Program Progression – Part 2 – Junior High

In the previous entry of Coach With A Purpose, I detailed the role of our youth program and today I will discuss the role of our Junior High program as the next step in our program progression.

When our kids got to 7th grade, they should have been introduced to the fundamentals of dribbling, passing, and shooting through our youth program.  Players that had participated in all 4 years of our youth program should have been able to perform the following to various degrees::

  1. Dribbling
  2. Dribble with either hand the length of the court without looking at the ball
  3. Execute a crossover and spin change of direction dribble
  4. Perform stationary dribbling drills used in junior high program
  5. Perform full court dribbling drills used in junior high program
  6. Execute basic passes – chest, bounce, straight step with either hand, overhead
  7. Perform stationary and  on-the-move passing drills used in junior high program
  8. Execute right and left hand layups
  9. Shoot set shots with correct technique
  10. Perform correct footwork for catch & shoot
  11. Perform correct footwork from triple threat position for drive step & crossover step
  12. Perform correct footwork off the pass


Hopefully, our youth program put us in the position to refine these skills as our players moved into our junior high program.  Without a doubt, there was always a noticeable gap in the skill level between players who had completed 4 years of our youth program versus those who had not.  Consequently, players who came through this program were the most prepared for junior high basketball.

In my opinion, the junior high basketball program was the life blood of our entire basketball program for several reasons.  First of all, for our seventh grade players it was their first opportunity to put on a White Oak uniform and it is was crucial for our overall program that this be a positive experience.  For some it was a continuation of the process they began in our youth program. For others, it was an opportunity to find out if basketball is something they wanted to invest time in. Whatever the situation, we did our best to provide all our 7th graders with an opportunity to decide if basketball was a sport they wanted to pursue.

Secondly, this was our opportunity to continue to emphasize the importance of fundamentals and to continue to develop these fundamentals. Simply put, I wanted our junior high program to send kids to the high school that could dribble, pass, and shoot. If our coaches and players embraced this philosophy, there was a great chance that success would follow.

Thirdly, this was the next step in identifying the players that were willing to make a commitment to our program and eventually contribute as a varsity player.  In order to accomplish this goal, I put stipulations on playing time for our junior high teams. For our coaches, this could be frustrating at times because it made it harder to win at the Junior High level.  For some players (and parents) it could also be frustrating because they wanted the instant gratification of winning now, while I was much more interested in the big picture.

In my opinion, the unquestioned most dominant factor in junior high athletics is puberty…mother nature holds the trump card!  It’s all too common to see kids who mature physically at a young age dominate junior high athletics and often never make it to the varsity level.  For this reason, we divided playing time in the following manner in order to help identify players who fit into the big picture. Our “A” team consisted of 10 players who play equally for the first 3 quarters of the game.  During the 4th quarter, playing time was left to the discretion of the coach. We also carried up to 10 players on our “B” team and used the same substitution pattern. If our opponents did not have a “B” team, we played an intramural type game with our “B” team players following our “A” team home games.  

The 16 to 20 players on the “A” and “B” teams practiced every day unless the 8th grade was sharing a gym with our 9th grade team.  On those days, only the “A” team would workout after school. We do not cut players in the junior high so all players practiced at least 30-40 minutes with their team each day.  Over the last 3 years of my tenure, we varied this format because we did not have as much participation in our youth program which limited the skill level of our players entering our junior high program.

I believe it is crucial for every head basketball coach to consider the value of “B” teams in the junior high.  We often played schools that cut players or never took their best players out of the game in junior high and I believe this is a short sighted philosophy.  For us, it was not uncommon for our junior high “B” team players to enter our high school offseason program, stay the course, and eventually become contributors on our varsity…it happened more times than not.  In fact, the first player I ever had make All-State was a “B” team player in junior high. Granted, that is the exception, but I was always on the lookout for the next David Mitchell !

In order to meet the goals for our junior high program, offenses and defenses had to be kept very simplistic to allow the needed practice time for fundamentals. We ran only our base offenses in junior high and only played “stay between your man and the basket” man to man defense.  We didn’t install our pressure man to man defensive system until the 9th grade.

Like all parts of our program, it was important that our players understand what was to be accomplished in our junior high program so it is crucial that our coaches take the time to explain in detail their role and how we intended to accomplish our goals.  As stated previously, this at times could be a hard sell to some kids/parents but fortunately, over the years, most learned to trust our program.

Without a doubt, one of the greatest advantages our program had was our 8th grade coach, Heath Locke….he was a flat out stud!  Coach Locke was our 8th grade coach for 14 years and he was the perfect example of knowing your role, executing your role, and seeing how it fits into the big picture.  When he came to White Oak, Coach Locke had a limited knowledge of basketball and that made him perfect for the job…he only knew the White Oak way and he believed in the White Oak way.  As a head coach, I never had to check up on him to see if he was doing his role, he was loyal to me and our kids. On top of that, he is a man of unquestioned integrity, has great character, and was a tremendous Christian role model for our kids.  He made my job a lot easier and I was blessed to get to work with him when I moved to our junior high.

In summary, the junior high program will be a difference maker for your overall basketball program.  You’re either going to gain ground or lose ground during these 2 years. To make it an asset, define your goals, make sure all involved understand the goals, and hold everyone accountable for their role.  

Below, I have listed the accountability areas for our junior high along with the staff duties of our junior high coaches.  Next entry, I will discuss the role of our summer basketball camp.

Until then, thanks for reading and Coach With A Purpose!

                                                                     MIDDLE SCHOOL ACCOUNTABILITY AREAS

Ball Handling

  •  Utilize triple threat position with the following points of emphasis:left foot as pivot foot(right handed shooter – permanent pivot   foot), bent knee athletic stance, shooting hand behind ball, guide hand on side of ball, wrist cocked, elbow tucked tightly     against player’s side, ball position next to hip
  •  Execute a crossover and pivot as a change of direction maneuver.
  •  Be efficient in dribbling with either hand while under duress.
  •  Be able to perform all dribbling skills without looking at the ball.


  •  Use correct shooting form with the following points of emphasis: feet square to basket, head still, shooting hand behind the ball, guide hand on side of the ball, elbow under the ball, “L” shape with shooting arm, elbow above eye level on extension, wrist “popped” on release, exaggerated follow through, eyes should remain on target.
  •  Use correct footwork – always pivot on left foot for right handed shooters
  •  Be able to shoot right and left hand layups with correct hand and footwork.


  •  Be able to correctly perform a chest pass, bounce pass, and overhead pass.
  •  Understand the concept of passing away from defenders.
  •  Execute a straight step and crossover step bounce pass to the post.


                                                          STAFF DUTIES


  1.  Run the drills and follow the procedures required by the head coach.
  2.  Help with high school and middle school tournaments.
  3.  Maintain grade checks on players.
  4.  Scout if needed
  5.  Fill out End of Season Report
  6.  Maintain equipment – shoes, uniforms, workout equipment, basketballs, blinders
  7.  Sell the basketball program



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