Pushing kids younger than age 12 to be aggressive in basketball play is more counterproductive to their development than it is helpful. Kids that age aren’t wired to be aggressive in their studies, in their playtime/freetime and certainly not in sports. Wanting to win badly at that age isn’t a kid’s priority so as a coach, instructor and teacher, you can’t push him or her to chase loose balls, to drive harder to the basket, to box out harder for rebounds, or to get physical with on-ball defense.
Yes, kids can be rowdy and competitive, and may show a desire to win, but when it backfires, it can hurt their confidence, which is what aggressiveness is all about – confidence in your ability to assert yourself physically, mentally and socially.
The #1 goal for kids should still be to learn and to have fun, so instead, keep the focus on that but show them model examples of players like Joakim Noah and Draymond Green – players that are aggressive, but radiate fun on the basketball court. Encourage playing hard over playing aggressive. As they grow older, and competition levels increase, they’ll start to recognize aggression as a quality that differentiates good players from ok players.
Teach them what aggression means and what it doesn’t.
Teach them it’s not about violent or combative behavior. Teach them it’s not about trash talking or mocking other players. Teach them how to react when others get aggressive with them and how (not) to react, how to feel, and how to keep focused.
Reframe aggression to enthusiasm:
Shooting – If the kid misses a few shots, encourage him or her that only the next shot matters. Don’t worry about missing the last shot, don’t worry about missing the next shot.
Rebounding – Encourage the kid to keep his or her eyes every time a shot goes up and to get one hand on it; not worry about whether the rebound is grabbed or not.
Passing – Reward each and every pass, no matter how incorrect the technique, no matter if it leads to an assist, no matter if it’s a turnover. Over time, this will help kids increase enthusiasm of teamwork.
Dribbling – Teach kids how to POUND dribble. Not only is it a proper way to handle the ball, but it channels the aggression and will eventually teach them to better bring the ball up the court and to drive to the basket.
High Fiving – Teach kids to give a high five, to give fist bumps, and to say words of encouragement as many times as possible throughout a practice or game. It’s another form of positive aggression that won’t compromise FUN.
Hustling – Teach kids how fun it is to hustle back down the court without pushing them to run, run, run.