2-3 (2-1-2) Zone Basketball Defense

This zone is similar to the 2-3 zone that Jim Boeheim uses at Syracuse. This is can be a very effective zone defense, because it still covers the 3-point arc as well as the inside game.

Youth Coaches: Even though, you CAN win more games, AVOID playing any type of zone defense, because it can teach bad habits and hinder the long-term development of your players. Our advice would be to focus on Man to Man Defense. If you would like to read a detailed explanation of why we advise youth coaches to avoid zone defenses, click here.

Our Gift to You: We had this post turned into a PDF for your convenience! (Download Now!)


  • This the original set on the 2-3 zone. The top two players will pinch towards the middle to stop dribble penetration.

  • Pass to the Wing:

    Player 4 comes up to stop the outside shot and dribble penetration. Player 1 hustles over to the wing to guard the ball. Player 2 slides in front of the high post. Player 5 slides over a couple steps at first to cover the player on the low block.

    The transition to the next diagram should only take a split second.

    As soon as Player 1 recovers to guard the wing, he or she will push Player 4 down. Player 4 will slide down to cover the player in the short corner. Player 5 can step up towards the middle of the lane to guard the player in the high post if he receives the ball.

    Player 2 has two options:

    - If the player in the high post is hurting you, he'll probably want to sink down and deny the entry into the high post. He'll want to stay on the top half of the player, so he can still rotate to cover the ball at the top of the key.

    - If the opposing team is hurting you from the 3-point arc or the opposing player in the high post is not a threat, you can have Player 2 cheat towards the top of the key. Generally, this will also enable him to create a few more turnovers during the game.

  • Pass to the Corner:

    Player 4 guards the corner. Player 1 takes a couple of steps inside the 3-point line, but he should still be within reach to defend the shot on the wing.

  • Entry into High Post from the Top of the Key:

    Player 5 steps up to guard the ball. Player 4 takes away the player on the block.

    If you have trouble getting your players to pinch towards the player on the block, you can set a rule: Every time the ball is entered in the high post, Players 3 & 4 pinch no matter what. We've had to do this with our high school squads.

    Players 1 & 2 have their hands up to defend the pass back out to the wings, but need to be ready to swipe at the ball if the player in the high post decides to dribble.

  • Entry into the High Post from the Wing:

    Player 5 steps up to guard the ball. Player 4 pinches to deny the pass to the low block. Player 1 steps back into the lane a couple steps.

  • Entry Pass into the Short Corner:

    Player 4 & Player 5 immediately trap the ball. Player 1 denies the pass back out to the wing. Player 3 rotates to deny the ball to the player in the high post. Player 2 plays center field trying to steal a pass thrown to either player.

  • Skip Pass - Top of the Key to the Corner:

    Here's the proper rotation if a skip pass is thrown from the top of the key to the corner:

  • Skip Pass - Wing to Wing:

    Here's the proper rotation if a skip pass is thrown from wing to wing:

    Player 3 takes away the outside shot until Player 2 rotates over to guard the ball. Player 3 waits until Player 2 nudges him back down. Player 1 rotates over to the opposite side.

  • Trap the Top of the Key:

    You can have your top two players trap the ball the second the ball is dribbled past half-court. Players 3 & 4 need to deny the pass to the wing and Player 5 needs to deny the pass to free throw line. If the players can't deny the wings in time, the trap will fail and the offense will get an easy bucket.

    This is generally used only once or twice a game to surprise the offense.

  • Trap the Wing:

    Players 1 & 4 trap the wing on the pass. Player 5 rotates over to deny the pass to the block. Player 3 rotates over to deny the pass in the high post and Player 2 denies the return pass to the top of the key.

  • Trap the Corner:

    Players 1 & 4 trap the corner. Player 2 slides over to take away the return pass to the wing. Player 5 fronts the post to deny the pass. Player 3 plays center field and tries to steal a pass to the wing or the top of the key.

    If a player slides into the high post, Player 3 denies that pass.

Helpful Zone Defense Resources

If you'd like to dig deeper and get more information about developing an effective zone defense, we highly recommend Al Marshall's Zone Defense. In our opinion, he runs one of the best zone defenses in the country and it gives you the most thorough explanation of zone defense we have seen.

