How the BIG3 creates alignment and consistency across our youth program

If everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority

The most successful programs and organisations excel at specific things. They do not get caught up in trying to be great at everything, rather they double down on their identity and continuously improve on the other aspects.

Jim Boeheim’s Syracuse teams are known for their 2 – 3 Zone, Coach K’s Duke team is known for its Motion Offense, John Beilein’s Michigan Wolverines were known for sending 5 guys back in transition, Tom Izzo’s Spartans for their offensive rebounding & Roy Williams Tarheels for their transition offense.

Does this mean they couldn’t do anything else? Absolutely not. Of course, they could. The point is that they were clear on what they wanted to be great at, good at and average at.

Within our program at Basket Swans Gmunden, we are in the early stages of revamping our program and have identified our core pillars and style of play. It will be interesting to observe over the next few years how we build our identity and become known for 1 – 2 things. I will share these with you in a later post. Today’s post is about being consistent with a few things in practice.

We refer to these as our BIG3. These are three segments that we do in every practice, regardless of what team or level the guys are on. These are non-negotiable for all our coaches. We’re not dictating how it is done, what drills are used or when in practice they are done. However, it is important that every practice includes these three segments. These are non-negotiables in our Club.

Shooting/Finishing Segments

The point of the game is very simple. Score more points than the other team. That’s it.

It doesn’t matter how great we are at passing, or dribbling or rebounding the basketball. If we can’t put the basketball through the hoop, then we are probably going to lose more games than we will win. Therefore the most important skill there is in basketball is scoring the rock.

Hence, in every practice that we do, we include a segment on shooting/finishing.

There’s a couple of benefits that we are hoping to achieve:

  • We want our players to get used to seeing the basketball go through the net multiple times in practice so that we can help develop their comfort and confidence with shooting the ball.
  • Through multiple repetitions from the earliest stages of them joining the Club to the latter stages, an aligned emphasis is placed on this core skill which will help them regardless of where they choose to play for in the future.
  • Through tracking and monitoring their progress weekly, we hope that our players develop the motivation, the discipline and the persistence to shoot the ball more unsupervised. As players watch their shooting percentages increase in practice, and see how that impacts their games, we hope that it creates a snowball effect.
  • Players who are comfortable at finishing through multiple ways around the rim in various situations.

When it comes to finishing at the rim, we take into account that every player is different and we account for individuality. However, as a Club, we place a premium on certain types of finishes (in terms of footwork, hand positioning, body positioning and board placement). This allows us to introduce various finishes to our players and as they progress from the U10’s to the U14’s, they’re learning new finishes. As a result, there is continued development across our youth players.

Snippet from our Club Curriculum

From a shooting perspective, we work a lot on players getting balanced quickly especially on the move, as this is where we hunt for most of our shots during games. As dribble penetration occurs, players off the ball move into the windows and are ready to catch and shoot it. Therefore, we begin to introduce concepts and principles to our players in shooting drills, oftentimes before they even know why we are doing it.

We’re big advocates for finishing at the rim and hunting wide-open threes, so that’s what we spend more time on with the older players. It is still important to note that as a youth program, we are developing players who hope to be playing the game at the highest level in ten to fifteen years time. That means we have to be proactive in trying to anticipate where the game will be then.

With the rise of the free or three mindset, we believe that the mid-range game will come back. Even now, we can see it happen. As teams are adjusting to help at the rim and closeout hard to the three-point line, the mid-range is oftentimes left open. So, we want to ensure that our players have the skills they need to be able to knock down shots from those positions too.

The bottom line is the game is all about scoring, and it doesn’t matter how great you can pass, dribble or defend – the point of the game is to score more points than the other team. Therefore, we work on finishing and/or shooting in every single practice.


1vs1 Games

The second thing that we want to do in our practices is playing a lot of 1vs1 games. This doesn’t mean just rolling out the ball and letting the guys play without having a specific purpose in mind. Rather, this is all about recreating the scenarios from games where we believe our players need help.

As each player is different, we can have four different scenarios being worked at four different baskets with three players working on the specific thing that they need to get better at.

