Coaches should have a long-term view in regards to developing their athletes, which is why every player should be given the opportunity to play in all positions. Indeed, a primary purpose of a coach of junior athletes is to develop their love of the game of basketball so that they continue to play in the long-term.

Stages within basic LTAD model

The overall aim of the LTAD framework is to:

  1. Allow participants to find fun, fitness, social interaction and self-fulfillment through an all-inclusive sport environment; and
  2. Provide competitive pathways that are developmentally appropriate and lead players to the highest possible levels of achievement.

Broadly there are seven stages within the basic LTAD approach:9

  • Stage 1: Active Start (0-6 years)
  • Stage 2: FUNdamentals (girls 6-8 years, boys 6-9)
  • Stage 3: Learn to Train (girls 8-11, boys 9-12)
  • Stage 4: Train to Train (girls 11-15, boys 12-16)
  • Stage 5: Train to Compete (girls 15-21, boys 16-23)
  • Stage 6: Train to Win (girls 18+, boys 19+)
  • Stage 7: Active for Life (any age of participant).

The aim of stages 1-3 is to develop physical literacy before puberty so that children have the basic skills to be active for life. This physical literacy includes the wide variety of movement (running, jumping etc) as well as the basic sport skills (such as throwing, catching etc).

During these stages the children also make choices to engage in physical activity, sport or recreation activities and clearly if their involvement in sport is not enjoyable, they are less likely to make the choice to be physically active.

The stages also provide the foundation for those who wish to pursue “elite” training in a particular sport.

Importantly, physical literacy is influenced by the individual’s age but also factors such as maturation and capacity. Coaches should not simply divide players by age but should also look to “match” them taking into account physical maturation and social factors (e.g. playing with friends).

Stages 4-6 represent the “elite” specialization which allows athletes to reach their highest level. Basketball is a relatively late-specialization sport as the skills of the game do not need to be acquired prior to puberty.

Opportunities for all players

“Talent Identification” is a very inexact science. For every “rule” that exists (e.g. “players must be tall and athletic to succeed in basketball”) there are exceptions (Muggsy Bogues and Spud Webb both played in the NBA and were both shorter than 6 foot! (183cm)).

Whilst science loves averages and “typical” patterns, few players are actually average or typical. Coaches should provide opportunities for as many players as possible to participate in the sport.

Each national federation will have a pathway for athletes, and coaches should understand what that pathway is. Information can be obtained by speaking to other coaches or contacting the federation. Coaches should encourage players to participate in such programs.

Coaches of junior players should also be conscious of the “relative age” effect, which is simply that players physically mature at different rates and coaches may confuse physical maturity with ability. Players that are physically stronger will often have success at a junior level because of that physical difference, however as other players develop both physically and mentally they may become better than those players that initially dominated.

Coaches should consider the following guidelines in selecting players and in coaching those players:

  1. Develop all players equally. Whilst they have different talents and skill levels, the coach should give all players the opportunity to develop all aspects of the game.
  2. Don’t select players based upon last year. It can be difficult to make the decision on who will be in your team, particularly at a selection trial with many players vying for the team. There is likely to be a mix of players the coach is familiar with (perhaps having coached them before or having watched them play) and there may be some players who have previously trialled but who the coach did not select as well as some players the coach has not seen. Spend most of your time observing the players that you didn’t select last year and have never seen, so that you can get an “up to date” view on their ability.
  3. Select players based upon what you think you can teach them to do, not what they can currently do.
  4. When you don’t select a player, give them some practical feedback on areas that they can improve. Missing out on selection will often motivate players to “work on their game”.

Coaches may wish to use a “traffic light” approach to selections, particularly if they have more than one session.

In this approach coaches initially rank each player as either:

  • green light (definitely progress to next stage of selection);
  • red light (not up to standard for selection);
  • amber light (unsure).

After this initial assessment, the coach should spend more time assessing the “amber” players.

Be demanding of your athletes but make your demands appropriate to their level of physical maturity. If in doubt as to what they can do, seek advice.