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How to Teach How to Play

By Joe Crispin, 09/14/18, 11:30AM EDT

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We began our Halfcourt 3-on-3 'League' last week. As I have told many, it is one of my favorites. Kids are empowered to play and they have a ton of opportunities to touch the ball in legitimate basketball situations. If you watch carefully, you will find that they are often presented with action opportunities that they could never consistently get in a 5-on-5 game. 

All those things are great, but there is also a teaching element that I want to clarify today. The primary area of focus for us during these hours is teaching offensive and defensive team concepts. Essentially, our hour goes something like this: 

5-10 min:  Show an offensive/defensive concept that is the focus for the evening. 

20 min:  'Practice' those concepts in breakdown, but game-like situations. 

30 min:  Play. Just play. 

The reason all this is important is because in my experience, we often seem to want to teach kids concepts of play in very structured, anti-play sort of ways. Very vanilla, very obvious and controlled ways. But the big issue I have with these ways is that although they look good, they don't really work. At least not as well as I would like. 

Embedded in our hour of play is, from my vantage point, the best kind of instruction.

Less telling, a little more showing, and a lot of doing. 

Showing is good. Talking less good. Doing is best. By far. And not just doing in an obvious, do-it-the-same-way-every-time sort of way. But doing is a game-like way. Doing it with defense. Doing it on your own.

This involves more mistakes. But that also means it involves more learning in a shorter period of time. If you want to learn, really learn, how to play the game of basketball, messiness is essential. 

Think of it in terms of learning a language. The most efficient and effective way to really learn Italian is to go to Italy and sound like a idiot for months. If you are willing to 'speak' your way around, you will sound dumb, but not for long. Eventually you will get it. Bit by bit you will make mistakes, ask questions, and figure it out. You will 'catch' the language, the accents, the way to put sentences together. If you really want to take it next level, you can study the language at the same time. Do both and you will soon put great sounds together instinctively and sound like a true Italian.

Another option is to stay here in the states, visit the Italian classroom and hit the text book for the same amount of time.  Your learning may be cleaner. Nicer. And you certainly won't get worse. But you will definitely not improve as much as you would immersing yourself in Italy (you'll miss out on the food as well). 

The design of this 3-on-3 hour is a pursuit of that immersive experience combined with a little book work. In a sense, that simple sentence defines everything we try to do.

For example, this coming week we will show and play through a basic ball screen option in a 3-on-3 format. I'll keep my talking and showing to a minimum, so that the kids can actually 'do' more. We use the breakdown or controlled scrimmages to 'force' them to implement these concepts before play is live. This enables them to add a little bit to their basketball language in a shorter period of time.

The belief is that if they do this enough with wise basketball concepts,  they will instinctively start to do these things during games. Take enough time immersing yourself in good actions and you will eventually just do good things without a second thought. 

So when you see kids running around for 50 minutes, know that there is a lot more learning going on than you might think. Embrace the mess and encourage you kids to do the same. Encourage them to ask questions and make mistakes. It's the best way to learn and that's what this is all about.