The USA Basketball Player Development Curriculum has been established to guide players, and the people that coach them, through a level-appropriate system of basketball development. Using scientific guiding principles developed by coach educators Istvan Balyi and Richard Way, and found in their book Long-Term Athlete Development (2013), USA Basketball has designed a practical, functional and sequential development model to properly impart the game to a player.
The Player Development Curriculum consists of four levels of development: Introductory, Foundational, Advanced and Performance. Each level takes the player through progressive development techniques based on their mastery of basketball and movement skills as opposed to their age, grade in school or physical attributes. This mastery of skills approach allows the player to develop physical literacy, learn basketball vocabulary and acquire the movement confidence needed to optimize their basketball potential.
As explained in the sections that follow, the Player Development Curriculum incorporates seven stages of long-term athlete development – Active Start, Fundamentals, Learning to Train, Training to Train, Training to Compete, Training to Win and Basketball for Life. Although the curriculum removes age from the skill learning process, the long-term model provides age recommendations to demonstrate scientifically-proven learning capabilities. USA Basketball incorporated these age recommendations in creating the curriculum levels to show how the levels translate to real learning environments.
Through the long-term athlete development model, the Player Development Curriculum addresses the topic of proper practice/training-to-competition ratios. USA Basketball has defined competition as the act of competing against another team, or imparting team strategies to prepare to compete against another team. Practice or training is defined as all activity related to a player’s individual skill development. Based on these definitions, the following is a summary of USA Basketball’s stance on practice/training-to-competition throughout the four levels:
Learn fundamental movement skills and build overall motor skills. Participation once or twice per week in basketball but daily participation in other sport activity is essential for further excellence. Group skill competitions recommended throughout the level. Introduction to team principles/concepts ONLY, avoid actual 5x5 competition until fundamentals are further developed.
Learn all fundamental and basic basketball-specific skills, establish building blocks for overall basketball skills. 70% of time is spent on individual fundamental training and only 30% of the time is spent on actual game competition. Teach position concepts, but DO NOT assign player positions at any point in the level. Divide actual competition between special games (1x1, 2x2, 3x3, skill games) and 5x5 play, trying not to focus on actual 5x5 competition until later in the level.
Build the aerobic base, build strength towards the end of the level and further develop overall basketball skills. Build the “engine” and consolidate basketball skills. Early in the level, 60% of the time is spent on individual training and 40% is spent on competition including 5x5 play, special games (1x1, 2x2, 3x3, skill games) as well as team-oriented practices. Later in the level, depending on mastery of skills, the switch can be made to a 50:50 training to competition ratio and positions can be assigned.
Maximize fitness and competition preparation as well as individual and position-specific skills. Optimize the “engine” of skills and performance. Training to competition ratio in this phase shifts to 25:75, understanding that the competition percentage includes team-oriented practices and other competition-specific preparations.
(Concepts developed by coach educator Istvan Balyi and have been adapted by USA Basketball)
The stages that follow serve as building blocks for the four levels of development in the USA Basketball Player Development Curriculum, which follows later in the guide. Each stage is incorporated into the appropriate level, and that level is identified in parentheses. In some instances, levels incorporate multiple stages to account for the various types of players throughout a program.
As you review, it’s important to note that USA Basketball considers competition as the act of competing against another team, or imparting team strategies to prepare to compete against another team. Conversely, USA Basketball considers training to include all activity related to a player’s technical skill development. Therefore, the recommended training to competition ratios listed throughout the guide reflect those considerations.
STAGE 1: ACTIVE START
(Found in USAB Introductory Level)
Approximate Age: 0-6 years old
OBJECTIVES: Starting at infancy, provide opportunities for children to be physically active each day within a safe, fun environment. Physical activity through play is an essential part of a child’s development. Activity should incorporate fundamental movement skills throughout the four environments that lead to maximizing a child’s physical potential:
In the water: Swimming
On the ground: Basketball (dribbling)
In the air: Gymnastics
On ice and snow: Sliding (skiing, skating)
STAGE 2: FUNDAMENTALS
(Found in Introductory & Foundational Levels)
Approximate Age: 6-9 years old
OBJECTIVES: Learn all fundamental movement skills (build overall motor skills). Participation once or twice per week in basketball, but daily participation in other sport activity is essential for further excellence. Special game competitions recommended throughout the phase. Introduction to 5 x 5 principles/concepts only in late phase, avoiding actual 5 x 5 competition until fundamentals are further developed.
STAGE 3: LEARNING TO TRAIN
(Found in Foundational Level)
Approximate Age: 8-12 years old
OBJECTIVES: Learn all fundamental and basic basketball-specific skills (build overall sports skills). A 70:30 training to competition ratio is recommended. Divide actual competition between special games and 5 x 5 play, trying not to focus on 5 x 5 competition until later in the phase.
STAGE 4: TRAINING TO TRAIN
(Found in Advanced Level)
Approximate Age: 12-15 years old
Objectives: Build the aerobic base, build strength towards the end of the stage and further develop basketball skills (build the “engine” and consolidate basketball skills). Recommend 60:40 training to competition ratio. The 40% competition ratio includes 5 x 5 competition, special game competition, as well as team-oriented practices.
