Could 3 on 3 Basketball Be the Best for Youth Players?

By Joe Haefner

Back in college, I came back to my hometown for a Christmas break. I ran into one of my old high school coaches by the name of Casey Ditch and we were talking about youth basketball stuff. Then he said, “Man, I wish all they did with youth players was play 3-on-3. That’s all I did when I was younger.” This really caught my attention, because Casey had developed into quite a player back in his day. He led the state in scoring, beating out former Chicago Bull Bobby Hansen (for those of you who remember him). He did unbelievable stuff with the ball and still could. If it wasn’t for two bad ankles, who knows what Casey would’ve done. We had a particular coach in the area who bragged about holding him to 15 points.

If Casey became such a good player by mostly playing 3 on 3 HALF-COURT as a youth, don’t you think your players could benefit from this as well?

When I thought a little more about the conversation I had with Casey, I realized that I played a lot of 3 on 3 when I was younger, too. I started playing in 3 on 3 tournaments when I was in 4th grade. I didn’t start playing organized 5 on 5 until 6th grade, and I handled myself quite well against players who had been playing since they were 8 years old.

If you think about it, 3 on 3 HALF-COURT basketball makes a lot of sense. It will improve a youth player’s long-term development for a number of reasons.

1. Players touch the ball more often. In the 5 on 5 game, players can go almost the whole game without touching the ball. In 3 on 3, you could touch the ball EVERY possession. When the player gets more experience handling the ball during game situations, the player is going to improve much more than the players who hardly touch the ball in 5 on 5. It doesn’t matter if you are the point guard or the star post player, you’re still going to get more touches in 3 on 3.

2. More room to operate. A lot of younger players, especially under the age of 12 don’t have the skill, strength, or experience to utilize their basketball skills with 10 players on the court. 3 on 3 gives them more room to operate and practice their skills.

3. Players learn the game! When there are only six (3 on 3) players on the court, players are more inclined to run the pick-and-roll, screen away, and screen the ball without a coach even telling them to do so, because there are fewer options out there. After awhile, they will start to figure things out for themselves which is FANTASTIC and exactly what you want the players to do. With ten (5 on 5) players on the court, a lot of those options aren’t there, because they lack the skill, strength, and experience. Now, with fewer players on the court, it gives them a split second longer to recognize a situation.

4. No pressing & zones. Now, instead of spending time on breaking full court pressure, breaking half-court pressure, playing against a 1-3-1, playing against 3-2, playing against a 2-3, playing against a triangle-and-two, playing against a box-and-one, you can focus on the FUNDAMENTALS. Youth coaches waste so much of their precious time working on things that they shouldn’t worry about at an early age.

99% of the presses that are ran by youth coaches wouldn’t work in high school or college, anyways. Most of the presses I’ve seen, just run 2 to 3 players at the ball and hope he throws the ball high enough, so somebody else can pick it off. It’s just a tactic that takes advantage of a flaw in our basketball development system, because players lack the skill, strength, and experience to react correctly to these situations. Spending that extra time on basketball skills and concepts, will benefit them much more for the future. Not to mention, if taught incorrectly (which most of the time they are), the zones and presses can ingrain some terrible habits in your players that don’t work at the higher levels.

Personally, I feel that youth players should not play in 5 on 5 leagues before age 10 or 11. Part of me feels that may even be too young.

What are your thoughts?

86 Comments

  1. PETER.MAKANJUOLA OHIOKHIE — December 4, 2008 @ 3:22 am

    THIS HAS BEEN A GOOD DRILL I WILL START TO USE IT AFTER XMAS BREAK, WE ARE IN XMAS BREAK FOR NOW WE ARE REUNITING ON THE 5TH OF JANUARY 2009.THE PLAY A BASKETBALL MATCH WITH AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL LAGOS NIGERIA. A WEEK AFTER THEN I CAN GIVE MY COMMENT FULLY ON THE DRILLS

  2. betterman1733 — December 4, 2008 @ 4:28 am

    In my country, Malaysia, 3on3 is a Street-Basketball Competition.Personally, I think this type of Competition is actually doing more harm than benefit to the young players.It is too physical and the kids will learn bad tactics, rather than playing good basketball!

  3. Wim — December 4, 2008 @ 5:01 am

    3 on 3 can be very good to learn the game – many youth coaches formed at the university use it
    Youngsters play it half court, sometimes even with a second basket at midcourt.
    Give some rules (e.g. 1,2…passes at least,pass and cut,no screens…)
    Players like it because everybody touches the ball.Use it to teach.
    3 on 3-games as a tournement and without refs can of course be rough.

  4. Coach B — December 4, 2008 @ 7:51 am

    I like to run a 3 on 3 version we call “cutthroat”.
    If the offense scores they stay on. If the defense causes a turnover, they become offense and the other 3 sitting out becomes defense. Rotate players quickly. Fast pace and fun. Helps to teach quick change situations.

  5. Rich — December 4, 2008 @ 8:02 am

    Great Post. I agree completely. I train many players at the youth level and we always play 3-on3. I am also a varsity coach, and I use 3-on-3 as breakdown drills for the offense. We really need to continue to do this and get back to teaching our kids how to play basketball and not run plays.

