HOW TO PLAY
BY STUART MANWARING
ZONE DEVELOPMENT OFFICER
\\Regannew\regan's c\Regan's Work\Publications\Coaching\How to Play Basketball Book.doc
CONCEPTS AND PRINCIPLES OF TEAM OFFENCE AND DEFENCE
All players need to learn the concepts and principles of offence and defence. These principles
apply to all types of offence and defence. With a good understanding of and an ability to play these, a player will be
able to play all types of offences and defences. Without this understanding and ability a player becomes robotic or
premeditates his actions.
There are 3 areas for a player to develop: SKILLS, UNDERSTANDING HOW TO PLAY and
DECISION MAKING. Of these 3 areas, the most important for a player to learn initially are understanding how to
play and decision making. Skills take a much longer period to develop (approx 10 years to develop all skills to a
high level), however they should obviously start to be introduced early in development to allow the player to have
some competence and confidence in playing.
These concepts and principles apply to all court and field sports and all net sports.
The concept of offence is: take the ball to open spaces. Whether passing, dribbling or shooting,
always take the ball into an open space, away from the defence.
Playing without the ball (a player spends most of the game playing without the ball and so what he does without the
ball is most important).
Always move away from your defence into an open space (be available for the ball)
Use peripheral vision to see your defence, the ball and the court to make good decisions
(the more you can see, the better can be your decision making)
Move away from the ball, or away from an area, to create space for you, or a team mate, to
Always turn (pivot) to see the court and the basket (never turn to see the outside of the
Use change of direction to move into space (basketball is a game of angles). Create good
passing angles by using a change of direction
Use correct footwork to move and change direction. Point your foot where you want to
move; step with your right foot to go right and with your left foot to go left (gives distance
on the step and maintains balance)
Use a quick first and second step to beat an opponent. Basketball is a game of beating an
opponent with a one step in offence and defence. A quick first step and second step is
more important than speed up and down the court
Basketball is a movement game, not a game for statues. We move in 3 ways – walk, run
and sprint. Walk and then explode is better then run, run, run (helps with timing also)
Basketball is a running game – ie one foot on the floor at a time (in offence and defence).
It is not a skipping, hopping, jumping, dancing game
Always play with legs flexed (bent) to have immediate power available for movement. If
you straighten your legs (stand up), you will need to bend them again to move – this
makes you slow to react
Play with your head in the middle of your body and keep it still. Do not swivel it from
side to side to change your vision, instead open up your feet to see more
Pivoting is used in almost every basketball skill
Use good spacing (12 - 15 feet/4 - 5 metres apart) to spread the court (and the defence) to
create space to move into
Have good court balance (at least 2 players on each side of the court) to allow for good
spacing and to be able to reverse the ball from side to side, and to allow for a safety player
Keep it simple – basketball is a simple game, do the simple things that work. There are no
points in basketball for “style”
Teamwork is played by players without the ball. Communication is the key to all good
teamwork. By leaving an area a player creates space for another player to come into (with
or without using a screen). This creates movement of players and can be up and down the
court (ie on one side of the court) or across the court (ie using the width of the court)
Playing with the ball
Receiving the ball going away from the basket, square up taking the ball to the hip area of
the free foot (the non pivot foot), ready to pass, dribble or shoot, in that order
Receiving the ball going toward the basket, square up taking the ball to the shoulder of the
free foot (the non pivot foot), ready to pass, shoot or dribble, in that order
Always pass to a player who is moving (if he stops and the defence keeps moving, the
defence will end up with the ball)
Good passing teams are those that pass the ball to players in open spaces (away from the
defence), not necessarily those that are technically correct
Ball movement is important. The defence reacts (adjusts) to the movement of the ball first
and player movement second
Ball reversal is the single most potent weapon to beat good defence
Manage the ball well (look after the ball) in crucial situations (at the end/beginning of a
quarter and at the end of the game, or when the other team is applying pressure). The team
with the less turnovers is usually the team that wins
The concept of defence is: stop the ball. Stop the ball from getting closer to the scoring area. It is
the ball we must stop, not players, as it is the ball that scores.
