Basketball Defense Drills: Basketball Drills to Teach Defense

Top Defensive Basketball Drills
Free Basketball Defense Drills to Coach Defense
By Brad Winters

Boys and girls basketball coaches at all levels know that one of the major keys to being a successful coach is training their basketball players to play fundamentally sound defense. Although basketball defense is about 75% heart and hustle, and 25% knowledge, developing your team's basketball defensive fundamentals and skills are critical to the success of your ball club.

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Ben Wallace Blocking Shaq's Shot

Easy Basketball Defensive Drills to Teach
Winning Youth Basketball Drills for Kids

Here are some easy defensive basketball drills to add to your basketball drill encyclopedia. These are some of the top basketball drills that basketball coaches at all levels use to improve their players' basketball defensive skills - defensive stance, defensive footwork, one-on-one defense, defensive positioning on the perimeter, defensive position in the low post, help-side defensive positioning, defensive rotation, defensive closeouts, and defensive rebounding. Use these recommended basketball defensive drills to teach your players to play tough, tenacious, team defense.

Basketball Coaching Tips and Drills
Zone & Man-to-Man Defense Drills

One-On-One Basketball Defense Drill

This one-on-one basketball defensive drill can be either a half-court drill or full-court drill. Offense starts on the side of the court and tries to attack the basket and score. Defense pressures dribbler trying to arc the ball sideline and force the dribbler to speed up his game. Goal is to force either a turnover or contested jump shot. Of course, defensive player must always block out and rebound the basketball. After one group finishes, we send the next group. Here are some defensive coaching tips we emphasize:

Commit to defense! Great defense is all about "heart" and "hustle."

Get tough on defense! Each possession is a battle. The team that wins the most battles, wins the game.

Know who you are guarding - his number and his game.

Stop dribble penetration. We must always apply intelligent pressure defense on the ball (give a cushion if needed) without allowing dribble penetration into the paint.

Hands up on all shots! When the ball goes up, the hands go up. We must try to contest every shot (alter or change) by bothering the shooters (no rhythm jump shots).

One-On-One with a Post Basketball Defense Drill

We use this one-on-one individual basketball drill to overload the defender and teach individual defensive moves for guarding different offensive tactics. We run it the same way as we do our one-on-one basketball drill, except now the offensive player has an offensive post player as a partner. The post player can set screens for the offense, receive and return passes, and play his normal game except shoot and rebound. We like this basic basketball drill because it overloads the defense and really requires great effort, defensive concentration, and defensive anticipation of what is coming next on the defensive end of the court. Here are some coaching defense points we emphasize in this drill:

Defeat the screen. We must stay alert and be hard to screen. We want to fight through screens and keep on moving.

Block out! Make and maintain contact on all block outs. Defenders must be aggressive and “lay the lumber" to their opponent when blocking out. We must consistently block out after every shot.

Rebound the basketball - no second and third shots!

Eliminate silly fouls. Great defenders do not play out-of-control. Fouling, lunging, reaching, etc. is false hustle.

Pressure the ball!  We want to apply intelligent pressure on the ball without getting beat. Our basketball defender guarding the ball should be within touching distance of their offensive man, low in his stance with his hands and arms up near his mid-section, and ready to play tough man-to-man defense with his feet.

Two-On-Two Basketball Defense Drill

We use this fun basketball drill both as a full-court basketball drill and a half-court basketball drill. We match-up teams by skill level. Teams go one cycle and then switch from defense to offense. Before the drill starts, we check each player's defensive stance and defensive positioning in relation to the ball. On the coach's whistle, offense begins their attack. Action is fast, and easy to spot defensive breakdowns and weaknesses. After one group finishes, we send the next group. Here are some of the man-to-man defensive principles we stress in this drill:

See the ball! Stay alert and keep vision on the ball. We play ball defense. Know where the ball is at all times. It is everyone's job to stop the ball and help protect the power zone.

Deny all penetrating passes. We want to play "ball-you-man defense" inside the three-point line. Our individual defensive position off the ball is "one step off the line, and two steps to the ball."

Switch on all hard screens. We believe that the open shot is what gets you beat, not the mismatch. The only screen that we will not switch on is ball-screens (pick-and-roll).

Don't allow the cutter to cross your face in the lane. Always try to jam the offensive cutter and force him behind you. You must always try to stay between your man and the ball.

Always protect the power zone when your man sets a screen close to the lane. The basketball defender guarding the screener always opens up and protects the power zone (no pass or dribble penetration).

Five-On-Five Half-Court Basketball Defense Drill

We use a five-on-five basketball defense drill to teach the team defense phase of our man-to-man defense. In this drill we show the players where we want them to play in relation to where the ball is and in relation to their man. We place the offensive players in different offensive alignments, such as the 1-3-1 offensive set or the 2-1-2 offensive set, and simply have our offensive players move the ball very slowly so that we can check the defensive positioning, slides, and rotation of our defensive basketball players. Here are some of the defensive coaching points we emphasize in this drill:

Every time the ball moves, you move. We want all five of our basketball defenders to move as one on the airtime of the pass, not the catch.

