3-on-3 for Turnpike’s Youngest in 2018-19 — Q & A

After careful consideration, we at Turnpike Basketball have decided to change our 1st and 2nd grade Boys and Girls division into a 3-on-3 league for the Winter 2018-19 season.

The following Q&A addresses our reasons and goals regarding this change.

So what’s this all about?

The following table, inspired by this Canada Basketball post, provides an overview of the main differences between 3-on-3 and 5-on-5, and explains the advantages of 3-on-3.  The key takeaway here is that the 3-on-3 environment encourages more touches per player, which naturally leads to greater player development:

3-on-35-on-53-on-3 basketball result
Half court (1 hoop)Full court (2 hoops)Simplifies the game to allow for enhanced learning.
12 total players on the floor10 total players on the floorAverage of 20% more playing time for everyone
2 basketballs on the court1 basketball on the courtTwice as many touches of the ball for the team.
(24 minutes x 2 balls) / 12 players --> players average 4 minutes with the ball per game(24 mins x 1 ball) / 10 players --> players average 2.4 minutes with the ball per game
Players average 67% more time with the ball per game.
Coaching 3 players in close proximityCoaching 5 players in a full court settingMore teaching opportunities between coach and player.

Above all, we believe that if the players become more engaged and have more opportunities to succeed, they will have more fun.

Why are you switching away from 5-on-5?

Over the past few years, Turnpike’s 5-on-5 games at this level have been dominated by the 2 or 3 best players on the court, while the remaining 7 or 8 are less able to participate meaningfully.  In just about every game, there were multiple players who didn’t even touch the ball.

We don’t think this is an appropriate introduction to the game for 1st and 2nd graders.  Basketball is too great a sport and involves too many facets to demonstrate to our kids that advanced athleticism or height are the only traits necessary to succeed.  Instead, we should aim to increase every player’s game involvement through emphasizing skill development.

With half-court 3-on-3, we feel the players will have less ability to “hide” on the court and gain more opportunity to directly apply the fundamental skills they are learning in practice.  Ideally, this creates an improved learning environment designed to keep the kids more interested, entertained and engaged.

But 3-on-3 isn’t real basketball!  It’s just street ball!

Actually, 3-on-3 has exploded in popularity, and significant efforts have been made to formalize the game over the last two decades.  FIBA’s version of 3-on-3 includes a full set of rules, timed play, and experienced officiating.  Most of the development over the last two decades began through youth programs and competition and is now played at the adult level as well.

In fact, 3-on-3 basketball will be played as an official sport in the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo.  Click here for a history of the development of 3-on-3 basketball in the U.S. and internationally.

For samples of youth 3-on-3 basketball rules in the U.S., check out USA Basketball (click here for the USA Basketball 3-on-3 Rules) and the Jr. NBA (click here for the Jr. NBA 3×3 Resource Guide).

Turnpike’s 3-on-3 will more closely resemble the organized versions of the game than the free-style street ball games most of us have played in gyms, backyards and parks.

Some of these 3-on-3 rules differ from traditional 5-on-5.  Is Turnpike going to be using non-traditional rules such as games up to 11 with no clock, checking the ball to start new possessions, and no free throws?

No.  With the exceptions of half-court play and fewer fast break opportunities, our 3-on-3 games will very closely resemble the traditional 5-on-5 game.

To this end, our 3-on-3 rules are specifically being created to include most of our existing 5-on-5 rules.  This includes rules such as stopping the clock for violations and dead balls, no scoring limit, no checks to begin a play, and free throws after shooting fouls.  Additionally, to be clear, every game will be refereed.

Did you say these games will be half-court?  Isn’t running an essential part of basketball?  Won’t you be stunting the kids’ development?

One key reason we are choosing 3-on-3 at this level is because it emphasizes skill development over speed.

If players have more time with the ball with fewer other players to contend with, they will be spending less time worrying about keeping up with their teammates and more time experimenting, developing skills and gaining confidence with and without the ball.

Isn’t 3-on-3 just an opportunity for you to coddle the kids?

In short, no.  Players and parents should expect the same levels of physical contact, and referee management of such contact, that they would see during a 5-on-5 game.

Won’t we have to retrain our kids to play 5-on-5 once they reach 3rd grade?

This should not be as big of a concern because by design, half-court 3-on-3 forces players to emphasize key skills that are highly important in the 5-on-5 game.

Brian McCormick, PhD, a basketball coach, consultant, and prolific author currently working out of South Florida, eloquently explains this process in his post, “3v3 Leagues Offer the Best Developmental Environment”.

In summary, McCormick believes that “3v3 leagues provide competitive experiences that focus more on the skills that eventually differentiate the better players from the average players”.  The specific skills he cited are as follows:

  1. Making lay-ups
  2. Catching and squaring to the basket when defended
  3. Passing or shooting off the dribble (as opposed to stopping the dribble first and then passing or shooting)
  4. Shooting
  5. Moving without the ball
  6. Help defense
  7. Finding the open man

McCormick explains that all 7 of these skills improve when players have more reps near the basket, the area which he refers to as the “scoring zone”.  Half-court 3-on-3 keeps players in the scoring zone for most of the game, whereas full-court 5-on-5 at this age involves more time at mid-court and more plays where players are in large groups all focused on chasing after the ball.  Therefore, McCormick favors 3-on-3 for youth basketball.

Playing most of the game close to the basket also helps players develop the ability and mentality to attack the basket and “finish” (i.e. score) and to defend the basket as well.

These abilities, as well as the other skills listed above, are essential to the 5-on-5 game.  While players will need to be shown how to handle fast breaks and full-court pressure once they begin to play 5-on-5, they will already have a high level of experience with the essential skills listed above as a foundation.

Can I discuss this change with you before the season begins?

Because this is a pilot program, we have the unique opportunity to consider different perspectives and create a model that will resolve as many of them as possible.

We will be sending out a survey to all 1st and 2nd grade parents from last season to make sure most of you are as enthusiastic and willing to work with the 3-on-3 format as we are.

All others are certainly welcome to express their views as well.  Please contact us through the website or at turnpike.basketball@gmail.com if you wish to do so.

Writing these rules sounds like a lot of work.  Who is taking this on?

We’d like to thank two people who have worked in the group that is creating our 3-on-3 rules.

Dave Kendall, Turnpike Basketball’s referee coordinator, has been a referee for 17 years, including 12 as Turnpike’s head referee, so his viewpoint has been essential.  Dave is also head trainer for our officials, so helping us write these rules puts him in an even stronger position to show our referee trainees how to apply them.

Our new Boys 1st – 8th Grade Commissioner, James Taylor, is also closely involved.  He has coached in the 1st and 2nd grade division, which gives him a strong working knowledge of the many differing scenarios that occur in games at this grade level.  He is a natural at creating concise rules which are practical and easy to understand and has already put in many hours towards this project.

If you see them in person, please give Dave and James a big thank you for their efforts.

Is there any more information I can review?

Some other resources are as follows:

  • In this video, former NBA player Bob Bigelow, a leading youth sports advocate and speaker, articulately explains why he is a strong proponent of 3-on-3 basketball at the youngest levels.
  • Could 3-on-3 Basketball Be the Best for Youth Players?” – A post by one of the founders of the outstanding Breakthrough Basketball site, which provides a large variety of information and tips regarding most aspects of basketball.