Play between the ball and the basket (not between the player and the basket)
Always move with the ball (at the same time as the ball) and in the same direction as the
ball (parallel to the ball movement)
Force the ball away from the 80% scoring area (the lane/key) and toward the sideline
(enables the defence to deny passes into the lane and force the ball out on top – away from
Give up an outside shot in favour of protecting against a shot in the lane/key
Always play the principles of “help and recover defence”, the basic principles of all team
Always play in a triangle between your player (or the player/s in your area in a zone
defence) and the ball. The closer your player is to the ball, the flatter is your triangle and
the closer you should be to your player. The further your player is from the ball, the
deeper is your triangle and the further you can be from your player
Always see your player and the ball (do not look at the ball) and the court
Always move with the ball (at the same time as the ball) and in the same direction as the
ball (parallel to the ball movement)
When your player is on the ball side of the split line (the imaginary line between the two
baskets – “splits” the court into ball side and help side), play in a flat triangle toward your
player. When you player is on the help side, play in a deeper triangle, further from your
player, with at least one foot on the split line. Always help against penetration of the ball
into the lane/key from the help side. Never help from the ball side
Recognise that the most dangerous offensive player is the player with the ball. The second
most dangerous player is the player closest to the ball and/or basket. The next most
dangerous player is that next closest to the ball/basket, etc. Protect against the most
dangerous and second most dangerous first
When your defence breaks down on a turnover or against a fast break play “Scramble
Defence” principles (refer to the notes on the most dangerous player above)
BASKETBALL FOR BEGINNERS
The basic concept of offence.
Many sports have the same basic concept of offence - take the ball to the open spaces, away from
the defence, to be able to score more easily. These sports include all field and court sports and include the net sports
(tennis, badminton, and volleyball).
It seems logical to teach the concept first and yet many basketball coaches (and those in other
sports) fail to teach this concept at the beginning. Basketball is no different than most other things we learn in life, in
that if we do not understand the concept of what is being taught then we shall have trouble trying to relate the more
complex tasks involved in solving problems in that subject. So often coaches try to teach players in the early stages
what to play and not how to play.
Have you ever seen two teams of 9 or 10 years old children learning to play soccer? The field is
big; the ball is small and where are all the players? Gathered around the ball, like ants around a pot of honey.
Why? Because every player wants to get the ball, but no one can, except through some lucky
break. While all of the offensive players are all gathered around the ball so are the defensive players and so good
passing becomes impossible and scoring is out of the question.
Now cast your mind to Championship Division soccer. Here the players in offence are spread out
over almost the entire field and the ball is passed into spaces, away from the defence and scoring becomes imminent.
The same examples can be made in basketball, and unfortunately for many players who are not
taught the concept of offence they continue to gravitate toward the ball even as senior players and this is why the
passing and shooting skills look so poor at lower standards of the game. In fact the technique of the skills of passing
and shooting may be very good, but a lack of understanding of the concept of offence causes the skills to look poor.
Moving the ball to players in open space makes a team look good at passing and shooting, even if their technique is
not too good.
Take the ball to the open spaces, away from the defence, to be able to score more easily! By taking
the ball to an open space, away from the defence, whether passing, dribbling, shooting or protecting the ball, the
defence is forced to adjust and any failure in adjusting quickly will present opportunities to the offence for scoring.
Obviously this means that all players without the ball must be continually moving into open spaces, away from the
defence. This creates two problems for the defence, regardless of which style of defence they may play (man-to-man
Firstly, the defensive players away from the ball must be continually adjusting (re-active defence)
or they will allow offensive players to move into scoring positions. Secondly the defence is not in a position to create
much pressure on the ball and if it tries to do so (pro-active defence) then the offence can move the ball to a player in
a scoring position.
Playing basketball is a bit like playing draughts - at 100 miles per hour! One player makes a move
(the offence) and the other player tries to counter this move (the defence). At the lower standard of play a draught
player counters a move by reacting to the opponent (re-active defence). At a higher standard the player counters by
making aggressive moves to force the opponent to react (pro-active defence). Draught players must be continually
aware of where the open spaces are and by moving the playing pieces force the opponent into giving up a playing
piece and therefore getting to the end of the board (scoring). It is the same in basketball. At the lower standards of
play the defence is usually re-active and at the higher levels more likely to be pro-active.
