Why the 3-Man Weave Drill Should Be Replaced

The 3-Man Weave is a basketball drill that is a centerpiece in many coaches’ practices. Coaches often use it to emphasize passing skills, conditioning, teamwork, lay-ups, footwork, and running the fast break.

The problem with the 3-Man Weave is summed up in decades of science and motor learning research have shown the best and most effective learning happens when practice:

  • Is random, not blocked.
  • Teaches the whole skill, not just part.
  • Is game specific.
  • In short, the more closely your practice resembles the actual game, the more of it transfers to a game.

Not sure what random vs. blocked practice is?

Those four points are facts. They are based on sport science research. They are often ignored or misunderstood by coaches. I have used this knowledge to develop these two simple rules for drill selection:

Two Basic Rules of Drill Selection (1)

The game is not scripted. It is random and variable. Nothing in a game is repeated the same way over and over again so don’t practice that way. A game is also played vs. defense. Running drills on-air like 3-Man Weave gets your team better at the 3-Man Weave. It gives you the impression as a coach that your team is improving as they perform the drill faster, with more made lay-ups, with fewer dropped passes, but all your players are improving at is the 3-Man Weave.

Brian McCormick calls this concept a fake fundamental. He would argue that the transfer from a drill like 3-Man Weave is minimal and potentially negative. Watch this video to learn about what he is talking about Fake Fundamentals and Negative Transfer.

You still want to argue on behalf of the 3-Man Weave?

Point Counter Point

3-Man Weave is great for teaching youth players.

  • Early in learning there is value to learning how to run, pass and coordinate movements. We can all agree on that, but why can’t this be done by playing small-sided games? Players don’t need to be taught the fundamental skills before playing the game. You can in fact teach fundamental skills while they are playing a game.
  • You have such limited time as a youth coach I would encourage you to skip the wasted drills and get right to teaching the skills and tactics in the game itself. This will help maximize your players time-on-task (Read more about Time-On-Task).

3-Man Weave is a great passing drill.

  • Here is a prescription for the type of passes used in a 3-Man Weave drill; “chest passes only, except on the last pass to a lay up which can be a bounce pass.” Clearly there are many passing drills to choose from so I am not going to discuss the merits of one over another. Let’s focus on the chest pass itself. The chest pass does not happen as frequently in the game as it once did. I don’t see it in our film study very often. I don’t see it from young players while recruiting or at my summer camps. 
  • The majority of passes in a game are passed outside a player’s body, not within their body like a chest pass. A lot of those passes are passed with one-hand as well. This is because the offense and defense has become more dynamic. Players have adjusted their game skills. Have you, as a coach? The chest pass is mainly only used in a transition hit ahead pass situations off the catch or off the dribble. So why practice a drill where one of the main skill components doesn’t happen in a game?
  • And in terms of passing, young players sometimes struggle with how far to lead players when passing, throwing it behind the receiver or too far ahead. This concept is best developed in offense vs. defense drills where unpredictable situations are created. Yes, players will struggle more in these drills, but ultimately that struggle is way better for learning. The main issue is not the players handling the messy learning environment. It is you handling it as a coach. Often we feel a messy practice is a reflection of poor coaching, when in fact the opposite is true. You have to sell its value to your players, parents and administrators so they understand why your practices look the way they do. You also need to focus on long term retention, not short term gains.

Messy Practice Challenge

3-Man Weave is a great full-court lay-up drill.

  • I cannot imagine how increasing lay-up effectiveness could be developed without a defender in some context. Developing an understanding of release points, timing, angles and other factors involved in making a lay-up has as much to do with the repetitive experience of shooting lay-ups vs. a defender as it does with any fundamental technique we can teach a player.
  • Extending the shot in front of, or outside your body, to get the ball away from a defender is a practiced skill. It is difficult to practice these skills without any pressure on the lay-up from a defender. No matter how many lay-ups we have to make in a minute or how many times the coach hits a player with a blocking pad, the most valuable lay-up drill is to put players in a game-like situation.

3-Man Weave is a great drill for teaching players timing and teamwork.

  • Nothing teaches players timing and teamwork better than playing the game. What influences timing most is not your teammates, but the defense. Defenders try and take away timing so practicing with defenders creates realistic game-like practice on timing.
  • Successful offensive execution vs. a defense also creates a better sense of the value of teamwork. Positively pinpointing times in competitive drills where players used teamwork to achieve some success is valuable because it happened in the context of the game. It is far easier for a player to transfer the success to competition because it was practiced in competition.

3-Man Weave is a great progression to 5-Man Weave.

