Basketball Offense Versus Junk Defenses
(Box-and-1 & Triangle-and-2)

Your team is facing a "junk defense." Not a bad defense but a "junk defense" a term usually attached to a non-traditional defense, such as the box-and-1 or triangle-and-2. How do you play against it? If you are going to look here for special plays to use against a box-and-1 or triangle-and 2 you are looking in the wrong place. I believe that creating a special offense to play against a situation that you might see for a few minutes per year will be damaging to your team as a whole. Preparing for unusual situations will rob you of valuable practice time and eventually have you less prepared for your everyday games. However, I hope to give you some simple thoughts that will make you a more effective team if you do see one.

I think in order to play against it, you have to understand it. Why are "junk defenses" effective? When played properly, they are very effective, but only for a period of time. They get figured out which is why teams don't play them all the time.

How Do You Beat a "JUNK" Defense?

Let's look at how they get broken down. Junk defenses take players out of their regular defensive scheme, which leaves holes. They leave holes in shooting areas, passing lanes and driving lanes. Attacked with consistency and patience, those holes will be exposed and teams will take advantage of them. Pretty simple.

What Makes a "JUNK" Effective?

Why do they work? That is a little more involved. Rarely do junk defenses prevent the player it is designed to shut down from getting the ball. There are other forces at work.

Junk defenses work because they are different. When you prepare for your season, you spend the most time on what you want to do with your team and then you spend time preparing for what you believe other teams are going to do. It stands to reason that you will spend the most time on the things you believe you will play against most. Preparing for junk defense comes at the cost of preparation for your season in general. The more time you spend on it, the less time you have for your regular offenses and defenses. Even if you think you might see some junk defenses along the way, most coaches believe it is too time consuming to put into their master plan in relation to the amount of time they will have to use it. I agree with that. The reason why the fabled "Princeton Offense" is so effective is that it is so different. Teams try to prepare for it in 1 day because they don't see it enough to work on it for an entire season. Invariably, teams are unprepared when they see something different.

The next reason junk defenses work is that they are confusing. These defenses are basically zones. However, the player who is being defended sees a man-to-man. Many times the player trying to pass to the defended player sees a man-to-man. No matter how you emphasize it, emotionally, players are going to believe what they see. So, you have some of your players playing against a zone and 1 or 2 players playing against a man-to-man defense. The two concepts don't mix. Your offense breaks down.

The next reason they work is that they force the player being defended to look at his game differently. He doesn't get the same looks, he doesn't handle the ball in the same situations as he is used to. This is usually due to the breakdowns in your offense rather than the defense. Think about it, if you have a player that is good enough to be junked, he is used to seeing tough defense. But when they toughen up in a man-to-man, you don't change your offense because of it. When you see a box-and-1, everything changes. Your player starts to pressure himself, starts to force shot, tries to make moves he is not good at and your team spirals down the drain.

Your other players start to fixate on the player being defended that they concentrate on getting him the ball and they ignore other opportunities. The offense loses its pace and its focus. They start taking bad shots and forcing the ball. Combine that with the problems your defended player is having, there is good reason for the defense to be effective.

Why Are They Playing "JUNK" Defense?

Often the purpose of the defense is misunderstood. Commonly, coaches believe it is to deny or shut down a great scorer, but there are many other reasons. Junk defenses can change tempo, they can hide poor defensive players, I have always had great success with playing the point guard and forcing others to handle the ball, commonly called "cutting the head off the snake." Often, you cannot get into the other coach's head if you don't know what his purpose is. Emphasizing the wrong thing on offense only helps the defense even more.

How Do You Attack a "JUNK" Defense?

So what do you do against a junk defense? I believe you play as normally as you can. Try to make your players as comfortable as possible. If you run a motion offense, that is what I would stick with. Having the ball switch sides, running screens and creating a lot of movement will break down the defense quickly. This is one of the situations that I run the "Get Series" or "Designated Shooter" that is referred to in the, "Motion Offense ebooks". Spend more time on the mental reasons that the defense is successful than the physical. Teach your players to understand what they are facing and if you have taught them well, they will respond. Help them to understand that possessions will be longer due to the fact that it takes a little while for the weaknesses of the defense to show up.

If you don't run a motion but have a zone offense with a lot of movement, that would be my first line of offense. Remember, most of these defenses are zones as a basic defense. Taking a man out of the defense to play your player man-to-man will weaken the zone and create opportunities. Within your offense, make a concerted effort to get the ball inside, even if you don't have an inside scorer. All defenses break down when the ball goes inside. Once the ball goes inside, you will get scoring opportunities. Once they defend the post, your perimeter players will open up. Play inside out for perimeter play. This will even open up the defended player. The ball will spend a lot of time behind the defender and his concentration level can only last but so long before it breaks down.