In my opinion there are THREE main steps to developing a basketball player (and it
is the same for most sports):
1. Understanding the BASIC CONCEPTS AND PRINCIPLES OF OFFENCE and DEFENCE.
2. Teaching good DECISION MAKING - with the ball knowing when and where to move it, without the
ball knowing when and where to move oneself. Decision making is a product of good vision. Teaching
VISION AND SPATIAL AWARENESS - being aware of the ball and all other players on the court and
the spaces around them.
3. Learning the SKILLS of the game – footwork, movement and ball skills.
The great basketball players (and other great athletes) of this world are not necessarily the most athletic or the best
skilled, but THEY ARE the BEST DECISION MAKERS. It is important that as we teach players the concepts,
principles and the skills that we also teach them to use their vision and make good decisions. All THREE areas need
to be developed from the beginning.
Additionally we need to teach from the outset that in the game of basketball (as in most team sports) we spend most
of the time playing WITHOUT the ball and it is WHAT we do WITHOUT the ball that is so important. Basketball is
a MOVING game, not a game for statues. Unfortunately there are too many statues playing even at the higher levels,
example the NBA. In offence a player needs to move to get open, pass and move, move to set a screen or use a
screen and move to rebound. In defence a player needs to move to adjust to the ball movement, move to adjust to the
offensive player’s movement, move to help out, move to switch or hedge on a screen, move to double team or trap or
run and jump and move to rebound. Players love to move and that is one of the reasons that they like to play Motion
style offences, it allows them more freedom of movement. It is fun to move but it is also so IMPORTANT in this
Basketball is a RUNNING game. This means that the player must be continually moving, BUT
not always at high speed. In basketball a player uses 3 kinds of movement – WALK, RUN AND SPRINT. The use
of EXPLOSIVE speed (SPRINTING), when required, is much more important. In the main a player should WALK
and SPRINT more than RUN. We shall discuss these areas in much more detail in the chapter on FOOTWORK.
How to teach the concept of offence through movement and awareness.
So how can we teach this concept in a simple way that will allow players to grasp the concept and
have it firmly fixed in their minds as the base from which all offence will develop. The following steps are primarily
for teaching this knowledge to young children or beginner players but sometimes they are also worthwhile trying
with “experienced” players to see how well they understand and use decision making.
Firstly establish a “court” (area) that is suitable to the number of players you have.
One way is to have the players stand with arms outstretched and move to form a rectangle or square with fingertips
touching. Mark the corners and the boundaries with cones or suitable articles. The area does not have to be on a
basketball court, and in fact the concept may be taught on any flat surface. Note that a four sided “court” is much
better than a circle in that it approximates all court and field sport playing areas (particularly a basketball court) in
that it has corners (this reason will be apparent in step 3). Have all players stand within the boundaries of the “court”.
STEP 1 - instruct the players to continually move to an open space on the “court” on the command
Go and to “freeze” on the sound of the whistle. Allow about 15 seconds after the command go before blowing your
whistle. Observe how some players will be bunched up within the ‘court” and some players will be spaced away
from others. Also observe how well (or poorly) the players have utilised all the open spaces on the “court”. Make
these observations known to the players.
STEP 2 - repeat STEP 1 with the additional instruction of continually moving to an
open space AWAY from other players. Allow the players to move for about the same length of time and while they
are moving observe how some players actually move toward other players to get to an open space. After the players
“freeze” on the whistle, observe how well they are spaced apart and comment on this fact and the way that some
players moved toward other players to get to an open space. Demonstrate
this to the players and also how by using their vision and awareness they can move AWAY from others to an open
space. Now is the time to introduce vision and awareness and to educate them on narrow focus and peripheral vision.
Stress that by using peripheral vision (that which is used most of the time in basketball and is so important) in both a
horizontal and a vertical plane we can see both the players around us and the open space on the floor.
Point out that in a vertical plane our peripheral vision is much better down than up, due to the
structure of our head and the protruding forehead. So by carrying our head up we can clearly see the floor (ground)
about 1 - 2 metres ahead. Also point out that our horizontal peripheral vision is about 180 degrees and that we need
to see (as compared to look at, which is narrow focus) all that is within our peripheral vision. Instead of turning our
head to see to our right or left we should move our feet to open up our stance in that direction. This helps to maintain
good peripheral vision and also allows us to have our feet pointed where we may wish to move (this will be taught
later in footwork).
