10 Keys to a Great Basketball Defensive Stance

In order to stop the ball and deny dribble penetration, you must begin with a good stance.

If you don't have a good stance, you won't have a good defensive slide, and you'll constantly be out of position and off-balance. This will enable the offense to score on you at will. EVERYTHING begins with a good defensive stance!

In the clip below from the Man To Man Defense Video with Jim Huber, he discusses critical components of a great defensive stance.

Here are 10 Keys to a Great Defensive Stance:

  1. Fronts of the Feet - A little more than half of your weight should be distributed to the fronts or balls of your feet. Heel should still be in contact with the ground.

  2. Stable Base & Feet Straight Ahead - Your feet should be pointing straight ahead. This creates an angle that allows you to provide more force against the ground.

    Your feet should also be slightly wider than shoulder width apart.

  3. Hips Back & Knees Bent - Butt should be behind the heels and your knees should be pointing forward.

  4. Knees Inside of Feet - This helps create alignment with your lower body which enables you to explode more efficiently in any direction.

  5. Butt Down - Staying in a stable position with your butt down enables you to stay balanced and engage the glutes which is the most powerful muscle in the lower body.

  6. Shoulders Over Knees - Your shoulders should be over your knees with your chest out and back straight. You don't want to be leaning too far forward or backwards.

  7. If you have a tendency to lean forward too much - bring your hands above your head as this will bring your torso more upright.

  8. If you have a tendency to be too upright with your butt tucked under and knees stick too far forward, keep your hands straight in front of you as this will force you to push your butt back into a better position.

  9. Hands up - Depending on the tactic (Hands out or hands up to defend shot/dribble).

  10. Eyes focused on the player's waist or chest.

Balance is the key to a great defensive stance and guarding the ball. If you lose your balance you are beat!!!

You can learn more about one on one defense by checking out this video and article about guarding the ball. It includes some great tips and tricks for coaches and players.

Or to learn more about about great TEAM defense, check out our comprehensive man to man basketball defense video.


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Mauro Panaggio says:
6/13/2008 at 9:24:18 AM

As a former coach who taught tough man-on-man defense, I agree with everything you have stated for the basic defensive stance excpt for the positioning of the feet. I believe that having a parallel foot position allows the offensive player the luxury of picking his direction to attack. My preferred foot position is to have one foot in advance of the other, depending on the direction you wish to influence the offense to take.


Ben Wutzke says:
6/13/2008 at 10:25:27 AM

I would agree with Mauro. When not forcing to one side or the other, we teach ball side leg back. This puts the forward hand preventing the crossover and the latter hand in the passing lane.

Pressure is the key to prevent the interior pass. As the ball rises, we teach to step to a close position with both hands up until the ball is brought back down.

Excellent article on defensive stance.


Joe Haefner says:
6/13/2008 at 10:54:22 AM

Great points, guys!

We actually teach the same thing in our ebook as you. When sliding on defense, we show you how to position your feet with text, diagrams, and pictures.

Although we teach this, I believe feet positioning should be based on your personnel and what type of defense you choose to play that year. In basketball, there is a million ways to teach the concepts and still be effective.

If you have some extremely quick kids and you want to pressure and force to one side of the court, it would be a good idea to use the staggered stance like you said.

If you have some slow kids or you want to cut down on all dribble penetration, you may use where you pack your defense into the middle to make help and recover easier. Personally, I think it would be a good idea to use a parallel stance for this type of defense. If the offensive player attacks the lead foot, it can be hard for the defensive player to stop the dribble penetration (especially, if they are not the quickest player) because it takes a split second longer drop that foot back and react to the offensive player.

They are other times you may want to use a staggered stance to force players to the middle if you have a bunch of shot-blockers.

Either way, a defense can be very effective.

Other people please share your thoughts...

Thanks for starting this discussion Mauro!

Joe Haefner


Mauro Panaggio says:
6/13/2008 at 11:18:55 AM

The whole purpose for the staggered foot position is to influence the ball handler into accepting the easier path for his penatration attempt. This also signals to your teammates the direction you are attemting to force the dribbler. However, this does not eliminate the possibility for an attack on the lead foot. If the ball handler is very quick, the defender must allow for that and step off an extra step. There is no question that a successful attack on the lead foot is harder recover from, but it is also harder to accomlish successfully.


mark says:
6/13/2008 at 12:28:07 PM

The principle of movement is to apply force in the opposite direction - if you want to go to the left you must apply force to the right with the right foot. However, if your knees are not inside your feet your ability to apply force is significantly compromised (in the picture the knees are not inside the feet enough). A basketball player in a proper defensive stance should feel like they are able to tear paper towel apart in the middle. If they are doing this they are applying the proper force properly and can move quickly in either direction.