I would not put in anything special for the defense though. I might make some adjustment, based on what I see in the defense but those adjustments will be inside of what they already know. It is very difficult to get players to execute their everyday offenses. To give them something new or special due to this situation would be a very tough task.

How Do You Prepare For a "JUNK" Defense?

How do you prepare for a junk defense? Obviously, you have to practice against it. Previously I stated that spending time on junk defenses might weaken your team as a whole. However, I think you can practice against it but making some small adjustments within what you normally practice. Just to give you an example, in my defensive progressions I do a lot of "defensive disadvantage" drills, or drills that are stacked against the defense having success. I do a lot of 4 on 3 (4 offense, 3 defense) and 5 on 4 drills. We probably spent more time in 5 on 4 drills than 5 on 5. Inside of those drills, it is easy to add 1 more defensive player and tell him to defend 1 particular player. The emphasis is not on the one player playing man-to-man. The emphasis of the drill is still 4 on 3 or 5 on 4 so the players are still comfortable playing the defense. However, the offense must adjust to 1 player under pressure. They are all in a drill they are comfortable and don't feel that they have to learn anything new, they feel that they have to do whatever they are doing, just a little better.

I, also, have never played a box-and-1 or triangle-and-2. I try to use things that are inside my regular defense. My basic man to man defense has ball side pressure and very heavy weak side help. We do a lot of switching in the back. In games, we will play a "chaser." We will take one player and tell him he has no help responsibilities. His job is to keep one particular player from getting the ball. Sometimes we will play with 2 chasers. Practicing this, because we use it, is an everyday occurrence. Should we face a junk defense, our players have seen it so often that they have no issues with it. In addition our defense has gotten better because of the work we do.

The purpose of the above is not to blow my own horn, but to illustrate that you probably have things that you do already that will prepare you to play against a junk defense and improve your team at the same time. Remember the things that make "junks" effective (see section above). If you expect to face a junk defense I don't believe you should take 20 minutes out of your practice and put your 2nd team into a box-and-1. They won't play it as well as your opponents; they won't be excited about it. I would not install anything special because, given the limited preparation time; you won't be good at it. You could have used the time to get better at what YOU do and opposed to what THEY do. Spend your time getting better and getting your players comfortable with what you do instead of being concerned about what they do.

Do you have any questions or suggestions for this offensive play? Let us know by leaving your comments...


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Kris says:
12/7/2008 at 6:17:03 PM

My team recently displayed a weakness that i am having trouble correcting. A team ran a box-in-1 on my point guard and my other guards could not handle the pressure. We turned over the ball and lost the game. How can i become effective offensively against a box-in-one??


Dale says:
12/8/2008 at 10:59:52 PM

my team recently faced a box and 1 def the guy that they were guarding still had 33 points. and lost 53-51 we run dribble attack 4 out 1 in and the guy who is normally in we had him set a ball screen to free up the pt. what else can we do? we will probably face this alot this year as a 7th grader the kid averaged 20 pts a game


Joe Haefner says:
12/9/2008 at 12:51:00 PM

Hi Kris,

You stated that your other players could not handle pressure. Run some ball handling drills and pressure drills, so the other guards get used to handling the ball under pressure. Try setting a few screens for the point guard. Even try having him set screens for other people to get them open.

There are plenty of tips in this article to get you started.


jonathon says:
12/10/2008 at 6:04:58 AM

i think this play is good


Evan says:
12/19/2008 at 7:51:28 AM

7th graders running box and 1? How about teaching them to play man to man so that high school coaches like me don't have disasters for defensive players?!?

  1 person liked this. 2 replies  

Peter says:
11/10/2015 at 3:15:23 PM

Coach's job is to give his team the best opportunity to win the game. Stop whining and coach your players on defense. I have coached middle school and high school varsity.

  1 reply  

Jeff says:
12/14/2015 at 12:37:07 PM

No, Peter, as youth coaches the coach's job is to develop basketball players and teach good, sound fundamentals. The gentlemen who run this site seem to agree so if you don't, why are you here? It's attitudes like yours that are a detriment to youth sports everywhere.

  1 person liked this.  

