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SELECTING AND TEACHING
TEAM DEFENSE

By

GLENN WILKES, PRESIDENT
BASKETBALLS BEST
FORMER HEAD COACH, STETSON UNIVERSITY

 The importance of sound team defensive play to championship basketball cannot be over emphasized. Good team defense can bring a victory when the offense is having the inevitable “off” night. In fact, the major difference between the averagebasketball team and those who enter the winner’s circle at the end of a tournament lies in the ability to play defense.
 Few coaches would argue against the tremendous importance of team defense, but failure to emphasize team defense and to teach it properly is prevalent in basketball coaching.  If I could emphasize only one point to the inexperienced coach, it would be the value of team defense and the role of the coach in its achievement.
 Players need little coaching to play offense, the fun part of the game. Few players, however, like to play defense, and most will not do so unless properly guided by an enthusiastic coach who teaches them the value of defense, using sound teaching techniques to help them master the defensive part of the game.
 The building of a whole team defense begins with selecting the defensive maneuvers to be used for the season, and it includes a schedule of adequate practice time to develop these defenses. A coach may select a sagging type of man-for-man defense for the basic team defense, yet there will be times when a pressing defense is needed. A zone defense may be chosen as the basic defense, but again provision must be made for the pressing situation. The team that uses the man-for-man as its basic defense may want to learn a zone for use in special situations, such as when opposing a high-scoring center or when facing a weak outside shooting team. Thus, more than one team defense is needed for a season of play. Select these defenses in advance and make practice plans accordingly.

SELECTION OF THE DEFENSE

 Several factors are involved in selecting defenses to be used during theseason:

1. The defensive philosophy and knowledge of the coach.  2. The defensive ability of the players.  3. The type of competition to be faced.  .

The coach’s defensive philosophy is tremendously important  in
selecting team defenses. If, for example, the coach’s philosophy centers around a belief in aggressive man-for-man play, the coach may find it difficult to generate sufficient enthusiasm for teaching a zone defense even though the type ofplayers he has available may dictate it.

 The defensive ability of players on hand is certainly an important factor to be considered. A team of tall, slow players may find zone defense more effective than a man-for-man. A zone may also be more suitable for the smaller team that needs rebounding strength. The team with fast, medium-sized players may be able to gain more advantage from a man-for-man defense.

 Not to be forgotten in the selection of a defense is the type of competition to be faced. As a general rule, the better the competition, the less likely a zone defense will be successful. Fewer college teams play zone defenses than do high school teams because college shooters are usually more proficient, and a man-for-man defense can be more successful. Fewer zones are played by the larger high schools than by the smaller ones, mainly because larger high schools face similar schools with a higher probability of better shooters. Smaller high schools have fewer players to choose from, and teams use zones more often to make use of their personnel as best they can. Thus, the success of zone defenses is closely related to the type of competition to be faced.

TEAM DEFENSIVE ESSENTIALS

 Many types of team defenses are used in modern basketbll. Various types of man-for-man and zone defenses exist, and combinations of both are seen often. Regardless of the type of defense a team may use, certain essentials are necessary for success.

1. Team members must have a desire to play defense.
2. All team members must use correct defensive stance and footwork.
3. All team members must maintain correct positioning.
4. Team members must talk to one another to be able to combat the variety of possible offensive situations.
5. Establish definite responsibilities and techniques for meeting the various types of possible offensive maneuvers.
6. Make definite rebounding assignments.

DESIRE

 Team members must have a desire to play defense. Because of the nature of the game and the tremendous amount of publicity and public favor given to high scorers, most players prefer to play offense. The coach’s job is to sell  the importance of playing defense to the team and to instill in them the desire to play defense.

 Defense can be the great equalizer. When the offense is having a bad night—and this will invariably happen—good, sound defense can produce a victory. But good defense cannot be played unless team members want to do it. The idea of letting the other team shoot so that you can get the ball for a scoring attempt results in a long, dreary winter. The worst method of getting the ball is by taking it out of the opponent’s basket!

 If a coach stresses defense at least on an equal basis with offense in practice sessions, if a coach cites outstanding defensive performances to the press, if awards at the end of the season include awards for best defensive players as well as offensive players, and if a coach distributes praise regularly to the good defensive players, then the desire to play defense can be instilled, and the seeds that are a prerequisite to a solid team defense can be sown.

CORRECT DEFENSIVE STANCE AND FOOTWORK

 All team members must use correct defensive stance and footwork. The player who stands erect in guarding an opponent or who uses incorrect footwork seldom does a good defensive job. Since a good team defense is dependent on not one or two players but on five working as a coordinated unit, improper stance or footwork by any one of the five can greatly reduce the effectiveness of the team defense.

CORRECT POSITIONING

 In addition to good stance and footwork, team members must maintain
correct positioning. A player cannot expect to defend an opponent unless he or she maintains proper floor position. In man-for-man defenses, this means that the player is usually between the respective opponent and the basket. If the opponent breaks into the area near the basket, the defensive player must play between the opponent and the ball to prevent the opponent from receiving the ball in such a dangerous scoring position. If the team defense is a zone, each player must be in the proper floor position in the zone and must make the proper shifts with the movement of the ball. An incorrect shift results in improper position and a weakness in the team defense. One player out of position can nullify the work of four other players and weaken an otherwise sound team defense.

TALK

 It is extremely important that team members talk to one another to be able to combat the variety of possible offensive situations. Talk is a valuable asset to a good team defense. The player who does not yell out to teammates to warn them of special situations impairs the effectiveness of the team defense, even though he or she may be a good individual defensive player. Calls such as “watch the screen”, “screen left”, “switch”, “stay”, “rebound”, and “slide through” are a few of many calls needed to insure correct defensive action for the variety of offensive screens and maneuvers that a team will face.

 This defensive talk is not something that happens automatically; in fact, it is one of the more difficult facets of team defense to achieve. Coaches must require this defensive talk and should include practice drills in which players must yell out the proper defensive terms. Players who do not talk on defense must be penalized.

TECHNIQUES FOR MEETING VARIOUS MANEUVERS

 Establish definite responsibilities and techniques for meeting the various types of offensive maneuvers. A good team defense is prepared to meet all types of offensive formations, whether it be a single post, a double post, or another offense. Player must be shown how the coach wants to defend the offensive maneuvers that go toward making up the opponent’s offense. Work on the practice floor allows team members to get to know any adjustments in the team defense that may be needed for each formation.

 Definite defensive techniques must be practiced for meeting the various types of screens and other offensive plays. These techniques must be developed on the practice floor and cannot be left to chance during the game. Players who switch on a screen one time and then “slide through” on the identical screen the next have not mastered these defensive techniques, which are absolutely essential to a sound team defense.

REBOUNDING ASSIGNMENTS

 The coach must make definite rebounding assignments. These assignments begin as an opponent begins to take a shot. If the defense is a man-for-man, each defender must screen, or box out, the opponent to get between the opponent and the basket. Failure to do this by any one member of the defense can result in an easy basket for the opponent. Correct blockout techniques usually bring three rebounders into the vicinity of the basket for the short rebound and two rebounders outside in a position to grab the long rebound. If the defense is a zone, players must be certain of rebounding areas and must attempt blockouts of opponents in their respective areas.