Are You Playing Zone Defense with Your Youth Team? Would You Like to Improve Your Man or Zone Defense? Are You Frustrated with Your Youth Defense?

Here's an Inspiring Story and Lesson About Developing a Smothering Youth Defense

This is an email from one of our subscribers. I urge you to read it and learn from it. It will help you stay on track, improve your defense, and eventually win more games!!

"I started coaching a middle school team 3 years ago (all 6th graders). Like many coaches at this level, I was a parent volunteer and had little experience in coaching basketball. I got involved with the high school coach and got her involved with our program. She told me the players coming to her program cannot play M2M and their zone defense is even worse because they do not have the fundamentals.

I set clear goals (SMART goals) for the team and each girl. I scheduled and planned practices. We finished the year 0-12 only scoring 14 points a game and giving up almost 40. I reinforced with our team and parents that we are giving up the short term gratification of using "zone defense" for a long term foundation that will benefit the girls long after they are finished with their middle school careers.

The following year, we went 5-11 and only lost by an average of 8 points (26 ppg on defense). The last year they were in middle school, we won the championship. We went 15-3 with the best defense in the league (16 ppg) and the second best offense in the league (29 ppg). These were the same girls that went 0-12 just two years before.

We did it against mostly "zone" defenses. We didn't do it with more talent or different players. We did it through hard work and determination and learning how to play defense (footwork, positioning, deny, help and recover, rebounding, transitioning) while everyone else was fixated on winning now. Because our defense became so good, our offense improved dramatically. Our offense had to play and learn how to score against the best defense in the league every practice.

Coaches would ask me after games, "your team is tenacious; how did you get them to play M2M defense like that?" I would tell them," it started two years ago while you guys were beating us up with zone defenses."

I tell you this as a testimonial to working on building a solid foundation. That formula works for everything you will do in sports and, more importantly, in life. There are no short cuts to long term success."

- JoeDubb

We believe this is a VERY important lesson for youth coaches... As you probably know, we highly recommend and preach man to man defense to youth coaches. There are countless reasons to play man to man defense with youth teams (which we won't go into all the reasons in this particular article). But suffice to say, man to man defense is better for your team and their development of players.

The biggest objection we hear is that man to man defense takes too long to teach and the coaches/players want to win now. It's the old "instant gratification" problem.

Well if you could just show a little bit of patience and emphasize the right things with your players, YOU could have the same success that this subscriber had above. Not only is he teaching fundamentals and preparing his players for the future. But he's also winning a lot of games and having fun!

We hope this story inspires you to stick to what you know is right and overcome your urge for instant gratification. Play man to man defense. Teach the fundamentals. Set small goals that are not based on winning, instead base them on learning and development. Be patient. And eventually success will follow.

If you have any questions, let us know. We want to see you succeed.

What do you think? What are your experiences? Do you have any thoughts, ideas, and suggestions?

jssocials alternate:


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Mike Boadway says:
1/26/2011 at 7:01:35 AM

I coach in the province of Ontario Canada and zone defenses or double teams are not allowed until age 12. While it can be frustrating not having a zone at your disposal it is absolutely the best rule for forcing us to teach defensive fundamentals.


Jason Brandt says:
1/26/2011 at 7:52:04 AM

Kudos to Coach Dubb. It's nice to read about a kindred spirit! My 6th grade girls team plays exclusively M2M defense using all the principles mentioned in Joe's letter. Last year's 2-10 team is now 5-2. We have, by far, the shortest team in the league, but we managed to prevent our last opponent from -- even once -- setting up their half-court offense by using a full-court man press falling back into strangling help defense. Straight-up 'man' is the way to go if you want the girls to be able to play zone at the high school level.


Isaac Robert Kwapong Jnr says:
1/26/2011 at 8:28:55 AM

I am a basketball coach of an after school programme in a Junior High School. And was approached by the schools P.E Master on Monday 24th January 2011 to help train a non-existing school team to play in a game on Friday 28th January 2010. I am in a my 3rd day of 1hr practises with both the boys & girls teams at the same time once a week. I am a developmental coach and always focus on the long term development of players so i always ignore the opportunity for short term development for short term gratification hence i have been taking the kids through the who had never been trained until i started the afterschool programme in November 210. Today we worked on defense for the first time and it was man to man defense after going through footwork,passing,dribbling, and finishing on Day 1 & Day 2. Tomorrow 27th January 2011 will be our final practice before the game on friday 28th January 2011. Tomorrow we work on playing the game more of like scrimmages. With the lack of planning from the school and with the limited time some staff of the school are expecting a definate win which i have turned my deaf ears to. I am looking forward to the girls and boys team have a great experience be it a win or loss on Friday which we can build upon. I believe playing on a strong foundation is very important and i am looking forward to build a strong foundation with my new team. Will keep you all informed on how it goes.