Kerri says:
11/23/2015 at 11:25:23 AM



Joe Haefner says:
12/19/2008 at 12:16:34 PM

I hear you, Evan! That's got to be one of the most frustrating things for coaches. Dealing with players that have NOT been taught the fundamentals. Rather, they learn how to play out of position and other tactics that take advantage of flaws in our developmental leagues. I hate to say the word "developmental", because so many of them are not. So as a high school coach, you have to waste the next 3 to 4 years trying to get them to break those horrible habits they learned at a young age from playing junk defenses, zones, traps, and full court presses.

Coaches need to focus on the fundamentals if they are interested in the long-term development of the players, not just a quick win when a player is 10 or 11 years old. I don't know too many people who care, yet remember how many games they won when they were a kid, but alot of those kids remember those last high school games. As coaches, we need to develop players, so they have a chance to succeed at the higher levels.

That's part of the reason, we created our "What To Teach Youth Players" page, so youth coaches know what they should be teaching:


John says:
12/24/2008 at 11:54:37 PM

Or try comng from behind to win a game by pressing a team when for the last 5 years ,since 7th grade, the kids have only played 2-3 and no longer know or never knew how to stay in front of somebody and use their feet to play good man to man defense without getting burnt. I agree whole-heartedly with your above point that too much of youth and pre-varsity sports is concerned with quick victories instead of instilling in the kids the tools needed to be succesful as the varsity level.


Anthony says:
1/7/2009 at 1:45:29 PM

The burden totally lies squarely on the coaching of these young players. Coaches that are lazy will not teach the core fundamentals and really should not coach. Alot of coaches get into coaching for the right reason and just dont realize the commitment it takes to rewally develop young players. I have coached youth league basketball for the past five years, and have always taught my players first how to play man to man defense first. We wont even learn a zone until that concept is understood. We only played zone against teams that we have large lead on and we are tired of the layup drill.


Darrell J says:
1/14/2009 at 5:03:48 PM

I agree with all of you. I wish we could spend more time on fundamentals but so many youth coaches play various defenses. I coach 4th and 5th graders and if a team with superior talent traps you, you are in for a long day. This year we simply do not have a great ball handler and our best 2 are also our best inside guys and tallest players and with subbing rules it is hard to get them both on the floor together much.

We have played 2 games this week vs. a 1-3-1 trap, and a 2-3 half court press basically, and our next game they will play box and one on us. We do ball handling drills every day but there isnt enough time in a season to improve your non ball handlers enough to deal with a good team trapping.


Steve says:
1/23/2009 at 10:29:28 AM

As a 7th grade basketball coach I have spent the entire year focusing on the fundamentals of a good defensive team and learning the basics skills of running a "pass until we have a high percentage shot." I'll be the first to tell you that the kids, and parents, didn't enjoy watching the team go 5-7. But the next year when they came back for their 8th grade year, they were leaps and bounds above the teams that bet them the previous year. Because of the time spent teaching the of fundamentals of basketball (which they lacked greatly) while they were still in the learning phase of the game, they finished their 8th grade year 11-1 and went on the win district. Please HELP young players learn the basics of man to man defense and leave full court presses and crazy zone's to high school coach's. You will see your players have much greater success at a higher level if they understand defense.


Rodney says:
1/31/2009 at 10:26:18 PM

As a rookie girls 8th grade basketball coach, I find this discussion very interesting. I totally agree about the full court press. Many of the teams that we have played against this year use this as their primar ways of try to score ( off of quick steals and lay-ups). We haven't had many problems with it as we posses a good deal of quickness. We hardly ever press unless we need a quick steal or to change the tempo. I preach to my girls that we need to set up a good 1/2 court offense and play solid 1/2 court defense.

I do have a question. If the high school that the girl's will eventually play at, uses a zone defense of some sort, is it okay to teach and use that? I understand that the fundamentals of man to man defense are important, but are 1/2 court zones and traps inherently bad for the youth players? I would appreciate any feedback!


Joe Haefner says:
2/1/2009 at 8:41:14 AM

Hi Rodney,

I just left a comment about this subject on this page:

It's the comment all the way at the bottom.


Coach Coe says:
2/5/2009 at 1:29:24 AM

As a high school head coach, I agree that younger players need to be taught the correct fundamentals of the game. There isn't time to teach these things when they are juniors on the varsity team. Its too late. However, I find that most coaches at the younger levels do not fully understand what it takes to teach these fundamentals. Most of the details are overlooked. Having kids dribble around all day isnt making them better dribblers if they never learn the proper technique. Are they keeping the ball on their finger pads? Are they keeping the ball low to the ground? Are they flicking their wrist? Are they keeping their eyes up? Are they reading the defense?