Zone Defense Concepts & Tips

What do you think? Let us know by leaving your comments, suggestions, and questions...

jssocials alternate:


Most Likes First   Oldest First   Newest First

elder binga says:
3/27/2008 at 11:45:16 AM

mande mais fundamentos obrigado elder


kitsi avila says:
5/21/2008 at 3:40:09 AM

thanks... i like it..im going to apply this to my team


kamel khedhir says:
5/28/2008 at 4:51:25 PM

merci beaucoup de votre et de votre efforts aide


7/22/2008 at 12:31:15 PM

La defensiva 2-3 es muy util cuando tenemos equipos combativos y con varios elementos de buena saltabiidad y fácilidad para desplazarse, su unica debilidad se encuentra ironicamente en el centro, a la altura del tiro libre donde se puede colocar un poste y trabajar facilmente con ventajas , si el es buen tirador cuidado por que se pierde el juego, o si sabe dividir aun es mas peligroso, pero siempre voy con el consejo de primero la defensa de hombre a hombre, es un muy buen articulo aplicandolo con cuidado y no solo por copiar una defensa.


Joe Haefner says:
7/22/2008 at 1:32:24 PM

Translation to English from dictionary.com :)

Defensive 2-3 is very useful when we have fighting equipment and with several elements of good saltabiidad and fÃcilidad to move, its only weakness ironically is in center, around the free shot where it is possible to be placed a post and to be worked easily with advantages, if it is good well-taken care of gunner so that the game is lost, or if it knows to even divide is but dangerous, but always I go with the advice of the first defense of man to man, is a very good article applying it with well-taken care of and not only copying a defense


coach nice says:
10/24/2008 at 1:19:44 AM

useful "d" for new teams


player# 40 says:
12/21/2008 at 10:18:33 AM

this helps. my coach runs this and 2 3 defence but ther are times when i have no clue what to do when they get into somthing like Entry into the High Post from the Wing


Jasbarr2574 says:
1/5/2009 at 2:19:52 PM

the youth team i coach is blessed with good size from the point and 4 and 5 positions. I don't like running zones unless we get in a situation were we are just out quicked. With this in mind I'm going to teach one zone formation for the first time to my team which zone do you think I should concentrate on.


kitsi says:
1/5/2009 at 6:33:31 PM

last season we wer close to winning back to back championship, the only prob is they have a very dominant center. ave 36 pts and 15 rebs a game. 12-14yrs old category. and normally he gets half the team points. my tallest player is 5inches smaller, what defense is best to use against him? zone or man, i tried both, still he is unstoppable.maybe i need to improve my team's one on one defense and help side/double team.what do you think?


Joe Haefner says:
1/6/2009 at 7:37:16 AM

Hi Jasbarr,

For youth coaches, I highly advise to teach to man to man defense. Teaching zone at a young age can teach bad habits, because they'll be able to get away with things at the youth level that they will not be able to get away with at the varsity level.


Joe Haefner says:
1/6/2009 at 7:42:23 AM

Hi Kitsi,

I think you should focus on man to man defense and fundamentals that will help these players succeed at higher levels. Teaching them a zone at this age could develop some bad habits that won't work at the higher levels.

Personally, I would front him and look for backside rotation to deflect the lob.

Another thing to keep in mind. Don't worry about the championships. Just teach them the right way to play. The win-now mentality has destroyed youth sports. Youth sports are supposed to develop players for higher levels of basketball. Also, not too many players care how many championships they won when they are 13 years old.


yatz says:
3/11/2009 at 2:16:12 PM

On the average, our opponent makes 10 3-pt.


kitsi says:
5/11/2009 at 2:01:39 AM

tnx joe...

i am doing it now... i think ur right... i am teaching them fundamentals...championship is just a bonus..

tnx again


David Edwards says:
10/19/2009 at 10:41:12 PM

I disagree with only teaching young players man-to-man defense. If you're talking about players playing at a higher level, they should know how to play against a zone and not just pass and throw up threes (i.e. USA Olympic teams of the past 10 years). If you teach it properly, zone defense uses mostly the same principles as a man and, as a bonus, can be taught in a practice or two and reinforced whenever you practice against it. I disagree with making your youth team play zone exclusively, but throwing it in now and again, when coached properly, can help players develop higher basketball IQ's and can lead to more wins that will lead to more enjoyment for everyone involved, including the children.


Joe Haefner says:
10/20/2009 at 10:21:53 AM

Hi David,

I pretty much agree with everything you said. We both want what is best for the LONG-term development for youth players. I also agree with you on the point if zones are implemented PROPERLY, it can be used to develop smarter players which we all want.