  6. juruni mandy — December 4, 2008 @ 8:55 am

    i teach grade 3 to 6,next term after the xmas break we have basketball as a unit.i will concentrate alot on 3 on 3.thanx alot

  7. Alireza — December 4, 2008 @ 11:52 am

    this is a best trainig for player
    tanks a lot

  8. Mauro Panaggio — December 4, 2008 @ 12:09 pm

    I agree wholeheatedly. As a high school, college, and profession league coach; I used 3on3 basketball as a breakdown drill on a regular basis to assimilate the basic movements into our overall offense. I think many
    youth leagues try to teach offenses that are way behond the comprehension
    level for the age of most participants.

  9. Russell — December 4, 2008 @ 1:43 pm

    Great Site and Thanks.
    I am new at coaching. I am teaching ages 8-10. I saw this web site and now
    are using Drills and Plays off of this site. I have practice tonight. I
    will do this 3 on 3. This I hope will help the Kids get ready for their
    fist game Sat. Again Thanks

  10. Tom Whitaker — December 4, 2008 @ 2:55 pm

    Fantastic article. I agree, although I don’t think you will ever stop younger players from playing 5 on 5 full court, but we could at least encourage more three on three.
    How many times have you watched younger kids play five on five full court. Alot of the action is just dribbling back and fourt. The player who gets the defensive rebound often just dribbles the length of the floor and shoots. There are countless turnovers. Worst of all there is little ball movement and some kids never touch the ball.. Throw in presses, traps, and zone defenses and it doesn’t even resemble basketball. Kids should learn to play one on one, then two on two and three on three before competently before ever playing five on five.
    While coaching in Peoria Illinois during the 1990′s I had the opportunity to watch the Manual High School Teams that won four straight state championships and one muythical national championship. I was coaching in one of their feeder schools and was able to watch alot of their practices. They did alot of three on three work and it really helped them. The kids also really enjoyed it. I started doing this and it helped my teams, too.
    Besides the reasons listed above it also allowed my players to bettter learn the fundemental compondents of what I was teaching in our simple half court attack. It also made practice more fun.
    I even used it in P.E class and it not only helped kids develop their basketball skills but it got allowed more kids to play at one time, made it easier for everyone to get opportunities to handle the ball, make plays, and shoot. It also was great for teaching teamwork, the ability to get along with others, and other social skills. Even the kids who didn’t especially like basketball got alot out of it. It was a wonderful activity.
    I favor three on three for another reason, also. It can be played in driveways, cul de sacs, back yards, barn yards, and just about anywhere you can nail up a hoop. I used to see old milk crates nailed to telephone poles with kids playing three on three, two on two, or one on one. Three on three is alot easier for kids to play without adul;t supervision. If you can get a friend, three freeinds, or five freinds you can get together and play. Everyone touches the ball mpore so there is less bickering over that. Kids can also use try to make plays that they can’t do in five on five. It is a great way for them to have fun and develop their game. I agree totally that it is the best way for youth players to play.

  11. CAZ — December 4, 2008 @ 3:20 pm

    I AM IN MY 30TH YEAR AS A MIDDLE SCHOOL PE TEACHER AND HAVE ALWAYS USED 3 0
    ON 3 BASKETBALL IN MY GAMES FOR THE REASONS LISTED IN YOUR ARTICLE; MORE
    TOUCHES, MORE ROOM, AND MORE MOVEMENT. GREAT ARTICLE

  12. Doug Wick — December 4, 2008 @ 5:57 pm

    Great stuff Joe. I’m going to get my 4th grade team to work on this at our next practice. It gives us more time to coach to since we have several coaches. One group can be at one end of the floor coaching while the other is at the other end. Hopefully it can rekindle a couple of the boys enthusiasm for the game as well. They like to learn and produce!

  13. angelo — December 4, 2008 @ 8:11 pm

    I think this is a great way to work on different skills and to promote team passing. Eight and nine year olds have a hard time trying to play man to man defence with five players.this will simplify alot of things and make it fun for the kids who dont see the ball alot in a real game situation. I will try this next practice!

  14. Jim — December 4, 2008 @ 11:04 pm

    I am appalled at the 3 on 3 contests for the heavy contact by players and for the injuries that occur. Players are taking a risk driving to the basket because their opponents have nothing to lose by fouling. It is a rough, tough journey playing 3 on 3 and the only benefit would be for players who need to be more aggressive. Fouling is a big part of the 3 on 3 game.
    I think organizations like American Youth Basketball Tour are much better since they have officials, coaches teaching fundamentals and kids must play 40-60% of all games. It helps all kids and not just the good or great ones to develop skills in a safe atmosphere.

  15. audelio cerezo — December 5, 2008 @ 4:36 am

    I agree with you Joe ! I have been a basketball coach for elementary boys for 4 years now and I have noticed that some players of mine have lose confidence in playing the game simply because they don’t get to touch the ball often in their practices. In a 3 on 3 situation, I know I will be able to build their confidence more and their skills in ball handling and shooting even better.

  16. Joe Haefner — December 5, 2008 @ 10:36 am

    For those of you said that 3 on 3 tournaments can get out of hand and become too rough, I completely agree.

    Rather, you could implement 3 on 3 games during practice to teach concepts and skills.

    You could also develop a league that has coaches and officials to supervise to enforce the rules and keep things safe.

    Yesterday, after I posted this article, I received an email from Martin Spencer of the United Kingdom. He has started a 3 on 3 league called “Take 6 Mini-Basketball.” I think what he’s doing is outstanding and will tremendously help the long-term development of youth players. He has also worked with FIBA to help develop this in the Middle East and Africa. He also told me that this sort of league is the norm in Europe.

