Under-8-year-olds’ Basketball Training Principles

This writing from 2014 lists principles of organised U8 basketball. References to scientific articles are provided to back up the stated principles. I wrote this originally for Kouvot, club based in Kouvola, Finland.


Basic Principles of U8 Basketball

  • Early engagement in basketball is encouraged in order to enhance a child’s health and psychosocial well-being.
  • Every effort is made to make these enhancements both short-term and long-term.
  • Also, a solid base is put together for the child’s future development as an over-all athlete and a basketball player.

Organized Sports: Guidelines

  • The club will provide a wide variety of opportunities for children to take part in organized basketball year around and enjoy the advantages organized sports provide.

Sampling: Guidelines

  • Providing children with an opportunity to play basketball adds to the variety of sports that enhance children’s well-being.
  • Practice schedules, team procedures, and co-operation with other clubs will make it possible for children to sample.
  • Experience in similar team sports will help children learn tactical skills in basketball.
  • The club educates coaches, parents, and children about the advantages of sampling.

Health Benefits: Guidelines

  • One practice session will last 60-90 minutes.
  • Besides basketball-specific training, it will include:
    1. 7 minutes or more of vigorous training.
    2. Resistance training.
    3. 50 jumps or more.
    4. At least one lower-back related drill

Psychosocial benefits: Guidelines

  • Age-appropriate means are used to enhance children’s mindfulness and self-regulation.
  • Players’ prosocial behavior is encouraged and antisocial behavior is discouraged by e.g. making coach–athlete relationships supportive, promoting tactile communication, and using the reciprocal method.

Equipment & rules: Guidelines

  • Scrimmage is played mainly three-on-three.
  • The balls used are mainly size 3.
  • The baskets will be lowered in order to optimize the children’s success, self-efficacy, enjoyment, motivation and motor learning.

Learning environment: Guidelines

  • The practice environment will be made such that it will cause as little stress as possible.
  • That means limiting disturbances in the gym, e.g. keeping spectators out, keeping the general noise level down and enhancing prosocial behavior.

Teaching motor skills: Guidelines

  • Players should be provided opportunities to observe demonstrations of different kind and quality.
  • When giving instructions, external cues should be given whenever possible.
  • Feedback should be mostly positive in tone.
  • Children should be given age-appropriate opportunities to control their own practice.
  • The skill should be varied right from the moment one starts practicing it.
  • At the early stages of learning, practicing should be blocked.
  • Accuracy tasks should be practiced with the non-dominant limb first.
  • Maximum force production tasks should be practiced with the dominant limb first.
  • In each practice session each coordination motor ability will be targeted in at least one drill.

Coordination motor abilities

  • Balance (E.g. standing long jump to a stand-still position)
  • Rhythmization (E.g. multiple standing long jumps in a given rhythm)
  • Reaction (E.g. standing long jump on command)
  • Kinesthetic differentiation (E.g. standing long jump at 50% of maximal capabilities)
  • Motor adjustment (E.g. standing long jump forwards and backwards)
  • Time-space orientation (E.g. aimed standing long jumps)
  • Movement combining (E.g. standing long jump with and without swinging arms)

(Gierczuk & Sadowski 2008)

Physiological features: Guidelines

  • Improving physiological features is necessary because of health and psychosocial benefits and because of the future considerations on improving as an athlete.
  • Thus each physical feature will be targeted in each session.
  • Proper testing is in place to assess the long-term changes in children.
  • Flexibility training is directed towards the few areas where the capacity decreases at an early age, e.g. extending the legs apart at the hip joint and dorsal direction mobility in the shoulder joint, i.e. towards the back of the torso.

Physiological features

  • Endurance
  • Strength and power
  • Speed
  • Agility
  • Flexibility

(Mohammadi et al 2013)

Additional suggestions

  • Most of the time there will only be only one ball available per two players. This will make passing the default action, instead of dribbling. This may enhance e.g. prosocial behaviour and passing skills.
  • Ball-handling in some form will be added general motor tasks whenever convenient. This may add to the sport-specificity of training without compromising the effort to improve the children’s general abilities.
  • Movement patterns and techniques used will be as adult-like as possible. This includes e.g. one-handed passes. This is made possible by using age-appropriate equipment and proper motor skill teaching methods. This may enhance motor learning.
  • Physical contact is used both in social situations and in drills. This may enhance prosocial behaviour, add to the variety of motor learning, and enhance the children’s basketball skills.



