When Jeff and I first started Breakthrough Basketball, we knew if we promoted zone defenses to youth coaches, they could win more games.

And a lot of coaches would like us for that very reason alone.

However, we KNEW that wasn’t the best thing to do for youth players under the age of 12.

We knew that using zone defense as your primary defense to just win games was not the right approach. It wasn’t right for the kids!

We knew it wasn’t best for the athlete’s long term development. And it does not help the overall state of youth basketball.

And we’re not alone, it looks USA Basketball and NBA Basketball agrees. Here are their guidelines on defense for players ages 9 to 11:

  • Only player-to-player defense throughout the competition.

  • Player-to-player defense may be extended full court in the 4th period and each extra period.

  • Leading team may not extend the defense over half court when leading by 25 points or more.

  • Double-Team/Crowding Double-team/crowding is not allowed throughout the competition.

I couldn’t agree more with these guidelines. However, I do believe there should be a caveat that when players drive to the basket, help defense is encouraged.

I believe the no double-teaming rule is used to prevent half court and full court trapping defenses which makes sense.

At ages 12 to 14, teaching how to play against zone defenses in addition to teaching man to man defense makes sense. However, we’ll discuss that in more detail at another time.

If you want a more in-depth explanation of the reasons to avoid zone defenses at the youth level, read this article:

What Defense Should You Teach Youth Players


All the best,

- Joe and Jeff Haefner
Breakthrough Basketball


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