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How to Simplify & Improve Your Basketball Defensive Strategy

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Like most great players, great coaches spend time in the off-season sharpening their skills. These skills can be personal intangibles such as improving their communication and leadership abilities or these skills can be more basketball specific such as gaining a better understanding of certain X's and O's. As a defensive minded coach I am constantly looking for different ways to improve my team's defense every off-season.

One of the things I find extremely helpful is to talk to other coaches. Whenever I do this I have noticed a common theme when it comes to the number of defenses that are practiced versus the number of defenses that are actually employed throughout a game.

After our talk I always ask, "Why do you spend so much practice time working on things that you don't do in the game"? I have almost always received the same response, "I thought we would use it more!" Coaches who say this either have forgotten or do not understand the 80/20 rule.

This rule simply states that 80 percent of your results come from 20 percent of your activities. That also implies that 80 percent of the things that your and or your team practice will only deliver 20 percent of the results! Knowing this, great coaches will focus more of their time working on the ultra important 20 percent. I don't know if these numbers are exact or not but the principle behind it is very profound. Don't waste time teaching things you don't need! In order to help coaches maximize their practice time and receive optimum results, here are the only three types of defenses that every team needs!

  • #1 Man-to-Man
  • #2 Full Court Press
  • #3 Coaches Choice

#1 Man-to-man Defense

Perhaps the greatest benefit from practicing man-to-man defense is the improvement of individual defenders. Through a series of breakdown drills players will be able to focus more of their individual movements; close outs, slides, box out, and ball pressure rather than team defense. Although team concepts such as proper rotations are definitely important, it should not be emphasized over the individual's skill set. No matter what defense you are running, ALL of them are going to benefit from having strong individual defenders. It sounds cliché' but it's true - a defense is only as strong as its weakest link.

#2 Full Court Press

The second type of defense that all teams need is some sort of full court press. A press is extremely important for everyone no matter their age or skill level because it allows you to control the tempo of the game. Whether you want to slow down the game or speed it up, a press is going to help you accomplish it.

The type of press; zone or man-to-man is going to be determined by the personnel on your team and the type of tempo that you wish to create. If you want to speed the game up (and you have quicker athletes) then a man-to-man press is right for your program. If you want to slow down the tempo and shorten the game by limiting the overall amount of possessions then a zone press such as a 2-2-1 is the option for you.

#3 Coach's Choice

The third type can be called Coach's Choice. Since all coaches have their own areas of expertise and personal preferences, the final defense should fit the coach's personality while coinciding with his defensive objections.

Some great examples of this are:

  • 1-1-3 Amoeba Zone
  • Match Up Zone
  • The Scramble

While these are only a few of the multitude of things that a coach can choose from, there is an important guideline you might want to consider. When choosing a defense it is important that you can run it for about 30% of the total defensive possessions if necessary. If you cannot see your team running it at least 30% of the time then it is probably not worth the practice time and energy that it takes to install and perfect it.

Better to run a couple things perfectly than to run several things haphazardly!

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