I have spent the past 20 years running basketball camps where our players play only half-court games with less than five players on a team. I am a firm believer that young players, specifically those in elementary school, are able to learn the game and improve much more quickly when they play half-court games with less than 5 players on a team. If you played basketball as a kid and there weren’t enough players you made due with what you had and played 3 on 3 in the driveway or the playground. Young players today don’t get enough exposure to these kinds of games. They are often playing organized basketball beginning at age 6 or 7, most of which is played 5 on 5 full-court with ten foot baskets. I am a believer in keeping the basket heights below ten feet as young players learn the game and develop the strength necessary to shoot properly at a ten foot basket.
What are the benefits of 3 on 3? The most obvious benefit is more opportunities to have the ball. In a 5 on 5 game ten players must share one ball. That ratio is cut down in 3 on 3 allowing for more touches for each player. The best players tend to have the ball the most during 5 on 5 and the least skilled players rarely get to handle the ball. In 3 on 3 everyone has to touch the ball to create spacing and passing angles. It is more likely that all 3 players will be involved in the action. There is a much more even distribution of touches among the players. Kids have more fun because they get the ball more often.
Another benefit is the elimination of time spent running up and down the court. This is often a time when turnovers and mass confusion occurs as kids can often outrun their ability to dribble and pass. By keeping the game in the half-court more basketball skills are utilized and the pace of the game is slowed down allowing for a more effective learning environment.
There is less congestion on the court. There is more room to pass and cut. There is more room to drive to the basket. It is easier for kids to know who their man is and develop the ability to help their teammate on defense. Spacing is improved and there is more freedom of movement.
There is no zone defense. Nothing is worse for player development than a youth league team playing a zone. The defense just stands around and the offense is often forced to take bad shots because their skill sets don’t allow them to attack a zone defense properly. A wide open 15 footer is not a good shot for most 9 year olds.
Soccer has recognized the benefits of short squad play for a long time through futsol, and the younger the age group, the less kids are on the field. Football 7 on 7 leagues have become more popular and led to more highly skilled quarterbacks and receivers. Basketball has neglected short squad play at an organized level for a long time. Encourage your young player to get out and play 4 on 4 or 3 on 3. Look for a local league or tournament for them to play in. Short squad basketball is a great way for kids to get more reps with the ball, improve their skills, and have fun.