Kids should play 3 on 3 basketball simply because there are fewer players on the court. Your next statement might accuse me of being Captain Obvious in the Hotels.com commercial. Of course, there are fewer players, but that doesn’t tell me WHY kids should play 3 on 3 instead of 5 on 5. After all, basketball is a 5 on 5 game right?
Besides the issues described in the article above, there are so many other issues with 5 on 5 youth basketball.
1. It costs so much money. If your rent every month is less than it costs for you to play on a basketball team, you should ask yourself, “is it really worth it?” I can tell you it’s probably not. Because you’re probably not getting the exposure that you want and you’re probably not getting better either.
2. It’s too much on the kids physically. There are way too many overuse injuries for kids at young ages. They specialize too early and they play way too many meaningless full-court games and don’t get better from those experiences.
3. Besides the physical wear and tear, it’s not good for them mentally either. Either they think they aren’t very good because they lose all the time or they don’t get to play. Or they think they are better than they are because they are playing against subpar competition. When in reality youth basketball’s sole focus should be on development. We play the game to win. Not everyone should get a trophy. The focus should be on the things that it takes to win. Playing with effort. Playing together within your role. Executing fundamentals. Making good decisions.
4. It becomes all about the coaches. “We went 4-0 at nationals in the bless your heart bracket.” First of all, anybody can call anything “nationals”. Secondly, who are you playing against? Next, I know everybody likes to win, but did each individual kid touch the ball? Did everyone get to shoot? I hope they all get called for traveling at least one time since they probably did? Did they all defend the ball? I hope everybody had at least one foul and one rebound.
In other words, did every single player have countless chances to experience success and failure so that they could learn to repeat the good things and overcome that adversity and do better next time? Or did they get taken out and not get congratulated or corrected about anything that just happened. They just think they missed a shot or threw a bad pass and so now they play scared all the time. This could be one blog post by itself.
5. It takes too much time. Five or six games in a weekend. Multiple hours in the car going to and from tournaments and games. Whole weeks and weekends are taken to play in these meaningless tournaments. Kids on AAU teams have tougher schedules than a lot of NBA teams with all that they are asked to do. And they don’t have private chefs and chartered planes or the best round-the-clock healthcare.
6. Kids rely too much on their coaches. 5 on 5 games make players think that their coach is too important. They think they aren’t really getting better if there isn’t a coach around. There’s nothing better than players learning to coach each other. Doesn’t it mean it’s right all the time? Of course, it isn’t. But from what I can tell, these “coaches” aren’t much better.
Why kids should play 3 on 3
Now back to the original point. Why is having less players on the court important for kids to learn how to play basketball?
1. They have more chances to touch the ball. Fewer players on the court means that there are more chances to touch the ball. Whether that’s getting a rebound, catching a pass, or whatever. It’s simple math. With two fewer players on each team, your chances to touch the ball go way up. Touching the ball makes players feel better about their experience. It gives them more opportunities to be successful or make mistakes and learn from them. There are some 5 on 5 games in youth basketball where some players don’t touch the ball. How fun is that to just run up and down the court and watch other people get to do everything.
2. You’re going to get to defend the ball. One of the hardest things to do in basketball is defending the player with the ball. If you never get to do it, you never get better at it. Playing 3 on 3 means two things. You can’t really play zone which means everyone has to defend someone. Since everyone gets to touch the ball in 3 on 3, everyone is going to have the opportunity to defend the ball.
These two points can be summarized in one. In 3 on 3, you can’t hide. You’re always involved in what goes on which gives you numerous chances to experience success or learn from failure. This is development at its best.
3. Playing 3 on 3 simplifies decision-making. How many of us look at a restaurant menu and struggle to make a decision and ask the server to give us more time? How many of us are faced with life decisions that we struggle with?
Let’s imagine being a 10-year-old kid with everybody watching. Another kid is all up in our space and is trying to take the ball from us. Fans are yelling and cheering. Coach is yelling at us. And there 4 other teammates I can throw it to, or I can dribble or shoot it myself. Not to mention there are the other people playing defense and the clock and the score and remembering the play and is anybody overwhelmed yet?
In 3 on 3, there are two less options, two less defenders, and no coaches to yell at you. If there are no coaches, there are no plays so that’s less to remember. There’s more space so that you don’t have to have mastered a skill at the highest level to be able to make something happen. In 5 on 5, one mistake turns into a fast-break layup with everyone being exasperated. In 3 on 3, the worst thing that can happen is the other team “takes it back” and you keep playing.
It doesn’t mean kids won’t mess up. It just means that their chances for success increase because there are fewer decisions to make and even making the wrong one has a better chance of working out anyway. Add to the fact that there aren’t coaches out there trying to tell kids what to do and that makes it even better. Kids need to learn to think for themselves. Of course, coaches can help with that. But if a coach has to yell “Shoot” in the middle of the game, it’s probably too late. There are enough fans telling them what to do all the time anyway.
With 6 kids on the court, how many fewer fans are there? There isn’t a coach or a coaching staff. There aren’t 6 teammates on each bench. How many fewer voices will they hear? How much easier is to make a decision when you have fewer people telling you what to do.
Yes, I know that life decisions are much more important than basketball. Then why do so many of these coaches act like it’s life or death when a kid turns it over or misses a shot? Don’t get me wrong. I’m competitive, but basketball is fun. I chose to make basketball my career so that I didn’t ever have to work again. We work really hard, but it never feels that way.