However, from my experience, most coaches at the youth level use zone defenses to win, not to improve Basketball IQ or teach them how to play. It may not be the same in other areas, but I have found that most youth coaches are volunteer parents who have little education on youth development, coaching, and/or coaching basketball. I can’t recall where, but I recall seeing some high percentage, I want to say 90% of youth coaches have no or little education on coaching.

So when they are winning by using a 1-3-1 half court trap, they think it’s the best defense to use and they use it all of the time. Because of this, the kids may learning to use terrible defensive habits such as lunging out of position and constantly going for steals because that what works at the youth level. These defenses are effective because kids are weaker and they haven’t developed the technical and/or tactical skills needed to beat zones and traps.

I actually go back and forth on what age we should start implementing zone concepts. Part of me thinks around age 12 or 13 while another part of me says 14 or 15. The argument could also be made that high school is the time to learn to play against zones. Youth coaches should be focusing on technical and tactical skills that will give the players the biggest bang for their buck when they reach the higher levels. Just like you progress a kid in learning math from simple addition and subtraction, to multiplication, and one day to algebra and maybe even calculus, I believe we should do the same with basketball. I think zones and full court presses are some of the more advanced concepts that should be learned when they reach high school.

I also think for the betterment of basketball in the U.S., if we give the youth coach less to concentrate on such as learning how to handle zone defenses and traps, they can be more effective in teaching their players the appropriate skills that will make them better overall players at the higher levels. Often, coaches will spend too much time during practice working on tactics that do not develop the player in the long-run.

Now, a team coached by you might do great learning some zone concepts.

I just think overall, youth coaches shouldn’t use them.

Thank you for bringing up those good points.


Merna says:
11/23/2009 at 7:02:31 PM

This really helped out this is my first time coaching and i had my team do this and it was easy..


Nick says:
1/2/2010 at 6:38:05 PM

What is the best half court defense to get into when running a full court zone press? This is for 16+ boys.

Also, on the 2-3 zone. When a pass is made from the wing to the high wing. When wouldn't you have #2 slide down to take him instead of #5? If #5 has to come up then the offensive person in the corner is open everytime because defender #4 can't cover both.


Nick says:
1/2/2010 at 6:39:21 PM

I meant wing to high post.


enzo says:
1/7/2010 at 5:57:00 PM

what are the rotaions when the ball is reversed when trapping in corner and on
the wing.if you have diagrams that would be very useful


Joe Haefner says:
1/26/2010 at 5:33:51 PM

Nick, a discussion was created on the forum about your question regarding half court defense after pressing: http://www.breakthroughbasketball.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=57&t=333


Melissa says:
4/12/2010 at 9:20:00 AM

This will help my Gym class


john says:
4/15/2010 at 1:54:50 PM

this is the best play in the world no team in real basketball could do this they r real fails like chris bosh and them they suck.


thomas says:
9/9/2010 at 8:34:52 PM

from an offensive perspective, running this defense in practice will help players move w/o the ball and identify passing lanes/seams. when a trap is employed, that leaves a player open. this player must then learn where to position themselves in order to help their team. the offense can learn where the vulnerabilities lie and the defense can learn what they're susceptible to.


Tyler says:
10/21/2010 at 1:19:04 PM

Mr. Haefner great website!
I play alot of pickup basketball and the 2-3 zone is the most popular defense.
I believe that the best offensive play for this is a ball passed into the high post(like freethrow line) with someone cutting baseline to the rim, while 2 men are on the corner 3 point lines and the initial pass comes from a man at the center of the 3 point line. usually the center(5) is afraid to committ to the man at the free throw line(easy free throw shot); or center(5) will move up and the man cutting below the rim is wide open (usually 3 and 4 don't cover); if center(5) moves up and a forward(3 or 4) covers the cutter, then a pass can be made to the wide open man on that corner of the 3 point line. it never gets to this point but if the guard(1 or 2) defends the man on the corner, then just pass back to the man at the center of the 3 point line. to me this is the flaw of the 2-3 defense that is rarely exposed. it would take a fantastic defense to defend this properly and a very mediocre offense to accomplish this.


Devin says:
12/10/2010 at 12:28:56 PM

I'm currently coaching a freshman boys team and its my first year and I'm looking for some advice on the zone. When the ball is swung to the wing and the 4 comes to cover the wing for the split second, should the 5 front the post player if he is posting up on the block? Or should he be playing behind him and waiting for the 4 to drop? Thanks for the help.

