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Common Reasons a Basketball Zone Defense Breaks Down

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A good zone defense can be very effective in shutting down a good offensive team. In many cases it's the perfect cure against teams that have a reputation for dominating inside the paint. It also has a tendency to keep the opposing offense off-balance. I personally don't think that using a zone exclusively for your defense is the best way to go but I do feel that every coach should make it a part of their program and use it strategically.

If you've tried running a zone defense in the past there's a good chance you saw a lot of holes in it. The danger with the zone is that it can be exposed quite easily by a good team that has the ability to recognize the common weaknesses. There are a number of things that can go wrong if your players aren't extremely disciplined. The good news is though, if you know what to look for you can make quick adjustments and train your team to play a smothering zone defense that opposing teams will dread playing against.

Here are the key things you need to watch out for and remember. These are the most common reasons zone defenses fall apart...

1. Teach man-to-man principles before you ever introduce a zone defense to your kids

It's next to impossible for a player to be a good zone defender when he hasn't already mastered how to play good man-to-man defense. Technically a zone means that each player guards an area on the floor but that theory is taken a little too literal sometimes. When an opposing player enters your zone you have to guard that person! If a kid doesn't understand man-to-man fundamentals how in the world can you expect him to make things happen in a zone? Things must be taught in the proper order. Don't even think about a zone defense until you feel like your players understand how to play man-to-man defense.

2. Players don't box-out

When you're in a man-to-man it's easy to understand who to box-out when the shot goes up - it's the person you're guarding. A huge problem a lot of teams have when they go to a zone is they see their rebounding numbers go way down and it's because players aren't boxing out like they usually do. Because they are in a zone they guard all sorts of different people (whoever enters their zone) and it causes confusion on who to box out when the shot goes up. You cannot let this happen to your team. Teach them to get a body on someone. Come up with drills to do in practice so that it's not something new in a game. Teach them to get a body on whoever is closest to them when the shot goes up.

3. Players don't get a hand up on every shot

A specific goal that your team should have on defense is to have a hand in the face of every single shot that is taken. Obviously if this happens it makes the shot more difficult and makes it less likely that it will go in. In a man-to-man defense this comes perfectly natural - in a zone, not so much. You have to hammer your players on this one. Let them know that it is unacceptable for them to sit back and watch a shot go up.

4. Player's coasting because they don't feel accountable

This is a big one. When you're playing in a man-to-man defense there is a lot of personal pride felt by the defender. If his man scores a basket it's ultimately his responsibility. It's very hard to point the finger at someone else. In a zone defense, that's not the case. When your team is in a zone defense the responsibility of someone scoring is shared by the team and therefore the pain isn't that great. If you play a zone you have got to somehow let your players know that they most certainly will be held accountable for their effort and if you see them coasting they will pay the price. Be direct with them and let them know that it's easy for them to think that they are less accountable but you aren't going to allow that to happen.

5. Miscommunication

Players that execute a good zone defense are constantly communicating. If an offensive player is constantly moving it's likely that he'll run through multiple areas of the zone. If one of your defenders follows him too far it puts your team in a position where there are 2 defenders on 1 person and so someone else on the floor is wide open. Your players need practice so they get very comfortable with what area of the court they are guarding and what to do when an opposing player runs through his area. How long does he stay with him and when does it become his teammate's responsibility to take over.

6. Playing too vanilla rather than scheming to take away the offense's strengths

One of the really beneficial things about a zone defense is the fact that it can be customized to take away the offense's best weapons. For example, let's say that the opposition has two very tall, very talented post players and a handful of below average guards. In this case it makes a lot of sense to pack the zone inside so that you take away the easy pass to their post players and instead force the guards to shoot from outside. If the opposite is true and you are facing a team with a few lightning quick guards that can bury the three, then you'll want to consider stretching the zone around the perimeter to force the ball inside. The point is to take away a team's strengths and make them try to beat you with their second or third best options. The worst thing you can to is always play a vanilla 2-3 zone and never adjust.

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