    For those of us in the US, I think we should take note that this may be one of the reasons that the rest of the world has caught up with us in basketball.

    If you would like to know more about the league, check out: http://www.mini-basketball.org.uk/

  17. Rob Williams — December 5, 2008 @ 12:30 pm

    I couldnt agree more with your philosphy on coaching young players. a balance of discovery learning to develop creative GAMES players- no matter what the sport is essential to allow the fun element to be instilled. The key is for a coach to know when to interject with advice and instruction to enable quicker development of a player or group.
    A great site- thanks!
    Rob UK

  18. Danny — December 7, 2008 @ 1:38 am

    It is great. I will try to do so. I would to shoul what the children will be…

  19. Coach Mike — December 7, 2008 @ 5:05 am

    I’ve also coached youth soccer and there is a big move toward small sided games as a teaching tool at younger ages. I think 3 v 3 is a great tool in practices, but 3 v 3 youth leagues, or “And 1″ street ball? No. But, as a practice tool, within the parameters of a team’s offensive and defensive strategies, and player development, 3 v 3 can teach a lot. One of my mentors who has won several state H.S. basketball championships goes further: He always has 1 v 1, 2 v 2, and 3 v 3 mixed into every practice. It’s the way we used to learn at the playground, or city courts, each new player adding a complexity and a new set of options. Your comments will have me using 3 v 3 more. Thanks for the reminder!

  20. Coach David Rowe — December 8, 2008 @ 7:29 am

    I have just come back from a State Championship in which both City and Country kids play off against each other. I found that my team was aware of the moves and positioning for motion offense, however when the game started and the defensive pressure went on the offense disappeared out the door. I will try 3 : 3 and let you know the results. Sounds like a great idea.

  21. Coach Victor Preston — December 9, 2008 @ 8:15 am

    I am a basketball coach at Nimitz 9th grade and I’m a believer in 3 on 3 basketball and I tell my kids to pass, shoot or drive so they will not spend time dribbling a lot, I call it three on three for three because, they only get three minutes to play. If anyone holds the ball over 5 seconds it’s an automatic turnover. Sometimes its best that I officiate these games also.

  22. SportNut — December 13, 2008 @ 11:28 pm

    Great post. I completely agree that 3-on-3 is much more effective at teaching basketball fundamentals than 5-on-5.

    When I used to coach 1st and 2nd graders, we would spend at least half our practice in 2-on-2 and 3-on-3 drill/game situations even though the league games were 5-on-5.

    Now that I’m at the high school level, I still spend about half our time running drills that utilize 2-on-2 and 3-on-3 game playing to work on the fundamentals of passing, screening, close out on a shooter, defense, …. These are my favorite type of drills, but just as importantly, these are also the players favorite drills so they work hard to master the skills (I don’t have to constantly be trying to motivate them).

    Brian
    http://basketball.youth-athlete.org

  23. Coach Santos — December 14, 2008 @ 11:48 am

    I definitely agree with guided 3-on-3 as a practice tactic. After reading this article I tried it in my 8th grade practice. GREAT results!

    I used this as a good opportunity for them to practice pick/roll, screen away, weave-screen, and backdoor moves (with me stopping the action and offering guidance of course.) To my happy surprise… after the 3-on-3 sessions were done, we went into a full 5-on-5 scrimmage to practice our offensive set… and suddenly the cuts, the screens, the ball movement I had been begging for all season were there!

    I also noticed that the best team in our league (who kicked our butts the first game of the season with great screens, cuts, and ball movements) played ONLY quick 3-on-3 pick up games as a pre-game warm-up. I think I’ll be trying this!

    In practice, we did a variation that focuses on defense, found here: http://www.coachesclipboard.net/3on3defensivedrill.html

    The players loved it, the intensity went up 3 notches, there was better shot selection and rebounding and overall better basketball. I wish I’d have known this simple tip earlier!

  24. James Manguba — December 15, 2008 @ 8:53 pm

    Hey, this is a really good article that interests me!
    I’ve got a 10 year old brother who’s grown up playing 5 on 5, and I wonder how much better he could be right now if he grew up playing 3 on 3.

  25. chuck — December 22, 2008 @ 5:51 pm

    I feel sorry for coaches (and kids who play for “drill sergents) who haven’t learned this yet. Let the game be the teacher! I coach soccer also, and SSG’s (small-sided games) are the way forward for much the same reasons: more touches, off-the-ball movement, FUN for the kids.

    http://www.giveusbackourgame.co.uk/

  26. Dan — December 25, 2008 @ 5:16 pm

    I have been talking about this since I started coaching youth 5 yrs ago I appreciate the article and believe its right on, also kids should start at smaller baskets and graduate up every 2 yrs or so.

  27. Gary Bond — December 30, 2008 @ 8:42 pm

    I just moved from Tacoma, WA after being there for 12 years to a smaller town in Eastern Washington called Cheney. I am have been involved in youth sports for several years.

    I agree full-heartedly with the opinions that everyone else has shared. Soccer programs around Washington have been sharing this same idea for years. I belive that k-4 basketball programs should be played as 3 v 3. This has worked for me in practices. Not every program is capable of doing this. Some programs have different reasons for not trying this concept with their leagues.
    1. Lack of coaches
    2. Doesn’t feel or look like a real basketball game
    I think it is very important for our youngsters to learn in this environment. It lets them see the game in whole different view.