Telling kids to run pick and rolls is the same thing. You have to teach every tiny detail that is involved. You can't just tell them to do it and think you are teaching "fundamentals" because a pick and roll is a part of basketball. The details are the fundamentals. Did you tell them they have to be set on the screen. Did you teach the dribbler how to set his defender up and run him into the screen? If you are screening on the wing, did you tell the screener that their feet should be parallel with the sideline if we attack the middle? If the defense switches, can they slip it? Did you show the screener the proper way to screen and seal.

These are all details that kids should know by the time they are in high school.

The same applies with man to man defense. It starts by making the kids work hard enough to be able to keep the offense in front of them one on one. Details... Knees bent, wide base, hands out, short quick steps, not crossing feet, not making long strides. Good positioning makes you quicker. The shorter your steps are, the quicker you are.

Once you are good one on one defenders, you must teach scenerios. there are many different kinds of screens that you will run into in basketball. Flex cuts, ucla screens, shuffle cut, backscreens, down picks, cross screens, elevator screens, staggered, double. The players must know how to cover these.

The most important aspect of defense is communication. PLAYERS MUST BE TAUGHT TO TALK!! Players have to yell out screens and communicate how they will defend it. If nothing is said there will be confusion. You must eliminate all confusion. All players must know who they have and what their responsibilities are. Get them to talk!

There is more to basketball than just passing, shooting, rebounding, dribbling, and defense. You must take each category and break them down to the smallest detail. Do not assume the kids know it. They don't. Pay attention to details.

The great John Wooden made sure that his players put their socks on correct so that they wouldn't have wrinkles in them because wrinkles caused blisters. THAT is attention to detail.

A great book for teaching basketball is "Basketball Coaches Bible."

This is a great website. Keep up the good work!


john says:
3/10/2009 at 1:46:54 PM

I am reading this today because a 4th grade team has played a box and 1 against my 4th graders in a tournament and we need to play them again.
I hope to stay within our normal zone offense with maybe adding a screen or 2.

My comment is to agree with those questioning the mentality of running a box and 1 in 4th grade. I have explained to my kids and parents that these junk defenses will be much easier to deal with as we get older and can shoot over a zone and make a skip pass or two.


Tom says:
4/21/2009 at 2:04:43 PM

I have a 7th grade team we play in the seattle aau. We face a box and 1 plenty and have found it useful to attack the sides with your best driver and set a shooter on the opposite side for a jump shot.


Tom says:
4/21/2009 at 2:08:55 PM

defense like that high school coaches do not like. It incourages lazy defense and lack of defensive awerness. iT is best if the opposeing team has a point gaurd that scores often the most points(common 4th grade situation) that it is best to go into a sag defense.


J says:
5/18/2009 at 12:41:52 AM

Well, it would be easier to teach the fundamentals and run m-2-m if other youth coaches weren''''t interetsted in blowing your team out by as many points as possible... A little more sportsmanship would go a long way in developing more players...


aj says:
9/12/2009 at 6:36:29 PM

Love the discussion! I agree with J that the sportsmanship so many coaches preach to their players tends to disappear when it comes to their own personal desire. It's hard explaining to my own 7th graders why we aren't going to use a zone defense when every team we come across uses it. I wish varsity coaches would talk to the youth coaches in their communities to stress fundamentals and what they want to see and don't want to see out of the youth programs, since isn't it our job to prepare them for hopefully varsity and above athletics?


amanda watson says:
10/26/2009 at 8:00:32 PM

this is really gonna be helpful when i start basketball in Dec.


John B. says:
11/9/2009 at 11:51:05 AM

Great conversation!

I agree with what the high school coaches are saying about teaching "fundamentals" but here is my situation.

With over 900 kids in the developmental league. I face the following as a "rec" coach:

1. The top 20% of each grade are selected for the elite division of our developmental program called "classics". These are tournament teams. These teams get priority for gym time and help from the high school staff (as they should).
2. The remaining 720 kids are in the "rec" program. They are there either because they want to be (some kids want to make the "classics team next year) or because the parents want them to get some exercise (differnet levels of commitment).
3.With only 2 hours of practice time a week and different kids every year, I do teach the fundamentals of dribbling, passing & shooting. But the finer points of M2M defense are difficult to teach due to the above mentioned constraints. As a result I do resort to a zone defense or a "box and one" .

Maybe this a bad plan (I don't know) but it is the most effective in my situation.




