In any junior team there is likely to be a wide range of skills and athletic ability between the players, as well as differences in their understanding of the tactics of the game.

The role of the coach is to help each of those players to develop and for the team to improve. This requires the coach to be able to design and run activities that include all of the players and sufficiently challenge them so that they will develop.

Differences in skill level and understanding

It is common in any activity that some athletes will find it easier to do than others. Broadly, there are two areas that will impact how hard an athlete finds an activity:

  • Skill level – whether or not the player can perform the skills required in the activity;
  • Understanding – whether or not the player understands the structure of the activity (e.g. the sequence of movements) or whether or not they understand the principles of play that are involved (e.g. “passing lane” – “driving lane” principles in 2v1).

Equally, players may find an activity easy and this can affect their motivation, particularly if the coach is stopping the activity a lot in order to correct players who are finding it challenging.

The coach needs to be able to engage both types of players.

Make them Coaches

Rather than the coach stopping an activity and making corrections, they can have the players that have a better understanding of the structure or team principles make the corrections. This encourages the players to talk to each other and to find their own solutions.

When doing this, the structure of an activity may change slightly, but before stepping in, the coach should evaluate are the teaching points still being reinforced. If they are, then the coach should not stop the activity. Indeed, the coach could go on to give the activity (with its new structure) a name like “John’s drill” to emphasise the role the player had in creating the new activity.

Change the Activity

The coach may be able to change the activity so that it is more challenging for the better skilled player, for example:

  • Add complexity – a more skilled player may have to use their non-preferred hand, whereas lesser skilled player may use their preferred hand, or perhaps a more skilled player may be allowed to use fewer dribbles than a less skilled player can;
  • Change rules – for example, do not let skilled players steal the ball from the hands of less skilled players. Instead, state that any steal has to be from intercepting the pass;
  • Force teamwork – a skilled player may not be allowed to shoot off the dribble, and may only shoot if they are in the key and receive a pass or if they rebound the ball.

Change how a team scores

In activities where the object is to score baskets, the more skilled athletes will often end up taking more shots. By changing how a team scores, the coach can make sure all players are getting involved. For example, awarding a point for a pass to a teammate who is open for a shot (whether or not the shot goes in) will emphasise moving the ball.


Many activities at training have a repetitive nature and if a player is finding it hard to understand the structure of the activity, it can help to partner them with another player and have them “follow” that player.

Rule Leniency

One of the most important elements to developing skills is the opportunity to practice them. Allowing a less skilled athlete to get away with a “travel” or “double dribble” violation can give them more opportunity to have the ball in their hands and play, particularly in a contested situation.

Obviously, they ultimately need to be able to perform skills in contested play and so the coach must also provide correction on the execution of the dribbles (often in other activities, not the contested activity). Alternatively, the coach may “call the travel” (so that the player is aware of what they did incorrectly) but give the ball back to them so that they have another opportunity to practice the skill.

Teaching Points

The coach may need to give a less skilled player more detailed teaching points regarding the execution of a skill. They may even take them briefly out of an activity to specifically practice the skill and then return them to the activity.

Maximise Skill Transfer

In structuring practice, the coach should give players a chance to practice the skill immediately before including it in a contested activity. This can assist with the transfer of skills from one activity to another.

Making Changes at Practice

Often a coach will be able to incorporate into their practice plan variations to engage all athletes. However, sometimes they will design an activity and it then becomes evident that players are finding it difficult so the coach will need to make changes during the practice session.

To do this, the coach should first consider what the teaching points are for that activity, because whatever changes they make should still emphasise those teaching points.

The CHANGE IT framework can also assist the coach to make changes during the practice session:


Coaching style: use questions to particular players or the team to set challenges for particular aspects of a game. “When should you move to receive a pass?”


How to score/win: change the opportunities to score – e.g. allow passing to a player in a particular area to score, instead of shooting for goal. Vary the size/distance of a target.


Area: increase or decrease the game difficulty by changing the shape or size of the playing area.


Numbers: consider using different team numbers or varying the number of turns that a player/team receives. Decreasing team size can increase player involvement.


Game rules: change the rules of the activity. Restrict the number of dribbles in order to emphasize passing. Require that no shot can be taken outside the keyway unless the ball has been passed or dribbled into the keyway first.


Equipment: vary the size or type of equipment. Have players dribble two balls instead of one.


Inclusion: ask players to modify activities.


Time: reduce or extend time allowed to perform actions.

Particularly with young players, there will always be a wide range of abilities amongst the players in the team. This range of abilities is unrelated to any disability that a player may have.

For example, a player on a team may not be able to catch the ball. This could be because:

  • they have a disability (e.g. cerebral palsy affecting their coordination);
  • they have not previously had experience passing and catching a ball;
  • they have had a bad experience (e.g. hurt their finger) trying to catch a ball previously.

Whatever the reason, the coach needs to be able to help the player to develop this skill.