Developmentally, this post is specific to our younger players in 3-on-3. Grades 1-4.
I find great joy in watching kids creatively and happily play the game of basketball. Capturing the imagination and getting lost in the game are the keys to a fun experience at their age and level.
In our effort to keep play moving, we naturally have our moments where things get too physical or the ball starts flying around. However, as the kids (and refs!) get a better feel for the free-flowing nature of play, it will begin to settle down. There is a process of becoming increasingly comfortable with the ‘chaos’ of the game that is the foundation to their overall development.
One aspect of building this foundation is taking you underneath the action of play. There are typically things I emphasize (or don’t emphasize) that surprise our parents. Here is one that often surprises parents of young kids.
In 3-on-3, I rarely emphasize the pass (and I never over-emphasize it!).
This may surprise you, but the younger the player, the more I encourage them to dribble until they cannot dribble any longer. There are exceptions to this, but they are rare. The pros say the pass is king. That’s fine…for the pros, my college players. And probably my 8th graders. For kids ages 6-10, the dribble is king.
Why? Well, for starters, the ability to handle the ball with confidence is a primary key to enjoying the game in the first place. Confidence dribbling the ball opens up an entirely new basketball world to young players. It empowers them to make plays and create shots—both for themselves and their teammates.
If you watch carefully, you will see that most kids pass for one of two reasons. They feel like they have to or they actually have to.
They often feel like they have to pass, because we typically direct them to pass too often. Our motivations are positive. We don’t want our kids hogging the ball and failing to share. Moving the ball is a good way to play the game. I get it, I really do, but I don’t think we need to worry about it as much as we think. If there is a time to dribble too much, that time is now—at a young age in a summer 3-on-3 league. This is the place to develop those skills.
I prefer the passes that actually have to be made. This typically will lead to more meaningful basketball action (and better shots!). Young players will learn to draw two defenders before they make a pass. This ability to “draw 2” is absolutely essential to great offensive basketball. But who develops that ability? The kids who can dribble.
It’s actually kind of funny that the kids who can dribble the best and score the most at younger ages are the same kids who turn out to be better creators for others later on. The evidence is on a 4-on-4 or 5-on-5 court nearby. The best passers on those courts are the kids who typically dribbled too much in 3-on-3! I grew up as that kid!
There is a balance. But if you are going to lean one way or another, lean towards encouraging more dribbling. Of course, doing so will lead to more turnovers and some missed open players. That’s fine. Indeed, it’s essential for their learning and vital to increasing their desire to practice their dribbling more! The pass may be more comfortable for you to emphasize today, but the dribble is more important to their great passing tomorrow.
So let the dribbling begin!