Basketball Coaching: Teaching Individual Defense, Part II

by Coach Ronn Wyckoff, Author/Producer

Basketball On A Triangle

(This is the second of two parts on Teaching Individual Basketball Defense. Please see Part I, published in Sept. '06.)

Teaching Individual Defense

Now the object of the defender’s attention is the ball first. Never take eyes off the ball! The dribbler has to take it with them, has to pass it or shoot it. Nothing the dribbler is doing should affect you because you have your eyes on the ball ready to react to whatever happens with the ball. Coach, dribble right or left and point at the same time, helping with visual clues for the direction you are going in. Have them go slowly again. Repeat his several times, then begin quicker changes with the ball, adding forward and backward. The forward slide would be done with the front foot away from the ball side, reaching and sliding. The ball side foot is always back, pushing forward. In the backwards slide, again the ball side foot is back, now reaching and sliding, while the forward foot is pushing backward. This whole maneuver will look similar to a fencer doing advances and retreats with a rapier.

At all times, the balance must never be over a foot but rather still directly between the feet.

Quick changes with the ball will enable the teaching-coach to spot any player not reacting and switching feet quickly enough. The switch should be done exactly with the dribbler’s changing hands. Defenders don’t want to be caught with the ball side foot forward. Check players for straightening up during the switches. Is a player allowing the feet to come together during the slide? Look at the balance point—is it directly down from the middle of the body centered between the feet?

The defensive stance and sliding procedures covered above are for perimeter use, outside of the key, while putting pressure on the dribbler. Up to now, I’ve covered individual stance and movement that applies to playing on the ball, equally, both in man and zone defenses. Too many coaches fail to see this fundamental as being common to both types of defense. To successfully play on the ball when it’s in a player’s zone requires all the skills of sound man defensive principles and techniques.

Now, let’s drill one-on-one and, while this is defense, let’s not forget to emphasize good offensive skills too. (i.e. protecting the ball, controlled dribble, etc.)

The teaching-coach will want to place the pairs so they are spread out in a way that the coach can see everyone with a quick glance.

Have a player with the ball assume a protective stance as if dribbling to the defender’s left (right handed dribble for the dribbler, body between the ball and the defender). Have the defender step up to the dribbler, place the right foot to the dribbler’s front (left) foot and slightly outside it. The left leg will be back and outside the ball for the slide. Now, with the feet placed, drop the body as low, and the feet as wide, as possible for quick reaction. Defender, reach out with the right arm. It should extend fully so the hand just brush touches the dribbler’s hip, thigh or knee of the front leg. If this arm is kept extended, always “touch-touch-touching”, without bending the elbow, it will act as a measurement for the defender that they have the right distance from the dribbler’s body. If that arm bends, the dribbler is getting too close. Don’t leave this hand maintaining the touch on the dribbler. This is a “touch-touch-touch” and is not meant to impede the dribbler, but in addition to keeping the distance marked between the two bodies for the defender, it also serves as a reminder to the dribbler that the defender is right there. The left arm is extended wide in the direction of the dribble, outside the ball. While the front hand should never reach across the dribbler’s body for the ball (it should be used to stop a cross-over dribble that is coming toward it), the back hand leading the ball should be intimidating the ball all the time, coming up at the ball rather than slapping down and possibly hitting the dribbler’s arm or hand.

The arms extended in this fashion represent the letter “L”. Within the breadth of this stance, the expanse the arms and feet cover on the floor, the defender should have the dribbler within his or her “embrace”. If the stance is correct, the defender’s nose should be “on” the ball, and this is exactly where we want it. The nose is the “me” in “ball-me-basket”, the position the defender on-the-ball should always be in. Remember, keep your eyes on the ball!

Now have the dribbler change directions and hands with the dribble. Have the defenders copy exactly what was just done going to their left, now to the right. Left foot forward, to the outside of the dribbler’s front foot; Left arm extended to “touch”; Right leg back and outside the ball; Nose “on” the ball; Right arm extended outside the ball, creating the “embrace”. Review all this. Now go slowly in a “dummy” fashion where the dribbler does not try to beat the defender. Just take a few dribbles in one direction and then change direction. The defender also does nothing to impede the dribbler, constantly giving ground to the dribbler, at about a 45-degree angle, while maintaining “touch” contact. This is practice for the defender to get proper on-the-ball positioning while sliding and in the jump-switch on the change of direction. Teach quick exchange of feet, arms and hands while pushing off the front foot and reaching with the back foot in the direction of the dribble. At the same time, this drill allows the dribbler to get a feel for how to dribble-protect under close defense. Keep to a given area of the floor, so the drill doesn’t get out of hand.

The teaching-coach can use “freeze action”, by blowing the whistle and have everyone stop immediately where they are. Now all positioning for both offense and defense can be checked and adjusted, if necessary.

We want everything to come in good time, so we have not allowed the dribbler to do their thing, nor allowed the defender to crowd the dribbler. They must all have a feeling of confidence and control with their skills before we take it to the next level.
I don’t want pressure to perform offensively or defensively until they have mastered this “dummy” script.
Building skills by plateaus!

Until next month, Yours in Sport & Spirit,
Coach Ronn

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