The Case For Getting Rid of The 3pt Line In Youth Basketball

basketball spectator and parent

Steph Curry, Damian Lillard, and Trey Young are excellent players and so fun to watch, but they are silently ruining youth basketball.

Coaches notice this more than parents, but in every gym, I walk into, I’ll find kids under the age of 10 chucking up 3pt shots. Then there are the middle school-aged kids 11-14 working on their James Harden-style step-back 3s. Those same kids struggle to make right and left-handed layups and lack proper shooting form. From a development standpoint, I shake my head and then remind myself at least they are out here having fun. And having fun is the first step in finding a love for the game.

Elementary-Aged Kids Should Not Be Shooting Threes

Let’s remove the 3-point shot from kids under 6th grade. I do NOT want to remove the 3-point line! We must leave that on the court to help kids learn good spacing on offense. We should remove the value of the points scored from that line and encourage kids to shoot closer to the basket.

Elementary-aged kids do not have the strength to shoot with proper form from the three-point line. You might have a few kids who are the anomalies, but 99% of them cannot shoot with good form that distance. As you watch kids huck up thousands of bad 3pt shots, how hard it will be as a coach someday to correct that form.

Around age 12, more kids can start shooting with good form from that distance, but most will NOT fix their form. When I try to correct their form, most of them listen and make the adjustments while standing there, but the minute I turn my back, they are shooting with poor form again. Or you have the kids that tell you they don’t want to change their form because they make their shots. When they say they make their shots, we are talking relative to all the other 12-year-olds who are shooting 10%, and this one is at 20%. The problem is the kid at 20%; if he does not fix his form, he probably will be stuck at 20% and might not get much higher than that percentage in their entire playing career. Once that player gets to High School level playing, and the coach sees his form, he will also not have any confidence that he is a shooter and will not want him shooting. We all want the kids with pretty form shooting because we know as they develop, all of that basketball will start to be makes. The kid with the ugly form, when he shoots, coaches all shake their heads. If it is a make, we are all thinking even a blind squirrel finds a nut every once in a while.

If we remove the incentive, the 3 points, we will discourage the shooting. It won’t stop it, but it will discourage it.

If we can discourage it, we can have kids working on better form from closer distances and gaining essential skills like basic layups. As coaches, we need to have a development mindset and not a mindset I need to win next week’s game.

Remove 3 Point Shooting From 7th & 8th Grade Basketball

Here is where lots of coaches start to disagree with my opinion. We are now getting to an age where they can begin shooting with good form and have the strength to get the ball to the rim from the 3-point line. Not all of these teens can yet, but at least half can. My compromise is to add the 3pt shot to the game at this grade level but to have a few conditions.

As a coach with a development mindset, how do we accomplish developing the 3pt shot without taking away from their overall development? If you have one player that can shoot good 3s, then the rest of the team will also want to do that. Again they all want to be Steph. Having your whole team wanting to huck up 3s is not good for most players’ development.

Number one thing you can do as a coach is never reward it as extra points in practice. Never play 1s and 2s! I don’t even like at the High School level playing 2s and 3s. I want to encourage the players and team to take good shots.

What Is A Good Basketball Shot?

Before we move forward, let me define my definition of a good shot that I want all players to take. A good shot has three parts:

On Balance

Youth players need to understand how strong Steph Curry’s base is. Steph has some very impressive squat and deadlift numbers. Steph spends a lot of time working on his core and base strength. So that he can come off cuts and stop, on balance, and then get his shot off.

No one shoots well off balance. Even the elite pro players don’t shoot well, drifting left or right as they shoot. Yes, some of them can make that shot, but it is not a good shot as a percentage. Drifts forward or backward also decrease the percentage for most players at the college level and below. A step back with a little fade in it is a bad shot, even for most D1 college shooters.

You have to be on balance to shoot a good shot at a high percentage.