- Repeat the instructions for STEPS 1 and 2, emphasising to use vision to see the spaces
and other players and add a further instruction to stay out of the corners. In the game of basketball we do not want
the players to play in the corners of the court. These are the areas in which the defence would like to trap the ball,
and also it reduces the angles at which the offensive player can move when confronted by a defensive player. In
addition we can start to educate the players about the importance of maintaining good spacing away from other
offensive players so that the defence is spread and finds it more difficult to create pressure on the ball. Have the
players repeat the drill (exercise) and observe how they move.
Through these drills we have started to educate the players on the basic concept of offence and the
most important principle of playing without the ball. This is moving away from other players to open spaces to be
able to take the ball to the open spaces, away from the defence, to be able to score more easily. As with all learning,
these drills will require repetition and ongoing correction and in just a few sessions the players will be able to grasp
In addition to starting to learn the basic concept of offence the players are also starting
to understand basic movement and footwork, something which should be highlighted at this point. In the above drills
to move to a space and keep away from other players, the player must continually move and change direction. These
are important skills in basketball.
To demonstrate this further and to reinforce the concept through playing, the coach can use the
following drills (games). As with all learning, instruction (and demonstration) should initially be short and concise
and quickly followed by practical application (having the players do it). During the practical application the coach
should observe and on completion, correct. As the players show the ability to understand and perform the skill a little
better, correction should be more on an individual basis rather than correcting the group as a whole.
TEN PASSES - divide the group into two teams and using an area about the size of half a
basketball court (the size of the area needs to be relevant to the number in the group, with 15-20 players on a half
court). Have one team attempt to make 10 successful passes between team members while the other team’s players
try to deflect the ball while it is in the air on a pass. Allow each team two or three tries at completing the TEN
PASSES before changing the offence to the other team. Highlight the need to continually move to open spaces away
from the defence and to pass the ball only to a player moving into an open space. Coaches can start to educate the
players on being patient to complete successful passes.
KING BALL - divide the group into two teams and using an area about the size of a
basketball court (use a smaller area if there are less than 15 players) and have each team select a KING to stand at
opposite ends of the court. Without running (travelling) with the ball, each team is to try to pass the ball between
their players to move the ball successfully to their KING, who must remain standing still. The last pass to the KING
must be a bounce pass. The defensive team must try to prevent the ball from getting to their opponents’ KING by
catching the ball and immediately going into offence or by deflecting the ball out-of-bounds (when the same
offensive team then has to pass the ball in-bounds to re-commence the game). Obviously we are simulating the game
of basketball and allowing the players to develop their understanding and application of the basic concepts of offence
The following drills may be used for players who have already been exposed to the
game of basketball, but are also excellent drills for teaching to beginner players.
ONE ON ONE FULL COURT - this drill teaches players that to get away from (beat)
their opponent they must change direction and move with speed into a space away from their opponent to win. Have
the players pair up with one player (the offensive player) standing on the baseline of the basketball court and the
opponent (the defensive player) standing about 3 metres inside the court and facing the offensive player. On GO
from the coach the offensive player tries to beat his opponent to the other end of the court. The defensive player has
to try to tag the offensive player on the shoulder twice with the same hand. Reverse roles and come back down the
court. Offensive players quickly learn that by using all the space available on the court, moving away from the
defence and changing direction they have a better chance of beating their opponent.
TWO ON TWO - basketball is essentially a passing game and so dribbling and scoring are
eliminated in this drill. In all drills, the area of the court being used should be relevant to the number of players (ie
similar to the amount of space on the court that the same number of players would use in a 5 on 5 game). For this
reason we restrict the players to a quarter of the court (ie one side of the ring). Each of the two offensive players, one
with the ball, is guarded man to man by a defensive player. The offensive player without the ball must play (read) the
defensive player to be able to move away from his defence into a space to be able to receive the ball. The offensive
player without the ball must see the ball but not look at it and his vision is primarily used to see his defence and the
spaces available to him. In this way he is able to learn to make good decisions about where to move to, in order to
get open for a pass. Some explanation and correction by the coach will be necessary on how to move to create good
The offensive player with the ball will need to use his vision to see his teammate and read his own
defence and that of his teammate to be able to make good decisions about when and where to pass the ball. Having
made a pass, then the passer will become the player without the ball and need to move away from his defence into a
space to be able to receive the ball again. The drill continues in this way for 30 seconds, then change the roles of
offence and defence. Stress to the offensive players the use of ALL available space on the area of the court being
used (that is from baseline to centre line), not always moving toward the basket and playing around the lane (key).
