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How to Teach Young Children to Properly Shoot a Basketball

Updated on August 03, 2016
Teach the proper shooting position using the Pizza Position
Teach the proper shooting position using the Pizza Position

"Young children do not naturally use proper form when shooting a basketball. Before now, there has not been a simple and fun way to teach proper shooting technique to early learners. By using pizza, a favorite of many young children, it becomes possible to begin helping them make connection with and to demonstrate how to properly shoot a basketball "

— Dr. Kayden Bradley, Co-Founder Jelly Bean Sports, Inc.


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Basketball Shooting Made Simple

Boy in basketball shooting position
Boy in basketball shooting position
Boy balancing a basketball on one hand
Boy balancing a basketball on one hand

The Problem

Shooting is an important part of the game. Young shooters, 5 years and under, possess a natural immaturity that must be remembered as we help them develop.

Physically, young children lack the upper body strength to shoot. Further, the process of positioning the basketball, that is larger then their hand, on their hand and then propelling it upward, pushing it over their heads, is nearly impossible without coaching.

The natural immaturity and limited capacities of young children requires we have a good plan that connects with the ways young children think but that also is able to coordinated the steps for shooting a basketball.

Know the Progressions

Motivated by very different things than we are as adults, children don't yearn to be NBA superstars. They don't play to win or to earn a college scholarship. Young children play to have fun and make Mom and Dad proud.

It is important to know and connect with the earliest developmental progressions early learners display in sports. It can relieve you of the guilt that you are not doing enough to teach them and allow their time spent playing to be more fun.

Ages 18-29 months (Exploratory Phase)

Children work on getting the wiggles and wobbles out of their walk starting somewhere around 10 months old. Soon thereafter, they will begin picking up a ball without falling. It is here where they learn to use both hands to hold a lightweight basketball. It is normal. Ideally, they would have a miniature basketball goal to shoot the ball into. Teaching shooting at this age should be nothing but fun opportunities shared with Mom and Dad. Let them explore.

Ages 18-30 months (Familiarity Phase)

Becoming more sturdy on their feet, it becomes easier for early learners to expand their basketball knowledge. They will begin pushing a basketball upward towards a 4 foot high rim, but still struggle to maintain control of the ball. They should continue to be allowed to practice on a low rim. Shooting continues with them using both hands but it is in this range where they will learn to maintain better control of the ball and begin to release the ball more freely as they shoot. In their continued exploration, they are becoming more familiar with the process of shooting a basketball.

Ages 2.5-5 (Collaboration Phase)

Big physical transitions begin to occur around age 2.5. It is a time when the door is opened for young children to be introduced to non-competitive forms of coaching and some introductory shooting instruction. Children learn the rim adjusts to different heights and become more curious about it asking for it to be raised or lowered to different heights. It is part of the exploratory process and early learning progressions of sport.

Remember, although older, these are still considered young children's first shooting opportunities. Young children need to be allowed to see the basketball ball travel through the rim as much as possible. This means keeping the rim at a low level is important. Taller and with more upper body strength, it becomes possible for children to be taught the instruction begin learning the proper positioning for shooting a basketball.

Children demonstrating Pizza Position a.k.a shooting position.
Children demonstrating Pizza Position a.k.a shooting position.

21st Century Basketball Instruction

At some point, more formal instruction becomes necessary. It can happen around 2.5 years of age with the right approach.

When working with early learners, it is important to remember what I've come to term, "instructional ratios" so as not to overcoach.

The use of ratios requires considering an important element often overlooked by coaches, the experience children bring with them to the classroom. When integrated into the learning process, children begin owning a process that, before now, was solely owned by the coach.

As ratios relate to shooting a basketball, the experience of children's two-handed shooting they have learned since they were very young remains important. Still physically immature, in most cases, when this more informal method is combined with our more formal methods of shooting, like you are about to learn, a healthy balance is struck. Children respond differently. They better understand the differences between what they know and what we are trying to teach them. As a result, they respond more quickly and favorably when asked to focus on the proper position when shooting a basketball.