  28. Jen — January 18, 2009 @ 1:40 am

    I played my first 3-on-3 tournament in college, and I came to this exact conclusion. In 5on5 I was always a bit shy of the ball, with a tendancy to hold back – which meant I was holding back my improvement. This would have been impossible in 3on3. I’ve just started coaching my first youth team, and I’d already decided to try this, so thanks for reaffirming my instincts!

  29. lizz — February 24, 2009 @ 10:40 am

    I think that the sport is fun to play

  30. Colin — March 10, 2009 @ 4:47 pm

    I am coming to the end of my season and after the Easter break I am (hopefully!) organising a series of 3-on-3 leagues for my students here in the UK. I have had it quite hard this year with only one hour a week on a thursday for coaching my teams (basketball is a way down the list of priorities in this school!) and I am hoping that this league will help drum up more support for basketball in my school, and get the students more invovled in playing as well. Your article and comments have really helped motivate me and I will be getting the article to my Head of Sport to look at and hopefully he will let me have more time on court next season!! Thanks heaps and keep up the great work!

  31. Ted — March 14, 2009 @ 6:05 am

    Joe,

    In Sweden, I’d say that the notion of small-sided games has been around for a good while, and basketball here is often influenced in this way from what successful coaches have done for years in other ball-in-goal invasion game sports like soccer, ice hockey, and team handball.

    For what it’s worth, I thought you might like to see what recommendations our regional federations and basketball clubs in Sweden have been given by the

    national basketball federation here when it comes to competition rules by age:

    * 9/10 years old and younger: 3v3, smaller court (they play full court on the side hoops), low hoops (2.60m), size 5 ball, man-man only, GAME TIME: 4×5

    minutes running time (competition days come once a month, where kids play 3-4 matches during the day, plus skills competitions in a festival-like atmosphere)

    * 11/12 years: 4v4, low hoops, size 5 ball, man-man only, no 3-pointers awarded, plus the defender cannot take the ball out of the hands of the offensive

    player in front of them, GAME TIME: 6×6 minutes running time (and there are rules that guarantee fair playing time for all players)

    * 13 years: 5v5 from here on, size 5 ball, 3-point makes awarded, man-man only, GAME TIME: 4×8 min (regular clock stoppage from here on)

    * 14-year-olds: regulation ball from here on (size 7 boys, size 6 girls), man-man onLY

    * 15-year-olds and older: zone defenses allowed from here on

    The key idea behind all of this is that basketball players are said to peak in their late 20s. My understanding of this model is that it is built so that players don’t peak too early. Of course, this type of long-term development model might not be particularly applicable to many locations in the US, but I think it’s great that you, your brother, and the other excellent contributors on your site are certainly not alone in recommending some great ideas that go a long way in promoting sound player development.

    Ted

    PS: I just discovered your site this past week–it’s truly impressive and a fantastic resource for practical ideas!

  32. honey — April 8, 2009 @ 5:30 am

    it is to good for the basic.

  33. Hadi — April 9, 2009 @ 1:09 pm

    I completely agree

  34. Flora — July 11, 2009 @ 4:32 pm

    My name is Flora,am from london,a team i represent is currently looking for a basketball player coming season,the team will be organizaing it tryout from 24th-31st July 2009,if any of you coaches can introduce me to young talents i will appreciate,my email is florahoops77@gmail.com

  35. Lance Stephenson Videos — November 13, 2009 @ 7:54 pm

    Practice. Practice. Practice. Believe in Yourself and Make it Happen!

  36. Citizen Campanola Watches — January 15, 2010 @ 8:04 pm

    I think 3 on 3 is the best experience for youth players. I agree that the kids involved get so much experience as opposed to 3 on 3. We host a 3 on 3 tournament every year as a benefit for cancer research and it is such a hit with the crowd. I am a huge fan of 3 on 3!
    -Sylvia

  37. MIlovan — February 3, 2010 @ 10:32 pm

    In my school, the girls are versing the boys in basketball training session, we train together, as it increases the chance of both genders on improving their plays in real game.. Not to say the are 13 -16 versing 17,18 or even 19. We dont count their winings but we do see the improvment in the confidene….

  38. Shaun — February 24, 2010 @ 6:45 pm

    I agree that the 3 on 3 game is not only a great tool to teach basketball concepts to youth but also to creat some mental toughness in your players. As a D1 player and now a collegiate coach for Mens Basketball, today’s athlete suffers from a lack of mental toughness. Yes 3 on 3 can be rough and physical but so is college, professional ball and even life at times. Sometimes during the game it’s not who has the most talent or fundamentals that win the game, but who has the most heart and fight to win!

  39. E.Lee — March 9, 2010 @ 1:28 am

    We started three on three mini court basketball this year with our 3-8th grades this year. Parents loved it, and the kids loved it. We allow pressing full court man to man.

  40. Daniel — March 10, 2010 @ 5:56 am

    I have read a fair bit to fo with 3 on 3. I am about to try this now as our club training expectation for all age groups. The reason for us is because we believe that kids cannot handle the basketball enough to build experience and confidence. Did you know, that Football (Soccer) in Europe, is played in a small sided games version, and kids no younger than 14 are only allowed to play 5 a side? I live in Australia, and Football bodies are implementing this as well as a direct result to improve grass roots skill levels. Now in Football, this is a proven technique in vastly improving kids skills, whilst kids touch the ball as often as they can. I will be very interested to see its impact over time in our basketball club, & well done on this fantastic initiative!