STAGE 5: TRAINING TO COMPETE
(Found in Advanced & Performance Levels)
Approximate Age: 14-17 years old
OBJECTIVES: Optimize fitness preparation as well as basketball, individual and position-specific skills (continue to maximize the “engine” of skills and performance). The training to competition ratio now changes to 50:50. 50% of available time is devoted to the development of player technical/tactical skills and fitness improvements, with the other 50% devoted to 5 x 5 competition and team-oriented practices.
STAGE 6: TRAINING TO WIN
(Found in Performance Level)
Approximate Age: 17+
Objectives: Maximize fitness preparation as well as basketball, individual and position-specific skills (goal is to optimize the “engine” of skills and performance). Training to competition ratio in this phase shifts to 25:75, understanding that the competition percentage includes team-oriented practices.
STAGE 7: BASKETBALL FOR LIFE
(Found in All Levels)
The Retirement/Retention Stage
OBJECTIVES: Retain athletes for recreational play, coaching, administration, officiating, and other basketball related activities.
Progressive Coaching is the teaching philosophy that focuses on engaging students individually as well as engaging groups in an activity. In the case of basketball, teaching occurs with individual athletes as well as teams in basketball related activity. The philosophy behind Progressive Coaching is to challenge and engage each player individually in order to achieve the best results. If the philosophy is applied to every player, coaches will see marked improvement in players as well as the entire team. It is important that the goals for each player are challenging, attainable, and allow the athlete to keep building on a particular skill.
To best implement Progressive Coaching with your team, you must first understand the strengths and weaknesses of each of your players individually. Once this baseline measurement is set, you will be able to set goals with each player and develop a plan to help the player reach his or her goal. Understanding the goals of each player will also help in developing drills for a practice.
Equally important to individual goals is the establishment of team goals to give the group something to collectively strive towards. Ensure that the goals are attainable, and challenge your team to build toward goals each and every practice and game. For example, at the beginning of the season, a team goal may be to run an efficient fast break after a rebound. Build to this goal by first mastering how to secure a rebound, how to pivot, and then how to outlet pass the ball. Keep your training process-driven by ensuring that your players are mastering each step before taking the next one.
There are many different components to the game of basketball. In the Player Development Curriculum, USA Basketball separates skills into eight categories including Ball Handling & Dribbling, Footwork & Body Control, Passing & Receiving, Rebounding, Screening, Shooting, Team Defensive Concepts & Team Offensive Concepts. Each player in a group will have their strengths and weaknesses, and rarely will all players be on the same level in all skill categories. Also, there are many different levels of teams that you may find yourself coaching. Recreation programs, school teams, travel teams, college programs and even professional teams are all comprised of players learning at different levels. Both the level of basketball and each player’s skill set determines how you will coach and manage your group throughout a season.
As a coach, the first task is to evaluate each one of your players as well as your team as a whole. The best way to accomplish this is to establish and document a baseline of skills. This measures what your players can or cannot currently do on the basketball court. Again, measurements will vary depending on the level of play. Once you have established a baseline, you can begin to set goals for your players and team. Based on this information, you can begin to establish a proper training plan for the season.
Today, I begin my first day coaching a group of eight year olds through a local recreation league. Many of the players have never played on teams other than in physical education class at school. I must first evaluate the level of my players before designing drills. The first skill that I am going to assess is triple threat. I am looking to see if players know how to stand in the triple threat position.
After completing the stance drill, I see that 80% of my players are in the proper triple threat stance. I feel that I can move on to a different drill that builds on these fundamentals instead of working on a skill that the players already know how to do. At the same time, I will need to set aside extra time or assign an assistant coach to work with the other 20% of players to teach them the proper stance. (see diagram next page)
There are several different decisions a coach must make while developing players in basketball. For example, “How many drills should the team do before I know they understand a specific skill?”, “What do I do if a player is too good for the drills I am doing?”, “What do I do if a player does not have the fundamentals required to complete the drills I am asking them to do?”. USA Basketball offers up a few recommendations.
There are many different elements that should be considered. The first consideration is based on the level of the team. For example, a high school team may spend less time on triple threat than a middle school basketball team. A high school team may use one or two of these drills to reinforce fundamentals, but then will move to more difficult skills quickly. Conversely, middle school coaches may start on skills that they find to be too advanced for the team but could revert back to teach the fundamentals of that particular skill.
The Player Development Curriculum offers several sample drills for each skill to ensure that players have understanding of the particular skill. Ultimately, the coach will decide the type and amount of drills that are necessary before moving on to the next skill. For example, in the illustration below, the coach has decided to complete all three “Triple Threat Skill” drills and only two “Stationary Dribble Skill” drills before moving on.(see diagram next page)
As a coach, you will see that players range in their abilities in different aspects of the game. Differentiation is simply modifying a skill or a drill in order to challenge or meet the needs of your players and team. For example, you may have a player that is demonstrating skills above or below the majority of the group. While planning training, it is important to offer different drills within each skill that both challenge and enhance the skills of each player. This may be done at practices through individual stations, or perhaps it requires extra training outside of the group environment, such as after practices or within private training.
Often, coaches realize that the level of team may be inappropriate for a player. You may find yourself coaching a player that is too far below or too far above the skill set of the group. As a coach faced with either type of player, and after exhausting your options to develop that player, it may be necessary to recommend that the player join a program that can better enhance development. For example, this could involve recommending a more basic level program for a skilldeficient player, or suggesting a more competitive program for the player that is advanced in their skills.