Dead front the low post if he is a great scorer, otherwise we ¾ front the low post player from on top. If the ball is passed from the wing to the baseline, our low post defender will then cross the low post's face (staying between the ball and his man) and resume the ¾ front from on bottom.

Trap the low post. When the ball goes into the low post, we must trap from on top.

Eliminate vision... Belly-up and mirror the ball with your hands high when the dribbler picks up his dribble, and then go for the pass deflection.

Pressure the passer... Do not allow the passer to make uncontested passes. We want to harass the passer as much as possible and get pass deflections.

Three-On-Two Basketball Defense Drill

To teach our basketball players how to stop a three-on-two fast break, we use a three-on-two defensive basketball drill. We start the drill with the offense set up in a triangle in front of the basket with the point player initiating play. The two defensive players are lined-up in tandem, with one guarding the ball and the other responsible for protecting the power zone. The defender protecting the power zone divides his distance between his two offensive players.

On the pass from point to wing, the base-line defensive man covers the wing. Then the point defense drops back midway between the point and the opposite wing, where he is responsible for both of them. The action continues until the offense scores or the defense stops them. This is a good build-up drill to teach players how to play help-side defense and closeout intelligently on the ball off skip passes.

Zone Defense Basketball Drill

To teach the defensive slides of a zone (1-3-1 zone defense, 2-3 zone defense, 3-2 zone defense), we use six offensive players to attack it. We station these six offensive players in different offensive alignments to attack the zone defense we are practicing. The offense moves the ball very slowly at first; each offensive player fakes a pass inside and then passes to the next offensive player.

This permits us to check our player’s defensive zone slides to see if they are correct. After our players have proven that they correctly understand the right zone slides to make, we allow the offense to move the ball rapidly, trying to get off a good shot after eight or ten passes.

Three-On-Three Basketball Defense Drill

This three-on-three defensive basketball drill is our top basketball defense drill. Here we apply all our man-to-man basketball defensive tactics. This is our best drill for teaching players how to play the game of basketball. This basketball defensive drill starts at one end of the court with three offensive players and three defensive players. Offense must pick a side to give our defensive a strong/weak-side look. We start in perfect defensive position. Help-side defender is in the middle of the court. Defender one pass away is one-step off his man and two-steps up the line. The defender guarding the ball is within touching distance and instructed to arch the dribbler towards the sideline. The offensive team then tries to score on the defensive team. If the offense scores, the defense rips the ball out of the net and tries to fast break back the other way. Each group goes down-and-back and then the next group of six takes to the floor.

At the end of each cycle (down and back), we comment on our defensive play. Quickly we stress the positives and negatives to make sure all of our players understand what we are looking for in regard to our defensive fundamentals and skills. Here are some man-to-man defense coaching tips to emphasize to your ball club:

Talk on defense. A great man-to-man defense is a talking defense. We must have passionate talk on defense - "I've got the ball," "You get him," "Hand up on every shot," "Don’t let your man cross your face," "Block out," "No second shots," "Back screen, back screen, switch," "Pressure the ball, you’ve got help."

No easy baskets... Sprint back on defense and pick the ball up at the 28-foot line. Everyone else is inside the three-point line protecting the power zone and communicating to their teammates who they are going to guard on defense by talking and pointing at their man.

Don't allow the cutter to cross your face in the lane. Always try to jam the offensive cutter and force him behind you. You must always try to stay between your man and the ball.

Always protect the power zone when your man sets a screen close to the lane. The basketball defender guarding the screener always opens up and protects the power zone (no pass or dribble penetration).

Look to take the charge! Great defenders sacrifice their bodies to protect the power zone.

Five-On-Five Full-Court Control Basketball Defense Drill

We begin this basketball defensive drill (control scrimmage) in the half-court after dividing players into groups of five. We designate the defense and the offense we want to attack. If offense scores, the offensive team gets the ball again. When the defense gets the ball, they then attack at the opposite end of the court. Action continues until one of the two teams scores. The team that scores gets the ball again at the half-court.

This five-on-five drill is one of our player’s favorite drills. Although action is up-and-down the court, it is in a controlled scrimmage environment. After each score, we can make corrections and explain exactly what we want from our defensive tactics we are practicing. Here are some basketball man-to-man coaching pointers:

Deny all penetrating passes. We want to play "ball-you-man defense" inside the three-point line. Our individual defensive position off the ball is "one step off the line, and two steps to the ball."

Anticipate on defense. We want to try to intercept all lob passes and lazy bounce passes. We only go for the steal if we can catch the ball with both hands.

Switch on all hard screens. We believe that the open shot is what gets you beat, not the mismatch. The only screen that we will not switch on is ball-screens (pick-and-roll).

Dead front the low post if he is a great scorer, otherwise we ¾ front the low post player from on top. If the ball is passed from the wing to the baseline, our low post defender will then cross the low post's face (staying between the ball and his man) and resume the ¾ front from on bottom.

Trap the low post. When the ball goes into the low post, we must trap from on top.

