Bending The Rules

As many recreational athletic administrators know, the most difficult programs to create are for teenagers. There is something about peer pressure, pursuing a job and the discovery of independence that pulls young adults away from recreational programs. Attempting to form leagues and teams becomes difficult, and spells doom for some of them.

Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity applies well to programming for teenagers: “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Oftentimes, recreation programmers fall into the trap of rolling out the same programs or events for teenagers each year; inevitably, they then stand in disbelief with little (if any) interest. At Botetourt County Parks, Recreation and Tourism in Virginia, we fell into that trap for some basketball leagues--until two years ago.

Something New

After years of watching 13-and-over basketball registrations dwindle, we decided to tailor the leagues to the smaller registration numbers, and to the target age population. This customized approach actually increased registration somewhat because it matched the league appeal to the new league structure.

Traditionally, basketball teams are comprised of eight or more players with five on the court at once. However, when registration numbers are low, it’s nearly impossible to form enough teams to have a league (usually a minimum of four). With a three-on-three league, only five or fewer are needed for a team, almost half as many players as are usually needed. Moreover, the minimum number per team will be achieved much sooner. With the adjustment to three-on-three and the additional kids registered, there are now 10 teams in these leagues, where there were none in the past.

What Changed?

It was decided to make the older leagues less formal and more like the pickup games that kids play in their driveways or at the local fitness center. These teams still have a coach who organizes a weeknight practice to impart some instruction on the three-on-three concept, and possibly install a pick-and-roll play. Two games are played in about an hour on a Saturday afternoon after the five-on-five leagues are finished. This setup allows teenagers who may have jobs to easily schedule around the games since they are only on Saturdays and last only an hour. More importantly, we have brought the league to the teenager instead of bringing the teenager to the league. We have taken Einstein’s insanity definition and turned it on its head.

The Results

The new league has received rave reviews. Coaches love it because they don’t have as many teenagers to work with, and feel like they have a great opportunity to teach. Some have even suggested that we take this three-on-three concept and apply it to our 5- through 12-year-old leagues. Parents love it because they know their child will play more and not sit the bench. Players love it because the pickup-style setup of the league is already familiar to them. This mix makes for a league that really fills a need in the community, and keeps these young adults involved in something constructive. As we all know, the saying, “An idle mind is the devil’s workshop,” is never more applicable than with teenagers.

All children and young adults have a currency, and it’s not always the green kind. As administrators, think long and hard about what that currency is for a target population. How do you build a program that compels young adults to participate? Many teenagers perceive excessive structure as stifling and “uncool.” Our three-on-three leagues are merely a variation of a game played by children on sandlots for generations.

So keep an open mind to improve existing programs or create new ones. Sometimes a program idea is no farther away than your own driveway!

Mark Moore is the assistant director for Botetourt County Parks, Recreation & Tourism. He can be reached via e-mail at


Three-On-Three Rules

• Games are scheduled on each half-court.

• Games are scheduled as two 20-minute Saturday doubleheaders at the end of the traditional five-on-five leagues. Games are scheduled on the half-hour to allow for team switch-over.

• One official is scheduled--the two officials that work the five-on-five leagues each work a half-court.

• The ball must be taken outside the three-point arc after all changes of possession.

• There are no free-throws.

• On shooting fouls when the basket is made, the shooting team gets the basket and one point.

• On shooting fouls when the basket is not made, the shooting team gets one point and possession.

• Players cannot foul out.

• The clock is always running, and players are subbed in at any dead ball.