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How to Teach Young Children to Play Defense in Basketball

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

Defense is an important part of the game of basketball. It is, in some cases, thought to be the most important part. Since it does not require a basketball, it can be an easier fundamental to teach young children ages 2 to 5 years old. They have special and often unmet needs that this article addresses. It shows you how to keep basketball simple and keep learning fun.

Children practice defense Scarecrow Arms

Children practice defense Scarecrow Arms

How to Teach Young Children Basketball - Defense in One Minute

Step 1: Create Scarecrow Arms

Step 2: Palms High to the Sky

Step 3: Kiss Feet Together

For more watch How to Teach Young Children to Play Defense in Basketball - The Jelly Bean Way (Video)

How to Teach Young Children Basketball - Play Defense (Video)

Jump Around

How to Teach Basketball to Young Children General Objectives

  1. respect young children, start by giving them credit for their innate intelligence
  2. conform basketball to fit young children, do not conform young children to fit basketball.
  3. introduce modified defense techniques (e.g. use of non-basketball language)
  4. keep basketball simple and make learning fun
Boy playing basketball stands under the basketball hoop

Boy playing basketball stands under the basketball hoop

How to Teach Young Children Basketball - A "Defense" Assessment

Basketball defense assessment begins by asking young children one simple question.

"What is defense?"

Listen to all children's answers right or wrong, repeat it back to them without imparting your opinion or immediately giving them the definition. What is defense is a tricky question for young children. Many won't have enough experience playing basketball to know. So if you want them to value defense and to remember the more formal definition, we must not encourage them to guess and help us to define it.

How to Teach Young Children in the Ways They Learn Best

  1. ask a question
  2. listen to young children's answers
  3. repeat their answers back to them

When you treat young children like thinking, reasoning people who possess an innate intelligence, they respond to sports instruction or any instruction better. One way to teach young children sports in the ways they learn best is adding the ask, listen and repeat model into your instruction. Ask a question, listen to young children's answers and repeat their answers back to them. The key to success here is not inserting your own opinion after kids' answers. Even wrong answers are repeated them back to them. And here is where you steer them with more questions to get them on track.

Ask, listen and repeat is a kid-centric approach to help even the youngest athlete beyond sports skills practice:

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  1. better listening
  2. critically thinking, and
  3. communication

Three essential life skills, they are also important attributes sports science has found to exist in the "coachable" athlete.

3 Most Important Fundamentals of Playing Defense in Basketball

  1. creating a large body presence
  2. movement forward, backwards and laterally staying with the offensive player with or without the ball
  3. stealing the basketball

How to Teaching Young Children to Play Defense in Basketball - Keys to Success

The "skill" of playing defense in basketball is more than just the act of playing defense itself. Keys to success also involve developing young children's thinking around body positioning when an offensive player is dribbling verses when he/she is shooting or passing.

How to Teach Young Children Basketball: A Team Defense Exercise

Remember the game Red Rover. This basketball training exercise is like that, teaching young children how to work together playing team defense.

  1. distribute pool noodles
  2. designated players on defense hold pool noodles creating "scarecrow arms"
  3. they are instructed to prevent the offensive player from dribbling and scoring
  4. upon starting, they move laterally with the offensive player
  5. change offensive players as needed and repeat

Another variation is defensive players hold their own pool noodles and guard the goal. This team defense exercise is a fun way to simulate defense and teach defensive positioning. See How to Teach Young Children Basketball: Four Fun Defense Exercises (Video)

How to Teach Young Children Basketball: 4 Fun Defense Exercises

How to Teach Young Children Basketball: Offense/Defense Positioning Exercise

Teaching young children basketball may need to adapted. It may be sometime before they play their first actual game of basketball. However introducing them to offense and defense positioning and the coordinated movements is possible.

  1. pair two young children
  2. designate one offensive and one defense
  3. offense walks forward with basketball on their pocket and a strong arm out front in their offensive position
  4. defense walks backwards with scarecrow arms in their defensive positioning
  5. walk from one side of the floor to the other
  6. switch offensive players to defense and vice verses and repeat
  7. manage the distance between offensive and defensive players
  8. also manage the the positioning of the offensive and defensive players

See How to Teach Young Children Basketball: 4 Fun Defense Exercises (Video)

How to Teach Young Children Basketball: Tracking Exercise

What is the number one thing young children need entering kindergarten? It's not reading, it's not math, it is focus. The same is true for sports. How do you teach young children basketball and focus? You get them tracking.

  1. distribute one speed ring to each player
  2. ask for assistance from parents
  3. demonstrate how to roll the speed ring, press down, three fingers over the top and roll
  4. have children stand ahead of the speed ring
  5. instruct them to begin moving backwards with their scarecrow arms
  6. roll the ring
  7. watch them track the ring, ideally keeping it in front of them
  8. repeat

See How to Teach Young Children Basketball: 4 Fun Defense Drills (Video)

Young children shot blocking with noodles

Young children shot blocking with noodles

How to Teach Young Children to Play Defense in Basketball - Fun Shot Blocking Exercise

Teaching young children how to play defense in basketball can be fun. This shot blocking exercise utilizes pool noodles to build young children's endurance as it teaches them the defensive basics of shooting defense.

  1. give each student two noodles
  2. create scarecrow arms
  3. ask them to lift arms overhead to create "basketball player" arms
  4. only pretend to shoot, tell students to stop you with their basketball player arms
  5. run to different basketball goals and repeat

See How to Teach Young Children Basketball - Shooting Defense (Video)

How to Teach Young Children Basketball: Shooting Defense (Video)

How to Teach Young Children Basketball: Boxing Out Exercise

When teaching young children basketball and how to play defense, boxing out is often overlooked. This boxing out exercise is both simple and fun to teach.

  1. set up a construction cone with a basketball on top
  2. ask for assistance from parents
  3. align children in front of parents with their backs to them
  4. tell children to push backwards
  5. tell parents to try and move to get the ball atop the construction cone
  6. remind children to keep pushing backwards
  7. tell them this is called "boxing out" and they don't want Mom or Dad to get the basketball
  8. switch and repeat having parents box out the kids

See How to Teach Young Children Basketball: 4 Fun Defense Exercises (Video)


Conclusion

How to teach young children to play defense in basketball is about helping them to develop a relationship with it. The fun exercises I share here can help you do that. Remembering body positioning is important but it will take time for young children to be comfortable moving backwards. Making it a part of your warm-ups can ease their reluctance.

There are basic training aids that we use that help us keep sports simple and make learning fun. Most are inexpensive and can be found online. If you have questions please don't hesitate to reach out. My hope is to help you better navigate the challenges of teaching young children and be successful working with this special population.

Best of luck. Please share your successes with feedback in the comments. It inspires me to keep sharing new information. And please don't forget to hit that "LIKE" button and to subscribe.

All the best,

"Coach Pickles" Dr. Brad Kayden

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.

© 2012 Dr Brad Kayden

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