my website:


Dib Oglesby says:
1/26/2011 at 9:04:10 AM

I love the idea of man defense, but because the larger schools in our district tend to have a big talent advantage, we find that zone is our best or only option. Our 2-3 is very solid, as the girls rotate well, and get out to deny open shots, causing the offense to have to rotate the ball, and thus have more chances to make mistakes.

As our school drops back to single A next season, we will have an opportunity to utilize M2M on a more equal basis. I'm looking forward to helping the girls learn, and show them their yet uncovered talents.


Kraig Moore says:
1/26/2011 at 9:11:35 AM

I too see the benefit of man to man. I don't have the luxury of seeing my opponents in advance so we play a 1-3-1 with the point guard m2m on their ball handler.

Once we play them and see the strength of their players we usually go m2m on the second game.


Radiah Carson says:
1/26/2011 at 9:34:41 AM

I coach youth 9-10 boys and, too, use M2M defense. It was a mess in the beginning; however, we stuck with it. Out of the 6 teams in our league, I believe that we are the only team that uses M2M (I must credit this website with encouraging me). I am a developmental coach and love to see when children are learning basic fundamentals (calling out pics, talking, boxing out, etc).

Although, 3 of the boys on the team are my sons; of which, have tramendous athletic abilities and a niche for basketball, it is a delight to see all of the boys sit on defense, help and recover and those that did not have the footwork are improving thru basic jump rope, shuffles, etc.

Thanks for sharing this post.


Allen Skeens says:
1/26/2011 at 10:24:45 AM

It is good to hear about a coach making a decision to teach defense the right way. I have a group of 6th grade boys that have been together now for 4-5 years. We have had tremendous success even at the national level. Over the years I have been amazed at the high percentage of teams that play solely zone defense, especially those of the elite caliber AAU programs. In our 5 years together my team has never played one possession of zone defense and not one of those teams has yet to beat us. In fact, most of them only know how to run offense against zones because that is all they see. We pick up full court man to man, deny the ball and apply intense pressure. In the half court we practice the shell drill all the time which allows us to understand our rotations and the help line. Not only is it fun to coach and watch it is fun for the kids to play. I am kicking around teaching them a zone press as I feel it is time for them to start understanding those principles before they get to middle school. I am in the minority here but I feel that if you want to have a great zone defense you first have to understand man to man defensive principles. Unfortunately most people think teaching man is the harder thing to do. I disagree. I think that teaching zone the PROPER way is more difficult. If I ever do utilize a zone defense I want it to look like Syracuse or Temple. Those are effective defenses and not a type that promotes laziness. I would prefer to promote individual responsibility and accountability. At some point in your basketball career you better be able to guard your man so you might as well teach it to the kids when they are really young and establish the proper foundation. I really enjoy this website and forum.


psylox says:
1/26/2011 at 8:09:25 PM

i think thats a nice story to to uplift and encourage new coaches. keep up the good work..


psylox says:
1/26/2011 at 8:15:24 PM

M2M is the best defense to presssure the opponent.. hi to my son psylox mhar


Sean says:
1/26/2011 at 11:54:30 PM

I started playing age 12 in Australia, and reached a high level very quickly. Traditionally I was taught zones for 1st 6mnths at School level, and was lucky enough to play in district representative teams. At the higher level m2m was introduced and extensive offense plays were taught against zones and M2m. I distinctively remember the zones being easiest to break through. I clearly remember watching a game when I was 15 where a kid a couple of years younger who was taught solely zones, ran back into defense to play in a low post zone position on the left side if the court. He stood there by himself and watched the other team bring the ball down the court and do a layup unchallenged. Ive seen the same zone only symptoms all my life, even in veterans leagues.
I now coach my own sons team of 9yr olds. The comp does not allow zone defences, and I fully agree. I have taught the team how to man up, and cut the dribbled off with the footwork. We struggle with offense, but are one of the stronger defense teams. Zones are boring and only affective in limited circumstances. My boys know how to defend the basket, not just a space of the court.