Using a 3:1 ratio, allowing children to freely shoot for say 1 minute for every 3 minutes of coaching strikes a healthy balance. When allowed to freely shoot, children take advantage of the opportunity. We can encourage, in these times, to shoot with proper form but not demand. It is in this more informal time when it is possible to see children actually applying what they learned, often more easily than during the formal times we teach them.

Learning: 20th Century (A) vs. 21st Century (B)


Pizza Position Overview

Parent-Coaching Basketball's Shooting "Pizza" Position

Teaching Time: 5 Minutes

Equipment: Miniature basketball

# of Steps: 6

Ages Appropriate for: 2.5 years +

Level of Instructional Difficulty: Medium

Ages Appropriate for: 4 years +

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

DIY Coaching Script

1)Line children up on a line. Start with a basketball but tell children to put the basketball between their feet and squeeze.

Multitasking is a big part of the game of basketball and this initial action works on that. Next, ask the simple question, "What are some of your favorite foods?" and spend two minutes fielding answers.

This is a simple question everyone knows the answer to; always be sure, however to get everyone's input, the first step to achieving buy-in to your coaching.

Continue asking the question, listening and repeating their answers exactly as they are said back to you. I'll say it again more simply, ask, listen and repeat--in an excited fashion--this is very important. It is a conversation, not a lesson at this point.

This question and conversation, as a whole, is less about you and more about the children. You, in this case, are just facilitating and the children are actively contributing to the learning process. You are a sponge and it is your job to absorb what children are giving to you, and don't be surprised if your simply little question gets kids, even the shyest, yelling out their answers by the end of it all. Demonstrate you can actively listen to children and you will be amazed at how willing young children are to actively listen to you.

I spend so much time telling you how to do this because throttling the highly-strung, agenda-oriented coach inside all of us is an important part of recognizing children and their stake inside the learning process. This is a time for you to feel inspired as a coach by the work you do. Our jobs, as coaches, are to recognize children as individuals as much as we recognized them and are trying to mold them into team-oriented basketball players. When you can see yourself actively recognizing players individually, it should leave you, as it does me, feeling really, really good about your role as a coach.

2)Ask them, "What comes on top of a pizza?" Answer: toppings. Ask, "What is your favorite topping?"

Again more opportunity for children to critically think about that what it is they, as individuals, like and listen to what it is their teammates like.Your building team synergy and continuing to prepare young children to accept your instruction.

Asking your next two questions will lead you into the instruction, "Who has eaten pizza in a restaurant before?"

3)"How do servers in the restaurant hold the pizza when they bring it to your table?" Amazingly, most of the class will show you some variation of holding a tray. This, conveniently, will become known, from this point forward, as their Pizza Position.

Of course, it is otherwise, called the shooting position but in shooting, form is everything and getting young children to exhibit proper form has be quick and it has to be easy if you expect to be an effective coach. Calling it the pizza position allows children to own the process.

As you demonstrate a bent elbow and cocked wrist, ask "What is this called?" And then explain, the pizza position is the same way as severs in the restaurant carry the pizza from the kitchen to your table in some restaurant.

Conveniently, you have just demonstrated, with little, how to properly hold a basketball prior to shooting. The pizza position addresses young children's difficulty in maintaining proper shooting form is quickly fixed from here on out by just using your verbal cue, "Pizza position."

At this point you are 3-4 minutes into practice and halfway to showing children how to shoot a basketball. Starting the process properly and using easy to understand terms, you should begin to see how my instructional methods are designed to allow you to go deeper with children and teach more about basketball in less time, Most importantly, my methods are done in ways children learn best.

4)Next, hold up your index finger and ask them, "What is this?" Ask them several times and get them to give you the most common answers. As children will tell you it is a pointer finger or the number one. You should kindly agree, and tell them they are right, but say, "It is something else too, what is it?"

When you've exhausted their resolve, Ask, "Isn't it your booger finger too?" This will inevitably evoke a smile.

Here and again you are building instruction by talking on a child's level and engaging them in ways that help maintain their focus.

Ask them to point the booger finger on the hand that holds the pizza towards their nose. You might say, "Towards your nose, not in your nose." Most kids get how to hold a tray but fifty percent of the time the fingers on their shooting hand are usually pointing the wrong direction.

