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Defense – The basic principles that can never miss

One of the topics I most like to address is basketball defense for being a simple topic, and with well-defined principles. That mythical Michael Jordan sentence “offense wins games, defense wins championships” is the basis on which almost all athletes learn to defend.

However, the sentence makes more sense because teams when in fact feel they can win the game apply both in offense and defense. As we will see ahead, due to its simplicity, defense often ends up being a little more effort and concentration than natural talent. It is normal to see that a player who is less talented in the offense, plays at the highest level is because he defends very well.

A team can have several ways to defend, full-court man-to-man, or full curt zone defense, or even just midfield, but very pressing. However, whatever the different defense systems chosen by strategy, there are basic principles that any defense system has. These principles are the ones that have to be taught before choosing to teach any defensive system.

Principles of Defense of the Ball Player

Starting with the basics, a defender may be defending a player with a ball, or he may be defending players without a ball. The defender of the player with the ball is undoubtedly the most dangerous of them all because at that moment he is the only one capable of scoring a basket. So it has to be highly defended.

In front with the ball player

To defend the player with the ball, we must always be in the front with him, that is, the player with the ball – the defender’s chest – basket. To imagine a line that goes from the player’s chest with the ball and the basket, the defender has to be “intercepting” that line.

Active hands

The second principle is to have your hands always active, ready to upset the dribble to the attacker, or intercept a pass or even steal the ball without ever questioning the fact that it can be overtaken. Otherwise, we can jeopardize all the effort we’ve had so far.

Willingness to defend

Finally, I emphasize the desire to defend being physically and mentally prepared to defend – this last principle is what will make a player stand out from being a good defender or being a defensive machine.

It is not necessary to be a Rodman, on the other hand, it is necessary to be willing to press the attack to the maximum to lose the ball, for this if it is necessary to improve our physical conditions. In addition to being physically strong, we also have to be mentally strong so we don’t lose focus if we don’t agree with a foul that the referee marked us or even in the last few seconds being able to defend the last throw.

Principles of defense of the 1st pass line

Further the player with the ball, the first pass line is the most dangerous. For this, the requirement must be the same, in fact, whether the player is defending the concentration requirement must be maximum.

Be on the pass line

It doesn’t matter if the defensive system says whether to close the pass line or open the pass line, what matters is that the defender is on that line. For me, I think it’s important that the pass line is closed to make the attack more difficult.

Near the ball

The positioning of this pass line is essential, the player must be able to be on the pass line, but if assistance is needed, it is therefore essential to be half way away from the player with the ball.

Watching the ball

Finally, the player who is on the pass line must be watching the ball and his player. The analogy of aiming the “pistols” is often used, one for the player with the ball and the other for my player. That way we never lose track of where the ball is and where my player is.

Principles of defense of other pass lines

Likewise to the 1st pass line, there are other pass lines. These pass lines are the ones that are farthest from the ball, however from one second to the next they can be closer to the ball and become the 1st pass line. For them to do their job well, they have to follow their principles to the letter.

Occupation of spaces

The correct positioning of these pass lines is essential so that nothing in the defense fails. Just a small meter beside where they should be, the team quickly suffers a basket.


These pass lines must be active, that is, if my direct defender changes position I have to quickly readjust myself so as not to compromise my team.


Many coaches insist on this point a lot, I consider this point fundamental for an effective defense. The pandemic brought the possibility of watching the games on television and we realized how much the players communicate on the pitch so that nothing fails. A very useful tip to improve communication in the team is to define what to say in each situation. Example: a player who defends the ball shouts “BALL”

How to apply these Defense principles? 

The first thing to do is to define the principles that the coach considers important in the team. Next, think about and create exercises to apply these principles.

I will put and explain some exercises that I do to work on all of these principles.

Exercise nº1: Defensive 1×1 Full Court

1st Drill: 1x1 Defensive Drill Full Court

Two by two with a ball. One player attacks and another defends. The goal of the attacking player is to pass through the cones, and the goal of the defending player is for the attacker to pass through the cones.

When the midfield passes, the attacker waits for the defender and plays one against one.

Exercise nº2: 1×1 in defense + 1×1 with offensive player running

2nd Drill: 1x1 on defense + 1x1 with offense player running

It is played 1×1 inside the cones, but with the passive offense always in zigzag for the defender to work on the principles of the player’s defense with the ball until the end of the cones.

When passing the cones, I play 1×1.

2nd Drill: 1x1 on defense + 1x1 with offense player running

In the second variant, the defender starts from the other side of the field, as soon as the attacker accelerates, the defender goes up to him and plays 1×1 until the end.

The goal is to force the defender to match the attacker when he is in an offensive transition

Exercise nº3: 1×1 + 2×2 Help

3th Drill: 1x1 + 2x2 - Help Defense

In the first variant the exercise begins with the coach attacking the basket, defender stuns and returns to defend the player.

3th Drill: 1x1 + 2x2 - Help Defense

In the second variant, the exercise begins with two players attacking and two players defending. The coach attacks one side, if he attacks the right side the defender comes to give help (stunt and recovers) then the player on the opposite side comes to give help. Passing in follows 2×2 game.

Rotation: Who attacks – defends. Whoever enters – enters to attack.

As the players occupy the spaces well and apply the principles, more players must be added to practice real game situations – a progression from 2×2 to 3×3 to 4×4 to 5×5.

Exercise 4: Shell Drill

Drill nº4: Shell Drill

The exercise starts with 3×3 / 4×4 / 5×5 (as the trainer wants). It consists of occupying defensive spaces before the ball.

Drill nº4: Shell Drill

The continuity of the exercise is done by the coach, if the coach says go to 2, the defense has to adjust (graph 2). If the coach says penetrate to the line the defense has to adjust to the penetration.

If the coach says game, they start playing and the decision is theirs.

Ready to improve your team’s defense?

To conclude, improving the team’s defense is not something that goes from one training session to the next, it is connected with the acquisition of defensive principles by the team. Consequently, it is necessary to have a logical progression, it is important that the players first learn to defend a 1×1 only then the 2×2, and so on.

It is also necessary for players to be physically and mentally prepared to defend 24 seconds over 24 seconds. In order for them to be able to do that, the coach has to encourage them to defend against wear and tear. Without ever forgetting the basic principles.

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