A Practical Guide to 3-on-3 Small-Sided Games in Basketball

March 9, 2016
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“Too often we give children answers to remember rather than problems to solve.” – Roger Lewin

Small-sided games are not a new concept. My skill acquisition professor used to say, “Most effective coaches are already doing many of the things sport researchers prove to be effective without knowing why or how they are effective.” Small-sided games are well researched and proven to be effective. Many coaches have been using small-sided games for years. 

A small-sided game is a basketball game played on a smaller court with fewer players. The phrase “small-sided games” seems to be a buzz word in basketball coaching circles. This is positive as small-sided games are an effective teaching tool. I use small-sided games to support our games approach to coaching basketball. 

My goal here is not to go through the research and explain the advantages of small-sided games. We are going to look at the benefits of 3-on-3 basketball as a teaching tool by providing video examples.

The Benefits of 3-on-3 Basketball as a Teaching Tool

If you are interested in more information on the specific benefits and research behind small-sided games please check out the full section in our membership community:

Small-Sided Games Membership Section

Is there benefit to 3-on-0 drills?

Using 3-on-0 drills does not represent the way basketball is played. There is no defense, so there are no competitive interactions between the offense and defense. If the goal is to memorize a pattern than 3-on-0 drills can be effective. If the goal is to develop offensive and defensive players capable of making independent decisions than it is best to use 3-on-3 as much as possible. There is some benefit to using 3-on-0 drills if the purpose is to warm-up or cool-down, or for the development of timing and form.

For example the 3-on-3 Up Screen Down Screen Drill is one I have used to develop our defensive understanding of covering an up screen and down screen action. The offense runs a pattern. I could teach the pattern 3-on-0 but my decision to do so would take time away from learning game situations. Offensive and defensive decision making would be limited. It might be necessary to initially teach the pattern without the defense so that the offense learns a basic understanding of what the pattern is. This decision is just one of the many decisions a coach must make in designing a drill that benefits their players and team development.

Seven Drill Design Decisions for the 3-on-3 Up Screen Down Screen Drill

  1. Teach and run the offensive pattern 3-on-0.
  2. Walk the defense through the defensive coverage (lower intensity).
  3. Run the offense as a shell pattern with no deviation and reads but increase the intensity (higher intensity). 
  4. Prevent the defense from being able to steal the ball or disrupt the pattern (Defenders must keep their hands behind their backs).
  5. Allow the offense to score when an opportunity is available within the shell drill.
  6. Set a specific number of shell repetitions before the drill is live (3x through before the offense can look to score)
  7. Make the drill live with no restrictions.

Basketball Defense

Of course, there are other decisions…Do you keep score?  Do you divide the players into two baskets or keep the whole team at one basket? How do teams rotate on and off the floor? How do you intervene if there is a teachable moment? 

As you can see a simple drill has many design questions for you as a coach. The age level and experience of your players as well as your philosophy and the number of times you have used the drill, will help you make those drill design decisions. I prefer throwing players in the deep end. We would teach the pattern and the defensive coverage with a 3-on-3 demonstration and then make the drill live and competitive. I would then intervene when necessary to develop the concepts we are emphasizing.

Philosophy of Teaching Basketball Out of 3-on-3 Sequences

I am going to provide some practical examples of different small-sided 3-on-3 games that you can use in your coaching. They can be a framework for you to adopt and adapt to your specific coaching needs. All the 3-on-3 games come from the practices I observed during my travels around the world.

This first video demonstrates how 3-on-3 sequences are used in practice to transfer the same technical and tactical skills to 5-on-5 practice and game applications.

In selecting 3-on-3 drills, choose sequences that develop what you do in 5-on-5. The art and science of coaching is to determine if what you are spending time developing in practice is translating into game success. If the 3-on-3 teaching does not transfer to 5-on-5 in practice and games than it is just a random drill. Choose 3-on-3 sequences that come directly from what you do on offense or what you need to defend on defense.

3-on-3 teaching not only increases the decision-making and skill application opportunities for your players, but also the number of teaching situations for you as a coach. Use your coaching interventions to teach within the game sequences.

3-on-3 Small Sided Games

Practice Examples of Teaching Basketball Out of 3-on-3 Sequences

As a coach you can set the initial offensive sequence to develop your offense or to work on a specific defensive situation. As your team progresses in their learning, you should provide them with multiple options to run on offense. This makes your 3-on-3 game more random and variable. If you practice the same sequence over and over again your team will know what is coming. Instead, we want to stimulate thinking on every possession to simulate the randomness and unpredictability of games.

3-on-3 With A Post allows your team to work on post reaction sequences with a focus on the perimeter action. After the post entry and pass out of the post the coach steps out of the drill.

3-on-3 with a Post

3-on-3 Two Trips allows your team to play competitively in both half-court and full-court situations.

3-on-3 Two Trips

3-on-3-on-3 creates a continuous and competitive half-court game. The advantage is that a coach can change the defensive coverage on every trip. As the defensive team waits for the offense to come to their end the coach can communicate specific coverage’s that can stimulate the offense’s development.

Small-Sided Game 3-on-3-on-3

Small-sided 3-on-3 basketball games can be an effective teaching tool to help develop technical and tactical skills.

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