When a child first starts playing basketball it’s common for parents (and uninformed coaches) to push them into choosing a position. It’s usually no surprise that many parents want their child to take on a role that will see them scoring points. However, most coaches and professional players agree that the best course of action is to teach young players how to excel at all positions for the first several years of game play. A must in youth sports, and common even at the highest levels now, this is referred to as “positionless basketball“. Not only does this help them to become a more well-rounded player, it can also help them to find the position they were meant to play.

When should kids pick a position?

The simple answer is that most kids shouldn’t start thinking about picking a position until they are at least 10 or 12 years old. But even that number isn’t a solid guideline, so it’s important to keep that in mind. In fact, it’s completely normal if kids don’t pick a steady position until they’re 15 or 16 years old.

It’s also not uncommon for a child to choose one position and end up changing their mind down the road, once they’ve had a chance to actually play it exclusively.

In the same vein as not choosing one specific position, it’s also not a bad thing for kids to choose to play more than one sport. Each sport they play can teach them unique skills that will translate well onto any playing field. Whether kids play soccer, basketball, baseball or another team sport, it’s never a good idea to force them into a position too soon.

“If you’re short you should play guard”  “If tall you should play the “big” (centre). These statements are all wrong and slotting players into roles early curtails their overall development. In the end, they have a lesser chance of becoming a complete player. Also, a “small” child now might grow immensely and a “tall” child now may stop growing early relative to the group and end up actually being better suited to a different position as they mature.

Go Positionless! Top reasons not to assign positions to young ball players

When coaching young players, it is essential that the focus is on having fun and developing well rounded ball skills rather than pigeonholing them into a specific position before they’ve even learned the game. There are many reasons why putting the effort into teaching each player how to play multiple positions is a strategy that will pay for both them and their teammates.

Their opportunities should be expanded, not shrunk

Allowing young players the chance to learn many positions and master some of the key components of a strong game will only help them succeed in the long run. Youth basketball should be centered on the idea of creating strong athletes, not just a player that can excel in their specific position only.

Kids grow and mature at different rates

It’s natural to pick the tall kid on the team and put them into the post position or assign the shortest to point guard but that is likely to hold them back in the long run. If kids are pushed into positions because of their size when they are young and then their size plateaus or increases rapidly, they may no long suit those positions. However, if they haven’t been given enough of a chance to learn other positions and skills, they may have a hard time figuring out how to succeed on the court.

Modern players have to be versatile

Thanks to a changing game style, it’s no longer acceptable for certain players on the court to do the ball handling while others do the blocking or shooting. It’s becoming more important for all players to be able to effectively dribble, pass, shoot and block, rather than specializing in only one or 2 of these court skills.

Skill development increases fun and confidence

Kids who play youth sports generally want to do so because they are fun. If they get assigned to a position too early it’s more likely that they will experience increased pressure and possible burnout. When kids get the chance to really hone their skills, learn the basics of game play and have the opportunity to try out a number of different positions, they are more likely to fall in love with the game and play for years to come.

Youth sports should focus on fun and complete development

Regardless of how old a child is when they start to play basketball or another sport, they likely decided to play because they wanted to have fun. The best way to help a young player narrow down which position they’d like to play is to encourage their fun and skill development while helping them to learn and practice a variety of roles on the court.