Why We Only Use One Shooting Drill in Practice

Have you ever seen a shooting drill where very few shots are actually taken? I have. I have seen some pretty impressive drills. Players moving everywhere, balls zipping around, downscreens and ballscreens, but only every so often was a shot taken. On the video or practice plan the coach calls it a shooting drill. It may have value but I would not call it a shooting drill.

We only run one shooting drill in practice. Within the body of a practice the shooting drill we use is Two Balls, Three Shooters. 

I did not invent the drill. It is not impressive in its complexities. It is not revolutionary. Many coaches use it.

We use it for many reasons and I wanted to give you a feel for why it is the only shooting drill we use in the body of our practices.

Basketball Shooting

Requires Limited Management

It is easy and fast to get into so we don’t waste time organizing it. It also requires a short learning time. After initial teaching all we need to do is call out the drill. If we want we can call out a prescription for the drill too, but that is it. 

Easy to Make Competitive

Every Two Balls, Three Shooters drill we do is competitive. We want competitive pressure to always be on our players. This simulates a game where every shot matters. We shoot to a score. Usually I ask a player to call out a number and that is the number we shoot to. To keep a shooting session intense and fast paced we don’t choose a targeted number over 30. You could also shoot to a time if you have someone available to put a time on the clock. 

We don’t always have consequences when the targeted number is reached but when we do here is what we do. Sometimes our consequences are negative. For example the losing teams run or does push-ups. Sometimes our consequences are positive. This means that the winning team gets extra work. The rationale is that since they won they deserve to be rewarded with extra work that can help them continue to win. Instead of trying to bring up the losing team, we give the winning team the chance to better themselves even more.

Activity Time is Increased

Each player is involved and is moving, shooting and passing for the entire duration of the drill. No player is just standing and passing and/or rebounding. Increasing activity time in a shooting drill increases the number of repetitions per player over the time period chosen to run the drill. If I run a 5 minute shooting drill, and a player only gets 10 shots in five minutes, that is not an effective shooting drill. Those players aren’t getting enough repetitions. Things like standing in line, complex actions before the shots, management and organization time, all take away from activity time. By focusing on maximizing the activity time of your players in a shooting drill you will maximize the amount of shots they take.

Incorporate Different Passes

We can also add different pass prescriptions. We sometimes have our players only pass with one hand, pass after a dribble, pass after a combo dribble or even after a self-toss to the three-point line rip penetrate and kick action. There are tons of possibilities to make the drill work for what you teach and emphasize.

Adaptable to Different Numbers of Players

If your numbers don’t work out to groups of three the drill can still be run. It can be run with any combination of players. So with thirteen players there would be three groups of three and one group of four. It is just called Two Balls, Three Shooters because we feel that is the ideal number to maximize our activity time.

Focus on Cue Words and Coping Strategies

Two Balls, Three Shooters is not a technique drill. We don’t teach shooting technique from it. We use this drill for repetitions. We do use it to focus on cue words and coping strategies. I have always believed as a coach that developing shooting (after initial learning) is all about cue words. Each shooter has individual differences in their shot. Each shooter has unique cue words associated with their shot. I only need to remind them of a cue word when I see a pattern of inconsistency.

Just like a one time made shot is not an indication of learning, a one time missed shot is not an indication of a problem. Repeated inconsistency in a shooter’s shot leading to struggles are when I will provide a cue word reminder. Since we get a volume of shots off in this drill I am able to focus on a couple of shooter’s. I only intervene with a cue word reminder if I see repeated misses in a way that is not normal for them (yes I try to learn how my players miss shots most consistently). 

Basketball Shooting Mindmap


I can focus on coping strategies too. When a player is struggling shooting it usually is not about technique. A good shooter does not lose their ability, they lose their confidence in their ability. We focus on their mindset when they are struggling. The next shot should not impact the next shot. That is easier said than done sometimes so we teach player’s how to “park” their struggles.

Parking is a sport psychology method. Parking a mistake is a way by which the mistake can be forgotten to enable a player to focus on the present. Examples include clenching your fist and throwing the mistake away, stamping out the mistake with a quick stamp of your foot to the ground or wiping away the mistake on their shorts. Two Balls, Three Shooters creates struggle for shooters as they miss repeated shots. Frustration could also come because their team could be losing. Moments of visible frustration and repeated misses provide an opportunity to remind players to focus on the next shot. 