Organized Sports: Evidence

  • Taking part in organized sports adds to the total amount of physical activity among 6–8-year-olds. (Wickel & Eisenmann 2007)
  • It enhances social skills. (Washington et al. 2001)
  • It is positively related with the amount of physical activity as an adult. (Kjønniksen et al 2009)
  • Appropriate training at a young age may limit the amount of risk sports-related injuries. (Myer et al 2011)
  • Some of the health advantages gained by the specialized training will disappear in 8 weeks if specialized training is discontinued. (Faigenbaum et al 2013)
  • When it comes athletic success, early engagement is important e.g. because it adds to accumulated hours of sports-specific practice. (Ford et al 2009)
  • Also, there may be a critical age when it comes to acquiring complex skills, i.e. practice hours at an earlier age may be more valuable than practice hours at a later age (Hambrick et al. 2013)
  • “Youth sports clubs have plentiful opportunities to be or become health-promoting settings; however this is not something that happens automatically. To do so, the club needs to include an emphasis on certain important elements in its strategies and daily practices.” (Geidne et al 2013)

Sampling: Evidence

  • Sampling or doing various sports produces more welcome results than early specialization in one sport. (Martindale et al. 2005)
  • This applies to social and psychological development and to health issues. (Cote et al 2009a)
  • Each sport will bring “its own distinct pattern of socialization experiences that reinforce certain behaviours and/or teach various skills”. (Cote et al 2009a)
  • Sampling will probably add to the total time children spend exercising and to the variety of motor skills they learn (Cote et al. 2009).
  • There is also some evidence that sampling provides a better basis for becoming a competitive athlete than does early specialization in one sport. (Fransen et al. 2012)
  • “Among high-level athletes of basketball, netball, and field hockey, the greater the number of activities that the athletes experienced and practiced in their developing years (ages 0-12 years), the less sports-specific practice was necessary to acquire expertise in their sport.” (Jayanthi et al 2013)
  • This may be because the variety of motor skills that samplers learn decreases the amount of sport-specific practice they need. (Baker et al 2003)
  • “Skilled soccer and field hockey participants performed equally well on both the soccer and field hockey tasks, suggesting that they were able to transfer the necessary perceptual skills across the two sports.” (Smeeton et al 2004)
  • “The strategy or principles used in soccer and hockey for recognition may have been adaptable for volleyball but not vice versa.” (Smeeton et al 2004)
  • “Sporting diversity is only likely to benefit the acquisition of expert ‘game reading’ skills in a specific sport, if the sports in which participants engage are ‘structurally’ similar.” (Smeeton et al 2004)
  • Basketball is a game team sport, or a sport where two teams attempt to score points or goals while at the same time attempting to stop the opponents from scoring (Lames 2006).
  • There are four categories of game team sports: net and wall games (e.g. volleyball); striking and fielding games (e.g. Finnish baseball); rival target games (e.g. curling); and invasion games (e.g. basketball, football, American football, floorball, rugby, water polo) (Mitchell et al 2013; Zhao 2013).
  • At least, sampling is as good a choice as early specialization considering a competitive career in most sports, e.g. all team sports. (Cote et al 2009a)