Jeff Haefner says:
11/9/2009 at 1:08:19 PM

John - Good question. My feedback would depend on the following...

- How old are these kids?
- What are your goals and priorities?

Is your goal is to win and that''s it?
How important is winning to your program?
Is your goal to maximize your players personal development and basketball development? Are you trying to teach players life lessons and prepare them for life?


John B. says:
11/9/2009 at 1:43:09 PM


12 - 13 years old
Here are my goals (straight from my letter to the parents):
1. Love the game
2. Contribute to the success of the team to the best of everyone’s abilities
3. Improve individually and as a team every week
4. Support your team
5. Respect the other team and the referees

I am not going to lie, winning does make my job easier. The parents are happy(ier) and the kids come to practice modivated.

Personally I teach about Tenacity (Sp?) Attitude, Character, Commitment. TACC.

It is rare that a kid from the "rec" league plays any HS ball. Most of our HS players come from our "classics" teams or from AAU. That being said the kids are more willing to developmental drills after a win.

I hope that helps.

Looking forward to your comments.



Jeff says:
11/9/2009 at 3:22:08 PM


From a development standpoint and preparing players for high school ball, it would be best to teach M2M defense.

I completely understand the pressure to win (from parents, etc). That is a very legitimate issue with playing M2M D.

I can't tell you what to do but here are some things for you to consider as you decide if you should teach M2M defense or not.

- Teaching a good man defense is not easy. It takes dedication and time to be good at it. We wrote a thorough guide about the subject:

- Learning how to play man defense at this age is better for player development in the future. You can read the some of the reasons why here:

- I was one of those kids that just needed a chance. I was the C squad in 7th grade. B squad in 8th. Never made the first team as a freshman or sophomore. Finally got solid playing time as a senior on the varsity team. I really wish one of those lower level coaches would have given me a chance. That playing experience would have done wonders for my senior year.

- You might want to teach M2M next year. If you adjust your parent letter and philosophy regarding the program, you can avoid those negative parent issues. I'm almost done with a report about "dealing with parents". Watch out for that in our next newsletter. But just to give you an idea, here are some documents that help you position the league and avoid the "parent pressure":

Hope this helps.


Patrick says:
1/2/2010 at 9:01:45 PM

I currently coach a 10 year old boys team. It is a township team. I was volunteered. We get either 75 minutes or 150 minutes a week to practice. We have 11 kids on the team but today we had 6 kids at practice. Before our first game we had 7 hours of total practice. I am trying to teach them man to man now, but with such a limited practice time and sketchy attendance, it can be difficult. Also I never played basketball beyond 8th grade. So I understand that high school coaches are disappointed, but please have a little understanding when a youth coach throws in a zone defense. I appreciate this site for all the info I'm trying to incorporate. Thanks.


Jason says:
1/8/2010 at 4:39:10 PM

I felt the need to chime in on this one as a varsity boys coach. While I realize coaching youth basketball can be extremely difficult (I also coach my son's 9-10 team), by not focusing on good man principles you are hampering the development of your players by laying back in a lazy zone defense.

I see it in my own program with our freshman squad. It takes my frosh coach half the season to break the players of the horrible techniques they have learned in their rec leagues and in junior high.

We as coaches are responsible for the development of our players. Do not use the excuse that practice time is too short to teach solid fundamentals that the kids can grow on. I understand laying back in that 2-3 is the easy thing to do, and prevents your opponents from getting lay-ups. It might also get you a few more victories in that rec league you coach in. Thr question is this: Is that trophy you win from winning the 9-10 rec league more important than watching your players exceed at the next level?

When your kids are all grown up, I think they will remember the championships they have won playing varsity basketball before they remember that rec league title back when they were 10.

Thanks! Excellent website.


Ted says:
1/14/2010 at 2:19:16 PM

I'd like to see all of these high school coaches preaching in these comments to come on down to the grade school/CYC/rec level where I've been coaching for the last 25 years. I think it would be enlightening.

Some things to think about:

1. How well would your M2M work if you only had, at most, 3 hours of practice time a week and you only had 3 or 4 practices before your first game?
2. Given the above, how well would your team M2M work if most, if not all of your players had never played together (or even knew each other) before your first practice?
3. How well would your M2M work if your team, from a size/athleticism/experience standpoint, was a random sample of your high school's population?
4. How well would your M2M work if your players had relatively little game experience and the other team ran 2 or 3 subs at every whistle to try to confuse your matchups? (happens all the time...some teams don't like to play against M2M as much as they don't like playing it)?
5. How well would you hold up dealing with parents who are paying $75-$150 to see their child's team lose 45-2 because you insisted on playing M2M despite having several players who were clearly overmatched on size and/or athleticism?
6. How well would you hold up dealing with the parent(s) of the kids who were the ones consistently getting beaten individually?