  41. Michael — March 10, 2010 @ 4:10 pm

    My 6-year-old daughter just completed her second season of 5-on-5 basketball. Last year she was in a 5-6-year-old program for boys and girls. The defense was confined to the key and the hoops were 8 feet high. The ball was standard 27.5 inches (“junior” ball). The kids learned nothing about defense, virtually nothing about passing, and a little about dribbling/shooting. Pretty much the only thing to do on offense was to launch the ball from outside the key (where the shooter is undefended) with all their might. I cringe. The kids seemed to enjoy things, but not a lot.

    This year my daughter joined a girls league. The problem was that the league comprised grades 1, 2, and 3. So my 6-year-old was playing with 9-year-olds. This time, the defense was restricted to the area inside the three-point line, which was much better because it meant that there was really no alternative to facing the defense. My daughter learned a lot more about paying attention to her girl on defense, and was the big lesson she learned this year. However, with 5 girls on offense, she rarely got involved, despite wonderful coaches who tried hard to accommodate her. 8 foot hoops again.

    My daughter has never made a basket, despite the fact that i don’t know a single 6-year-old girl who is better at basketball than her. She simply lacks the strength to reach the 8-foot hoops. She is already expressing discouragement, despite her love of ball-handling.

    I think the 3-on-3 concept would be a huge step in the right direction for her and those (few) like her. Our league could have fielded only 2 teams of first graders, but they could have played with Spalding “rookie” balls (which weigh less) and lower hoops. It would have been a completely different experience.

    in conclusion, I’m going to get together with some other parents and create our own tiny summer league. The money we save on enrollment fees will buy all the equipment we nee: two six-foot hoops, a couple rookie balls (we buy balls anyway, don’t we?) even uniforms. I volunteered my time at every practice and every game anyway. My kids can show up in the regular league at age ten and dominate. Yay!

  42. Joe Haefner — March 10, 2010 @ 5:55 pm

    Michael, what you mentioned would definitely be a better alternative for your daughter.

    You may also want to check out this article: http://www.breakthroughbasketball.com/blog/index.php/should-we-teach-basketball-skills-to-kids-under-the-age-of-10/

  43. Keith Hjelle — March 13, 2010 @ 7:45 pm

    Right on! When you think about it, virtually every basketball play involves three players. The other two are simply either exchanging or screening for one another. Learning 3 on 3 first will develop all of the individual and team skills to progress to the 5 on 5 game.

  44. jay oyao — April 24, 2010 @ 6:43 am

    I never learned basic basketball skills in a summer training or in a basketball clinic, I have learned it when i was 9 years old through the 3-on-3 basketball. My basketball skills developed because of it. Yup it is really rough and too physical but I believe this kind of game exposed me into a real game situation. Teamwork, ball rotation, man-to-man defense and game maturity are really actualized in this kind of game. Now that I am a youth basketball coach, I give time to my players play this kind of game, they enjoyed a lot and each player are given opportunity to play and be part of the game.

  45. Traci — February 17, 2011 @ 2:23 pm

    I agree; I am coaching 6th grade basketball right now and i think the tournaments we have been doing are ridiculous. Too much time spent at a gym but with very little quality basketball. It teaches kids how to play bad defense, be a ball hog and not pass, and the list goes on. And from what I’ve seen at all levels, parents end up coaching and only are doing it for their kid (to make them a superstar); not for the benefit of all the kids to teach them skills and instill a love of the game for them.

  46. Coach Derek — May 10, 2011 @ 4:54 pm

    I use a great 3v3 drill in my practices. First team to 5 wins, one point per hoop. Each player must score and no player can make more than 2 points. They must pass and set picks and screens for the player(s) that need the winning point. It teaches my best players what to do with the ball when I take away scoring as an option. I coach 10-11 boys what THEY learn in 3v3 is evident on game day. It’s great conditioning in the half court as well.

  47. jacoby — September 16, 2011 @ 7:11 pm

    great article gives movement

  48. Steven Hickcox — October 30, 2011 @ 5:08 am

    I think there are clear benefits to kids playing 3 on 3, however, without the structure of a practice, young players can also develop some really bad habits that become harder to break later on. As a coach I have used 1 on 1, 2 on 2, and 3 on 3 scrimmaging during practice, but only as a teaching tool. I work with my son, who I also coach on a team, and most of the time, I’m helping him with drills rather than just the two of us playing 1 on 1 or a game of 21. What I’ve noticed is that when we do play, he gets into a routine that becomes one dimensional and predictable. He just lacks the maturity to step it up, but watch him play in a game of 5 on 5, and he’s doing things that doesn’t do playing against me. So I think part of it depends on the individual player, whether they respond better to more limitations (5 on 5) or opening it up with 3 on 3.

  49. JeffO — December 6, 2011 @ 4:44 pm

    I agree with the 3 on 3 philosophy. I am a Licensed soccer coach as well and youth soccer coaches are taught similar strategies (this is how it’s done internationally as well). Most soccer practices start out doing drills 1 v 1 then 2 v 2 and the graduate up to 4 v 4, etc. I think the same can be applied to basketball as really we want players to have the freedom to play the game and not act as robots. Soccer is about players getting as many ‘touches’ on the ball as possible. Basketball is similar and I think it can be applied.

