Simple Half-court Defensive Principles for Youth Teams

Habits = good, thinking = bad. Keep it simple.

As coaches we often need to be reminded of this mantra when teaching offense and defense to youth teams. With this in mind, many youth teams respond favorably to “rules” or “principle”-based frameworks for playing defense.

These principles act as reminders or cues for players to apply when reacting to the offense in certain situations. They help both the coaching staff and players stay on the same page and ultimately lead to consistent, positive habits on the defensive side of the court.

As you lead your team you’ll need to clearly define your core principles to on-the-ball defense, defending one pass a way, defending two passes away, and other core scenarios.  These vary depending on your preferred style, the athleticism and intelligence of your players, and the opposition.

To stimulate your own thought process, I’ve included the key basic principles that I’ve applied to a number of youth teams I’ve been involved with:

On-the-Ball Defense:

  • Hands-high, hips low, quick feet.
  • Influence ball-handler to sidelines
  • Pressure with voice and hand
  • Beat ball-handler to the spot, take greater recovery angles if you’re slower
  • Turn point guard at least one time in the backcourt and one time between half-court and three-point line

Defending One Pass Away:

  • “Point your pistols” – Always see the ball and your assigned man, pointing at both with your head on a swivel.
  • Play gap in between your man and the ball-handler
  • You must rotate your help so you arrive outside the paint – too late/slow if your rotation leaves you still in the paint when you help out

Defending Two or More Passes Away:

  • If defending a weak-side player, you MUST be on the mid-court line (imaginary line drawn basket-to-basket down the center of the court)
  • You must rotate your help so you arrive outside the paint – too late/slow if your rotation leaves you still in the paint when you help out

Defending the Low Post:

  • If ball below foul line, deny from low side w/upper arm/shoulder in passing lane, other hand on offense’s lower back
  • Ball above foul line, deny from high side
  • When ball moves from below to above or visa versa, transition your positioning across the FRONT of low post player
  • If pass successfully gets into low-post player, all defenders must collapse and swarm her

Defending Dead Ball Situations:

  • Always deny perimeter passes on a dead-ball situation when ball-handler picks up their dribble

Defending Ball Screens:

  • “Call it, touch it, show it” (from Pat Summit, Tennessee Vols)
  • Call it: You must call the screen out with your voice. Be a GREAT teammate, don’t let your teammate get hammered because you didn’t call out the screen!
  • Touch it: Put one hand on the screener, get foot to foot. This prevents the ballhandler from coming off the screen tight or splitting the defense
  • Show it: Show your numbers on the front of your jersey and make the ball handler go wide. This disrupts the path of the ballhandler and gives your teammate a chance to recover from the screen.

What principles drive your success? What level do you coach at? We want to hear in the comments section below!

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