Gerry says:
6/13/2008 at 10:28:14 PM

The basic stance above is a good solid athletically sound stance that creates great balance. Whether you teach a stance that promotes dropping one foot back slightly depends on the knowledge base of the student. If you are working with younger kids or beginners of any age it may confuse them if you go right into theories behind pushing the offensive player in a certain direction. I coach freshman girls basketball and find that even some of the inexperienced kids need to start at the very basic fundamentals. The basic defensive stance and not crossing their feet while sliding is sometimes all they can handle.


Murat POLAT says:
6/18/2008 at 3:19:55 AM

In above photos, this player is very open his legs. This position isn't good for the run or slide. I think the shoulder width is enough for the good stance.


Joe Haefner says:
6/18/2008 at 3:00:20 PM

Hi Murat,

Sometimes, I think we as coaches get obsessed with the "perfect" form or "perfect" way to do things. In reality, every player is unique. In order to maintain proper balance and slide quickly, one player may only need his feet shoulder width apart with his knees slightly bent while another player may need to have a wider stance while squatting really low to the ground in order to be effective.

This is only from my personal experience, but I have found that most kids need to have their feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart in order to maintain good balance, slide quickly, and change directions quickly.

Joe Haefner


Mauro Panaggio says:
6/18/2008 at 5:06:49 PM

Please disregard the request to remove my name from your list to receive the newsletter. I inadvertanly clicked on the site to request to remove my name. I think, as I prviously state, this is a great forum for coaches to exchange views


Ariel Rabe says:
7/2/2008 at 11:45:07 PM

Mirroring the ball and getting as close as possible to the man with the ball are pointers that need to be told to the players time and again. As for the footwork and vertical balance, what should be added is that players should also be reminded that best defence is the perfect anticipation of the opponent's plan of attack (re spin, stutter step, on dribbling,etc.), then things will work out fine for the man on the defensive end.


Rashamel Jones says:
10/24/2008 at 9:20:12 AM

As a division 1 college basketball campion I totatlly agree with the ideas and concepts in this article. I played for Jim Calhoun, a Hall of Fame coach, who stresses being big as possible when guarding a player. As a defensive player you want to try and dictate the offensive player. You dont want the offense to get good and clear looks at the basket nor give the offense the luxuary to set up smoothly and read over your defensive.

Defensive players need to be active. By having players constantly talking on defensive keeps everyone on defensive alert and aware. By applying constant hand movement like Bruce Bowen showed in the YouTube video above.

With that said, you could teach a players all the fundamentals and skills needed to play good defensive, but a player must be willing to play tough solid defensive if their respective teams hope to win games.

PS- you guys are very knowledgable coaches, your ideas and concepts help millions of people. I love reading your articles to help me keep my knowledge of the game up to date and sharp, thanks.

  1 person liked this.  

Rashamel Jones says:
10/24/2008 at 9:21:56 AM



Remy says:
11/29/2008 at 3:07:04 AM

I've been in search of an answer to playing proper defense and I wonder if anyone here can give me some advice.

If an offensive player is good at attacking both left and right, should the defender still try to influence the offensive player to go a certain side and if so, which?


Joe Haefner says:
11/30/2008 at 8:40:08 AM

Hi Remy,

Is the player a good perimeter shooter? If not, you may want take a step off of the defender and give him the perimeter shot.

Now, which way should you force him? It all depends on the defensive philosophy. Some coaches like to force players to the baseline, because they rely on help rotation from the baseline. Some coaches like to force players to the middle, because they have shot-blockers in the middle. Some coaches say I don't care what you do, just stay between him and the basket. Some coaches like to force the players to the weak hand, but as the skill level increases, it's tougher to do that.

Now, if he is a good penetrator and a shooter, I would tell my player to get up within arm's length to defend the shot. Don't worry about forcing him one way or the other, just stay between him and the basket. I would tell the other defensive players to be ready to help. In today's game, it is very difficult to stop a player one on one. For more on defensive positioning, you can check out this link: http://www.breakthroughbasketball.com/defense/help-positioning.html


Remy says:
11/30/2008 at 1:39:38 PM

Thx a lot Joe, that really helped!


Coach R says:
4/6/2009 at 7:10:55 PM

what is the proper position of the hands on a defensive stance?


