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How to Teach Young Children to Shoot a Basketball

Updated on March 5, 2017

"Keeping sports simple and making learning fun is often much harder then we realize."

— Dr. Brad Kayden, Early Learning in Sport Development Expert

How to Shoot a Basketball

Teach the proper shooting position using the Pizza Position
Teach the proper shooting position using the Pizza Position


Pizza, it is a kid-favorite. As parents, we, in the U.S., serve it every week and so many young children, almost by default, have come to understand it as just being a part of life. "But what does it have to do with basketball," you ask? Arguably, there might not be two more unlike things than a pizza and shooting a basketball. But when trying to teach the fundamental of how to shoot a basketball, the link between two, at least to young children and their ways of thinking, is very strong and can make our teaching them especially easy.

Girl holds foam pizza
Girl holds foam pizza | Source

University of Montana's Entertainment Management Program

Guest lecturer, Dr. Kayden fields a question
Guest lecturer, Dr. Kayden fields a question | Source
Dr. Kayden at the podium
Dr. Kayden at the podium | Source
Boy holds foam pizza
Boy holds foam pizza | Source

The Italian Restaurant

Out into the world I would often go trying to find new and better ways to teach young children sports. One day... in the most unlikeliest of places, I found exactly what I needed to teach young children how to shoot a basketball. My wife and I were eating at a fancy Italian restaurant in a western suburb of Chicago, because you know everything's fancier before you have kids ;)

No different than others like it, this restaurant's servers wore black slacks and white button down shirts; and the music, as you could of guessed, classical Italian.

For each food order delivered, the service staff would carry large black trays from the kitchen through the dining room and to the customers' tables. From the time we were seated to the time we left, a well-orchestrated restaurant staff entertained my wife and I with their coordinated service. I felt like a little kid that couldn't stop watching big trays being paraded about.

It wasn't the first time I had ever seen a person carry a big tray of food. But this time was different. For it would be in this restaurant where I really saw how a person carried a big tray for the very first time. It, as I realized, is done in the same fashion as a person would shoot a basketball.

From above their heads, the food would seemingly float across the upper stratosphere of the restaurant. The servers arm was extended and hands spread wide across the bottom with the big tray actually resting on the balls of their finger tips. It was neat because with their fingers spread wide it created just enough space for light to shine through. It was all so seamless, they had managed to make the tray part of themselves. However, as they moved the tray remained fixed in the same geometrical plane. And like a ship's rudder, the servers bodies would masterfully navigate through canals dividing tables, chairs, customers and other servers. All the while the big tray remained buoyantly flat floating upon the finger tips of the server.

What makes this story so perfect is this is how not just young children but we expect to receive our information, in story format. That is if we are expected to remember it. How to shoot a basketball can be taught any variety of ways. But the fact that this story involves big trays and the kids favorites of pizza and eating at a restaurant sorta hits the sweet spot in engaging young children's imagination, likes, and desires.

Let's break shooting a basketball down into terms of a server delivering food on a big tray in a restaurant:

  • Basketball player is the server
  • Basketball shooting position is the server carrying the big tray - props his hand up, elbow at a 90 degree angle, fingers back and puts a tray (i.e. basketball) upon his hand.
  • Shooting hand position is the same as the server's - fingers are spread and the tray lays on the balls of his fingers that act as shock absorbers.
  • The basketball is in the servers case, the pizza - server carries it without dropping it to where it needs to go

It is an elementary way of thinking about shooting a basketball that works at ever level of coaching. It opens doors to drills that work on balance, hand positioning, shooting but what it really does is connect better with children. It allows their thinking to go deeper into the shooting process and begin to see the importance of the individual components that prevent, in the servers case, the pizza from falling on the ground. Pizza and going to restaurants are kid-favorites so you really can't go wrong. What you also do when you explain shooting in terms of the Pizza Position in this type of story format is seed the learning in children's long-term thinking.

It is imperative we keep sports simple and make learning fun. It is often harder to do then we are, at first, willing to admit. And it isn't until we can connect what we are teaching with how young children like to think that we are actually coaching. The simple and the fun are, in this case, baked into the story you tell them. Begin seeing shooting a basketball in this way and you begin seeing it through the eyes of a child.


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Shooting Made Simple, Learning Made Fun

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

Pizza Position Instructional 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

Coach teaches shooting position.
Coach teaches shooting position. | Source

Shooting a Basketball: 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; it is 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. Practice ask, listen and repeat--in an excited fashion--it is a very important practice you will want to keep in your coaching toolbox. The more you can make sports a conversation, the less it will feel like a lesson and the better buy-in you will get.

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 able to actively listen to you.

I spend so much time telling parents and coaches how to do this because throttling our highly-strung tendencies and the agenda-oriented coach inside all of us is an important part of respecting young children and their stake inside the learning process. This is a time for you to feel inspired as a coach by the work that you do.

Our jobs, as parents and coaches, are to recognize children's strengths and weaknesses as individuals first. We can recognize them as part of a team or class setting but if we expect them to become team-oriented basketball players, we can't lose sight of the individual in them all. 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)Invariably some, at this point, has said pizza. Recognize that person by asking, "Who said pizza?" Ask children, "What comes on top of a pizza?" They might simply answer, "Toppings," and if they do then ask, "What is your favorite topping?"

Again more opportunity for children to critically think about who they are and what they like. As individuals, young children are more easily capable of being able to listen and respond. When we treat the individual young child like they are part of a large group that they often get distracted and fail to listen or go find something more interesting to do.

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. REMEMBER we have to connect with what children already know if we expect them to learn quickly and easily. Calling it the pizza position allows young children to connect with and begin owning the process of how to shoot the basketball for themselves.

As you demonstrate a bent elbow and cocked wrist, explain, "This is our pizza position." It is the same way as severs in the restaurant carry the pizza from the kitchen to your table.

Conveniently, you have just demonstrated, with little effort, how to properly hold a basketball prior to shooting. The pizza position addresses young children's tendency to want to shoot like they were passing and the difficulties they have in remembering proper shooting form. With this instruction, it is quickly fixed from here on out by just saying the verbal cue, "Pizza position."

At this point you are 3-4 minutes into practicing how to shoot a basketball. It is efficient and effective at engaging young children in the sweet spot of their minds. It is a good stopping point and time to begin practicing using their pizza position.

Step 4 is something you will see if you teach enough young children. It relates to how children demonstrate holding the trays they remember from their restaurant experiences. We need to begin helping them see how that hand gets turned around and fingers point backwards. The next step tells you how to do so in a simple, fun way.

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.

Advanced Instructional Ideas

  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.

Avoid Overcoaching

Young children have short attention spans. Our instruction needs to be simple and fun but also brief.

The use of free play ratios in your teaching or coaching can greatly compliment the process. I use a 3:1 ratio, allowing children to freely shoot 1 minute for every 3-5 minutes of coaching I do. It strikes a healthy balance inside the class. Some children will take full advantage of the opportunity while others will want to have conversations with me during this time. Every child is different but when given the opportunity to freely play they are given a choice in the matter that can make a big difference in their learning attitudes.

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.


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    • profile image

      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

    • profile image

      mohara 8 years ago

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


    • Coach_Pickles profile image

      Dr Brad Kayden 8 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.

    • profile image

      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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