My young players always dribble with their head down

The Problem: Young players watch the ball as they are first learning to dribble it, and cannot see what is in front of them, including open teammates and defenders coming to steal the ball.  Once defenders get close to them, they often go to the point of turning their back to the basket in an attempt to protect the ball.

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, cartoon characters, or something else fun!).  You can also try to mimic animals for them to identify (pig face, bunny ears, elephant nose, etc).  Feel free to get creative here – consider anything that you can do that they will find fun and requires them to keep their/head 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.  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.  Another drill with a little more defensive pressure is Lane Dribble with a Defender.