Joe Haefner says:
4/8/2009 at 7:42:20 AM

Hi Coach R,

Every coach has different philosphies on this. Some like them out to the side to appear bigger. Some like a hand up to defend the shot and a hand low to defend the dribble. Some like hand up to defend the shot and a hand out to defend the pass.

I guess it depends on you're coaching philosophy. Personally, I like to have a hand up, because I believe contesting shots dramatically decrease the opponents shooting percentage.


As for the other hand, I'm not too picky. Either have it forward to defend the dribble or out to defend the pass.


Mark W says:
4/9/2009 at 9:47:35 AM

I think this is a good DEFENSIVE STANCE, not how to shuffle or play a person. This just teaches proper balance. Thanks


lorenzo says:
9/27/2009 at 4:44:53 PM

if you are a little heavy can you still be able to do all this stuff


Kate Even says:
11/23/2009 at 9:21:02 PM

Great Job! We do that at the basketball team! Do more, go on! By the way screw you Joe Haefner just to carry on conversation! (Just kidding)

  1 reply  

brandon says:
11/17/2015 at 3:17:46 PM

thanks for the advise


Genesis Dayrit says:
12/30/2009 at 1:43:03 AM

I'm a player looking for help.
I'm guarding a quicker and stronger pg/sg.

1.)I'm ok when I'm guarding him on the wing cause I know where to shade.
But if he catches it at the top, i don't know how my stance should be. (Which way should I try and force him left/right/parallel or what??)

2)I tried leaving some space cause he's faster but then he would just run around picks and I'd be mismatched on a big man and or he'd drive to the basket.
What is a strategy to defend this?

any help!?!?


P.S. I don't play for High School or AAU or anything if that matters. I'm just a 17 year old player that plays for a local adult league.


Joe Haefner says:
1/7/2010 at 11:22:01 AM

Hi Genesis, here are some on-ball tips that should be helpful: http://www.breakthroughbasketball.com/defense/onball.html

There are also some tips in the comments.


John Doe says:
1/23/2010 at 5:24:31 AM

As far as the knees being inside the feet, I think baseball and football coaches refer to it as "squeeze the knees", because it aids in more efficient lateral movement to either side. I think it's used by infielders in baseball, and LBs and DBs in football. But I think this is a universal method that can be used in all sports, if it isn't already...


Agung Robianto says:
4/7/2010 at 3:42:09 AM

Dear All..
Many opinion says that, with good ofense you will be a winner, but with the good defense you will be a champion.
so, defense is very important.
I want to ask, what criteria a defense is successful?
can you give your opinion about the questions above, and I asked for suggestions to you about the basketball defense book, because my thesis about the defense.
thank you very much.

  1 reply  

Wade harris says:
9/29/2015 at 4:37:38 AM

When it comes to being a good defender a player needs two things. Great conditioning and a strong desire to effect the outcome of a game on the defensive end of the court. Too often players rest on defense waiting to hopefully get the ball back so they can do a step back 3. I like players who defend to control the game. I believe a good defender can alter a game equally as well as a good offensive players. Unfortunately our culture gives all the accolades to the guy who scores the most points. Coaches say they love defense but time and time again give most of the praise to the best offensive player. We've all technically sold out!


susan says:
4/14/2010 at 11:06:56 AM

I have spent tons and tons of time teaching my Middle School aged girls team the right stance, how to direct your opponent to their weak side, how to sag off, help side defense, etc...they know where to be and how to play defense...what I am having a tough time getting from them is intensity..that scrappy, up-in-your-grill, have-a-little-bit-of-pride kind of defense. Anyone have any drills or words of wisdom that can help me get these girls to play tougher, scrappier defense?

  1 reply  

Big Whistle says:
4/16/2017 at 2:03:27 PM

One of my favorite drills to include in my practices is named "animal in the ring". Two players in center of court in opening tip position; however rather than jumping the ball, both players grip the ball along with the coach. On whistle, coach releases grip and both players agressively try to gain possession in the center circle. Once this happens, its a 1 v 1 situation full-court until first player scores. Helps with ntensity for those 50/50 loose balls. Technique to teach is stepping and pushing ball down and twist arms and hips. A number of modifications can be made such as adding player/s or half court at FT line.


Jeff Haefner says:
4/14/2010 at 4:01:11 PM

Susan - Here are a few suggestions...

- Emphasize defense and hustle. It's simple but if you talk about it every day, start with defense in practice first, and sell them on the benefits, kids will start to pick up that's its important to you.

