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How to Teach Young Children to Properly Pass a Basketball

Updated on June 6, 2016

Passing Made Simple, Learning Made Fun


Three fundamental skills make up the game of basketball, dribbling, passing and shooting. Of course there are other skills children can learn (i.e. defense, rebounding, etc.) but these are the big three. Teaching young children to pass is not difficult but it does require understanding how passing works for young children. I will help you make sense of why some young children are better passers than others.

In my experience working with ages 2-8 over the last 5 years, I have noticed a trend. What I find is most young children are either determined shooters or generous passers. Of course there can be the in-between but considering young children's limited capacities and basketballs complexity requiring them to dribble, run, look at the basket and be aware of the defender all at the same time; it is rare for young children to know how to handle the situation in more than one way. Therefore, young children are usually comfortable choosing to be a passer or a shooter. It will likely be this way until they mature and become more comfortable with the game.

Of course every coach likes shooters but I have found more young children gravitate towards passing than shooting. This makes sense since most children are more physically challenged by the process of shooting. Young children are challenged by the process of passing too but, arguably, I feel it is much easier to for us to find success in passing the ball than shooting the ball. Until young children develop the strength necessary to shoot, it will usually be the older, or more physically capable that will take on the shooting roles. With that said, I believe a strong argument can be made for the importance of developing young children's passing skills.

Teaching Time per Step: 5 Minutes

# of Steps: 4

Level of Instructional Difficulty: Medium

Ages Appropriate for: 4 years +

Keywords or Phrases: chicken wings, ears of the basketball, step

Learning Objectives:

  1. Parents/coaches will better understand how young children learn best.
  2. Parents/coaches will better understand the physical and mental limitations of young children and how detailed instruction needs to get.
  3. Parents/coaches will be provided scripts that will help them confidently teach techniques that work for young children of every skill level.
  4. Parents/coaches will be provided games that can be incorporated into the learning process.
  5. Parents/coaches will be provided a seamless approach designed to keep dribbling simple and make learning fun.

Step 1: GETTING STARTED: The Warm-up and Assessment

Prior to getting started teaching passing, there is a very basic exercise that I use to begin conditioning children's little legs to move and shift their weight in the ways they will be required to do when passing. The use of legs and the shifting of weight is important because this is how power is generated behind passes. As with any sports, always take young children through a proper stretching routine before doing more advanced exercises.


  1. Without the basketball, Start by doing deep knee bends to half court, rest and do it back as well. Alternating touches with left and right knees to the ground. Lead the group saying, "Down" and "Up". If players struggle near the end tell them to walk. This conditioning is designed to establish the muscle memory necessary for young children to naturally remember to step when they pass a basketball.


I like to begin with an action step that gets kids excited to learn passing. I learn a lot about the young children I am working with by simply interacting and assessing the skills they bring into the classroom. In the case of passing, I will line a group up on a line and give them each a basketball.

  1. The assessment starts by standing in front of one young child. I, then, simply ask him to pass his basketball to me and tell me his name. This two step process is more challenging for young children than you might think because if the drill is done correctly children will be caught off guard and forced to pay attention.
  2. 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, in most cases, will have lost their attention. Don't draw attention to yourself. Stand there with your arms out ready to catch their pass. Eventually, either he or she will see you or another child in the group will tell him to pass you the ball. Continue jumping around to different children having fun with the process while keeping the group on their toes.


This assessment exercise is more than just fun for kids. It shows me what I am working with and how comfortable kids are with the idea of passing. Just getting this basic knowledge of kids prevents me from setting too high of expectations, this is important. The assessment process reinforces my value as a teacher and importance of the instruction I will be teaching.

Step 2: Instructional Beginnings

Once back on the baseline tell players to get a basketball and squeeze it tightly between their ankles. I like to begin instruction with a story or easy question and answer session. The following is the routine I use to introduce passing in a way that young children 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 ask, "Who said chicken?"
  2. Next ask, "What sound does a chicken make?" and "How does a chicken flap its wings?" Next, 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 kids love that makes learning passing fun.
  3. Next say, "Pick up your basketball by its ears." I love saying this to children because it engages their imagination something that increases their ability to better retain what they are learning. "Do basketball's 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 ask children where the ears would be. I say, "The top?" "The front?" "The bottom?" Children know where the ears will be and that is on the side of the basketball and that just so happens to be where they need to hold the basketball when they pass.
  4. You should now have young children standing with their hands on the ears of the basketball and elbows in the chicken wing position. It is now time to add the step. Standing on the baseline with them holding your basketball by the ears and elbows in the chicken wing position, demonstrate how to step with one foot saying, "Step," and "Back." Repeat this 10 times (5 left leg, 5 right leg).
  5. Halfway through demonstrating the step, begin demonstrating how to extend their chicken wings to simulate the passing motion. Step back bringing the basketball back to the chest.
  6. Now put it all together in a quick review, "Hands on the ears of the basketball, chicken wings, step, pass."