Just like each offensive possession that does not result in a turnover ends with a shot attempt. Each offensive possession ultimately comes down to a one on one situation at some point, especially when the game is in a neutral state.

E.g. If we’re running our motion series and are executing our dribble hand-off, as soon as #1 hands the ball off to #3, #3 is in a 1vs1 situation with whichever defender is on him.

As a result, we need to break this down into a 1vs1 game so that #3 understands the various perceptions that can exist in this scenario and how best to attack them to get the advantage that the team wants.

We want to teach our guys how to receive the ball, read the defense and play one on one from that position. It doesn’t mean we want to take four or five dribbles and spend four or five seconds with the ball in our hands, which allows the defense to load into the help-side, but it does mean that we want to be aggressive with our attack and find, use or create a quick advantage.

The 1vs1 games, when done right puts the players in different positions so that they can see when to use a stab or a spike or a stampeded dribble.

It allows them to

  • see that the advantage has been neutralised and that they have to give up the ball;
  • build confidence and be comfortable playing 1vs1;
  • handle pressure even when they haven’t got an advantage and are scanning for one

The 1vs1 segment is crucial as it teaches our players how to recognise and react in those moments. Regardless of what style or system you play, the game will always boil down to one on one at some point.

Let’s just say you run basic horns as shown in the diagram 1 above. In the first instance, the defense switches (diagram 2) so it becomes a 1vs1 with the defender being in a neutral position. In the second instance, if there is no switch (diagram 3), it becomes a 1vs1 situation with the defense trailing and a little behind the action.

These are the common starting points for most offenses that are in a neutral position. Someone on offense has to initiate an action and get the defense out of neutral before we can flow into our dribble penetration principles or domino actions.

Staying with the horns example from above, if the ball handler attacks the basket in a straight line, we are now in our dribble penetration principles and the off-ball player needs to be ready to catch and shoot or catch and drive depending on whether the defender is caught in a short or long closeout. Now, that becomes the second 1vs1 action within the space of a few seconds.

A lot of actions end up coming down to 1vs1, and we want to teach our guys how to recognize the different situations and be able to finish from those situations, either because we’ve been able to turn it into a 1vs0 at that moment, or it has become a 2vs1 and then to take advantage from that. So we will do a lot of one v one breakdowns in our practices.


3vs3 Games

The final thing that we want to include in all of our practices is 3vs3 situations. The 3vs3 situation is the most important one out of our BIG3. This is because we can actually get shooting and 1vs1 situations from 3vs3 segments, but can’t get the reverse.

The other thing that 3vs3 games do for us is that it allows us to introduce the secondary reads that are needed within our offense or actions. Most actions in basketball are 2-man or 3-man actions.

Think Flex, Horns, Pistol or even Zipper. These are 3-man actions. Playing 3vs3 allows our players to get multiple reps running the main part of our actions continuously in smaller games, instead of wasting reps by just standing in the corner (at times this is actually needed).

There have been several studies that have shown that small-sided games, such as the 3vs3 games increases opportunities for player involvement. A pilot study by Manchester United Football Club showed that there were:

  • 135% more passes
  • 260% more scoring opportunities
  • 500% more goals scored
  • 225% more 1vs1 encounters
  • 280% more dribbling skills

Most coaches universally agree that in order to improve the skill level of players, we need to increase repetitions.

Small-sided games are one of the best ways to increase repetitions that are game-like. This is because games are unpredictable and players are being exposed to several different components of the game in every possession. Not only are they getting reps for technical movement patterns, but they are also getting in the much-needed repetitions for perception-action coupling. This is something that most traditional practices fail to include in practice segments.

By playing more 3vs3 in practice, we are constantly putting our players in positions where they can develop faster, and it’s simply because all players are constantly being involved in all the actions.

The BIG3 links the most important part of the games for us so that we are developing our players’ skill level at an increased rate. From technical skills to perception-action coupling to tactical skills, the BIG3 fit in seamlessly for us as we focus on skill development within team play. In addition, it allows us to instil the habits needed to develop our playing style and principles that we use at our Club.

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