Ido Singer says:
1/27/2011 at 4:05:07 PM

I fully agree.
I grew up playing mostly M2M on a professional level in Europe and as a young coach I stress the fundamentals and a solid M2M defense is the basis to any successful defense.
I upsets me every time I see a team that we face (Either my Girls Middle school or my Girls JV) THAT PLAYS NOTHING BUT ZONE!
How do coaches expect kids to learn anything by telling them they are only responsible for a small portion of the floor and that's it? It upsets me and I'm sure other coaches that care as much as I do and put in as much effort and work as I do that some coaches only care about winning and not teaching.
But I urge you all to stick to your guns and keep teaching fundamentals even at the expense of winning. Rest assured - the results will come.


Joey cook says:
1/27/2011 at 5:17:17 PM

I've been coaching a rec team for the past three years. I have different girls every year. My first year I did not know what I was doing. I found your website employed alot of your drills. Had a lot of success. This year I went all out and I bought the motion offense e-book from you guys and employed a girl-to-girl defense. It took a while for the girls to get used to it. But they learned more this year then they have any year. Every parent was astounded but everything they learned. I thank you guys for your help. Next year will be my last year coaching my oldest daughter at the rec league she will be going into jr high. But I'm thinking of letting my youngest daughter do the re. League for one or two years then getting enough numbers and going to aau that will be a big step up.


psylox says:
1/27/2011 at 7:54:50 PM

hi to all coaches out there can you send me a copy or sample of your training program and drills to help my team improve my skills.. tnx a lot and god bless... my email is cp no 0918-594-4399..


psylox says:
1/27/2011 at 8:01:08 PM

hi to all coaches out there can you send me a copy or sample of your training program and drills to help my team and improved my skills.. tnx a lot and god bless... my email is cp no 0918-594-4399..


Michael says:
1/27/2011 at 8:35:51 PM

I agree 100%. I coach 8u and 10u boys and we use m2m defense and always play against zone defenses. My frustration is that I coach a different group of boys every year because of the draft. So, sticking to the fundamentals of m2m makes it hard to ever have a championship caliber team, because it's usually the end of the 10 game season before you start to see real improvement and wins. And yes, the pressure from the parents to win is sometimes tough to handle, but I stick to it anyway. Any thoughts on my situation?


Joe Haefner says:
1/30/2011 at 10:33:14 AM

Hi Michael,

I would make sure to have a pre-season meeting with the parents. I would explain your philosophy and how it will help their kids in the long run.

Here are some more tips on handling parents:


Dale says:
1/31/2011 at 11:05:10 AM

I coach JV boys and play only M2M defense. Sometimes I'll have people tell me that we should play a zone, but I say that whatever defense you play, the guys still have to stop a man. Footwork, position, help and rotation. Get those right and it won't matter who you come up against, you will be OK. If you want the shortcut, get the man defense E book from breakthrough basketball, and you are well on your way.


Brandon B says:
2/12/2011 at 5:57:17 PM

I think overall man is the best defense period. It doesn't take coaching skill to stick a 6'6 kid in the middle of a 2-3 when hes an 8th Grader. He's not improving his footwork and his foot speed, which will hurt him when it comes down to playing High School. I am a JV Basketball Coach and the fundamentals are the most important. I love this website because it try's to help teach these basics. Kids can have natural talent. My varsity coach has an excellent M2M system which we both use for AAU as well as during the high school season. He forces me to use this man and play only that. People ask me all the time if we don't win, why don't you ever play zone. I tell them because I wanna make these kids better. We also finished the season 12-2 and I am also 30-8 in three seasons as a freshman/JV boys basketball coach playing only a man.


mr loser says:
2/23/2011 at 12:35:25 PM

Awesome story! We always play M2M, even in under the hoop out of bounds situations. Other coaches play zones against us, but we don't care. Our job is teaching our players fundamental skills, making sure they ALL have fun, build a love for the game and get better. And, imho -- while a zone will definitely help you "win" at the youth level -- you don't get better/learn fundamental defensive skills playing one.


Michel Godbout says:
2/25/2011 at 10:38:06 PM

In our school leagues, teams are not allowed to play zone defense until juvenile level which is 15 to 17 years of age (grade 10 & 11). This is happenning in Québec, Canada. Man to man defense is the foundation of every defense in basketball.


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