Health Benefits: Evidence

  • Exercise may bring about several health advantages: it may enhance cardiorespiratory fitness, muscular strength, endurance, power, body composition and bone mineral content and density. (Bergeron 2007)
  • Just participating in organized sports does not guarantee that a child will enjoy these health benefits, though, but it must be looked into that this actually happens. (Bergeron 2007)
  • “Participation in organized sports does not ensure that youth meet PA recommendations on practice days. The health effects of youth sports could be improved by adopting policies that ensure participants obtain PA during practices.” (Leek et al 2011)
  • “School-aged youth should participate daily in 60 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous physical activity that is developmentally appropriate and enjoyable and involves a variety of activities.” (Faigenbaum et al 2009)
  • * At least 7 minutes of vigorous training a day is “associated with a reduced adjusted odds ratio of overweight status and elevated systolic blood pressure.” (Hay et al 2012)
  • * “Enhancing bone mass in children” requires “between 5 and 24 months, 3-5 sessions/week and 50-100 jumps/session”. (Markovic & Mikulic 2010)
  • “Youth resistance training can improve one’s cardiovascular risk profile, facilitate weight control, strengthen bone, enhance psychosocial well-being, improve motor performance skills, and increase a young athletes’ resistance to sports-related injuries.” (Faigenbaum et al 2009)
  • “Children as young as 5 and 6 years have benefited from regular participation in a resistance training program.” (Faigenbaum et al 2009)
  • * 8-10-year-old soccer players undertook a 26-week program that two weekly 30-minute sessions of “strength and high-intensity–oriented training (squat, full-squat, loaded and unloaded jump, and sprint exercises)”. The program enhanced “muscle strength, power, and endurance” without interfering with the “endurance and flexibility performance”. (Ferrete et al 2014)
  • “High levels of strength and power” are important when trying to resolve high-intensity soccer actions. (Ferrete et al 2014)
  • In 10-12 year-old children, strength is negatively correlated with the risk of having diabetes or heart disease. The negative correlation persists after controlling for body mass index, exercise, and fitness. (Peterson et al 2014)
  • A perceived lack of motor skills will diminish a person’s motivation to exercise from the age of 10 on. (Faigenbaum et al 2011)
  • “Lower back pain among youth has become a significant public health issue with prevalence rates in adolescents approaching those in adults. — Because insufficient strength, muscular endurance, and stability in the lower back have been associated with current and future lower back pain in adolescents, there is a role for preventive interventions that include resistance exercise to possibly reduce the prevalence or severity of lower back pain in youth.” (Faigenbaum et al 2009)

Psychosocial Benefits: Evidence

  • Organized sport participation has been linked to high rates of initiative experiences (i.e., goal setting, effort, problem solving, and time management) and more experiences related to the regulation of emotion than youth involved in other structured activities.” (Strachan et al 2012)
  • “Children who participate in sport score higher on two indicators of social capital; 1) more self-reported interactions with their parents, and 2) greater interaction with other adults.” (Cote et al 2009b)
  • “Youth who spent more time (i.e., hours per week) in an organized activity reported higher rates of developmental experience relating to initiative, identity formation, emotional regulation, and positive interpersonal and social relationships. Furthermore, no relationship between dosage (i.e., time spent in an organized activity) and the likelihood of negative experiences was reported.” (Strachan et al 2012)
  • “A poorer motor performance was associated with poorer academic skills in children especially in boys. These findings emphasize the early identification of children with poor motor performance and actions to improve their motor performance and academic skills during the first school years.” (Haapala et al 2013)
  • “Self-regulation refers generally to the self-control of thought, action, and emotion.” (Zelano and Lyons 2012)
  • “Self-regulation in childhood even predicts physical health, substance dependence, socioeconomic status, and the likelihood of a criminal conviction at age 32, after controlling for social class of origin and IQ.” (Zelano and Lyons 2012)
  • * “Mindfulness training — using age-appropriate activities to exercise children’s reflection on their moment- to-moment experiences — may support the development of self-regulation by targeting top-down processes while lessening bottom-up influences (such as anxiety, stress, curiosity).” (Zelano and Lyons 2012)
  • “Mindfulness training for children and adolescents typically occurs in small-group sessions that include a variety of activities, such as body scans, breathing exercises, and sitting meditations.” (Zelano and Lyons 2012)
  • “Mindfulness practices may also involve more movement-based activities like yoga stretches or rocking of one’s body.” (Zelano and Lyons 2012)
  • “The experience of a sampling environment may be important in the development of certain developmental outcomes such as increased intrapersonal skills, the development of prosocial behaviors and personal identity, the ability to connect with diverse peer groups, and the accruement of social capital. Sampling also provides an atmosphere that promotes the development of intrinsic motivation thus, enhancing enjoyment which is the strongest factor related to sport commitment and a positive indicator of the sport experience.” (Strachan et al 2012)
  • * “The social nature of sport provides ample opportunities for both prosocial behavior, designated as any voluntary act performed with the goal of benefiting or helping another person — and antisocial behavior, designated as any voluntary act intended to harm or disadvantage another person.” (Rutten et al 2011)
  • “Supportive coach–athlete relationships have been shown to be associated with less antisocial and more prosocial behavior in adolescent athletes.” (Rutten et al 2011)
  • “Tactile communication, or physical touch, promotes cooperation between people, communicates distinct emotion, soothes in times of stress, and is used to make inferences of warmth and trust.” (Kraus et al 2010)
  • “One way to decrease bullying is called the reciprocal method: Every pupil is systematically everybody’s partner.” (Telama & Polvi 2007)
  • “Neuroscientific research has shown that positive social interactions are linked to the neuropeptide oxytocin.” (Pepping and Timmermanns 2012)
  • “Oxytocin is involved in empathy, trust, generosity, altruism, cohesion, cooperation and (social) motivation.” (Pepping and Timmermanns 2012)
  • “Prosocial behavior has been shown to serve an important purpose in enhancing future team performance in sport.” (Pepping and Timmermanns 2012)

