They say no man is an island, but that is exactly what it can feel like when you are defending the player with the ball. At its core, though, it is the essence of good defensive basketball. At some point in the game, every player on the floor will have the ball and every player on the floor will be responsible for keeping that player from scoring or creating a scoring opportunity. Basketball defense is one of those areas that is a prime example of personal responsibility within a team sport.
Like every other aspect of youth basketball, you will have success defending the player with the ball if you work on and follow some basic principles. All of that starts, though, with knowing the strengths and weaknesses of the player you are guarding in relationship to your own strengths and weaknesses. What is your opponent’s dominant hand? Do they prefer to dribble penetrate or shoot from the perimeter? Are they quicker than you? Taller? Once you know this information, the job becomes much easier.
The first rule of defending the basketball player with the ball is to stay in front of them, or between them and the basket. If you get beat, you must let your teammates know immediately by calling for help. One key to this is whether or not your opponent has used his/her dribble. If they haven’t, guard them as close as you can without getting beat. If they love to dribble penetrate and are quicker than you, give them a little extra room. If they have a great outside shot, and don’t like to put the ball down, guard them more closely. Either way, once your opponent has used his/her dribble and has picked the ball up, you can apply close defensive pressure because they now have limited options with the ball.
If you are defending the dribbler in a more open court setting, shade them to their dominant hand and try to make them turn or change direction. If they want to go right, force them left, and vice versa. Once your opponent begins to dribble, your number one priority should be to make them pick it up. You can be a big part of wreaking defensive havoc on the opposing team by making it difficult for the player you’re guarding to do what they are most comfortable doing every time they touch the ball.
Remember, these basic rules are in effect for all five players on the floor. There are some variations when you are defending a post player with the ball, for example, but the same basic responsibilities apply.
Below are some tips for becoming better at defending the player with the ball as well as some drills for your youth basketball team’s practice. You can also find more free basketball skills & drills videos and tutorials online at websites like Weplay.com.
Basketball Defensive Tips
Defend in a good athletic stance with your knees bent and your back straight. Your palms should be out and your head balanced and still.
Stay in front of your opponent by moving laterally with quick slides and stay between your opponent and the basket at all times.
While defending the player with the ball, shade them to their dominant side. For example, if they are right handed, guard them slightly more to their right side.
When you are guarding the dribbler, force them into a direction they are not trying to go. Put another way, if the ball handler is trying to go right, force them left.
If your opponent has the ball but hasn’t dribbled yet, be as close to them as possible, but not so close that they are able to beat you off the dribble. You must know your quickness compared to your opponents.
Once your opponent starts to dribble, your goal is to make them stop.
If your opponent has used his/her dribble and picked up the ball, pressure them and shadow the ball with your hands.
If your opponent beats you, communicate with your teammates by calling for help.
One on One Sideline Dribble
Partner players up with a ball and line them up in a corner of the court. On the whistle, the player with the ball dribbles down court between the sideline and the outside volleyball court line. The defensive player guards the dribble with an emphasis on staying in front of them and making them turn or pick up their dribble. When they get to the end, the players trade positions and return. You can add a one on one offensive move at the other end if desired, or allow the defensive player to go for steals.
One on One
Partner players up based on similar positions and put them on the wing. One player has the ball on offense and the other player defends them. On the whistle, they simply go one on one with the offensive player attempting to score in whatever way they choose. If they know each other’s tendencies, the defender should know to play close to a good shooter, and give some extra room to a quick penetrator. Score can be kept as an added incentive. Players trade places and repeat.