  50. Jon B. — January 12, 2012 @ 12:16 pm

    I’ve been coaching my sons team for 7 seasons now. currently 13u.
    3 on 3 has been the best way to improve all of my players game. We run 3 on 3 scrimages at the end of each practice. Not only do the kids love it, but I’ve found it to be a great way to help the less experienced players get more touches and become more acustomed to the fast pace of a real game. It can be played to preference defense or offense, depending how we keep score. It’s been a great way to teach my players how to “man up”, the importance of spacing, cutting, fakes, screening, etc.. We switch up from full play and “pass only play”. Great article, totaly agree.

  51. Scott C — February 2, 2012 @ 1:11 pm

    Im coaching my sons 3rd-4th grade team, this is only my 2nd year coaching and I have limited knowledge of the game so it is a huge learning experience for me as well. After reading every thing I can find on this site (huge help THANK YOU) we started doing the 3 on 3 for about half the practice, my ability to learn set plays and try to teach them has not worked out that well, partly due to my lack of knowledge and partly because we only have 9 players (usually only 7-8 make practice all the time) so it is hard to set up and run with not enough players. Playing 3 on 3 with a time limit of 60 seconds and the stipulation that every player on offense needs to touch the ball be for a shot can be taken, keeps the kids rotating threw at a very fast pace (no time to get bored and goof off) after only 3 practices trying this method it has greatly improved their passing skills as well as defending. IMO it is the best way to simulate real game time with limited space (half court) and limited time. Now that they have the routine down I am going to start adding to it with things like some one has to set at least 1 good screen before you can take a shot. So far I LIKE the idea!

  52. Ronnie — February 16, 2012 @ 2:36 pm

    I agree with the 3 on 3 idea. I grew up on it. I coach 5-6 year olds and I’ve gone away from the 3 on 3 idea. 5 on 5 with kids this age becomes a mess. Thanks for the refresher.

  53. Daniel Freeman — February 18, 2012 @ 2:09 pm

    I had been reading about 3 on 3 basketball at the high school level with regard to practicing. i have suggested 3 on 3 side court games with one ref for eac game and maybe different sounding whistles. i had suggested that the players be given a sub no.If you have 10 players number them1-10 and play for a set time. There will be degree of unfairness at time. i am talking about the aage groups under 10 but there needs to be a nother way of getting more and better participation for the players. When I taught basketball in my jr high school classes, we played in one half of the court at three baskets. We used the game clock with running time. You could bounce the ball 3 times when dribbling. After 3 passes youi had to shoot in order to avoid show boating and trying to freeze the ball. When I think back about it, I realize that I should have gooten more imput from the students. Our running time was 3 minutes and the classes were an hour long. I have quite a feww dvd,s on lower level or youth basketball. I found some things that I thought could hvae been presented in a better manner. I did not think that any of them were as good as they could have been. Yours in basketball. I am 80 years of age this coming March but I don’t coach any more even though I would like to.. In my opinion qat the middle school level the teaching is almost non existent. There are girls on the varsity level who cannot even pivot. I could go on and on but this ennnnough.

  54. Bill — February 23, 2012 @ 1:33 pm

    I utilize the 3 on 3 or 4 on 4 concept in the middle of almost everyone of my practices. Instead of the traditional 1/2 court setting, we play 3 on 3 on 3 (or 4 on 4 on 4) continuous full court. It is a great way to teach the kids solid man to man concepts, offensive concepts in the 1/2 court and full court transition situations. If the defense stops the offense they take it and go in transition against the other 3 waiting for them at the other end. If your team advances enough, you can even have them add full court pressure after a steal or a make. It is a great way to condition also while not having anyone standing around.

  55. Ognacho — February 24, 2012 @ 12:46 am

    I am coaching 5 and 6 year old kids that have been introduced to B-ball by dad’s brothers, uncle etc. some have pickup up bad habit. They throw not shoot the ball. Frist of all you need the right size ball for younger kids. All player should have a ball. I start with dribbling by having them knee. The ball does have a long way to travel. Once they get the hang of this I have them look at me and call out how many fingers I have up. After this I have them stand and dribble in place and do the finger thing. I do drills, which I name. So if I say Chicago they set up for the drill. This makes things go faster. Before I forget on my frist practice I set down rules and give each a drawing of the court. We walk to the key, side lines etc. Again this makes things easier. In between drills I do fun stuff such as tag while dribblng the ball. You have to have fun stuff because drills can get boring at that age. By the forth week I start them playing one-on-one. I break up the team and use both baskets on each end of the half court. I never run full court at this age. I then do two-on two and finally 3-on-3. DON;T DO 5-ON-5. Be patience kids are going to double dribble, run with the ball etc. make corrections on the run. Forget about soft fouls and do not stop play or keep it to a minimum. Let the kids have fun. Do stress doing drills correctly. Once again patience. patience patience.

  56. bob losser — February 26, 2012 @ 6:25 pm

    I have been in a few three on three turniments. They are great! there is alot of turniments to go to. For palyers they get alot of playing time and we learn to pass the ball around alot better than in 5-on-5. In 5on5 there are kids who dont know how to play. I think that if you should try it if u havent.

  57. Cameron W. — February 26, 2012 @ 8:52 pm

    I’ve been using this technique for the past two seasons and its one of the best ways I’ve come across that helps build players skills with so little time and practices. I try to use it at the end of every practice.

