3 on 3: The Key to Teaching Team Basketball

3 on 3 Basketball Training

Are You Using 3 on 3 As A Teaching Tool?

At a recent Elite Basketball Training skill development workout, the younger basketball players that I was working with (4th, 5th, and 6th graders) were tearing it up in the drills.  There were some talented young players who could flat out shoot the basketball, and some speedy little guards that could handle and pass the ball well.  These skills were all on display in the drills that we were working on however, when put into a live situation, there were glaring weaknesses that included knowledge of how to play the game and how to use their skills in a live game.

Concepts Reinforced By Three on Three

Concepts like court awareness, spacing, passing, moving without the ball and most definitely on and off the ball defense were lacking.  This scarcity of basketball IQ is a problem that is prevalent among many young basketball players but not always noticeable in a five on five game where, generally speaking, one or two players dominate the game by out dribbling their opponent up the court and scoring on a layup.  Because of this only those select few players ever have the ball in their hands long enough to pick up on these weaknesses.  Furthermore, most players on the court do not get the repetitions need to improve their skills in a game-like setting.  This ultimately makes for bad basketball and a poor learning experience for the majority of the players involved in five-on-five leagues.  It is for this reason that three on three basketball is a much better approach to developing the skills of youth basketball players.

Small Sided Game Development In Other Sports

As a basketball player who grew up also playing soccer (and having coached soccer at varying levels for ten years), small sided games were the norm and served as the basis for the development of young players.  The game of soccer at its highest level is played with 11 players on the field but in many cases is reduced to five a side and seven a side at the lower levels.  We also almost always used drills with 3-4 players in them at practice versus scrimmaging with all our players.  Why? These smaller sided situations give the players involved more opportunities to touch the ball while opening up space on the field to try new things and build confidence when doing so.  A similar comparison to soccer can be made with the sport of beach volleyball which is played with two players on the court versus indoor volleyball which is played with six.   Having only two players on the court, once again increases a player’s touches on the ball.  It also forces the player to learn all the skills of volleyball including passing, setting, hitting, etc.  Ultimately, these small-sided situations work really well for soccer and volleyball building highly skilled and versatile players in both situations.  If it works well in other sports,then why not use the same philosophy for basketball skill development as well as team offensive and defensive concepts?

3 On 3 And The Benefit of Space

With beginners, and even more advanced players, it is a good idea to teach the fundamental and advanced concepts of basketball in a three-on-three setting.  Three-on-three basketball (something we all grew up playing at the park a couple of decades ago) has some major advantages from a basketball teaching standpoint.  First, having a total of six players on the floor simplifies the game.  It opens the floor up and creates more space for beginners to learn a concept like moving without the ball.  To do so, start without defense (only 3 guys on the floor) and teach the basics of cutting such as pass and replace yourself and/or pass, cut, and replace.  Then move forward and teach them how to pass and screen away and pass and screen the ball.  Execute these movements as a progression over the course of practice or practices throughout the week(s) of your skill development clinics.  While running the players through these three-on-three drills, enforce spacing and catching in the triple threat position.  Too many players today catch the ball and immediately dribble it in place or into a corner or right back towards the players that just passed them the ball.  Have them come to triple threat position before they make the next pass or dribble and make sure that they keep their spacing on the floor while they pass and cut.  Once you feel that the players have accomplished this, add the defense back on the court.  With renewed confidence in their abilities, these players will be more inclined to try passing and cutting, or passing and screening because of the open space on the court  will create options that are more visible then they would be in a five-on-five setting.

Increased Repetition Benefit Of 3 On 3

The second reason teaching the game in a three-on-three setting is important is that the players will get more touches.  We have all seen it happen in five-on-five, where the best ball-handler sprints out ahead and scores before anyone even crosses half court.  Or where the same guy dribbles through everyone for the layup because he cannot find the open man due to players all just standing around.  This does not happen as often in three-on-three because players find it easier to get open since there is more space on the court.  As a result of getting open more frequently, they get to have the ball in their hand more often.  Having the ball in your hand more often allows the players involved to work on the skills of dribbling, driving, finishing, shooting, passing, etc. more than they would in a five-on-five game where they barely touch the ball.  This will also give the players a more realistic on court experience and not one where they are standing around watching one guy dribble. More often than not, this increase in touches and freedom to move will create better, more skilled, and confident basketball players.

Man To Man Accountability Focus

Beyond the offensive side of the ball, three-on-three is a great way to teach man-to-man team defensive concepts which should be the foundation of any defense that is taught at the youth levels.  In a three on three there is really no way to play zone.  Not being able to play zone forces players to learn how to defend their own man when that player not only has the ball in their hands but also when they do not.  Guarding a player with the ball or without the ball when they are one or two passes away are team defensive concepts that are often not learned at the youth levels where zone defenses are prominent.  Three-on-three basketball helps solve this defensive problem in a similar fashion to the way it does the offensive issues.  Once again, the limited number of players on the floor simplifies the drill for beginners by limiting the number of concepts being worked on at once,  creating more space (which actually makes it more challenging to guard), and giving players more repetitions to make mistakes and learn from .  However, three-on-three is also great to use for more advanced defensive concepts like defending cutters, screeners, and closing out when offensive players are on the move.

There is so much value in using three-on-three basketball as a teaching tool that a case can be made for young players only playing three-on-three until a certain age.  Once they have advanced far enough in the game of basketball to where they understand the basic concepts mentioned in this article they can then progress into five-on-five play. However, continuing to use three-on-three basketball in drills and practice settings will ensure that the  fundamentals of the team game are being learned and reinforceds along with the development of individual skills in a game like setting.  As a result, you will see a more complete basketball players who can not only dribble, pass, and shoot, but who can correctly cut, screen, and play defense as well.


Start Teaching Team Basketball Thru 3 on 3 Games!


3 responses to “3 on 3: The Key to Teaching Team Basketball”

  1. Mark says:

    Rich —

    I hope a lot of people/coaches/trainers read this…and especially parents. I started incorporating more 3 on 3 in my practices and I have 3rd grade son that plays more 3 on 3 games than 5 on 5. It has helped him and the youth teams I coach TREMENDOUSLY. We have won games simply because we understand court spacing on offense and defense. It has helped my son improve his off the ball movement, on and off ball defense. As a trainer I share with parents all the time to pursue 3 on 3 competition and not go from league to league to tourney to tourney. Continue to push the benefits on 3 on 3….it simplifies the game at any age level.

  2. […] Want to know more about the benefits of 3 on 3 in basketball training – check out this article from my friend Rich Stoner.  […]

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