  1 reply  

Isaac says:
2/17/2015 at 7:51:40 PM

The 5 should play behind and wait for the 4 to collapse down and help. If the 5 was to try to front the post then you leave the backside open and over the top pass to the opposite side would get an uncontested layup most likely. And not to mention your 3 would have to cover more ground to guard 2 players.


Jeff Haefner says:
12/13/2010 at 9:18:53 AM

Devin - It depends. If you have a 7 footer that can block shots without getting fouled you might stay behind. If you have real quick players, you might look to front or 3/4 front. In most situations you'll want to do everything you can to keep the ball out of the post. But it all depends on the situation (where the all the offensive players are positioned) and your personnel. I suggest you experiment with different methods and rules for your team. Then implement what you think will work best.


XXXX says:
2/10/2011 at 8:45:38 PM


I have been an assistant coach for the past years for a program at our local community center as well as for my personal basketball coach. The program at the local community center is less formal and competitive, so I did not develop any "formal" coaching strategies that target "real" game playing. As for my personal coach, the focus has been on fundamentals, developing skills for the long-run.

Now, I am working with a Chinese school''s outdoor basketball program. My 7th and 8th grade boys would have four games in May. Their overall ball handling and shooting skills are not firm, in the sense that most ball control would be lost in running and games. I worked hard with them on developing their fundamental skills via assorted drills. Since we are fast approaching the game season, the director has asked me to start preparing my players by introducing offensive and defensive zone. Personally, I think man-to-man would be a better start. I like the way you presented the zone drills. Do you have any suggestions on how to present this (given the fact that I am compelled to do so) to a group of boys who are at different levels-- some without any clues about their positions and game-related concepts? However, I still want to work on man-to-man, any idea of how to integrate that into zone play.


andrew says:
11/12/2011 at 11:30:27 PM

i find it hard to picture wat the defencive zone is actually doin on the pictures. a video of all the different senarious would help this


Micgual says:
12/31/2011 at 1:51:32 PM

So I'm forced in this league to use a zone. I'm coaching 6-7 yr old boys/girls. I have years of football coaching but never basketball. I love the drills the site is very helpful. I do need assistance with what drills I should teach any help is good help thanks to the site and all the coaches out there, remember that kids don't have many choices early in life,but they do choose to play for you.


Ken says:
12/31/2011 at 7:55:15 PM

Its a shame that you HAVE to teach zones but it is what it is... keep things simple ... teach them a lot of fundamentals and let them have fun.

Look at the top diagrams and then break it down so they understand their coverages... and rotations....

I wouldn't get too involved with this... they need to be able to pass and catch the ball before they can do anything else... dribble and shoot a little bit....


Bill S. says:
2/4/2012 at 11:22:06 AM

I've read with interest everyone's posts regarding teaching of zpme defenses. And as a youth coach with 4 years experience of age ranges of between 5-18, I couldn't disagree more with the comments that state not to start teaching a zone defense early on. Using a 2-3 zone teaches kids spacing, to be responsible for a certain area, how to control a certain area, and stops them from chasing a kid around and around and around we go! It equates to every player learning their "spot" on the floor. And I've seen how this concept especially equates to the 5-10 y/o kids.

But this 2-3 zone defense has also had a nice impact on the offense as well. with my 5-7, and 8-10 y/o leagues, I've taught them a zone offense as well. The results are many: my kids are excellent passers with many comments made to me about them being the best passing team in the leagues; each player is learning their position where their numbers are listed (1,2,3,4,5); fewer turnovers; interior passing is awesome; stopped all 5 kids from crowding around the ball. The result last season was an 8-0 record. My 14+ league is currently 4-0 with leades as high as 30 points. All skills are taught around this concept. And FYI: When my 14+ has tried running a man to man defense our leads have dwindled.

When should you teach a zone defense? Any time is my answer. Why don't you ask the Miami Heat how effective a zone defense is during last years finals with Dallas? The couldn't solve it...a team that's supposed to win, what, 5-7 championships?? And, most high school games I attend has zone defenses employed.


Ken says:
2/4/2012 at 11:44:24 AM

What I hear you saying is more about wins than teaching the fundamentals of the game... and it all starts with m2m defense.

