The Problem: Young players watch the ball as they are learning to dribble it, and cannot see what is in front of them, including:
- Open teammates
- Defenders coming to steal the ball
- If there is an opening to drive to the basket
Strategies: Make sure your players understand WHY they need to keep their head up (see reasons above), and find ways to require them to keep their head up during ALL of your dribbling/ballhandling work at practice.
- Stay in front of the players (whether the drill is a stationary or moving drill) and have them look up at you and identify what they see. You can have players call out the number of fingers you are holding up, or they can identify what’s on the pictures you are holding up (if you’re willing to bring to practice some large pictures of professional players or something else fun!). If they are old enough, consider putting up fingers on both hands and have them do addition or multiplication so their mind is completely occupied with the challenge you are giving them and learning how to dribble without thinking about it!
- Incorporate different types of dribbles, with different hand signals, so players are looking up, and reacting to your signal. Ex: Waving your hand is for a crossover dribble, a fist for a “retreat or escape” dribble. This will keep your players focused on you and their next move, unknowingly keeping their eyes up.
- Let your players know that it is OK to “lose your dribble” during drills, if they are keeping their focus forward
- Players are results driven. They think successfully dribbling somewhere with the ball is what coaches want to see. Help them understand mistakes are a part of improvement.
- Reward/recognize players who show improvement at practice, or consider “awards” at seasons end (ex: Best weak hand dribbler, Most Improved Dribbler, Best Crossover, etc)
Something to Try: There are lots of fun drills/games to help players learn to dribble with their heads up. Dribble Lengths is a great start for young players. Another drill with a little more defensive pressure is Lane Dribble with a Defender (once players understand this drill, try having them call out “numbers” to you). For a little more fun, you can play Dribble Knock Out. Players will love the competition and chance to be the last player alive, and will learn to dribble while moving and protecting their ball.