Focusing on fundamentals gives every player a chance to contribute


Youth sports

February 18, 2007|By CAL RIPKEN JR.

DEAR CAL -- I'm a new coach of a girls youth basketball team. We haven't won yet, but the girls try their best. I'm excited by that, but it's hard for me to be courtside and not know how else to encourage them. I feel that I should somehow be able to help them better. Where can I learn how to do that?

Joanna Beatty, Owings Mills

DEAR JOANNA -- This is a problem all coaches face at all levels. I'm assuming that you are dealing with younger kids. As a new coach, I would gather information from books or maybe even a Web site. To give you some direction, very early in teaching basketball I would focus on some team concepts like zone defense or zone presses in which it's not so crucial for all kids to have certain skills to participate.

With a zone press, for example, players are assigned certain areas on the court and certain responsibilities, so they all can contribute to the team's success.

The same is true for half-court defense. Whether you have them learn a 2-3 or a 2-1-2 zone is your choice, but teaching simple fundamentals about those two aspects of the game and working on them in practice will provide great team results, because it's not about who the most skilled player is since all members can contribute to team defense.

Remember to focus on the basics. There are some great coaching Web sites and books.

Emphasize practice. If you can find a gym or some extra time to practice, that's the time when you can connect with the kids. And if you can connect with them during practice, you'll be able to communicate better during the games.

DEAR CAL -- My 7-year-old son played baseball for the first time this past fall. When he was younger he would always put his right-hander's mitt on the opposite hand, so we got him a left-hander's glove. I also encouraged him to bat left-handed. Now that he is older, I realize he is not a true lefty since he writes right-handed and even throws a football naturally right-handed. He now throws, catches and hits left-handed fluidly, but perhaps his arm strength would be better right-handed. Should he continue left-handed, or is there a test I can give him to see which way he should throw?

Rob Rohm, Orange, Calif.

DEAR ROB -- It sounds like you have a good problem on your hands. Most of us wish that we were more ambidextrous or could do more things with our opposite side. I'm a very dominant right-handed person and have had to work hard learning to do things with my opposite hand. It's difficult for most of us to do, so in some ways your son may be ahead of the game.

I would just suggest that you experiment. Put a right-handed glove on your son and encourage him to practice and to try to play that way. You might find that you have a very special and talented child. I've come across a couple of people at the minor league level who could catch and throw equally well with both hands, and I often have wondered how they might do in the big leagues if they could pitch twice as much as a normal pitcher.

Remember that your son is 7 and still developing. You should have him put a glove on the other hand and make an evaluation. Maybe you can find some other people whom you trust in a baseball or sports sense to give you an evaluation as well. Nothing works better than experimentation, so give him the opportunity and see if he feels comfortable. He already is comfortable playing the game one way, so it's not a big problem if he can't do it differently. Put a glove on the other hand and see what happens.

Have a question or issue arising from your involvement in youth sports? Send it by e-mail to

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