At the youth level, any experienced coach will destroy a M2M defense unless the other team has a signficant advantage in size and/or athleticism across the board. It is much too easy to spread the floor, isolate the favorable matchup, and begin the layup drill. By 8th grade, some teams can effectively provide primary help in that situation, but get disorganized trying to provide secondary help.

Effective help principles in M2M require a lot of time to teach, and are very confusing to young and inexperienced players who have trouble remembering who they were guarding to begin with.

It isn't being "lazy". Kids won't develop any love for the game getting their brains beat in all the time.


Charles says:
1/18/2010 at 5:56:26 PM

Ted, about the difficulties of teaching solid M2M concepts at lower levels - teach them correctly and you'll be fine.

Spreading the floor and starting the lay-up drill as you describe it only occurs when players aren't taught proper help-side M2M concepts. Even 11-12 year olds can be taught "pistols" (Triangle of ball-me-man) and "one pass away, two pass away." Once they've got that, help side should shut down the lay-up drill and you're going to force the ball handler to give it up. Pressure suddenly shifts to the offensive players to make the plays and that's going to result in bunches of turnovers.

It seems counterproductive for development leagues to be so focused on winning that the fundamentals of the game never get taught.

Zones can be extremely successful, but even those are dependent on players understanding basic defensive concepts.

Local high school has a great "horse" shooter this year. Can drain it from anywhere inside of 25 feet. But that's how far he has to shoot from because his shot starts at his thigh and about two feet in front of his body. If someone had stopped him from doing that some years ago and taught him a quick release, he'd be at leat twice as effective as he his now. Yeah, he was a "superstar" growing up, but now he's the "star" of a losing ball team lacking fundamentals.


Jason says:
1/19/2010 at 5:03:59 PM

As I said in my posting, I also coach my son's 9-10 team, as well as coach varsity ball. I understand the difficulties. Our league practices once per week for about an hour. I get it.
I also know, as you should after coaching at that level for 25 years, that it is not impossible to teach good Man principles. I'm sure you teach solid zone principles if that is what you have been coaching for all of these years. Charles hit the nail on the head. Pistols is a simple concept to teach. I use it when teaching Man both to my son's youth team and my varsity boys.

I think that we have lost the focus of developmental leagues. Is it to teach the game, or is it to win??

Also, while bringing up the angry parents is a valid point, I think we experience that kind of issue at all levels. If a varsity coach or a rec coach can't hold up to that type of pressue, then we shouldn't be coaching.
Keep up the good work...not everyone can coach this game. Just a thought!


Jeff Haefner says:
1/19/2010 at 5:35:07 PM

This is a great conversation because so many youth coaches feel these pressures from parents.

Youth coaches need to tell parents from day 1 that their goal is to develop players. That is their primary goal. Their primary goal is not to win. You can straight up ask the parents... "do you want us to develop your children so they can be the best they can be? or do you want us to focus on winning games now and hinder their development in the future? if you're just interested in winning games you should find a different team for your child. if you want a coach that wants to do everything he can to develop your players, develop skills, and set a great foundation for them, then you're in the right place."

Here's a report that addresses and solves these parent issues and pressures:

It's also worth noting that the people that run these youth leagues need to learn about the game of basketball and set better rules. The rules they use for kids are absurd. Do baseball players start with fast pitch, regulation mound, regulation field, 32 oz bats, and major league rules? Of course not. That is not good for their development and would be a joke. Yet, in youth basketball we use rules very similar to what college and NBA players follow. We also use basketballs and rims that are almost the same thing used by grown men. It's ludicrous.


Mike Wallace says:
1/21/2010 at 9:44:21 AM

Here is a great reason to teach man to man. A clever coach will figure out how to breakdown a zone in one quarter. If your kids don''''''''t understand the basics of guarding man and ball you probably won''''''''t be able to adjust your zone leaving your defense with a lot of holes. I coach 5th 6th grade rec 70% of my 1st 10 practices are spent on man to man and help principles.The other 30% are spent on shooting form , dribbling, and ballhandling. I throw in spacing and movement as we go. When the games start teams just have trouble scoring and my kids confidence carries over to offense. You can build offense in pieces as the season progresses but if you can''''''''t stop the other team from scoring, your done. I am a begining coach in my second year. I purchased the motion offense and man to man defense books. They saved me and made it possible for someone with no coaching experience to really teach kids the right things. They are easy to understand and give you step by step instruction. Thanks guys


Joe Haefner says:
1/21/2010 at 10:25:42 AM

Thanks for the kind words, Mike.