With Space

At all levels, the closer the defender is to the shooter, the lower the shooting percentage. That is why it is always important to try and close out and get a hand up because the closer you get, the lower the percentage a good shooter will shoot at. It is just math. The best shooters get their shots off exceptionally quickly, so the space they have to shoot is more significant.

Each player has to learn what their space requirement is. For this article, since we are talking about 8th grade and lower shooters, that space is a solid 6 ft or greater. If the distance is much less than that, shooters will adjust their form, lowering their percentage and ingraining bad reps into their shooting habits.

In Range

This is the hardest one to handle as a coach. Talking to players about their range at this age can be difficult because most kids think it is about 5 ft further than they think it is.

For most players in 8th grade and below, their range is their age plus or minus 2-3 ft. I know that math doesn’t add up to a 3 pt shot, hence the article. For example, a 10-year-old player’s max range would be 10 + 3 = 13ft. This formula also gives you a great working range for practicing shooting. Players should take most of their practice reps in the min and max range to develop into great shooters.

I lived with an NBA player for a month when I was 14 years old, and he always told me if you cannot shoot a shot with one hand with good form, then you should not shoot it. So I have kept that rule with my players. If you can shoot the shot with one hand and have decent form, I’m ok with you shooting from that range. That ends most arguments on range immediately as most kids struggle to do that.

The next thing I will talk to my players about in the 12-14-year-old range is you need to be shooting about 50% from your range in practice, with no defenders, for me to believe it is a high-percentage game shot for you.

Rules For 7th & 8th Grade Game Play – Shots I Don’t Want

At this age, it would be great if leagues could have rules around what type of 3-point shot is ok, but I know that is just pie-in-the-sky thinking.

I would only have 1 rule for games and for referees to learn to call, and that would be no dribble pull-up 3s. At this age and even for most High School players, dribble pull-up 3-point shots are a low percentage shot. Even at the college level, most players cannot sprint down the court and then pull up and shoot a 3-point shot at a high percentage. This is not a good shot because players are off balance, and per my rules above, that makes this a bad shot.

The more you communicate with your players on what you think is a good vs. a bad shot, helps them understand what you want as a coach. My 7th and 8th-grade players undersatnd that I think these scenarios are bad shots:

  • Any 3pt shot off any dribble
  • Shooting a bad pass 
  • Shots out of range
  • Shots off balance
  • Shots with no space

If they choose to shoot those shots, they know they better go in, or they will likely see the bench for a bit. I love that my true shooter will take the risk and shoot some of those shots because they are confident they will go in. Most of them, after they shoot, look over at me and smile when they make an unapproved shot. 

Rules for High School Players

In practice, I do not like to reward extra points for 3-point shots, and I never play 1s and 2s. If you are going to count the shots differently, then always 2s and 3s. I reason that I want all of the players to take the shot that is good for them. If all the shots count, the same players at this level want to win, and they will make another pass instead of shooting if it is not their shot. The shooters will shoot, and scores will get to the basket and finish. It rewards all types of players equally and lets the kids focus on what they are good at.

One of the biggest problems I have seen with High School, aged players when you allow extra points for a 3 is that kids get lazy in scrimmages. Scrimmages turn into a transition game where all the shots are 3-pointers, and only half of the team is running down to score. Every HS coach can think of a practice where this happened. You can preemptively stop this from happing in practices if everything is a 1pt shot. The players will then take the highest percentage shot their team can get, which is usually what we want in a game scenario.

Write Your Recreation Leagues and Ask Them To Change The Rules 

Nothing will change if we don’t start asking leagues for different rules. Most coaches I talk with spend far too much time trying to rein in kids from shooting so many 3pt shots at the youth level. In addition, parents want their kids to be the next Steph Curry, so they yell at 8yr Johnny to shoot every 3pt shot. Educate your players on why you don’t want them shooting this shot yet, then educate your parents, then attempt to get enough coaches in your league to agree to make a change and have the rules changed. The end game is better youth basketball development.