- Reward hustle constantly. Use positive reinforcement constantly. Offer verbal rewards and be creative. http://www.breakthroughbasketball.com/mental/motivate-players.html

- Track defensive stats and share them with the players after every game (Points Per Possession, Deflections, Rebounds, Steals)

- Run drills where they only get points by playing good defense and hustling. (3 points for a charge, 3 points for diving on the floor, 2 for missed shot, etc)

- Explain the reason why you do certain things. Keep it brief but sometimes players need to know there is a reason they are doing things.

There are plenty of other tips and tactics in our M2M defensive guide:

Hope this helps!


Rebel John says:
6/30/2010 at 4:30:52 PM

In my opinion, a good defense creates an offense. Otherwise, how can you get the ball for an offense when you can't take a CHARGE ?


Robin van de Bilt says:
8/19/2010 at 2:44:49 PM

I do not agree with the stance of the feet, they are too wide. You can hardly set a step to the side. I prefer that always your feet are under your shoulders so you are always be able to set a step to the side.


heat00 says:
9/22/2010 at 1:54:50 PM

these are great tips wow


chris says:
12/1/2010 at 1:41:11 PM

I was taught by a University level coach at a basketball camp when I was younger that having your hands at shoulder level, palms facing the dribbler was optimal because your hands were "half-way" between defending low-ball activity (dribbling, bounce passing) and high-ball activity (higher pass, shot).


Pat says:
1/3/2011 at 7:18:49 PM

Every individual will have a different stance due to the make up of their body. With that comes coaching on a individual basis. Finding the comfortable stance becomes the struggle. A seasoned coach should have no problem immediatly recognizing a stance that does not fit the player frame. Continuous schooling on the stance in conjunction with foot work drills should pay off in the long run. Note: Presentation should always be positive and toned for acceptance by the student. I do have some issues with the above stated for eyes focused on the waist or chest. I am in the arena with some coaches that believe this should be the absolute rule of thumb. Players are following this. I see so many passes zinging by the defenders ear due to the focal point of the eyes. I teach up and coming players to see it all. The body as a whole is quite large and should be easy to track. The eyes tell the story. I believe reading the eyes along with the ball location gives the defender a greater opportunity for steals and tipped passes. Location of hands is dependant the the offensive situation. I encourage the young kids not to be predictable. Hands up or hands down, what ever the position should keep the offense wondering what is going now. The occasional illusion of lazy defense really plays games with the offensive players head.


Logan Cooper says:
4/16/2011 at 5:40:06 PM

I am a player and I get in the stance above but it seems every time I get beat. I guard gaurds and small forwards but I am a bit slow and not as quick as the other players. I will not concede to the fact I cannot do something to stop this. What are some exercises I can do to develop a quicker first step to recover?


Jonathan says:
7/11/2011 at 11:13:02 AM


I find that having one foot forward in a one on one situation gets you beat every time (especially if the offence is quick off his feet.) Imagine a scenario when you are the defender and your right foot is forward. If the attacker drives to his left (your right) and gets past your foot, in order for you to move your right foot back to match the offence''s move, there is much more area that your right leg needs to cover. I have noticed this when playing offence, 8 to 9 times out of 10 I am able to best the defender with a simple fake and drive towards the foot that is forward.

Some people have said that you should keep one foot forward, I would argue that it isn''t the foot forward that makes much of a difference but when the defender''s body is cutting off the left or right hand drive. This is particularly useful when you are playing with a team.


Jordan W says:
11/1/2011 at 1:40:46 PM

Nice tips! :)


antoniotresuao num 5 from basketball says:
4/16/2012 at 10:35:10 PM

am basketball player we are lose every time please teach us to learn am 10 years old and am junior player


Ken says:
4/19/2012 at 9:38:16 AM

#5 -

First of all you are very young and have a long way to go and a lot to learn about the game.

Be patient.... practice a lot and work on your FUNDAMENTALS... and above all... HAVE FUN. Everybody wants to win but at your age thats not the most important thing.

Work on your dribbling and passing and of course some shooting. Hopefully your coach is helping you out with these things.

Good luck


Ken says:
4/19/2012 at 9:40:15 AM

Forgot one thing.... DEFENSE and that starts with a good stance and position..... move your feet. Quci feet and position will help you to be a good defender.

Look at the two pictures of Joe at the top of the page, that will give you and idea of a good stance.


pradeep battowski says:
7/9/2013 at 12:34:29 PM

defence can be easily made by seeing the wrist of the player either yhan looking at the ball. the ball cofuses the player


Steve Collins says:
8/10/2013 at 7:43:04 AM

Basket ball is all about focus defense isn''t just about having quickness and good skills...It actually requires effort and a lot of brain power to study your opponents.