It takes a lot of time and hard work to teach proper m2m defense, I understand that. As a retired high school coach I can tell you that I wanted the kids coming in to be able to play and understant m2m concepts. I coached for over 40 years ( that doesn't make me an expert ) but I can tell you that we knew the kids that came in from zone programs.

The reason you are seeing more zones at the high school level is that the lower levels are teaching zones... and there is so much to teach regarding fundamentals of this game they are giving up and going to the zone. I have talked to several coaches, believe me, IF they could stick with m2m they would.

At the youth level you can win a lot of games playing zones because of the inability to shoot the ball well. Has nothing to do with playing a great zone. You talk about covering an area... thats just what it is.... and you said that when you went m2m your defense struggled a little bit. I wonder how well they would have played it IF you would have taught that first?

Somewhere in the game you are going to have to cover someone... you have to be able to defend on the ball, one pass away and be on the help side.

The Pros are just that, they are Pros, they can play just about anything they want.. but you can bet that they can play good m2m also.


Jeff Haefner says:
2/4/2012 at 12:12:43 PM


If your goal is to WIN at a young level, then I agree zone defense is better and easier. If your goal is DEVELOP PLAYERS and give them the best opportunity to be GOOD when they are older, then there is no doubt the man to man defense is better...

Man defense develops foot speed, foot coordination, athleticism, and eventually if you can play really good man, you'll be able to play an even better zone when you get older. Personally I would never want my own child sitting in the back of the zone defense (they are not getting any quicker or more athletic sitting back there with their hand up). You just don't have to move very much because you only have a small area to cover. I would want my children to play tough man, moving their feet, learning foot coordination, developing athleticism, and so on. Just watch the kids on the back of the zone, they are not getting quicker. To me there are just too many benefits to developing players LONG TERM that there is just no argument for zone defense as your "primary" defense, unless you are just out there to win.

I don't know if you've thought of these things but I have heard every reason to play zone, study this stuff daily, and talk to coaches at all levels daily... and it has become very clear to me that learning to play man defense is just better for those kids. Doesn't mean you can't run zone or that it's evil. Man is just better for long term development. Zone is somewhat of a cop out -- you can teach help concepts without a zone. I have done it and I know many other coaches have to.

I'm not trying to down play your argument for zone. I get it. I just think that with more experience, you will change your mind. I think that if we could sit in a room and have a nice conversation about basketball, that you would change your mind. I have heard every argument you can imagine, and every single time I verbally talk this through with a youth coach who is dead set they are right about zone, they change their mind when we start talking about fundamentals and development. It's hard to have these discussions via "comments" but that's all we have to work with here. I just believe that player development is more important than winning at a young age. And I think every youth coach should take some time to think about the importance of developing athleticism and fundamentals, and put a little less priority on winning right now. Be patient and the wins will come with time.


Ken says:
2/4/2012 at 2:59:35 PM

I would just add this to our discussion -

Winning is a by product of a fundamentally sound team and players. I agree with Jeff here and I think its all about the goals you set for your players and your program.

Obviously you are doing a good job teaching your system .... but I think you would be helping your players become better m2m defenders so when they get to the high school they will be sound defensively.

Think about this.... you start at the age of 5? Tough to teach them a lot at this age but its a start... maybe by 8 (and I'm guessing because I've never worked with that age group)
they will begin to pick up the correct concepts of m2m.... then you have 5 years of teaching that.. they would be great m2m players. Your high school coaches will love you.

Its too bad we cant have some sort of Webinar to discuss this concept. Like Jeff and Joe, I talk to high school coaches on a daily basis and this is one of the hot topics.

Good luck with your season and I hope that we have at least raised some questions in your mind regarding this.