Equipment And Rules: Evidence

  • “Youth basketball leagues in the three-on-three version could provide the best opportunity for children to have fun, play with their peers, learn and improve skills, and stay active.” (McCormick et al 2012)
  • “Beginners and less-skilled players need more time and space.” (McCormick et al 2012)
  • “Every additional player increases the interactions and decision- making load. — Interactions are the tactical possibilities, and more interactions equal greater task complexity. — Expert players possess the perceptual-cognitive skills to respond skillfully to situations with high demands of task complexity, speed, and accuracy, but young or inexperienced players lack these skills. “(McCormick et al 2012)
  • “Basketball is played, at maximum, with successive 3 on 3 game situations.” (Lamas et al 2011)
  • * “The 4×4 were not played as quickly nor intensely as the 3×3.” (Sampaio et al 2009)
  • * “Decreases of the space and number of players in game may allow greater self-recreation of players and greater intervention in game.” (Sampaio et al 2009)
  • It is common to modify the rules of a sport in order to adapt the sport to “children’s possibilities”, in other words to improve their rate of success. (Arias et al. 2011)
  • According to the FIBA Minibasket rules, a size 3 ball (320g/57cm) is to be used in U9 age groups. (FIBA 2005)
  • The American Biddy Basketball program recognizes other baskets lower than the minibasket height of 260cm.(Biddy Basketball no date)
  • “It is possible to have lower (than 260cm) baskets for very young children.” (FIBA 2005).
  • Proper modification will enhance participants’ enjoyment, perceived competence and motivation (Arias et al. 2009; Burton et al. 2011).
  • “Being successful during practice increases motivation. This may give the children more enjoyable experiences, so they will choose to continue to practice basketball and put out more effort.” (Aries-Estero 2013)
  • * Lowering the basket and diminishing the dimensions of the ball tend to improve children’s shooting performance. (Arias 2008)
  • * “Children should be successful frequently, as successful shots are stimuli that reinforce them to continue shooting. Successful shots produce a practical positive experience that can increase their levels of perceived self-efficacy.” (Aries-Estero 2013)
  • Lowering the basket has even been shown to enhance children’s self-efficacy before they actually shoot. (Chase et al. 1994).
  • Shooting will require less strength if the player is moving forward and starts extending his elbow when the ball is still beneath his line of vision (Arias 2012).
  • Those characteristics make the shot less accurate, yet from a child’s point of view they may be beneficial if the alternative is that his shot will not even reach the basket (Arias 2012).
  • The developing players should be able to continuously, through the years, use the same approximate motor patterns while e.g. shooting, passing and dribbling. Otherwise children learn motor patterns that are beneficial under the current rules but are not transferable to later contexts. (Cordovil et al. 2009)

