Technique and skill development often get all the attention in youth sports, while conditioning is ignored.
Conditioning might not be as fun as practicing layups, but it's just as important. Conditioning is the foundation on which performance is built. Poor fitness is often the cause of turnovers and other errors toward the end of a game. When a young athlete starts to fatigue, he or she can't play their best.
Conditioning drills help build endurance and have the added benefit of mixing up training and keeping kids engaged in the game instead of getting burnt out. Games and scrimmages remain important exercises for building an accomplished basketball player, but fitness drills are often the key to avoiding getting outplayed by another team.
To combine fun and fitness, here are some of the best conditioning drills to do with young players. These games and drills can all be tweaked depending on the age of the athletes and how many kids are playing. They can be conducted in a gym, at a park or in your own backyard or driveway.
Red Light, Green Light
This is a drill done in the spirit of the traditional Red Light, Green Light game, except it includes basketballs. Have players stand on one end of the court with basketballs in hand. Shout "green light" to instruct them to run forward while dribbling their balls and "red light" for them to freeze. This drill allows you to combine both short and longer intervals of running and dribbling. You may have them run the entire length of the court several times in a row or have them stop and start multiple times in one length in short order.
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Since youth players are generally too young to lift weights, you have to get creative with helping them build muscle strength. Relays achieve this and light that competitive fire. For these relays, break the kids into small groups and have them convene at one end of the court, yard or field. Demonstrate the following drills to them, either having them do one after the other, or stopping between each:
Crab Walk: With feet and hands flat on the ground and stomach facing the ceiling, crab walk the length of the court and sprint back.
Skipping: Skip down, emphasizing airtime with each skip, and sprint back.
Frankenstein: With arms extended out in front of the body and palms facing down toward the ground, kick one leg up toward your hands as you walk, followed by the other leg. Sprint back.
Split the team into two groups and have them stand at the far baseline. Assign each player a corresponding number. For instance, each of the two groups has someone assigned 1, 2, 3, 4 and so on. When you call out a number, the two players assigned that number will sprint to center court, grab a basketball, and dribble to make a layup. The team who scores first gets a point.
Stuck in the Mud
Depending on how many children are playing, define the boundaries of the game and choose a couple players who are "it." When one of the designated players tags one of the other players, that person gets stuck in the mud and must freeze where they are standing. The only way to get unstuck is for another player to crawl through their legs. This game can continue until all players are stuck and frozen in place.
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