Young Athletes and Skill Sets


KISS Me: Skill Setting the Jump Shot for young athletes (Part I)


My college kinesiology professor may have been the first to introduce me to the KISS Principle, but I have come across it many times since. “Keep it simple, stupid!” is a mantra we might all do well to give some thought as we develop our programming. In my opinion, there is simply no better way of “keeping things simple” than skill setting.


A long time IYCA staple, skill setting is the process of breaking down movement patterns into smaller elements, teaching and refining those elements, then reconstructing them back into a full sequence that may eventually be perfected. The fun part is that skill sets need not be confined simply to boring and/or repetitive exercises. They are equally effective in simplifying complex sport skills, as well. And just like kids will eat their vegetables on the promise of a tasty dessert at the end of the meal, we need not withhold all form of “sticks and balls” for the sake of long-term athletic development. Oftentimes a well placed sport drill can enhance attention and give razor sharp purpose to a particular conditioning session.


For example, I enjoy playing and coaching basketball. Of all sports, I am probably best prepared to coach the sport I played every day from about the age of 5 until around 20. If I want to teach a proper jump shot, I will typically break it into a skill set. Here’s an example:


  1. Catch
  2. Set
  3. See
  4. Dip
  5. Extend
  6. Flip
  7. Crash


Now a seven step process is too much for any young athletes to remember, so once we sum each skill together,we simplify it a bit.


1. Set (includes catching the ball, setting the feet and seeing the rim)


2. Dip


3. Flip (includes the extension/jump of the body and the subsequent landing)


However, for teaching’s sake, the more specific seven step breakdown is probably best. Today let’s takea look at the first three component parts.


1. Catch: Here is where we let the athlete experiment a bit with hand placement and “looking the ball in.” The teaching cue is that it is impossible to shoot consistently without consistent hand placement. Do they prefer a middle finger touching a seam on the ball? I do. Train the athlete to feel ball and rapidly position it in the hands after the catch. The dominant hand should be positioned to do the work (the “flip”), and the “off” hand is there to balance the ball and guide it toward the target. Again, let the athlete experiment with different methods and develop a level of comfort. Simple catching drills of most any sort can be used here with good success. For younger kids, using a balloon will produce giggles and smiles while also helping to develop critical hand/eye coordination.


2. Set: No skyscraper was ever built without first having an appropriate foundation. So too, with the shooter’s feet. Typically, the foot opposite the dominant hand will be slightly forward, while the foot on the same side as the dominant hand will be back. This will allow the shooter to use momentum in “stepping into” the jump shot, much like an approach run helps a high jumper gain height. The coach can provide challenges that require the athlete to set the feet after receiving passes from various directions. Chest passes, bounce passes, and two hand overhead passes provide variety. Mid-range rebounding drills with subsequent shooting can be beneficial, too. I prefer to provide several reps of known drills before working in any level of variability. Use verbal cues so that on the “SET!” command, the athlete positions him/herself with appropriate foot and hand placement with the eyes up.


3. See: One of the easiest adjustments many shooters can make to improve accuracy and consistency is to learn to “aim small, miss small.” Put another way, if a shooter does not consistently pick a small target to aim/shoot for or focus on (usually a single net hook or a specific spot on the rim), he or she will be aiming for a large target and will be far less consistent. A trick I like to use is to paint small fluorescent dots around the inside of the rim. As the shooter moves around the perimeter, he or she can “catch,” then “set” while seeing the small highly visible dot on the rim. This point can be further illustrated with numerous kinesthetic differentiation drills where athletes can discover the value and enhanced accuracy associated with aiming “small.”


Tune in next time as I continue to skill set the jump shot, as we learn to dip, extend, flip, and crash!



Dr. Toby Brooks serves at the Director of Research and Education for the IYCA. Brooks is currently an Assistant Professor in the Master of Athletic Training Program at the Texas Tech University Health Science Center in Lubbock and is Co-Founder and Creative Director of NiTROHype Creative.
young athletes

3 Responses

  1. jim says:

    Great read. I coach youth sports year round and we break things down into small steps. What a great difference it makes. No different than breaking down a plyometric exercise or learning how to throw combinations while boxing.

    Broken into small pieces and than made whole. That is the key to sports and athletic development.

  2. Good reminder. I’m about to run the inaugural Soccer SAQ program for Seattle United Soccer Club and I will training new coaches and trainers for the project.

    There are already several step by step processes in our system but I see how I can combine some of the in set’s of three to make them more memorable as well as easier to learn for the kids.

    Thanks Toby,


  3. Rick Kaselj says:

    Thanks for another well-written article, Brian. Skill setting enables us to achieve more overall as each aspect becomes more manageable and well developed.

    Rick Kaselj
    of ExercisesForInjuries.com

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