Learning environment: Evidence

  • “The role of teachers in recognizing and responding to children’s state variations related to stress is of vast importance in creating an optimal learning environment. With increasing regulative abilities, momentary stress is not a negative event. Stress will facilitate learning when stress is experienced in the context and time of the challenging event. Stress within the context of a new experience induces focused attention and improves the use of relevant information. Only prolonged under- or overactivation of the stress regulative system is detrimental for learning.” (Sajaniemi et al 2012)
  • The sound environment is an important factor regarding learning. Disturbing sounds make make it difficult to concentrate, and a high level of noise hinders communication and interaction. (Aksovaara and Maunonen-Eskelinen 2013)

Teaching motor skills: Evidence

  • The following four factors must be considered.
    1. Observational practice: “Observation of others, particularly when it is combined with physical practice, can make important contributions to learning.” (Wulf et al 2010) “Exposure to variation in demonstrations may help an observer to more readily discriminate perceptually those variables that are important for the generation of that action.” (Buchanan & Dean 2010)
    2. Focus of attention: “Instructions inducing an external focus (directed at the movement effect) are more effective than those promoting an internal focus (directed at the performer’s body movements).” (Wulf et al 2010)
    3. Feedback: “Feedback after successful trials and social-comparative (normative) feedback indicating better than average performance have been shown to have a beneficial effect on learning.” (Wulf et al 2010)
    4. Self-controlled practice: “Self-controlled practice, including feedback and model demonstrations controlled by the learner, has been found to be more effective than externally controlled practice conditions.” (Wulf et al 2010)
  • “Variable practice (i.e. different variations of the same skill) results in better learning when tested using a delayed retention and/or transfer test. The benefits of variable practice appear to be particularly pronounced with children.” (Williams and Hodges 
  • “Coaches should try to avoid repetitious, blocked practice by presenting a variety of skills within the same session. — One exception to this rule may potentially arise very early in learning, when there is some empirical evidence to suggest that blocked practice may have some benefits over random practice.” (Williams & Hodges 2005)
  • “A practice schedule offering systematic increases in contextual interference facilitates skill learning.” (Porter & Magill 2010)
  • “Practicing under a random schedule improves retention and transfer consistency, while self-control of feedback is advantageous to both the accuracy and consistency with which anticipation timing skill transfers to novel task demands. The combination of these learning manipulations, however, does not improve skill retention or transfer above and beyond their orthogonal effects.” (Ali et al 2012)
  • “Implicit motor learning refers to increases in performance that are not accompanied by an ability to consciously reflect on (or verbally communicate) about the movement dynamics associated with performance.” (Lam et al 2010)
  • “Practice conditions which encourage implicit processing in expert performers are likely to result in beneficial outcomes (for example, due to low interference from conscious control during high-pressure scenarios).” (Rendell et al 2011)
  • * “The motor performance of implicit learners appears to require fewer working memory or attention resources than explicit learners, and is less susceptible to disruption from secondary tasks.” (Lam et al 2010)
  • Ways to make learning implicit:
    1. Dual tasking: “Asking players to sing along, chain-gang style, to favourite songs may suffice to draw attention away from the step-by-step processes of performance.” (Gabbett & Masters 2011)
    2. Errorless practice: “Errorless learning does not literally mean that no errors are made, but simply that errors are kept to a minimum, especially early in the learning process.” (Poolton and Zachry 2007) “Errorless learning is most important in the early stages of acquiring a skill and does not suffer ill effects if verbal instructions are introduced later on in the process.” (Poolton and Zachry 2007)
    3. Analogies: “For example, the Frankenstein analogy, “imagine a rod through your head and spine”, may encourage a defender to watch the ball carrier as long as possible throughout the tackle, without a need to explicitly tell the tackler to do so.” (Gabbett & Masters 2011) “Mr. Miyagi made an indelible impression on people all over the world by using this type of learning when he taught Daniel-san how to deflect a punch using the “wax on, wax off” analogy in the movie The Karate Kid.” (Poolton and Zachry 2007)
  • “– the context-specific and skilled use of the non-dominant hand is crucial for successful play at higher competitive levels in the sport of basketball.” (Stöckel & Weigelt 2012a)
  • “– spatial accuracy tasks are learned better after initial practice with the non-dominant hand, whereas initial practice with the dominant hand is more efficient for maximum force production tasks.” (Stöckel & Weigelt 2012b)

