What was the last activity you used to grow the connection within your youth team?
Perhaps it’s your first training session of the season, or maybe you’ve recognised a need to galvanise your group mid-season, so here are 10 quick activities you can conduct at training to promote interaction and cohesion within your team.
1. Birthday Challenge
Sometimes the traditional ones stick around for a reason. Players line up along the sideline, and the coach prompts players to order themselves according to birthday (January 1 – December 31), using their voice. This allows the coach to teach about the importance of good communication, particularly non-verbal communication. A reward such as a players’ choice activity can be provided if the entire group can order themselves correctly.
2. Snake Race
Players are split into teams of 4-5 (the longer the better), and form a ‘snake’ like line on the baseline. Players stand close enough to each other such that a basketball can be held between the back of one player and the chest of the player standing behind them without touching the ball with – hands. Teams race to complete a course advance to the half-way line and back, without dropping a basketball or touching one with their hands. If a ball is dropped, teams must stop and replace the ball before resuming the race.
3. Bounce Into Conversation
We typically add unusual equipment (such as a tennis ball or pool noodle) into a dribbling drill to draw focus away from the dribbling task – here is a variation that encourages communication and builds relationships within your group.
Players adopt a typical two-ball dribbling activity, where the dribbler must perform two-ball dribbling moves whilst progressing from baseline-to-baseline, and their partner acts as a ‘spotter’ for loose balls. However in this version, the ‘spotter’ is required to tell the dribbler a story as they complete the dribbling task. Once they reach the opposite baseline, they must repeat and/or answer a question about the story they have just been told. Known as the dual-task paradigm, the ability to absorb a story whilst dribbling closely relates to the ability to process movements of nine other players. This also provides players with an opportunity to practice the important life skill of active listening.
4. Co-design Team Values – Whiteboard Approach
A team standard, rule or value has exponentially greater weight when it is delivered by the players rather than the coach, and provides the coach with greater leverage to enforce those underpinning behaviours as the season progresses.
I’ve completed this exercise with 12-13 year olds, and I’m sure coaches smarter than I have done it with players even younger. Ask for one player to act as scribe – preferably one with legible handwriting, and guide the group through a brainstorming session on the three questions below. Give them a gentle push in the right direction where needed, but resist the temptation to fill awkward silences, or impose your pre-conceived notions on what the answers should be.
- What do we want to achieve this season? (Outcomes)
- How do we want people to describe us when they watch us play? What words would they use? (Performance)
- What actions or behaviours do we need to perform to achieve that? At trainings? At home? (Process)
Most importantly, you’ll receive a greater understanding of why your players play. I’ve learnt over time that assuming the answer to this question can be your folly (Fun fact: not all junior representative players are there to win!)
5. Understanding each other’s perspectives – Post-it Notes
‘Design Thinking’ is a contemporary and effective way to create solutions in the workplace, and can also be a novel way to engage your players.
Buy a pad of post-it notes and pen for each player – the more colourful the better. There are 3 steps in the design thinking process:
- Brainstorm individually
Players have two minutes to write as many answers to the question (1 per note) as they can. Questions could cover a variety of areas:
- What is your role on this team?
- Why do you play basketball?
- What do you enjoy most about trainings?
- What are your expectations of your teammates?
- What are your expectations of your coaches?
- How could we perform better in games?
- Theme your thoughts collaboratively
Players place their answers on the wall, and if another player has the same answer, they are grouped together.
- Discuss the findings as a team
Now you have a wall of colour and perspectives from your team, it’s time to reflect with the group and ask – ‘what are we seeing here?’ Which theme emerges as the most important to your players?
6. 2 Truths, 1 Lie
A good exercise to break down barriers early in a season. Players take turns at telling the group three facts about themselves – two truths and one lie. Teammates must guess which fact they believe is the lie!
Every few minutes within your small-sided games, promote opportunities for teams to ‘huddle’ and discuss their tactics. In younger age groups the players may initially not know what to say – leave them to work through the uncomfortable silence – but don’t underestimate how young players can effectively huddle. I recall coaching a team of Under 9s who by the end of the season were relaying messages to me from mid-game huddles “Next time on defence we’re going to trap the first pass”. They are your proudest moments as coaches, as opposed to drawing up plays on a whiteboard.
8. Let Players Acknowledge Players
Give a platform for your players to give compliments to each other and recognise good values in the training environment by asking questions in your post-training wrap-up:
- “Who do you believe pushed you the hardest tonight?”
- “Who displayed the most respect?”
9. Blindfolded Shooting
Trust, fun, communication and shooting – all in one! Players are split into pairs with one basketball between them, placed randomly on the court. One player is blind-folded (a tea-towel folded diagonally is usually a good option) and spun in circles by their partner. When the coach calls “Go!”, the partner must direct their teammate using verbal cues only towards the ball, then towards the basket, before directing them where/how to shoot. The first team to score a basket is the winner. Ensure to praise players who provide good, thoughtful communication to their partner.
10. SOCIAL ACTIVITIES
As important as developing cohesion on the court is, socialising and spending time together off the court can be just as – if not more – beneficial as the various activities delivered by coaches in trainings. By organising something as simple as a team barbecue, a stronger bond between the coach, players and their families can be achieved, which can translate to a higher team morale and a greater enjoyment of the sport of basketball.
Share with us – what other activities have you used to grow the connection within your youth team?