Basketball is regarded as one of the most popular sports worldwide. A considerable number of players start practicing basketball as early as 5–6 years of age. In the United States of America (USA), the National Basketball Association and the USA Basketball league created the “Youth Basketball Guidelines” [1
], which aimed to promote the physical health of players; to develop age- and stage-appropriate skills; and to foster the development of peer relationships, self-esteem and leadership qualities. These guidelines provide age-appropriate standards that follow the maturation of children. The guidelines focus on the game structure (i.e., game length, timeouts), the tactics (i.e., how to set the defence) and the rules (i.e., how to manage substitutions). In Italy, the basketball association (Federazione Italiana Pallacanestro) involves more than 300,000 coaches, players and young players [2
]. In fact, basketball is the second most popular sport after soccer.
Italian basketball coaches for young players complete two-year vocational training before transitioning to practice. During this training period, the focus is largely placed on the physical, social and emotional development of the participating children [3
]. Their training needs to include adequate consideration of the aerobic resistance, motor abilities and socio-emotional development of the children [4
]. There have been suggestions that training should also engage cognition. For instance, the coaches should incorporate problem-solving games in order to try to foster imaginative processes [5
] and develop timing and spacing abilities in their players. In any case, there is a lack of knowledge and specific information that is required for encouraging the cognitive development of these young children during basketball training. Considering the importance of cognitive abilities in motor learning, this lack of knowledge on cognitive skills could have an impact on training. Newell’s Theory of Constraints [6
] provides a complete framework for the correlation between cognitive and motor abilities. The type of task, the environment and the capabilities of the individual player influence the motor performance. For instance, the quality of a jump depends on the environmental constraints (i.e., the surface type, the environmental stability), on the task demand (i.e., to jump beyond an object, one/two legs) and on personal characteristics (i.e., strength, cognition, sensitivity). Through this model, Newell demonstrated the reciprocal integration that exists between the dynamic motor and cognitive systems. There is evidence that supports this integration, which was obtained from both healthy [7
] and clinical samples [9
]. Focusing on motor control, Coker [11
] provided an example of this integration in basketball practice. In fact, motion and cognition can collaborate as an integrated system to provide the motor control of the gestures. Motor control focuses on the neural, physical and behavioural aspects that are necessary to produce the correct movements [12
]. In basketball practice, these systems are required to refine and re-learn motor-skills, such as intercepting a ball at the correct time or improving the landing biomechanics to prevent injuries. Prerequisite abilities, such as control precision, multi-limb coordination, rate control, aiming and catching, timing control and dynamic flexibilities, are necessary for learning basketball. In this sense, cognitive and motor systems can be integrated to guarantee the best possible motor performance. Evidence has demonstrated that physical activity has an important impact on the development of the executive functions in children [13
In this study, we hypothesised the opposite as we suggested that the introduction of a cognitive aspect would have an impact on basketball practice of children between 7 and 11 years old. In fact, this study focuses on the importance of a keen consideration of the cognitive aspects during basketball learning and practice. To introduce this type of approach, it is essential to analyse the relations between motor and cognitive skills of this particular sample. The preliminary aim of this study is to verify how the young basketball players normally develop motor and cognitive abilities, especially considering attention and memory functions. The purpose is not to compare basketball players to other athletes but to assess them with respect to the general Italian population. Furthermore, we wanted to understand if and how attention and memory abilities could be stimulated during basketball practice. Considering actual basketball practice, the main aim of this study is to propose the involvement of some specific executive functions tasks during basketball practice. Using the following results, we will be able to acquire a deeper understanding of the development of these young basketball players in order to provide some suggestions to coaches about the relevance of cognitive development in basketball practice.