3 Secrets to Developing Young Players At Home

How kids can best grow and develop outside of practice

Iva-Marie Palmer

| 4 min read

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For many kids, a team practice or two each week is plenty. But some players — and their parents — want more. And the secret to development isn’t such a secret: Players need to put in the time outside of practices and game day.

But how should parents go about it?

We spoke to three different coaches, from three different sports, about how best to help young players develop. And despite their different backgrounds, each coach agreed that one thing is essential: letting the player lead.

Focus on values, first

Jeff Christensen, founder and owner of Showcase Basketball, in Burbank, California

Christensen’s overarching tip for parents who want to help kids develop is a good one for any sport: “Restrain yourself.” 

Sometimes less is more, he says.

“The kids we see who have rapid development — going from nothing to something — you don’t see it being demanded or forced upon them by their parents,” says Christensen, who has worked with the NBA on basketball development projects in Europe. “That almost never works. It’s one in a thousand.”

Players who thrive often have parents or caregivers who put values above specific techniques or tactics. Says Christensen, they “emphasize discipline, work ethic, and coachability without directing or telling their kid exactly what they have to do.”

It’s a win-win. 

“With parents who teach the importance of those traits and philosophies more generally, the child is able to figure out what they actually enjoy and incorporate those traits,” says Christensen.

 

Develop the athlete, regardless of the sport

Art Moreno, flag football coach for NFL Flag Pasadena in Southern California

Moreno, who trains youth flag football players, says that kids who work on being a better athlete in general often wind up doing better at flag football.

If your child is enjoying the game, an extra training program or clinic can be really helpful, Moreno says. But it doesn’t have to be sport-specific. Think about developing core skills like agility, speed — or, for older kids, strength and conditioning. 

“Working on your skills is like filling your toolbox. Kids are more prepared,” he says. “When they show up prepared… wow. They’re playing out of their heads — they’re fast and loose and playing with mental clarity.”

When Moreno and his staff run training sessions, they focus on fun and camaraderie.

“You disguise some of the conditioning as a game,” he says. “Then they’re pushing each other without even thinking about it.”
 

Keep it player-driven

Betsy Jacketti, recreational director, Mandeville Youth Soccer Club, Mandeville, Louisiana

Jacketti, who coached at the college level for more than 20 years, agrees with the idea that extra training — at all ages — should be player-driven, not parent-driven.

“Parents with kids ages 6 to 12 should use the opportunity to bond with their child,” says Jacketti. “This encourages their child to have a love for the game, in an unstructured, no-pressure environment.” 

What you work on will vary by player, Jacketti says, but most kids enjoy small challenges or even playing games versus their parents, where they aren’t even aware that they’re training. The focus should be on “play, not practice,” she says.

For older kids, individual technical training should be 100 percent player-driven, says Jacketti, as players “begin to take more ownership and accountability for their game.”

But parents can still be involved.

At older ages, she says, the challenges a parent can assist with are more training-based not play-based. Parents can help by throwing balls in the air, tracking timed challenges or even taking video to watch later. It can be as simple as asking, “Do you want to work on receiving today?” 

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