Managing a practice with small-sided games

A coach sent me the following questions about using small-sided games during practice:

When you play small-sided games (2 on 2, 3 on 3), do you play continuously on a full court or do you play half court?

I do both. I use games like 2v2 Rugby and 3v3 Hockey (see Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development, Blitz Basketball, or Developing Basketball Intelligence) that are full-court games, and I also play 2v2 and 3v3 cut throat in the half court.

How do you rotate teams so there is not much standing around?

When I play cut-throat style games, I change teams on every possession. Essentially, each possession has a winner and a loser: if the offense scores, it wins; if the defense gets a rebound or steal, it wins. The winner goes to offense, and the new team enter on defense.  With 12 players on a team, there are four teams in 3v3. Therefore, teams are out for 20-30 seconds.

In full-court games, teams stay on the court until they are scored against. Therefore, teams can spend more time standing on the sideline in these games. However, they also spend more time on the court and the transition-style of play tends to make players tire more quickly.

I also play games like 4v4v4 where the red team starts on one end, the black teams starts on the other end, and the white team starts in the middle with the ball. The white teams attacks toward the red team; the winner will attack to the other end against the black team. Again, in this style, teams stand around for only the length of one possession, roughly 10-30 seconds.

How do you keep games from slowing down (kids arguing over calls, alot of holding the ball, etc)?

I play some games with no out of bounds if I want to emphasize hustle or aggressiveness. Otherwise, when I play games, the defense always gets a ball that goes out of bounds. My reasoning is that I do not want to punish good defense (a deflection, blocked shot, etc), and I want offensive players to understand that passes that are deflected in practice are likely to be stolen in games. By sticking to this rule, there is no argument as to who touched the ball last.

I also worn players that I will make bad calls in practice. Officials will make bad calls in games, so I want the players to be prepared to play through contact and not react to calls. I do not know if this is the reason or not, but I rarely have players arguing over calls in practice.

As for holding the ball, I play all games to a certain score, so there is no incentive to hold the ball. To win, they have to score. I also emphasize that players are most open when they first receive the pass, so I tend not to have the problem of players holding the ball.

If players are pounding the ball too much, I institute a dribble rule: Each player is limited to three or four dribbles. This tends to speed up the game and get the ball moving.

By Brian McCormick, M.S.S., PES
Coach/Clinician, Brian McCormick Basketball
Author, Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League

6 thoughts on “Managing a practice with small-sided games

  • Hi Brian – Thanks for offering young coaches great methods and ideas!

    I’m a former HS/college coach and a parent of a 7 year old who loves basketball. I’ve learned over the years that small-sided games are a great teacher.

    Best regards and keep up the great work!

    Mike Willard

  • Hi Brian,

    I’m sold on small sided games, the majority of my practices (6th Grade Boys) revolves around 2vs2, 3vs2 3vs3 games. In years past, our offense (practiced using SSG) worked fine against zones or m2m, but now as they get older my team is having a difficult time with zone defenses.

    Do you have any suggestions for a SSG (or maybe rules) that can help the kids identify the holes that form in zone defenses? We play a 4out1in Read&React type of offense, I like my post to stay at the short corners and occupy the back row defenders so that gaps can open up in the middle of the key vs a 2-3 or 3-2 zone. The kids, when they cut don’t sit in the gaps, and when they do, the other boys don’t even look inside.

    I’ve been working on this but only in 5vs5 drills, I was hoping to find a good 3vs3 drill to help the kids.

    Thanks for all your help

    Richard Sarigumba

  • Richard:
    It’s hard to work on zone with 3v3 unless you played one one side of the court or somehow constrained the area. It’s just difficult to simulate the movements of the defense in 3v3. I like to do advantage games to work on offense against a zone: 4v3 and 5v4. First, the defense cannot match up when done a man, and second the offense can exploit openings and practice cuts and actions that should wrk against a 5-man zone too. From a defense standpoint, it forces your defenders to talk and help more, so it has a defensive component too.

  • Thanks Brian,

    I think I’ll try the 5vs4 today and see how it works. Maybe weigh inside scores off a pass higher.

    Thanks again…


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.