“A good shooter does not lose their ability, they lose their confidence in their ability.”

Random and Variable

Two balls, Three Shooters is one of our preferred drills because it is random and variable. Each shot is unique just like in a game. Players shoot from different spots each time they shoot. They also have to rebound their shot, make a pass and relocate to a spot so there is movement before the shot. This adds a game like quality to the drill. Practicing this way is effective because a player works on a number of different skills in combination with each other. Each repetition is interleaved on the previous one.  The random and variable elements mean the learner is forced to constantly think rather than falling into a repetitive routine.

Shots Taken Can Be Varied

Typically we only shoot three-point shots but you can adapt it any way you want. You can change the type of shot taken each time you call the drill or even within the drill itself. Changing the drill gives players a perception that you are not doing the same drill over and over. Some examples of how shots can be varied are:

Basketball Shooting

Volume of Shot Attempts

Our goal is to shoot 200 shots (minimum) each practice using as a little of our allotted practice time as possible. If we call Two Balls, Three Shooters we expect our players to be able to transition into it in less than a minute. The length of time it takes for one group to reach the targeted number varies according to the task difficulty. First to 27 made lay-ups would happen faster than first to 15 made three-point shots.

If we call Two Ball, Three Shooters four times in practice, and the targeted number per group is on average 25 makes, we will easily reach 200 shots. That’s because players will miss. Simple math suggests that if three players shoot 40% on these shots, they would require 61 shots to make 25 baskets.

21 shots each at a 40% shooting percentage gets the three players 61 shots and a total made baskets of about 25

Can Keep Group or Individual Scores

We can have players keep a group score or an individual score. Most of the time we keep group scores (ie. the first group to 25 makes). If we want to increase the number of repetitions or create a different mindset we would make it the first player to 10 makes. This adds individual responsibility to the outcome.

Does Not Need to Be Scheduled

We never schedule Two Balls, Three Shooters in our practice planning. We add it in practice based on feel. The two reasons we call the drill:

  1. Change of Energy – Practice energy ebbs and flows. We call Two Balls, Three Shooters to change the energy of practice. 
  2. Transitions – After we have completed a component of practice we use Two Balls, Three Shooters as a transition between different parts of practice. For example if we are transitioning between 4-on-4 Transitions to 5-on-5 Three Trips we sometimes call out a shooting drill in between.

Adaptable Number of Available Baskets

If you only have two baskets and twelve players you can run two groups of six. Or  you can divide the drill into two groups per basket but a group is limited to just one side of the court. While organizing is advantageous at times, having no restrictions is also beneficial. Sometimes with limited baskets we don’t change the drill at all. We will have 15 players self-organize into five groups of three with only two baskets. Two groups would shoot at one basket and three would shoot at the other. Yes this is chaotic. Remember the game is played in chaos so practice chaos is good too. Don’t be afraid to have chaos in the shooting drill as multiple demands on a player will only make them better in the long run.

Creates Leader and Follower Opportunities

Players have to self-organize so leaders and followers become necessary. I call the drill and they have to get into it. Players organize the groups, they get the balls, they find a basket and they start as soon as they are organized. We don’t wait until everyone is ready. As soon as I call the drill it is competitively live so if one group gets started first they have an advantage.

This also seems to eliminate “buddy” or “best shooter” stacking of the teams. Since there is a time advantage to getting organized quickly, players tend to find the players closest to them at the time I call the drill to organize their team. If they are stacking their team with “buddies” or “best shooters” you can always add additional criteria to team formations. Some examples of criteria for team formations included:

  • Each group must have a post player.
  • Rookies and veterans must be grouped together.
  • You cannot be in a group with someone from your hometown.
  • After they form a group, tell them they have to send one player to their right (they will trade one player and get one player in return).

Since we vary the score, the type of shots, the type of passes and other aspects of the drill we challenge our player’s ability to follow instructions from their teammates. Part of being a better leader is knowing how to follow. We want to develop effective leaders and followers. We feel this drill helps us work on that concept.

A Note about Basketball Decision Training…

During our pre-practice and post-practice sessions we do use different shooting drills. We use BDT from different starting points and offensive actions. We work on specific situational offensive shots. We also use ball pick-up mix drills. These drills mix shooting, ball pick-up and dribbling. Interested in learning more about BDT check out The Comprehensive Guide to Basketball Decision Training

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