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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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.  

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


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