Four-On-Four Cut Throat Basketball Defense Drill

We begin this basketball defensive drill by dividing our players into groups of four players. We try to make the teams as evenly matched as we can. Each team then competes against the other two or three teams. Defense must stop the offense to go on offense. Defensive teams rotate in and out until they stop the offensive team. Each team competes against the other teams until one team wins by scoring X points.

Players really enjoy this basketball drill for defense. Here are some coaching man-to-man defensive tips to stress to your players:

Close-out on the air-time of the pass, not the catch.

No middle, no middle, no middle! Always keep your inside foot high and deny dribble penetration back to the middle of the floor.

Hands up on all shots! When the ball goes up, the hands go up. We must try to contest every shot (alter or change) by bothering the shooters (no rhythm jump shots).

On defense do your work early.

Pinch and fake at the ball. The closest basketball defender from the ball must help seal the gaps by sliding his feet into the gap (pinch) and faking at the ball with his inside hand (as you fake at the ball, yell "hey"). We do not want our defenders to trap on the perimeter, but to stay in an open defensive stance that will allow them to quickly recover back to their man on the air-time of the pass.

Five-On-Five Full-Court Transition Basketball Defense Drill

We start this basketball defensive drill with five defenders positioned across the court at the free-throw line extended, and five players line up across the baseline. The coach starts this basketball defense drill by passing the ball to one of the offensive players on the baseline. This triggers them to start their transition offense.

The defensive player guarding the ball must sprint and touch the baseline before sprinting back on defense. This forces the other defenders to play four-on-five. Defensive players must sprint back on defense and stop the other team from scoring an easy basket.

Defensive players stay on defense until they have proven that they can properly transition from offense to defense, stop ball, protect the power zone (paint), and guard the offensive players who are the greatest threat to score easy baskets. Here are some coaching transition defense points to emphasize to your defensive team:

Know who and where the shooters are. The great shooter is the only offensive player we attempt to overplay. To stop the great scorer (Michael Jordan rule), we try to limit his touches on the ball as much as possible.

 Help-side basketball defenders must sag and zone. We want our help-side defenders two passes away to have at least one foot in the power zone when the ball is above the free throw line. When the ball is below the free throw line, we want our help-side defenders to have both their feet in the power zone... Help-side basketball defenders must be in a position that allows them to see both the ball and their man (ball-you-man defense).

Early Help! We must always give quick help. You can never help too early to protect the power zone.

Protect the gaps. We must always give quick help on the inside gaps. We teach our players to play "We Basketball" (protecting the gaps), not "Me Basketball" (only worried about your man).

Fill and sink on the baseline. When the ball is dribble penetrated along the baseline, our deepest help-side defender must quickly rotate and try to stop the ball one-step outside of the lane (fill). Our remaining help-side defenders must rotate (sink) to the level of the ball (i.e. ball-line defense). Help-side defenders in the lane must stay low with their knees bent in an open defensive stance and see both ball and man (i.e. ball-you-man defense).

In closing, use these basketball drills and defensive coaching points to improve your ball club’s defense. Used consistently, these basketball defensive drills will train your players to understand and know how to play defense, and the hustle and effort required to play great team defense.

Recommend

"It's not what you teach, it's what you emphasize." -- Coach John Wooden
"Good defensive play is as much a matter of hustle, desire and pride as it is anything else." -- Coach Tex Winter
"I learned early that if I wanted to achieve anything in life, I'd have to do it myself. I learned that I had to be accountable." -- Coach Lenny Wilkens
"All really successful coaches have a system." -- Coach Jim Valvano
"The most important thing is team morale." -- Coach Dean Smith
"To be successful you need to have good, happy players." -- Coach Norm Sloan
"I believe that good defense embodies seven cardinal principles: reduce the number of your opponent's shots; force your opponent into low percentage shots; control everything within 18 feet; eliminate second shots; no easy baskets; point the ball on all long shots; and prevent the ball from going into the pivot man." -- Coach Adolf Rupp
"The more you lose, the more positive you have to become. When you're winning, you can ride players harder because their self-esteem is high. If you are losing and you try to be tough, you're asking for dissension." -- Coach Rick Pitino

"When covering the man with the ball, the defense should be able to touch the ball with his hand. He should assume this touching position as the ball is being received. When the ball is received, the defense should discourage the pass into the post area. The hands should be kept up. Keeping the hands up reduces a tendency to foul and allows a player to move his hands quickly." -- Coach Ralph Miller 

"To be a team, you must be a family." -- Coach Don Meyer
When you are speaking to your team after a game, never talk about the kid who was the star of the game. Talk about what your other players did to help the team win. Be sure to spread the wealth... Then have individual meetings with one to three players to praise and reinforce. Make sure you touch them." -- Coach Mike Krzyzewski
"As coaches we talk about two things: offense and defense. There is a third phase we neglect, which is more important. It's conversion from offense to defense and defense to offense." -- Coach Bobby Knight
"Criticize on defense and encourage on offense." -- Coach John Brady
"They said you have to use your five best players but I found you win with the five who fit together the best." -- Coach Red Auerbach
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