  58. carol russell — February 28, 2012 @ 2:49 pm

    I like the concept and ur thoughts they r great i will start using them but i also fill that students need to b challenged the more they r thought something @ an early age the more it grows on them kids remember things better n their early age an it will stick to them longer than it would n their older age u have to cause the student to learn, a good listener is a good learner

  59. Trevor — March 3, 2012 @ 9:38 pm

    I believe that that 3 on 3 is the way to go for youngsters. They really have to work on man-to-man defense, individual ball handling and passing skills in a tight environment. When your beat you are exposed in a man-to-man. Once you learn the man defense the zone is an easy pickup not so the other way around.

  60. Yannick — June 1, 2012 @ 3:50 am

    Hey guys,

    Just found this blog and I think it’s very intresting. I’m a Belgian student and as my thesis I am writing about 3×3 vs 5×5. I’ve been filming quite some matches to analyse the number of passes, score oppertunitys and such. Also i’ve been interviewing the players to get an insight in the wellbeing and involvement of these players while playing the game. I’m doing this because those 2 are 2/3 pillars of effective learning (I’m studying to be a Gym teacher BTW)

    Our goal (me and the whole basketball development project) is to get trough to the heads of the Belgian basketball ( A federation called VBL) We hope to achieve that the competition would be reformed to the 3×3 games until the age of 10. When i’m finished I’ll publish my work online, but it will only be in dutch though. When it’s done I’ll try to post some of my conclusions of my research. Cheers

  61. Joe Haefner — June 2, 2012 @ 8:34 am

    Yannick, that is great. We would really like to see your conclusions.

  62. paul kennedy — October 23, 2012 @ 4:29 pm

    Makes since.

  63. George K — November 29, 2012 @ 10:01 am

    I usually have small middle school teams in number. 3 on 3 and sometimes 4 on 4 scrimmages have always been the norm. This in combination with running the 3 on 2 drill in teaching basic offense and defense seems to work well because the kids who are less developed touch the ball more and the more developed players can do more with the ball. They are also usually smaller in stature so I have no choice but to run a triangle two defense against teams with much larger players. However, I always teach man to man defense in practices.

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  65. Jeremy Malamed — January 23, 2013 @ 1:39 pm

    I am interested in organizing a 3on3 youth basketball tournament in my area and would appreciate some ideas for best ways to make it work. Full court/half court? Timed games or play to a set score? What other rules? and also what are good age groups? Thanks

  66. Skip — February 12, 2013 @ 8:48 pm

    The simple point was made at the beginning, and is a basic truth in basketball: 90% of the joy that comes from playing basketball can be experienced with just 6 players on the court. And everything that a young player needs to experience is included in that 90%.

  67. Coaching Youth Basketball – What Should You Teach? | Steve Nash Youth Basketball Coaches' Blog — October 31, 2013 @ 9:48 am

    […] Play plenty of 2 on 2 and 3 on 3 games to teach concepts (no dribble keep away). It gets the players more experience and allows them enough space to operate and use the new skills they have learned. Make sure to use plenty of fun basketball drills & games.For more on this, read Could 3 on 3 Basketball Be the Best for Youth Players? […]

  68. kayvaan — January 20, 2014 @ 12:06 am

    I just found this site. I coach 2 U8 (grade 2) boys teams. I totally agree. 3×3 would be SO much better. With the 8 year olds I have found that the 5×5 games is usually just a mess. But I guess we’re stuck with 5×5 for now. :)

  69. Joe — January 20, 2014 @ 9:05 am

    Kayvaan, another possibility is to start your own 3 on 3 league. You can also call local teams and see if they want to scrimmage or have a game.

  70. Coach Vic — February 17, 2014 @ 3:38 am

    In my program I run a 3 on 3 Tournament called; “Touches.” The reason I call it by that name is because it allows youngsters to ‘touch’ the ball more as opposed to when they play 5 on 5.

  71. Vernon — February 24, 2014 @ 9:14 am

    Our whole Province (State) moved to a 4 on 4 format for Youth Basketball. It has worked very well for all the reasons given above. We use full court. No screens, but pressing is allowed. I hope they take that out next year as well.

  72. Ed Doud — February 25, 2014 @ 9:07 am

    I agree with the 3 on 3 for these 3rd and 4th gr players. My girls team lost every game this year. The last game, I called the opposing coach and asked if he had any girls who did not make a basket or were very timid. My solution was to have a 3 on 3 first qtr. with only these girls playing against each other for the whole qtr. These girls were mostly small and 3rd gr. I felt that they would get a chance to play well against other players of similar levels. The smaller, less aggressive and skilled girls never get a chance when playing with the others. It was always a mob scene around the basket, and they needed to get close in order to shoot. It also gives a small girl a chance to do the initial jump. I am going to recommend to our league that we adopt a policy that allows a 1st qtr. to be played like this throughout the year. We can turn the scoreboard off, if that is a problem. ( some coaches think they have Olympic teams and want to win above all else)You can also have a second tip off with the big players to start the 2nd qtr. After all this is an instructional league first and foremost. Well. our least aggressive girl made a basket and if you could see the look on her face when her teammates started chanting her name afterward, it would warm your heart. I also had her do the tip which she did not want, but I told her it was a reward for coming to all the practices and games and trying real hard. She reluctantly did it and now has that experience also.