I also experienced something similar to you when I coached 5th & 6th grade boys. I spent about 15 to 30 minutes every day on man to man defense, and the opposing teams struggled offensively. When they saw they were playing with "Better" teams, it gave them more confidence.

Our team was shorter and slower than most teams and I think this helped them tremendously.


David says:
1/23/2010 at 7:14:07 PM

I am coach of a 1st and 2nd grade youth team. I have 7 players on the team. 4 boys and 3 girls. We have played 10 games so far and have won every one of them. I have them play either 2-3 zone or 1-3-1 zone. Out of my 7 players I have 2 boys that are the leading shooters of the team. I have tried teaching them man to man defense but they just can not do it well. It starts out good at first but eventually all the players just end up chasing whoever has the ball. After the regular season is over we will have all-stars. I am going to be coach of the all-stars. During the all-star games we will be playing other all-stars of the same grade level across the state. What advice do you have for me.


Joe Haefner says:
1/26/2010 at 6:23:56 PM


Keep it fun!

I'm a little bit worried that they are creating all-star teams in 1st and 2nd grade and traveling across the state to play other teams. That seems like a bit much. You don't want to burn these kids out already.

Even though, it's quite common, I don't even know if I would do that with 7th & 8th grade teams.

I would highly recommend that you read Bob Bigelow's Just Let the Kids Play. He's been around youth sports for 20+ years and has great recommendations to keep a positive atmosphere for the kids and avoid problems in youth sports.

Players of that age will not understand defense very well. If you can get them to understand how to stay between the ball and the basket when playing defense on the ball, you're doing better than most high school coaches.

I don't recommend basketball for 1st and 2nd graders because they are not developed enough physcially or mentally to play the game. I think they can do other activities (tag, hopscotch, flag football, soccer, obstacle courses, juggling, and so on) which would help them more athletically which will help them when they're ready to play basketball when they are older.

With that being said, you can work on lots of ball handling, passing, and lay ups. Shooting is pretty much a waste of time at that age.

Here are some more tips when working kids under the age of 10:


Steve says:
1/28/2010 at 1:24:47 PM

Eliminating zones in youth rec play starts at the top I feel. If teams are allowed to use it then they will. Our rec league simply forbids it in grades 3-8. In half court defense, defenders have to stay within roughly an arms length of their opponent inside the 3pt line and must “track” their opponent when they are outside. Help D is allowed on a driving opponent. Penalties are a tech foul and the coach may be subject to discipline from the league. I encourage coaches and parents of youth rec leagues to take it to your board or whoever dictates the rules to institute man to man defense only.

Now outside of rec (AAU, School Teams, etc) employing zones may be appropriate. My 12yr old son has done fine playing both types depending on the circumstance and it has given him some very good knowledge of strategies that can be employed. Last night he was describing the strategy his School Team coach will use this afternoon to limit their opponent’s best player (who torched us last time), it was the box-and-1. Then, over the weekend we’ll be back to MtoM for his rec game.


Joe Haefner says:
1/28/2010 at 2:19:42 PM

I understand your argument about AAU teams and School Teams. However, I'm still against zones, presses, and junk defenses before high school.

To steal a line that I think I got from Jeff:

Personally, I dislike zones and presses below the high school level. I just think that working on man principles every day and working on fundamentals and offensive concepts will benefit the players much more when they reach the varsity level. Even if the high school coach decides to play zone, the man principles that pounded into them from an early age will make them much better.

"I've never seen a 13 & 14 year old team that was so good at shooting, passing, dribbling, rebounding, half-court offense, & man to man defense that they should work on pressing and junk defenses."

Are the few extra wins now worth it when you could get more wins in the future by focusing on the fundamentals?


Steve says:
1/29/2010 at 2:50:33 PM

Well, all I have to go on is what I see and experience. And then cross that with the knowledge I gain from those that have been there and done that (you guys and others). I’m not in a position to influence the School Team methods so it will be what it is. I do not feel my son at this point has been negatively affected, I guess time will tell. This topic does make me think of re-enforcing man to man principles with the players in our rec league that also play in other leagues using zone. Guess it’s time to buy your Man-to-Man defense ebook (really have liked the other one’s I’ve got!).
By the way, my son’s team did win yesterday. The “superstar” opponent was a no show as he was suspended from school. So, still don’t know if the box-and-1 would have had any effect.