Bill S. says:
2/29/2012 at 9:47:37 PM


Every high school game I have gone to this season...and I have been to been to between 10-15...have employed zone defenses. I hear coaches all the time (just as i do) yell, "Slide!" to their players. I get the feeling that some of the coaches that are leaving comments have an idea that these kids will play in the NBA some day where m2m is predominant. Gee, I just finished watching a UNC vs. Maryland game and low and behold: a zone defense from both sides. If it's good enough for Roy Williams who has two national championships then it's good enough for me. I'm also now watching Oklahoma and Texas and, my god, I see tons of zone defense. So, the comment made above regarding teaching m2m to benefit older kids doesn't hold water since college basketball mostly employs zone. Are you talking about some over 30 or 40 year old league?
I respect every comment made here, I really do. But what I understand about the 2/3 zone is that it is designed to keep an offense, especially the guards, from getting in the paint to conrol plays. I teach my guards to shade their opponents outside away from the middle of he paint. With a shot blocker at the 5 spot and whalaa, great defense.
As I said in my prior post: zone defense teaches many great fundamentals which includes spacing, responsibility to an area, etc. I don't have 40 years experience, but when I turn on the TV I see "tons" of college games that employ the zone. And, no, I don't run the zone because I'm trying to win games. I have to play all of my players an equal amount...from the most skilled to the least skilled player. And when I start A.A.U. in a couple of weeks I will use the 2/3 in a competitive league.
And by the way Ken, I'm running he zone with my high school aged kids. We are now 6-1 and we won our game last night by 17 points. Our lone loss was by 3, but we were missing our 2 best players. I am teaching tons of fundamentals to these kids, and the 2/3 zone is just that for us.
Regarding Jeff's comments about teaching the zone to 5-10 year olds: I believe it to be the best thing to do. Many, many of these kids are playing organized ball for the 1st time. Making them responsible for just one piece of the floor instead of every inch of it, makes it easier to coach them. And lets not forget that the parents pay $ for these leagues and they want to see their kids do the best they can. I believe that teaching a zone defense is fundamental to basketball. As I said in my first post, Miami couldn't solve it against Dallas. So, why shouldn't anyone else use it? A zone offense helps the younger kids especially. I can't tell you how many games I coached and went to last year where no organized offense or defense was being taught. Sometimes all 5 players were standing near each other looking for the ball. It was rediculous to see, and I would always walk away shaking my head at the disroganized coaching that was going on. My zone offense has excellent passing concepts and I employ the passing game listed on this page with all 5 of my players. It works. I respect all posts on here and I'd just like to agree to disagree. We all love the game of basketball.


Joe Haefner says:
2/29/2012 at 11:16:42 PM

Bill, thank you for your thoughts and input. However, to keep things consistent, please visit our youth defense article to discuss this topic: http://www.breakthroughbasketball.com/defense/age.html


Ken says:
3/1/2012 at 8:40:53 AM

Bill -

I agree with Joe...... we can discuss this on the link he sent you.

Just to clarify this.... we are talking about playing zones at the youth level.....1st - 6th graders.... not high school or college. I coached high school ball for 27 years and as the varsity coach, we used zones also. I have NO problem with that.

What we want to see is youth coaches teaching fundamentals and playing m2m allowing their kids to learn and enjoy the game. Younger kids cant shoot from the perimeter very well, so what does that teach them... ok, enough for here, see you on the other thread.


Phil says:
6/12/2013 at 12:45:31 PM

I think that teaching them both will help them tremendously with their future in playing basketball. Alot of college teams run a zone defense (Syracuse for one) and some NBA teams are also using a zone. However, i do like man-to-man and run this too. Its just that sometimes some players are not fully developed as others and sometimes running a zone is the best for the team at that moment.


James Collin says:
11/18/2013 at 6:42:35 AM

Im the PG and captain of the inter schools basket team. This year we want to win coming 2points short in the semi finals. Living in Australia the skill level of the league is quite low and only about 1/10 people can shoot. Is there any zone that just completely locks down the paint at a sacrifice of defending the 3.


Ken Sartini says:
11/18/2013 at 9:15:53 AM

James -

How about a sagging m2m?? Or any defense where everyone has a foot in the paint except for the player defending the ball?


Jim says:
1/10/2014 at 11:50:31 AM

What drill do you use to help 2-3 zone or 1-3-1 zone to recognize and stop players flashing into the middle or along baseline. It seems simple enough, but our kids continue to struggle with stepping and meeting the offensive player.


Andrea says:
1/12/2014 at 2:49:08 PM

3rd 4th grade girls...I have chosen to run man defensive but every other team in the league runs zone. It is rec ball so I have one very talented balk handler and a couple that can shoot fundementaly correct but catching a pass has been challenging in game play. what is the best offense to stop the triple team of my one ball handler..we are working hard to get the other girls to be their best at handling the ball, we just have first year players. I am willing to not win by teaching fundamentals butinterested in the best way to compete.


Ken Sartini says:
1/13/2014 at 10:52:43 AM

Andrea -

THIS is one of the things that is wrong with youth basketball.... triple teaming a 3/4 th grader?? Its about the almight win.

