(Excerpted from the author's book, "Top Basketball Coaching: A Higher Level of Coaching & Playing", available through Lulu.com )
When you have to teach small kids how to dribble, first use an appropriate-sized ball that will help to instill confidence and success.
Begin in such a way as to enable the player to be able to control the ball. If the ball is too big, control will be extremely difficult. Look at the hand size compared to the ball. Does the hand look lost on the ball? If so, the ball is obviously too big.
All players need dribbling skill. It's not just a point guard or a hard-driving forward who needs to control the ball. All players need control over the ball all the time it's in their possession, whether setting up a play, slashing to the basket or backing their defender down deep in the paint.
But, even before these kinds of activities can become part of a player's offensive arsenal, the player needs to begin with control.
I will start by having young players down on one knee, where they can have the most control, as we begin to work on very basic aspects of dribbling.
Since many beginners slap at the ball, dribble only with their dominant hand and watch the ball while they dribble, I want a starting place where I can remove these tendencies and still have them dribbling.
I have used a drill for years that has been successful in teaching children to overcome faults and insecurities while allowing them to master the dribble.
I get the players in a circle around me, down on one knee, forming an "h" with the up-leg. The down knee is the strong hand dribble side and the up-leg is opposite the ball side. The "h' should be created by right angles – the thigh of the down-leg forming a right angle with the hip on that side.
With the ball side knee down, I have the players put the ball on the floor, in front of the down-knee and even with the heel of the up-foot. Then I have them place their ball side hand on the ball, with fingers wide spread as if trying to pick up the ball with their fingers. Now they must back off the hand pressure enough so the palm is not touching the ball, just the fingers and the pad of the knuckles. This is the contact we want while dribbling.
Next, still down on one knee, have them pick up the ball, with the off hand and with the finger/hand placement just described above, begin to bounce the ball in front of the down knee in the space created between the down-knee and the up-foot. (Coaches, check to see that the ball is not meeting the palm and is being dribbled only by the fingers. The thumb and pinkie are extended wide on each side. The emphasis now shifts to the movement of the arm during the dribble and avoiding slapping at the ball.)
We don't want a loose, floppy wrist nor a totally rigid one. There must be some flex to the wrist. The ball is dribbled by pushing down the forearm from the elbow; the down stroke pushing the ball toward the floor and on the upstroke keeping the forearm parallel to the floor—90 degrees.
While still in the down position, and practicing the hand/elbow action, place the non-dribbling elbow on the knee of the up-leg. Extend the arm and hand at 90 degrees toward the ball, palm down (as in first photo). The hand is now level with the up-knee and at the height where we want the ball to be bounced. This hand is now acting as a guide for the player to keep from dribbling higher than the extended hand.
Dribbling while down on one knee is an easy task to perform. Because the beginner is so low to the floor we are minimizing the time the ball is out of the player's hand. This minimizes mistakes and gives the child a chance to learn to control the ball.
Change sides, other knee down, etc., and go through the same action with the other hand. Have each player practice this knee down dribbling with both the strong hand and the other hand, until they have mastered dribbling in this position with both hands. Coaches, check that the wrist and elbow are not over-flexing. This would cause slapping at the ball and loss of control. Check the finger/hand contact with the ball.)
(Coaches, when their knees get tired, have them stand up and bounce the ball for a minute, then go back down.)
When the coach feels the players are doing well with either hand, have them dribble the ball out around the up-foot and then back to the down-foot, without changing the point of body balance. Do this several times and control will increase. Switch sides and hands and do the same thing to the other side. Make sure the up-leg continues to form a perfect "h".
After the players have learned to control the dribble with either hand, can dribble out around the front foot and to the back foot with either hand, now have them push the ball through the "h" while still dribbling the ball. If they have the legs properly aligned it will take a few tries for most kids to get it down. After they get it, then they can go back and forth between the leg, from one hand to the other, without interrupting the dribble. It's fun for them and they're learning to become one with the ball, feeling like the ball is an extension of their hand.
Because the ball is only being dribbled about 15 inches off the floor, this is the best place to learn to dribble without looking at the ball. Still down, and with the opposite arm extended across to the ball, have the dribbler look up, facing a coach or another player. While holding that eye contact, do all the same things they just learned with the ball, only without looking at the ball. They'll look, but keep after them to do more and more without looking. They'll be pleased at being able to control the ball and push it under the up-leg, all without looking at the ball.
I've had hundreds of kids around the world learn to dribble in just this way, using this simple building block method of teaching. We give them such a small area to maneuver the ball, that we limit the chances for errors and increase the chances for success.
Links for the dribbling drills below and teaching information can be located at http://www.top-basketball-coaching.com/beginningdribbling :
Teaching Basketball Dribbling
A Coach's Favorite Dribbling Drill