The small forward – or number ‘3’ in the language of the court – is a basketball position normally occupied by one (or two) of the players who make up the quintet in play on the basketball court, in the out-of-zone position. . Learn more about them in this Forwards Training Guide.
What is the role of a Small Forward?
A court all-rounder
This is because small forwards are a hybrid between a points guard (or better still, a shooting guard) and centres. They are the so-called centres, plus four (out of zone), and five (inside). In fact, it’s common to find a position called the power forward (which is a hybrid between both positions) and/or that the forward supports the points guard if the shooting guard is being defended by a physically superior player and he isn’t able to perform his role.
Physical training for small forwards
In the face of such a balanced picture, what do we do? Should a forward train in a special way?
The reality is that they don’t have to. A small forward must train just like a point guard or centre, and use a specific training system to one position or another depending on the needs of the player or the team:
Doesn’t seem too hard, right?
It really isn’t, as they’re very balanced players, what they lack is what you have to develop.
The player with the most energy expenditure?
One of the frequently asked questions in a basketball team is
Who is the most physically demanding basketball player during a game?
Before offering you an answer, here’s the demanding individual training session performed by one of the best small forwards in the NBA, at least one of the most recognised: Lebron James .
There’s not a simple answer to the question, because when we talk about aerobic physical effort, everything is very approximate.
There is a lot of research into which position travels the furthest during a game, but the data is quite conflicting, nothing’s too clear.
What we do know is that over a four year period, the players who show the most training load are the small forwards. What is the reason for this? Because they suffer a higher degree of fatigue (Edwards et al., 2018) and therefore recover less, worse and end up suffering alterations in their hormonal system. (Schelling et al., 2015).
There are many factors that condition fatigue, so we don’t know which factor a forward suffers more than their teammates. What we do know, however, is that a coach should monitor his small forwards and talk to the team psychologist to detect overreaching early, which may trigger burnout syndrome, causing the small forwards to be withdrawn from competition for a few months.
Speaking of sport and training load, it is always better to prevent than to cure.
Technical-tactical training for forwards
This translates into:
- Ability to bounce with both hands and maximum control over movement.
- Make a speed pass.
- Shoot precisely from different distances and angles to the hoop axis.
- Entering the basket by outpacing the closest defender, combined with an extraordinary vision of the game that allows them to select the best moment to shoot, enter, or pass the ball to a teammate whose defender has been dragged by him, in an entrance to the basket, for example.
So, I’d like to propose a session model where we can train the technical skills specific to a small forward:
We divide the team into groups of 3 players at half court, we’ll play a modified 3×3.
We ask all players to lie face down with their hands behind their heads and we place as many balls as we have in groups of 6 players on the court (3×3). We can place more balls than groups, but the game becomes especially difficult (and fun), I warn you.
The play begins as soon as a player has the ball in his hands, with no court limits or time stops. They have to put the basket in the one assigned to them.
Do you know the evolution of a total player like Luka Doncic? Don’t miss the video reviewing his story from the beginning until his arrival to the NBA, the best basketball league in the world…
This game is important as it not only develops the physical capacity (especially aerobic power) of the players, but also their decision making and communication skills, factors of which I have found deficiencies many more times than I would like to admit. Even in professional teams: how many balls are lost because they don’t communicate properly in games?
Why do I say this?
Because there’ll be a lot of balls, but also a lot teams running towards them. One team is a direct opponent, the rest are not, but they are all heading for the same position.
At first, the scene is chaotic, and if your team doesn’t have good tactical development, it’ll be a little difficult to catch, but don’t despair.
If two players of the same team catch two balls (when they should only catch one), they need to run 800 meters in the shortest possible time, and they need to go fast! Because as soon as that play is over and the next one begins, the game starts, and if they are not on the court, their team will play a man down.
If two opposing teams (e.g. team 1 vs. team 2) catch 2 different balls (player X from team 1 catches a ball, and player Y from team 2 catches another ball), the whole team will run a mile (~1,500 meters).
I’ve seen everything in this game, and many signs of motor skills due to the great variability and uncertainty it hides. Indirect blocks in attacks 20 meters away from the basket to advance because they were being pressured as soon as they took the ball. I’ve seen long passes intercepted at speed and stopped in the middle that made the defender go down and the attacker throw the ball. And of course… I’ve seen two players from opposing teams, bending down to pick up two balls and faking each other out, knowing that if they touched the ball they would both run.
It’s quite a sight!
We keep the team divided into sub-groups of 3 players facing each other, but in this case a player from the defending team rests and rotates with his teammates.
The game goes again from midfield, where a team starts by attacking from the centre of the court.
The aim of the game is for the attacking players to score, and for the defending players to prevent them from scoring. Simple, isn’t it? It looks like a 3×2 in offensive superiority.
It really is. However, the attacking players can’t make forward passes, only backwards or in parallel, just like a rugby team would do.
This game can be very difficult for attackers with different variations that, again, will improve their coordination skills and tactical vision of the game. I’ll leave you with some ideas:
- Reintroduce the rotated player to make a 3×3.
- Ban two handed passes.
- Only allow bounce passes.
- Ban return passes to the player who just passed to you.
- Ban passing without bouncing.
You’ve got endless possibilities!
A playful exercise in shooting technique. Have you ever played a throwing wheel? Well, it’s similar. Let’s see it.
We divide the team into pairs, one member of the pair will be the shooter and another will be the guide.
All pairs’ shooters must be at an angle in line with the basket board.
All guides must always be positioned in front of their partners, at a safe distance where they do not hinder them but are easily visible.
However, for the launch, the shooters will not be able to shoot as they wish, they’ll have to obey their guide, who through a gesture with the hand will tell them how to shoot:
- Raise right hand to bounce and one step of lateral displacement + shot.
- Raise your left fist to bounce back and change direction to power forward, one step + shot.
- Raise two arms for a jump shot.
- Dance gangnam style for feint + lateral pass + shot without jump.
It’s important both that the players are attentive not to make mistakes in the interpretation of the guides’ gestures, and that the guides are attentive not to give orders that could make their teammates collide with other pitchers.
Misinterpretation of the guidance signal will mean the shooter has to move back a base.
I know that many coaches think that this is not training, but playing… I have already shared my vision as a coach in previous posts, where I explain that the small forwards are basketball players, and therefore they have to play. Also that training based on pure physical conditioning is obsolete without efficient exercises to improve the physical shape of an athlete.
The years have passed, but the Spanish small forward Rudy Fernandez is still active and offering three-pointers and dunks almost at the same time. Here’s an example of how he participated in the 2009 NBA dunk competition…
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With the previous exercises yo’ll end up shooting like the following professionals coming out of the block.
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- Edwards, T., Spiteri, T., Piggott, B., Bonhotal, J., Haff, G. G., & Joyce, C. (2018). Monitoring and Managing Fatigue in Basketball. Sports, 6(1), 19.
- Schelling, X., Calleja-González, J., Torres-Ronda, L., & Terrados, N. (2015). Using testosterone and cortisol as biomarker for training individualization in elite basketball: A 4-year follow-up study. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 29(2), 368–378.
- Vannini, F., Spalding, T., Andriolo, L., Berruto, M., Denti, M., Espregueira-Mendes, J., … Filardo, G. (2016). Sport and early osteoarthritis: the role of sport in aetiology, progression and treatment of knee osteoarthritis. Knee Surgery, Sports Traumatology, Arthroscopy, 24(6), 1786–1796.