Also stress that the player without the ball should move away from the ball to create space to run back into. By
continually changing direction to move away from the defence, the offence will be able to get open. Also teach that
the offence should change direction to move between the defence and the ball to get to a safe open space to receive
Once the players have a basic understanding of this concept and principles of movement, the coach
should introduce the principles of passing angles. The passing angle is the angle between the offence and the ball and
his defence. The wider the angle, the safer is the pass into a space. Another passing angle exists between the offence
and the ball and the defence on the player with the ball. To move into a safe space, the offence, without the ball,
must observe and use both passing angles.
The longer that players have played the game without understanding the basic concept of
offence the more likely they will be to want to move toward the ball to receive it or simply stand still to receive it.
Continual correction by the coach will encourage the player to see spaces into which they may move. The larger the
area over which the player without the ball moves, the more spaces he will create for himself to run into. Taking one
or two steps to get open will only work against poor defence and we should always be teaching our players to play
against good defence. Some players will habitually move toward the defence to get open, making it much easier for
the defence to defend them. Also some players will start to beat their defence to a spot and then move back toward
the defence. The reason for this is that mainly they are focused on the ball and not reading their defence (ie
premeditating what they will do, not reacting to what the defence allows then to do).
Before finishing this drill scoring can be added, still without using any dribble, and only from
within the lane. In adding scoring the coach should ensure that good shot selection is emphasised and the player
without the ball must be open to receive another pass if the defence gets to the potential shooter. Making shots
ONLY from open spaces must be stressed (ie NEVER shoot the ball when closely guarded, get it off to a teammate
and relocate to another open position).
THREE ON THREE - by building to three on three (using the whole half court – that
is playing across the court) and playing in the same way as for two on two, we now challenge the offensive players
with more decisions to make. In three on three, the players without the ball need to be aware of where each is
moving to create spacing between themselves and to be able to use ALL of the available court space. In addition,
each needs to be able to read not only his own defensive player but also that of his teammate without the ball to create
good passing angles. The player with the ball now has two team mates he must see, as well as three defensive
players, and be able to read which team mate is open first to pass the ball to quickly.
Now the coach can start to educate the offensive players that it is the movement of the ball that
creates the defence to initially move and creates spaces for them to run into. Therefore ball movement becomes
important, the quicker it moves (without rushing) the more easily the offence can beat the defence.
In addition the coach can introduce the principles of team offence. These should start with
maintaining good spacing (at least 3 – 5 metres apart) and court balance (at least one player on each side of the court).
Then teamwork can be introduced. Teamwork is played between players without the ball. This requires a player
without the ball to communicate (call the name) with the other player without the ball and to initiate movement away
from the area and side of the court he is occupying. This then allows the other player to use all of the width of the
court (ie exchange sides) to get away from his defence. Similarly when the other player leaves his area the player
who communicated and initiated the movement will have more space into which to beat his defence. All movement
should still involve changes of direction to get open by seeing (reading) the defence and moving away into space.
Again before finishing this drill scoring can be added, still without using any dribble, and only from
within the lane. Continue to stress good shot selection and players without the ball must be open to receive another
pass if the defence gets to the potential shooter. As players learn to better read the defence their shot selection, and
therefore their scoring, will improve.
The coach may wish to introduce the use of the dribble in the above drills and if so should
emphasise the reasons for using a dribble. There are only two reasons to use a dribble in basketball: to penetrate the
ball toward the basket or to improve a passing angle. There is no useful reason to stand still and dribble the ball with
an up and down movement, it only increases the chances of the player standing more upright and straightening his
legs, therefore decreasing his ability to move quickly from that position. The use of a dribble needs to comply with
the basic concept of offence - take the ball to an open space, away from the defence. Take the ball with a dribble into
an open space to penetrate toward the basket or into an open space on the perimeter to improve a passing angle (this
includes the use of a retreat dribble). By reading the defence and not premeditating, the dribbler becomes a potent
offensive threat to the defence. Coaches should stress the use of passing on the perimeter as a much quicker way to
move the ball than using a dribble.
