Basketball on the Edge – What Cross-Ice Hockey Analytics Tell Us About 3 on 3 Basketball

I recently came across a video from USA Hockey that has tremendous implications for those of us who are involved in youth basketball as parents, coaches, and program directors. In the video, 8 & under hockey players are tracked using the latest technology from the NHL while playing cross-ice hockey (where the rink is effectively cut by more than half, but with the same number of players) and full-ice hockey played on a normal NHL size rink. The data supports the idea that cross-ice hockey is a much more effective game for developing skills that young hockey players need as they advance up the competitive ladder. Take a look at the video

Now, let’s translate the findings from hockey back to a basketball perspective. I have touted the benefits of short squad basketball before, but this data from USA Hockey puts facts behind the concepts. How is short squad basketball (like 3 on 3) similar to cross-ice hockey? What are the benefits to players, especially those at younger ages?

1) More touches!

In cross-ice hockey players were 2 x more likely to touch the puck than in a full ice game. In 3 on 3 basketball with less players than 5 on 5 a player will touch the ball more. Possessions are shorter, with less time being wasted bringing the ball up-court . The more a player touches the ball the more their opportunity to improve their skills.

2) More shots!

In cross-ice hockey players were 6 x more likely to take a shot than in a full ice game. In 3 on 3 basketball more shots are available because there are less players on each team. There is more room for players to create their own shot or be involved in screening/cutting situations that result in a shot. Game shots help players develop game speed shooting skills.

3) More passes thrown and received!

In cross-ice hockey players were 2 x more likely to attempt a pass and 5 x more likely to receive a pass. In 3 on 3 basketball passing skills and court vision can be developed under game conditions. With fewer players on the court more successful passes can be thrown that aren’t intercepted or dropped, building confidence and a willingness to pass. If players know they will be getting a pass back or will soon have another chance with the ball they become much more willing passers.

4) Less congestion and better spacing!

In cross-ice hockey the stats and coaches point to more battles for the puck and more contact as benefits. In 3 on 3 basketball I would argue that the opposite is probably true. Due to the reduced number of players the court is less congested allowing more room for driving to the basket, team play, and making split second in game decisions that are critical to a young player’s development.

5) More transitions from offense to defense and vice versa!

In cross-ice hockey players were 2 x more likely to change direction. In 3 on 3 basketball there is more opportunity to transition from offense to defense and vice versa. Players have to quickly react to a change of possession. Although in most cases players won’t be changing ends of the floor (unless you play main basket to side basket to create a “full court” 3 on 3 game) they are still mentally and physically transitioning from offense to defense and back more often.

6) All players benefited, but advanced players benefited the most!

This seems almost counter-intuitive, but anytime all of the above factors are in play it makes sense. The more opportunities any player has with the ball, but particularly an advanced player, the more likely they are to improve and have fun. It is easy for a player to get lost in a 5 on 5 game and rarely see the ball. That doesn’t happen in 3 on 3. All players stay involved and advanced players are central to most of the action that takes place.

In the months ahead we are going to be collecting some data from Hoop Guru AAU full court 5 on 5 games and compare that data with data from the same players playing in 3 on 3 games. As we gather and analyze the data look for it to be shared here on Basketball on the Edge. We are also planning to roll out a 3 on 3 basketball league in conjunction with Hoop Guru this summer to help your young player take advantage of the skill development opportunities 3 on 3 basketball presents. Keep checking back with us for updates!

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