At our basketball camps the very first thing the players learn is to get into the triple-threat position when they hear a long, loud whistle. We have always done this for two reasons. The first reason is because I want players to freeze and be ready to listen for directions. I stole this idea from the University of Michigan when I worked their camp back in my college days. A coach would blow the whistle and 400 or so kids would immediately freeze and get into triple threat. Then they would sing “Hail to the Victors”. Very cool and very impressive, even for an Ohio guy like me. The second reason is to teach players when and how to use the triple threat position.
As a younger coach I would often encourage my players to get into triple threat every time they caught the ball. However, as I have gotten older, and hopefully wiser, I have come to realize that the notion of the triple threat position is out of date with the most effective way to play offensive basketball. I think that what I really wanted players to do was to be squared up and looking at the situation on the court rather than just blindly dribbling nowhere every time they caught the ball. Emphasizing the triple threat was a way to prevent that from happening.
Trying to teach kids offensive basketball is challenging. Especially at younger ages and especially with the amount of five on five kids play. I’ve written before about the benefits of short squad games and how it opens up the floor and gives each player an opportunity to be involved in more plays. 3 on 3 is much quicker game that forces every player to be involved in more game decisions about when to pass, dribble, or shoot.
One thing that is always a struggle is teaching players to keep the ball moving with passes. The younger the players, the more likely the ball is to end up being dribbled into a set defense, resulting in a turnover. Rather than focus on getting players into triple threat I want them to make quick decisions about whether to shoot, pass, or attack the basket with the dribble. The decision making process should begin before they even get the ball as they survey the court looking at the position of their teammates and the defense. By making a quick decision we are essentially eliminating the need to get in triple threat. Either I shoot an open shot or drive quickly into open space when I catch the ball and have an advantage (the defense trying to recover back to me) or I become a passer. I do not want players shooting contested jump shots from a standstill triple threat position in youth basketball. That kind of isolation one on one basketball may work for NBA players, but it is not a skill that I teach young players.
That leads me to the concept that I am beginning to teach players today, “Catch and See”. I took this concept from Davidson’s Bob McKillop (Steph Curry’s college coach). It means exactly what you would think. Catch the ball and “see” what is happening around you. Are you open for a shot? Can you attack an open space in the defense? Is there someone open under the basket? There are many different scenarios that could present themselves to a player catching a pass in a game. By making quicker decisions players can gain an advantage on their opponent. By getting in triple threat every time they catch the ball the advantage the player has as the defense moves may be wasted. As a team if we get the ball moving, especially side to side with ball reversals) we will create advantages that we can exploit when we “Catch and See”.
We won’t stop using the triple threat on the whistle technique at camp because it is an effective management tool, but the shift to “Catch and See” is beginning. Decision making is critical to basketball skill development and the transfer of those skills to games. When players learn to “Catch and See” they will be developing skills that are transferable under game conditions.