Kudos to you for teaching your kids how to play the game... and m2m D... they will be better for it as they get older. Make sure that you let your kids know why you are doing this, so they don't get too discouraged.

I never worked with kids this young... but the one thing I can think of is, when someone leaves the zone to triple team her, flash someone to the open spot, have her pivot and face the basket... she can shoot, attack the basket and or dump it off to another open player.... I hope this helps.... and by the way, stick to your guns


Dave says:
1/27/2014 at 10:34:37 PM

This all sounds great in theory and is probably great in practice if you are a trained coach that's good enough to teach difficult skills in 12 hours of practice during a rec basketball season.

However, when you are simply a dad trying to help his son and friends navigate a brutally uneven playing field, a zone gives less experienced kids a chance to avoid the weekly beat downs that come courtesy of advanced players playing down to rec league. I've started teaching a 2-3 this season and rebounding has tripled and we're causing many more turnovers. Since most of the boys play a lot of soccer, they are very fit and they "get" the zone.

I'm the first to agree that winning is not everything, but being crushed regularly is toxic to late starters. 2 years of m-2-m was a painful lesson and about a 60% "retirement" rate for players. If a fifth grade beginner is driven out of the sport in his first season, you'll never know what you've missed in high school.


Joe Haefner says:
1/28/2014 at 9:32:47 AM

Sorry to hear that, Dave. That irks me when leagues set you up for failure.

Here are some other resources that delve into the issue more:




Dave says:
1/28/2014 at 10:51:24 AM

Thanks, Joe. I will read the articles. I don't mean to go overboard on how the league rules dampen the enthusiasm of novice players. I would say that a few hours of teaching the zone is the main reason I have 10 boys really liking the game and actually improving multiple skills. We have 10 boys and 3 have never played the game before this season and a couple with one season under their belt. One is playing up a year.

We played a much better team in our first game this year and lost by 20 which probably reflects on my poor coaching and no experience actually playing a zone. However, in the last two games, we've given up a grand total of 10 points. We've never done that well. Even more than having a couple of solid wins, the boys dominated the war zone and virtually eliminated opponent's layups. I think the practice has started improving our offensive play as well because our boys are learning to make better decisions. Win or lose, they are showing signs of improvement.

I want to teach the boys the right skills, but I think they need to get some confidence and like the game first. So far, the zone is helping me get this done.


BP says:
2/23/2014 at 12:11:31 PM

Hi Joe!

I coach an elite level 16U AAU girls team and plan to utilize a 2-3 zone at least 90% of the time. I purchased and watched Jim Boeheim''s and Al Marshall''s 2-3 zone DVD''s. The Al Marshall DVD was detailed and very well done! I believe in Jim Boeheim''s philosophy that if you want to be good at 2-3 zone you have to practice and play 2-3 zone almost exclusively. I have a strategy question; without a shot clock, if a team get''s behind by a significant amount of points, how would you adjust your 2-3 zone defense to avoid an opponent stalling and shortening the game?

Thank you,



Jeff Haefner says:
2/24/2014 at 6:56:37 AM

BP - You can extend the zone to half court, trap the first pass, trap corners, and pinch to put pressure on the guards.

Or you can go man to man. I have seen Al Marshall go to man on more than one occasion. They practice full court 1on1 frequently and various man principles so they have the footspeed and fundamentals to play man if needed. In one case they came out and surprised a team that had prepared for their zone all week. They played full court man the whole game and won by 20.

I think every defense (zone, match up, junk, or man) is based on man to man principles.


BP says:
2/25/2014 at 6:24:15 PM

Hi Jeff!

It all makes sense! When we work on our m2m offense my assistant coach is a "2nd voice" and teaches defense while I'm teaching offense. We will also change from 2-3 zone to m2m within a possession. We change on a certain number of passes.

Thank you,



Ken Sartini says:
2/25/2014 at 7:47:24 PM

BP -

As long as your kids can handle that... and it works... why not?

I coached varsity boys and we would play our match up zone if they entered the ball to our left and m2m if they entered to our right. Worked for us.


BP says:
2/26/2014 at 7:50:36 AM

Hi Coach!

I try and keep it very simple for me :) and our players. The call is always on the 2nd pass. I really enjoyed watching Cuse v Duke and the adjustments Coach Boeheim and Hopkins made throughout the game. There is a major difference between the scheming behind the Cuse 2-3 zone and the typical high school zone don't you think?




