Todd Smith is making his way through youth girls’ basketball following a break from the sport and a successful run as a high school boys’ coach.
After three years coaching recreational, travel and AAU girls’ teams ranging from fourth to seventh grades, Smith has suggestions that he thinks coaches and administrators of leagues on those levels could consider.
Smith said he is seeing more emphasis on high-pressure, trapping defenses and less concentration on fundamentals than is ideal for players in that age range.
“I think it should be restricted until maybe seventh grade,” Smith said of the use of pressure defenses.
In Smith’s view, constant trapping turns the game into a series of lay-ups for the team forcing turnovers or breaking the trap. In doing so, it de-emphasizes the rest of the game for players and teams at a time when developing more well rounded play should be a primary goal.
“Are they going to win if they do it well? Probably,” Smith said. “But there’s no advantage in development for them or us.
“If you trap all the time, all you do is run down and shoot lay-ups. You don’t learn as much.”
When that’s all a team knows how to do, players never learn how to adjust to parts of the game such as running half-court offenses.
Smith won seven district titles in 17 seasons as a head coach at Montrose (Pennsylvania) High School, relying primarily on hard-nosed, man-to-man defense and well-structured offenses. He said it is uncommon for him to go against a man-to-man defense as a youth girls’ coach.
“My opinion is that if you know how to play man-to-man defense, you can always play zone,” Smith said. “I think players have to learn how to be man-to-man defenders first.”
Smith has two other general observations from his current stretch of coaching young players. He would recommend to less-experienced coaches working with players on the youth level to remain calm in their dealings with youngsters and to put more time into fundamentals.
While he acknowledges that he could sometimes be regarded as tough on his players as a high school coach, Smith said some coaches need to learn to “cool their jets” when dealing with elementary or junior high school aged kids who have made a mistake on the court.
When Smith designs a practice, he puts time into dribbling, footwork, and passing before worrying about having the players work as a unit in half-court settings.
“We’ll spend 20 minutes just on dribbling drills, right-handed, left-handed, two-ball dribbling drills, even down to the fourth-grade level, which some people think the kids can’t do,” Smith said.
Creating a strong base in individual drills gives players the skills they need in team settings.
“I see a lot of bad footwork on all levels,” Smith said. “So often, they can’t be a triple-threat because their footwork is incorrect.”
Just as players learn to develop the ability to dribble with either hand and in either direction, they need to have the skills to pass from different angles.
“In our practices, before we even think about doing anything in the half court, we do passing drills where the ball is rotated, your thumbs are down,” Smith said. “I’m seeing people at different levels who can’t pass with their weak hand because they never learned to pass with two hands.”