The process of teaching passing is a process. As I outline throughout this blog, there are several different phases of explanation that will help kids more easily understand passing. Although it might seem lengthy, I fit each phase into about a 20 minute window of instruction. and this includes drills and exercises. What I am trying to tell you is that inside of giving you helpful hints on how to coach passing (the lengthy parts), there lies a very basic instructional technique that you can rely upon working for young children.

Step 3: Teaching Passing Fundamentals

Passing a basketball requires mental focus on the target, hand positioning on the ball, and the force or power generated by the body (arm and leg) movements of the young child. Up to now you have worked on coaching all these different areas. Next, it is time to focus on putting the mechanics all together and fundamentally teaching the different types of passes in basketball. The bounce pass, chest pass, and overhead pass are the big three passes in basketball.

When teaching passing, I like to pair children up. Between each pass I will allow them 1 minutes to go and shoot. Breaking up the instruction like this causes it not to feel too heavily weighted on passing instruction. Before teaching the first two types of passes you might want to start by asking, "Where is our chest?" What I have learned is some young children don't know where their chest is. After you establish where their chest is, it is important to return to the fundamentals at the beginning of each passes instruction:

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

The Bounce Pass

The bounce pass, as its name implies, requires the basketball to hit the floor prior to arriving at its recipient. There is a balance when passing that must be met that young children must learn. If the pass bounces to close to its recipient, it becomes hard to catch. If the pass bounces too far away from its recipient, it doesn't make it all the way there. Therefore, we need to level the playing field and place a marker or a dot between each pairing of young children. What this marker represents is the ideal target point that young children will want to aim for when passing the basketball. There are many different types of court markers in the market but simply using chalk or tape will do as well.

The easiest way to begin teaching the bounce pass reviewing how to hold the ball, how to create chicken wings, and where to push the basketball from (the chest). No further explanation is needed at this time. 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 every child will have different passing strengths and weaknesses.

Chest Pass

Before teaching the chest pass I like to teach children how catch a pass. This is important because I have seen many a chest pass 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 dialoging with kids about 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. We then work on getting their hands up so the basketball doesn't hit their noses. This seems to do the trick. There are some that will need to learn the hard way but knowing you did your part to teach what to do ahead of time will make it easier for you to deal with and remind young children affected.

The chest pass, as its name implies, begins at the chest of the passer and it ideally will land at the chest of its recipient. This pass requires emphasis on the finer skills of hands being 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 and not to expect passes to be properly handled unless they land directly in young children's hands.

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. Also, the basketball, instead of starting at the chest, starts above young children's heads. They are still holding the basketball by the ears, and taking a step prior to passing but doing so from overhead. Again, this type of pass requires you review with recipients how to catch it so as to avoid getting hurt.

Step 4. Advanced Techniques

Thumbs Down

After children begin to demonstrate a proper passing techniques, you can then take the opportunity to expand the passing instruction by adding a new piece of information. It is called passing with thumbs down.

When passing, the hands release the ball and the finger should spread apart. Thumbs should end up pointing down. Try to get children to finish their passes by looking at where their thumbs finish, up or down.

Ball Security Drill

Teaching the importance of securing the basketball and telling children, "Never let anyone steal your basketball," this gets them to value possessing the basketball. During the passing drill I check for chicken wings but I also check how good their grip is on the ball by tapping it. If the ball falls out, I tell them, "Protect the basketball, never let anyone steal your basketball." I will jog up and down the row trying to catch somebody who doesn't have a good grip. Children enjoy the challenge and it is a valuable lesson to instill in young kids.

Instructional Reminders

  • Have patience. Introduce only a few steps at a time. Children learn best by doing. Refine the "chicken wing" passing position and then add more instruction.
  • Try and use a hands off approach to teaching. Use easy phrases (i.e. chicken wings, ears of the basketball, step) children can understand and remember. This way they can be empowered to be self-directed and self-correcting. This also allows them be more engaged and focused on the instruction.
  • Inspire children with praise. Encouragement often puts you in better control of kids. Children live for praise. Positive feedback builds confidence, improves listening capacity, helps develop emotional maturity, and enables a child's ability to find value in self-improvement.
  • Avoid frustration, focus your praise on the small wins of the "chicken wings" passing technique. Perfect passing does not often exist in begginer basketball. Children get better as they practice more and when they are having fun. Make sure, as a group, they know what the steps are at the very least.


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