Ken Sartini says:
2/26/2014 at 7:57:56 AM

BP -

I think there is a huge difference between a typical high school 2-3 and Boeheim's.... he recruits tall quick players with a huge wing span... kind of like air craft carriers. :-)

One can only wish!!


cool chick says:
3/31/2014 at 6:40:15 AM

this is really helpful ;D


Pat says:
11/3/2014 at 11:38:17 PM

It is really disturbing to hear all of these youth coaches talk about the 'benefits' of playing a zone defense. I have coached 13-14 year old girls basketball for 12 years. It is sad to see coaches trying to do nothing more than win now by playing zones. The kids are being taught nothing about the fundamentals of playing good defense. One way to beat a zone defense is by good outside shooting, well there isn't much outside shooting at these ages. It is imperative to teach kids to play good m2m defense. And as far as teaching good spacing by playing zone D, I've never heard of teaching spacing on defense. As most have stated here, I have no problem with zone D in high school, but in junior high and earlier, there is no place for it if you are really trying to teach good fundamentals.

  1 person liked this.  

C says:
10/27/2015 at 7:55:28 AM

There is nothing wrong with playing some Zone. I hear some coaches say we ONLY play and teach man to man. Well, that''s like having a wrench in your tool box and never teaching your kids how to use it because you only use a hammer. It''s another TOOL. It can be used well or it can be used poorly. There is a lot of poor MTM being played as well. My job as a youth coach is to teach concepts, develop players and raise their Basketball IQ. Understanding how a zone works helps them beat a zone and understanding how to play a zone really helps them understand defensive concepts of protecting an area and challenging the ball when it comes into your area. Some MTM players get lazy and do not challenge the ball if it isn''t their man. So, I teach both. I dont'' think one is ''better'' than the other. It is simply another tool in my box.

  1 reply  

Brian says:
11/19/2015 at 2:49:11 PM

Right on, C!

There is nothing wrong with playing zone defense. I hate going against a team that just plays a passive zone where 5 players hang out around the paint....they are doing themselves and everyone else a disservice. But ask John Chaney, Jim Boeheim, John Belein, or Bob Huggins about some zone defense and their eyes will light up. If you have the personnel to play M2M, great. If you don't, one or two bad matchups can make for an extremely long afternoon. If nothing else, zone defense does a much better job of developing an entire team concept because if done properly, opponents cannot easily exploit mismatches like they can in M2M.

  1 reply  

Jeff says:
11/20/2015 at 2:42:37 PM

That is true, the is nothing wrong with zone. However I never would recommend a youth coach run only zone. To me the proper teaching progression is man and then eventually zone. But there are lots of different ways to teaching defensive progressions.

The other big problem is that 99% of the youth coaches (many volunteers) have no clue how to teach zone defense properly. In most cases the players are better off if youth coaches teach man to man.

And this might sound strange, but I think a good zone defense is bad your young teams to face. It doesn't allow them to develop... they just shoot long shots outside and learn to hork the ball from the outside with bad technique.

I could go on and on. Take a look at this article with other reasons, that as a general recommendation to the public, it's better for youth coaches to play man to man.


Aude says:
10/28/2016 at 5:30:45 AM

Hi all,
some insides from abroad (Europe) if you don't mind.
I learnt zone defence in France in U18 and now I'm coaching U16 boys in Switzerland. Both countries have the same approach and the same message delivered to youth coaches : zone defence is forbidden until U18. Why ?
for exactly the points argued above by Joe.

And I saw it with my very own eyes : last year some 16 years old boys had to play with our second men team (there's no real school basketball in Europe, mostly organizations) which plays in the lowest league where zones are common for the simple reasons that there's 40ish guys playing, that the guys there aren't fit so they just stay in the key. They just gamble on the fact that the opponent won't score a long-range shot.
Now these boys are back to U19 and their coach gets crazy : they can slide more than 2 steps, they can't get free easily, they can't create their own shot, they don't drive, let's not talk about pick&rolls or any type of screening... It's a disaster. They became lazy.

If you want to teach your kids at the young age to defend in zone rather than developping them on the long term, please go ahead. But don't be surprised if there's more and more European (and foreigners in general) in NBA or NCAA.

Thanks for the clear 2-3 zone explanation, very clear !


Leave a Comment
Email (not published)
Four minus zero is equal to?  (Prevents Spam)
 Load New Question
Leave this Blank
    Check this box to receive an email notification when someone else comments on this page.