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  74. Jim — March 10, 2014 @ 3:24 pm

    (5th and younger) 1. lower the bucket 2. no press 3. 3 on 3 or 4 on 4

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  77. Tim — October 1, 2014 @ 2:08 pm

    I am coaching 3rd grade girls basketball. All but 2 of the girls have never played and couldn’t even dribble down the court and back. After 5 weeks of practicing twice a week, mostly on fundamentals, we are now 2 days away from our first game. Scrimmaging was not a part of any practice until 2 weeks ago and I must say it has been somewhat chaotic. I am teaching motion defense (found on this site) so no plays to learn. My practice this week will consist of 3 on 3. I’m hoping that everything will click and make sense in the game once we play 3 on 3 for a while but here is my question. Since I’m having issues keeping my post players down low (they all want to play wing or point) do I continue with trying to keep them low while playing 3 on 3 or let them run about like they want to do? Will this only confuse them when playing the game?

  78. Marcy — October 16, 2014 @ 11:58 am

    I love this 3 on 3 concept and can see a lot of positives. We are in the process of trying to make the basketball program in our small town better. A couple of us moms feel like this is the right direction to go. We have been given the go ahead to start a 3 on 3 program with the younger kids (kindergarten – 3rd) with a goal to move it up to 6th grade if it’s successful and the head guys like what they are seeing. :) my question is what rules do we use with these young kids. Do we play true 3 on 3 rules? Example: player from team 1 shoots and it does not hit the rim team 2 rebounds and true 3 on 3 says they can shoot without clearing the ball. Do we teach these rules? Or do we teach once they change possessions the ball always needs to be cleared the the 3 point line. What do you think would be best for the young k-3rd kids? We did a 3 on 3 last season with the young kids. It took a couple games but they got the concept of clearing. Our problem was all of the coaches were not on the same page. Some cleared it with change of possession others didn’t. I would love your thoughts on this

  79. Joe Haefner — October 16, 2014 @ 12:19 pm

    That’s great, Marcy. Since you want to teach them habits and skills that will help them succeed in the future, I would clear the ball on every change of position.

  80. Marcy — October 16, 2014 @ 12:54 pm

    I love this 3 on 3 concept and can see a lot of positives. We are in the process of trying to make the basketball program in our small town better. A couple of us feel like this the the right direction to go. We have been given the go ahead to start a 3 on 3 program with the younger kids (kindergarted-3rd) with a goal to move it up to 6th grad if it’s successful and the head guys like what they are seeing. :) My question is what rules do we use with these young kids. DO we play true 3 on 3 rules? Example: Player from team 1 shoots and it does not hit the rim, team 2 rebounds and true 3 on 3 says they can shoot without clearing the ball. Do we teach these rules? Or do we teach once they change possessions the ball always needs to be cleared at the 3 point line. What do you think would be best for the young k-3rd kids? we Did a 3 on 3 last season with some young kids. It took a couple games but they got the concept of clearing. Our problem was all of the coaches were not on the same page. Some cleared it with change of possession others didn’t. I would love your thoughts on this and any other rules you may think need to be addressed in the 3 on 3 game. Thanks so much

  81. Tony — November 10, 2014 @ 7:11 am

    Hi Marcy, Not sure on the rules they use but here’s a format we instituted this season, we have revamped our rec league to focus more on player development at the younger ages. We implemented a PreK, K and grade1 group as an introduction to basketball this season which will have 4 stations teaching kids court markings, how to catch a ball, all the basics. we then restructured our grade 2 through 4 to play width wise on the courts 3V3 or 4V4 to open up the court, this eliminates the need for clearing etc. we did have some push back from parents but all our research showed that 5V5 was not helping players develop, and the weaker/newer player would get left out.

  82. Keith B. — January 12, 2015 @ 12:28 pm

    I think I’ll put my son in the Elite 3 on 3 program here in GA next season.

  83. Austin Basketball Camp — April 14, 2015 @ 1:24 pm

    We use 3 on 3 to gamify a skill we are trying to integrate. So if we want to encourage pick and rolls we would get more reps in 3 on 3 and also reward it. An effective screen and roll is worth 5 points, a three is worth 3 and anything else is worth 2.

  84. Raymond — December 13, 2015 @ 1:24 pm

    3 on 3 is important for building up the essential skills. Everyone is involved. There is a lot 1 on 1, developing the offensive and defensive skills. More room to handle, and yet helping like pick and roll is required. I think kids learn these things more easily.

  85. Jeremy — March 7, 2016 @ 11:51 am

    I have coached 8th grade boys and girls basketball for the last ten years. I played numerous, numerous games of 2 on 2 and 3 on 3 growing up in a town with all kids doing the same. One thing that I notice that kids do not do well at all, that we did very well, is enter the ball into the post and pass away from the defense. It got me to thinking this year and I realized that kids no longer get together and play 2 on 2 or 3 on 3. They are never put into a situation where they must rely on their ability to pass or dribble out of difficult situations. These simple skills are basic musts of middle school and beyond basketball. I’ve learned that try as I may, I cannot simply just teach these skills. Kids need to be put into a situation in which they implement the skills while playing. Best situation for that — 2 on 2 and 3 on 3.

  86. Gordon — December 30, 2016 @ 10:01 pm

    I have been coaching kids of all ages for the past 4 years now.
    I don’t start with 2 vs 2 or 3 vs 3 games.
    I start with 2 vs 1 and 3 vs 1. This has worked great. The kids learn to execute the fundamentals better because of the defenders are instructed to go easy on the defense.
    The kids also get points for executing good fundamentals but lose points for poor fundamentals
    As time goes on and the kids become more sound fundamentally then I add more defenders and instruct the defenders to play a little tighter defense
    The objective is to develop the kids and increase pressure as they improve

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