  • Why would you need a progression to get to 5-Man Weave? Neither 3-Man, nor 5-Man, weave is particularly challenging. I am confident any of your teams could skip 3-Man Weave for 5-Man Weave and be just fine.
  • I believe in hard-first instruction. Don’t use a progression unless you need one. Teach the whole and evaluate if something needs to be broken down into a part. Progressions waste time and take away from active learning time. One of the factors in maximizing active learning time is optimal challenge. Any variation of a weave drill is boring, mindless and lacking in challenge. Players drop passes in an on-air drills, not because the drill is challenging, but because it isn’t challenging enough, and players lose focus when something isn’t challenging.

Coaching with Hard First Instruction

3-Man Weave is a great drill to flow into 3-on-2, 2-on-1.

  • Flowing into advantage-disadvantage drills may seems like a good idea but most 3-on-2 and 2-on-1 drill are too scripted and organized. The game doesn’t happen in that way. In games advantage-disadvantage situations are messy and disorganized. 
  • We have a number of ways to create advantage-disadvantage out of chaos. Here is an example:

  • This drill can be done 3-on-3, 4-on-4, but it ends up in advantage-disadvantage situations every time, we just don’t know which one. Each trip creates a completely unscripted advantage or disadvantage situation that players must figure out. Trying to solve problems, without first being given solutions, leads to better learning. Random and variable drills create more problems to be solved than scripted and organized drills.

3-Man Weave is a great fast break drill.

  • How often does your team weave up the floor in a game? How often do three players advance the ball up the court without a dribble in a game? If you want to work on your fast break, work on the actual fast break you run. Your fast break is a breakdown drill.

3-Man Weave is a great communication drill.

  • Communication can be stressed in any drill. All of practice is a communication drill. You don’t need a special drill to develop communication. You need to emphasize, encourage and positively pinpoint communication in practice to develop it. Mostly, however you need to be silent and allow your players to communicate.

3-Man Weave is a great drill because you can add layers to increase the challenge.

  • Adding box-outs at the end of the drill, forcing your players to touch the sidelines, counting the number of makes, changing the passes used etc doesn’t make a drill more game-like.

3-Man Weave is a great warm-up and conditioning drill.

  • We do our physiological and psychological warm-up off the court prior to the start of our practice. The main goal is to get our players to overcome “their inherent inertia to be lazy.” Once we hit the court we don’t need a drill to ease into practice. We start practice, often 5-on-5 or some small-sided game. We don’t want to waste time using a drill to get our players ready to practice. Practice time is precious and I want to use to to teach, learn and practice the game the way it will be played in competition.
  • Since we use 5-on-5 and small-sided games with multiple trips up and down the floor in each sequence, we find we don’t need to devote drills to conditioning. We simulate the game in practice so players are preparing themselves physiologically the play the game. But if you want a conditioning drill, try the 3-on-1 Transition drill I outline below for 5 minutes with 12-15 players and it will serve your needs.

3-Man Weave is a great drill because other coaches use it.

  • If after all this discussion you are going to do the 3-Man Weave drill because other coaches use it, well…OK, yes I saw the drill in NBA practices, NCAA D1 practices, and at practices run by “celebrity” coaches. If they are reading this, or if I ever get to talk to them, I would make the same counter points that I have above, but I am not going to jump off the bridge too.

Solution Based-Coaching: 3-ON-1 Transition Drill

It is not fair for me to argue against the 3-Man weave without giving you an alternative. There are many options but I want to focus on the 3-on-1 Transition Drill.

The 3-on-1 Drill is a fun way to develop your player’s freedom in the open court to create and finish scoring opportunities. The offense has a significant numbers advantage that increases their chances for success but also opens up more space for passing possibilities.

It has been great for self-organization, communication, figuring things out from chaos, and of course being creative in transition. Many teachable situations evolve naturally including concepts like:

  • The problems with over-dribbling or over-passing.
  • How to gain and keep an advantage.
  • Discussing simple vs. difficult decisions.
  • How to creating a better advantage with a wing runner and positive outlet.
  • Making lay-ups with a chaser or defensive pressure.
  • Spacing in variable numbers advantages.
  • Conversion concepts on both offense and defense.

Is this a magic drill? No. It does answer many of my counter points to using the 3-Man Weave. Adding one defender creates unpredictable and messy situations from which the offense has to figure things out. You will be amazed how low your scoring percentage is when you do this drill despite the numbers advantage. In my opinion the addition of the one defender creates a far more game-like learning environment but still allows you to focus on the development of passing, timing, teamwork, communication, advantage-disadvantage, lay-ups and your fast break.

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