Angel says:
11/18/2013 at 11:39:33 AM

Nice tips


Angel says:
11/18/2013 at 11:42:35 AM

Nice tips


Roden says:
4/4/2014 at 2:57:26 PM

I'm 14 years and I am Pg/sg. I am a good player for shooting but my problem is defensive. Any help

PS: I live in Albania


Ken Sartini says:
4/5/2014 at 10:37:05 AM

Roden -

What part of your defense are you having problems with?

We taught our players to force the ball someplace... from the point.. to the wing... FT line extened.

From the wing to the short corner.

This way, you are being proactive and you know where you want him to go. Also, take away his best moves.

Look at this -

Look at the tips at the top of the page too.


John Dickson says:
7/19/2014 at 12:49:33 AM

As a point guard remember to always try to force him to his opposite hand when guarding him if he''''s right handed make him use the left or opposite6


Paul McKee says:
8/10/2014 at 6:05:57 AM

Very informative coaching points but I'm curious about the issue of the knees inside the feet. I was watching a FIBA you tube video of Francesco Cuzzolin where he takes the view that knees inside is an improper stance and reduces effective and efficient movement. The reason for this reliance on knees inside is because of poor core strength. Check this out.


Joe Haefner says:
8/10/2014 at 7:44:53 PM

Paul, do you know the time marker in which he talks about this?

My initial reaction is that he is probably referring to valgus knee movement where a player's knee joint caves inward when accelerating or decelerating when running, cutting, or jumping.

This valgus knee movement has a higher likelihood for injury.

That is not what I'm referring to.

What I'm referring to is a starting and moving position.

From an athletic stance (or defensive stance), if you were to draw a vertical line from the center of your knee cap, it would be inside of your foot. And your knee cap would be outside your hips.

In order to accelerate or decelerate, I don't know how else you could efficiently position your body.


Tourny Mann says:
9/18/2014 at 3:57:46 PM

I guide players in a basic defensive stance.
Then movement really depends on them at that point. What is most effective for them.

A huge untaught skill is Anticipation.
Without anticipating your opponents moves you are at their mercy.
You are waiting for them to make a move then you try to react quickly
That is a huge defensive mistake as you will always be a split second behind your opponent.

Defense is played with the mind leading the body.
Know what your opponent is going to do before they do it.
When you learn your opponents pet moves and tendencies you will begin to anticipate their moves before they make them.
By doing this you increase your ability to defend them.

I teach this discipline to my players. They have done some amazing defensive feats in games.


Kenny says:
10/25/2014 at 2:35:48 AM

lots of info here.... thanks


james says:
11/18/2014 at 2:22:16 AM

closed stance on help side!!! easier to closeouts also fronting cutters...not losing vision of man...also easier on closeouts to stop dribbler.......closeout for 3 pt..


Girls aau basketball Austin Texas says:
4/6/2015 at 10:19:10 AM

We always try to push them to the inside where the help is. So we teach our defense to push them to their weak handed side of the floor and then to protect the baseline. We play a sagging man to man so help is always on the inside.

Excellent website and information. I have ordered quite a few dvds here and they have helped me immensely!

Keep up the great work!


Kim Lee says:
9/19/2015 at 6:13:16 AM

Is it true that when you're a right handed player you should use your left hand for better result of shot? I asked this question 'cause i heard about the tutorial of Kyrie's moves. They said that you should use your non dominant hand for better rhythm.


Shannon Baxter says:
9/30/2015 at 10:59:57 AM

i need help with my defensive stance. Or defense period. I'm quite fast on offense but i tend to slow down on the defensive side. It makes me look sloppy and pitiful in front of my varsity coach. Its my last year i need help. Any thoughts?


Shannon Baxter says:
9/30/2015 at 11:02:09 AM

also if anybody has a any cuts to the basket tricks to let me know, thanks !


Ron Sen says:
11/27/2015 at 9:34:32 AM

Rick Pitino recommends hand position with thumbs up (wrists slightly pronated).

I think this makes sense as far as quicker elbow flexion although I've never seen it 'measured'.


jlueck says:
12/2/2015 at 9:09:36 AM

hey these tips are great i'm acuatloly a high school student and these have really helped when i practice beofre playing a game with the guys. i'm acually a better player because of them . thanks!!!!


John Calipari says:
1/2/2017 at 9:40:31 AM

Nice job guys, you managed to get all the points down and correct ways to be in a perfect basket ball defense stance


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