In just 10 minutes players can be playing a style of basketball that eliminates passing errors, creates
more scoring opportunities and is fun to play. I have often found players to be amazed at just what they can
accomplish with a basic understanding of the concept of offence. Additionally experienced players benefit from
breaking the game down into this very basic format and further assists the coach in developing high work rate and
quickness in their game.
FUN DRILLS - every coach should have in his list of drills some than are fun to play, yet still
contain components of skills and physical and mental challenges (of a medium level). There are many drills that
have been devised by coaches around the world and are listed in coaching books and papers. The following is one
that I like to use sometimes at the end of a practice session, or simply to replace what has been planned when I find
that the players are physically and /or mentally fatigued. I have used this game with all levels of players.
The game is baseball, yes baseball played on a basketball court with a basketball. It
uses the concepts of offence and defence and many basketball skills (running, change of direction, shooting, catching,
passing, communication, vision etc). The game uses the general rules of baseball or you can add some variations of
Having divided the players into two teams one is designated the fielding team. First base is on the
sideline, halfway between the baseline and the centre line. Second base is at the mid-point of the centre line and third
base is on the opposite sideline to first base. Home base is on the baseline immediately behind the basket. The
catcher stands on the baseline until the ball hits the ring or misses the ring and the pitcher stands at the free-throw
line. All other fielders spread out around the court.
The batting team stands in a corner and the batter stands in front of the ring ready to play. The
pitcher has 6 free-throws before changing (all players must pitch in turn). If the free-throw is successful it is a strike
(3 strikes and out). If the shot misses, the batter may hit the ball anywhere (with open hand or fist) and then must run
to first base. If the batter does not hit the missed shot or the catcher can catch it before he hits it, it is a ball (4 balls
and the batter walks to first base). There are no foul balls as in baseball, that is the batter may hit the ball behind the
catcher (in which case he must run). If a fielder can catch the ball after it has been hit and before it touches the floor
(off the wall is OK) then the batter is out. Three batters out and the innings is over and the other team gets to bat.
On a hit, runners are out if the person on the base to that he is running can catch the ball before he
gets to the base (no tagging is necessary, double plays are encouraged). A player may steal a base during play and
needs to be tagged to be out. No base stealing is allowed on a player getting out and the player trying to steal cannot
be out (must return to the base he just left).
It’s a lot of fun and yet can still be used to teach many aspects of basketball.
The basic concept of defence.
The basic concept of defence is simply: stop the ball from getting closer to the scoring area or
goal. Since it is the ball that scores it’s obvious that primarily it is the ball we must stop, not the players, but they are
of secondary consideration.
Since any concept of defence must be designed to defeat a concept of offence it is logical that in
defence we must try to stop the ball from getting into spaces closer to the goal to reduce the risk of scoring. In other
words the more we can force the offence to try to score from further from the goal, the better our chances of limiting
the offences score.
While in basketball we can use this concept all over the court, the greater effort must be made
the 3 point line closer to the basket. The main purpose of the defence is to force the ball out toward the sidelines or
toward the centre line to reduce the chance of scoring. The use of the shot clock in basketball encourages aggressive
defensive teams to intensify their efforts.
Obviously, defending the ball from penetrating toward the basket and defending players in open
spaces nearer the basket is of prime importance. In basketball, as in most sports, the most dangerous player is the one
with the ball (as he is the only one who can score) and the next most dangerous player is that who is closest to the
basket and to the ball. All good team defences recognise the most dangerous players in order of importance and
create their defensive intensity toward them accordingly.