Physiological features: Evidence

  • It seems essential for a basketball player to have a sufficient amount of aerobic capacity and as much lower-body power as possible, power being a person’s ability to produce as much force as possible in as short a time as possible. (Abdelkrim 2010; Delextrat and Cohen 2008; Köklü et al. 2011; Ostojic et al 2006; Ziv and Lidor 2009; Haff and Nimphius 2012).
  • “COD ability has been shown to be a strong determinant of team sports performance.” (Buccheit et al 2012)
  • “Much of the intensity of basketball is likely derived from the very frequent changing movement patterns over the duration of a game. Players have to repeatedly generate momentum and overcome inertia with frequent starts and stops.” (Drinkwater et al 2008)
  • “Acceleration in court-based team sports such as netball and basketball is typically confined to a relatively small area, which is defined by boundary lines or opponents. As such, players are often not able to accelerate for 2.5–5 m before an evasive COD (change of direction) is required.” (Hewit et al 2013)
  • “Research investigating the relationship between straight-line acceleration ability and COD ability (i.e., performance times) has shown little correlation between the two.” (Hewit et al 2013)
  • “Agility can be defined as the ability of a fast whole-body movement involving the changing of direction or speed in response to a given stimulus.” (Lloyd et al 2013)
  • “Improvements in COD performance seem better accomplished with the following types of exercise and training: general COD training, sport-specific COD training, jump squat training, unilateral and bilateral horizontal jump training. Not surprisingly, training that involves sprinting with direction changes (i.e. COD tests themselves) has been shown to enhance COD performance.” (Brughelli et al 2008)
  • “Maximal unilateral strength — correlated significantly with 10 and 20 m linear sprint and COD speed.” (Arin et al 2012)
  • “On one hand, flexion capacity of the hip and shoulder joint, as well as the spine shows highest mobility at 8–9 years of age. On the other, a decrease is observed in capacity to extend the legs apart at the hip joint and dorsally directed mobility in the shoulder joint.” (Dantas et el 2011)
  • “Testing of aerobic fitness in school children would provide schoolteachers, parents, and health professionals with information about the state and development of the pupils’ fitness level during childhood and indicate whether the physical education in schools and the sport club activities are sufficient to gain a high aerobic fitness and reduce the long-term risk of devel- oping cardiovascular disease in adult life.” (Bendiksen et al 2013)
  • “Yo-Yo intermittent recovery level 1 children’s test can be used to detect differences and changes in fitness level for 6- to 10-year-old children and to determine maximal heart rate.” (Bendiksen et al 2013)

Structure of the practice: Evidence

  • “Warm-up protocols that include dynamic exercise may not only enhance fitness performance, but may also increase the amount of time children engage in moderate to vigorous physical activity, which is an important public health objective.” (Faigenbaum et al. 2005)
  • “Power production in children was improved following moderate- to high-intensity dynamic warm-up treatments that lasted about 10 minutes.” (Faigenbaum et al. 2005)
  • “Both warm up models (dynamic exercises and a tag game) showed similar effects on agility and vertical jump in children.” (Coledam et al 2012)
  • “Cool-down with less intense calisthenics and static stretching.” (Faigenbaum et al 2009)
  • Examples of calisthenics: “pushups, pullups, dips, situps, lunges, standing side leg lifts, bodyweight squats, and back extensions.” (Sullivan 2012)
  • “Restoration of body fluids following an intense competition or training bout is a key part of the total training recovery process.” (Bishop et al 2008)



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