I typically promote a hands-off approach to coaching. However, identifying the booger finger is awkward for some young children. They sometimes struggle to get their hand right and it is necessary for us to simply rotate their hand around. one time when another hands-off approach you can use to correct them as they get tired and their form slips. Essentially, what this instruction is promoting is self-directed learning.

5)When they are holding their pizza tray and pointing their booger finger at their nose, this is when you walk behind them and ask them individually, "What is your favorite pizza?" Kids, at this point, are anxious to get their pizza (a.k.a. the basketball). You are about to give them their pizza but before they get it they must say the type of pizza they like (i.e. cheese, mushroom, etc.) and the magic word, "Please!" You will say, "What kind of pizza for you?" They will say, "Cheeeese Pleeeze!" Take the basketball from between their feet and place it on their tray. When everyone has their pizza go back around the front of them and check their pizza position and booger finger.

6)They will quickly get tired or be unable to hold the ball with one hand. Tell them, "Put your other hand on the ear of the basketball." This will help hold it.

Keep it Simple, Make it Fun

Teaching your beginner athlete(s) how to shoot a basketball requires getting them focused. But how are you supposed to do that without the right tools and approach that make it possible?

As is often the case working with young children, the approach we use trumps how much we know. Although informative, many "experts'" promote systems that are spoken in language unsuitable for young children. Their systems, unfortunately, are not designed with young children in mind; adult-centric, instead of kid-focused.

The difficult challenge we all face but that I've tried to help you with here is making the difficult easy. Keep it simple and fun and over half the battle is already won when working with children. Hopefully, you were able to follow and are ready now to infuse some "magic" into your teachings. Enjoy!

Instructional Reminders

  • Have patience. A few steps at a time. Children learn best by doing. Conversation is one way of doing kids can enjoy. Refine the pizza position and then add more instruction.
  • Use a hands off approach to teaching. Use easy phrases children can understand and remember. This way they can be empowered through self-direction and self-correction, and learn more because the instruction requires their focus and concentration.
  • If children lack the strength to push the ball high enough to reach the basket create a basketball hoop, with your arms in a circle and have them shoot their basketballs through it. They will get just as much satisfaction shooting, maintain form and see the ball go through the hoop more often. Fun in shooting comes from seeing it as just that first, fun. Avoid frustration. Focus and praise children first for their form then if the shot was made.
  • Inspire children with praise. Encouragement can allow you control you otherwise wouldn't have. 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.

Shooting a Basketball Made Simple-Advanced "Pizza Position"

  1. "Where does Mom hide the cookie jar so the kids don't get the cookies?" Field some answers. Answer: Over or on top of the fridge. Hopefully someone says on top of the refridgerator. The next level of instruction beyond the "pizza position" requires you speak about the use of a player's legs during the shot and the follow through with the wrist. I use the imagery of squatting and a cookie jar. Get players in the "pizza position" to practice squatting maintaining their form, up and down, for one minute. Upon asking them the cookie jar question, with or without the basketball get children to stay on the line they are standing on and simulate shooting the basketball pushing it to the ceiling and putting their hand in the cookie jar over the fridge after they release.
  2. Practice hitting the shooting square. Divide into teams. When team hits five shooting square five times they sit down.



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    • how to increase vertical 8 years ago

      Good hub here with plenty of tips on keeping kiddies entertained.Thanks for sharing the ideas..Its really a pertinent info..Thanks for the great Hub!Such a cool and nice to glance up this site

    • mohara 7 years ago

      What a great way to teach kids so that they understand!!!


    • Coach_Pickles profile image

      Dr Bradley Kayden 7 years ago from Chicago, IL


      I am glad you liked it. I use this instruction often and it never seems to amaze me how effective it is at capturing young children's attention and at helping them reach peak potential. Thanks for your comment, it was very nice of you.


      Coach Pickles

    • Puglucy profile image

      Puglucy 7 years ago from Indiana

      Very interesting approach... I'm looking for something that will help the age group 9-11. Those kids that aren't strong enough to use correct form either need a shorter rim or some other way to learn correctly until they grow.

    • Liza 7 years ago

      Iam not mom of 3 boys and i wanted to play basketball with my kids could you please add some more photos of how to play basketball frankly i never play basketball myself but i want to give it a try base . thanks!

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