In the previous section on the concept of offence I mentioned the THREE main steps to developing
a basketball player, and these apply equally to the area of defence. Again the best defensive players are the BEST
DECISION MAKERS. They know when to leave their offensive player to go to stop the ball, when to switch to a
more dangerous player close to the basket, when and
where to block out for a rebound and when to intercept a pass, all through great vision and awareness and excellent
In defence obviously all players play without the ball, and yet to be able to stop the ball EVERY
defensive player must CONSTANTLY be adjusting with the movement of the ball and in the same direction as the
movement of the ball (move with the ball and in the same direction), as well as adjusting with the movement of the
offensive player (or players) for whom he is responsible. As with offence, defensive players must see the ball at all
times but also be aware of the offensive players and the space around them. Seeing as much of the court as possible
is a key ingredient to being a good defensive player.
In a basketball team there are usually only a few players who are the major scorers but EVERY
player MUST be a GOOD defensive player. Along with the above skills the main requirement to be a GOOD
defensive player is EFFORT.
How to teach the concept of defence through movement and awareness.
The skills of basketball comprise at least 75% footwork and the ball skills and team skills are really
add-ons to correct footwork. Initially the coach should point out that in playing defence most movement is lateral
(either to the side or backwards) and to protect space the player should use the width of their body, that is facing their
opponent, not turned side on.
To move to the left a player should step with their left foot first and to move to the right step with
their right foot first. This keeps the player on balance (as opposed to crossing their feet) and allows the player to gain
distance with their first step. This footwork is covered in detail in the next chapter, but players should learn early this
basic principle of movement.
Using the following steps for beginner players allows them to start to understand the concept of defence.
ONE ON ONE - WITHOUT THE BALL: divide the basketball court, or similar area, crossways
into lanes about 3 meters in width and have the players stand in pairs, one on the sideline and the other facing about 2
metres inside the court. The offensive player on the sideline walks across the court, in a zigzag movement, within his
lane and the defensive player who starts about 2 metres inside the court, facing his opponent, tries to stay between the
offensive player and the other sideline by moving left and right and backwards. Change at the other side of the court
ONE ON ONE - WITH THE BALL: repeat the above drill with the offensive player dribbling a
basketball, using left hand to go left and right hand to go right, and now stress to the defensive player to move with
the ball and to stay between the BALL and the sideline behind him. To do so the defensive player needs to
concentrate on the BALL and not the offensive player. After the initial try the offensive player can start to run slowly
while dribbling, causing the defensive player to have to move quicker. Do not allow the offensive player to beat the
defensive player easily to the other side (which obviously they will be able to do at this stage), as this is a defensive
drill to learn the concept of defence and principles of movement.
For players with little athletic coordination this task of moving sideways and backwards will be
somewhat difficult, especially with the offence moving a little quicker, but after a few tries the player will start to
grasp the concept, even if the movement skills are poor.
TWO ON TWO - WITH THE BALL: widen the above lanes to about 5 metres and now have two
offensive and two defensive players use each lane. The two offensive players will move approximately level with
each other and the two defensive players will stay about 2 steps in front of their opponent. The offensive player with
the ball will make 3 dribbles and then pass the ball to his teammate who will then make 3 dribbles and pass back his
to his teammate and so continue across the court. For the defence we now introduce two important terms - ON-
BALL and OFF-BALL.
When a defensive player’s man has the ball that defensive player is ON-BALL and when a
defensive player’s man has not got the ball he will be OFF-BALL. The player OFF-BALL will be 2 steps toward the
ball away from his man and form a triangle so that he can see both his man and the ball. On EVERY pass both
defensive players will move in the same direction as the ball and change from being ON-BALL to OFF-BALL and
vice-versa. At this early stage it is important for the coach to stress that the defensive player moving to OFF-BALL
does NOT follow the ball with his eyes but looks straight ahead to ALWAYS see BOTH his man and the ball, using
peripheral vision. This basic principle of movement and vision is critical to being able to make good decisions about
when and where to move.
The coach should point out that the reason the OFF-BALL player forms a triangle between the ball,
his man and himself is to be in a position to be able to help stop the ball should the dribbler make a move in his
direction and start to beat his teammate. In this way the defence is always in a position to STOP THE BALL,
providing that ALWAYS the defensive players adjust with the ball on a pass to adopt their new responsibility of ON-
BALL / OFF-BALL.
After this initial introduction for beginners, and for those who can already play a bit, the coach can
now move onto the TWO on TWO and THREE ON THREE drills outlined under How to teach the concept of
offence through movement and awareness