give them a target to focus on and help them better understand where on the floor the basketball needs to bounce. Chalk or tape will also work well.

The faster you can get kids into performing the bounce pass, the easier it will be for you to start seeing what it is that each child needs to work on. Expect that every child will have different passing strengths and weaknesses.

Teaching the Chest Pass

Before teaching the chest pass, I like to teach children how to catch a pass. This is important because I have seen many chest passes end up on kids' noses with tears to follow. You will then have to overcome a fear of the basketball upon their return.

You can avoid this by talking with kids before practicing the chest pass on how to catch a basketball.

I will ask, "How do you catch a basketball?" Young children will show you many different ways, but the one way I like most is the one that is not using their nose or any other part of their face. I teach them to put their hands in front of their face by gently letting them all feel what it will be like if their nose catches the ball. They typically will use their hands to shield their face as I do this and this is exactly what they will need to do to effectively catch the basketball. There are some that will invariably have to learn the hard way. In the end, it will be easier to deal with one or two of them instead of the whole group getting hit in the face.

The chest pass, as the name implies, begins at the chest of the passer and it ideally will land at the chest of its recipient. This pass, if done in succession of the bounce pass, will require reemphasizing hands on the ears of the basketball, chicken wings, stepping, and then passing. With the proper guidance and coordination, a pass will be successfully executed. Remember, the recipient has less reaction time than they do with a bounce pass, so it is important to match talent equally. Also, do not expect passes to be properly handled unless they land directly in young children's hands.

Teaching the Overhead Pass

The overhead pass is used when a long pass is necessary and cannot be accomplished by a chest or bounce pass. The overhead pass can be used for short passes but the two other types of passes are preferred by coaches. There are some fundamental differences between the overhead pass and the bounce or chest pass. The first is that chicken wings are not made. The second is that the basketball starts above the children's heads rather than at the chest. They are still holding the basketball by the ears and taking a step prior to passing, but now they are doing so from overhead. Again, this type of pass requires you to review with recipients on how to catch the ball so as to avoid getting hurt.

Boy passes basketball

Boy passes basketball

Advanced Teachings

Thumbs Down

After children begin to demonstrate a proper passing technique, you can then take the opportunity to expand the passing instruction. An advanced teaching can be taught to early learners that are usually four years of age or older. It is called passing with thumbs down.

When passing, the fingers should be spread apart as the hands release the ball. The thumbs should ideally end up pointing down as the fingers of the child point away. Try to get children to finish their passes by holding their hands out and looking at where their thumbs finish, up or down.

You can have fun with the process by grabbing their thumbs and telling them you are milking the cow.

Instructional Reminders

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

© 2008 Dr Brad Kayden


mabmiles on October 02, 2011:

Interesting hub. This marks a brand new beginning for kids in developing their skill and talents.

guy6336 on July 14, 2011:

I love the information above. You broke it down to where it is very simple and anyone can understand it. I have two fantastic shooting drills that are good for any level player as well. Check them out and tell me what you think.