Joe Haefner says:
1/29/2010 at 3:26:37 PM

Unfortunately, Steve. Most youth coaches learn what to do by the the time they are done because of the lack of education that is available for them. That''s why we''re trying to help.

I can''t count all of the stupid things that I have done. I''ve pressed, played zone, used the swing offense (no knock on Bo Ryan - just not for youth players), and million other things I can''t recall right now.

I''ve also witnessed a team firsthand finish 4th in the AAU state tournament as 8th graders. This was a team from a class of 100 kids which is quite small even for Iowa. They were competing against regional all-star teams and winning. They also used presses, half court traps, and other things that I say not to use.

As high school seniors, they had a 14-8 record and they got bounced in the first round of playoffs. In Iowa, all teams make the playoffs and they got bounced by a less than mediocre team.

I think it was from focusing on the wrong things, creating bad habits, and getting burned out at an early age.

And the coach is actually a family friend. A great man with great intentions who sacrificed a lot of his time.

Or maybe it didn''t make a difference.


mike says:
1/31/2010 at 8:40:00 AM

Hi guys
Here are some thoughts on why coaches use these defenses. I coach 5th-6th grade rec . This year so far we have played five games against five different teams.Not one has played Man to Man D.
#1- Zone D is easier to teach, we have limited time to practice and it''s really the only way these teams have a chance to compete.
#-2 The coaches just want to win. they won''t have these same kids next year so they put in zones because they just don''t have the time to teach man and zone gives them the best chance at winning.
#3 99% of the rec kids will not play highschool ball. The travel kids will get all the spots on the highschool teams.I can''t really fault the coaches. I don''t agree with what they do but at least they step up and volunteer to coach.

I have played all Man D so far and have been very successful. We did lose a game by one point to a team that ran a box and one. My kids were a little upset and I think are starting to wonder why we don''t put in some zones. We would be absolutely brutal in a triangle and two and have considered giving these guys back what they throw at us.An old coach friend told me to stick with it but it does get a little irritating seeing all these zones. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.


Coach A says:
2/4/2010 at 11:39:30 PM

I am coaching a boys basketball team. I am playing a game tomorrow against a team that is not great at ball handling, except they have one star player, that jumps higher, handles ball better, blows by everyone, shoots better, and basically scores all his teams points. We lost to them 4 points last time we played them. He is better than any player on our team. Does anyone have any suggestions?

Coach A


Steve says:
2/5/2010 at 12:41:10 PM

My team (7/8th gr) plays a game this weekend with the exact same situation (though just learned the star player may not be there due to a conflict, here's hoping). Our league does not allow Zone, but does allow double team. We also have an equal playing time rule. They have 3 players (of which one has to be on the court) that are so bad I am simply not covering them (rarely can they even make a layup). Using a tandem double team, first guy takes the shot away, second is ready for the drive. If a poorly skilled kid ends up with 20 so be it, I know the star would end up with 40 if I don't do it. Anyone have other/better suggestions?


Coach Jake says:
2/7/2010 at 5:22:09 AM

I enjoyed reading Coach Coe's commets and agree that it is important to teach every last detail. The big problem we face as coaches that there is lack of gym time during the basketball season and at that point you are forced to work on putting your team in some kind of structure. A good time to work on the fundamentals is in the off season. I started to get kids together in summer and work on all the basic fundamentals. The sad part is that many kids don't go out to the park any more and spend to much time inside on the computer. It used to be you went to the park and dreamed of being Michael Jordon and now we have a computer game to do that for kids. Get them outside!

Coach Jake


Joe Haefner says:
2/16/2010 at 9:45:10 AM

Stick with your guns, Mike. It sounds like you're doing a great job. I'm afraid that using zones and junk defenses will get you a couple of extra wins now, but they will teach bad habits because kids can get away from good man principles (For example: swarming the ball, not watching their man, going for tons of steals) and be successful at the youth level. When they get older, the bad habits that they learned are harder to break. I've seen it first hand.


Leo says:
2/16/2010 at 5:39:33 PM

I coach 7th grade boys and we recently loss to a team that runs a 3-2 defense with the 3 defenders on mid-court waiting for my ball handlers. My team panics and tends to make a bad pass.
How do I play against a 3-2 defense? Thanks.


Jason says:
3/4/2010 at 2:24:44 PM

Leo, you need to get the floor spread. Get your offense in a 2-1-2 set. The ball side forward should be high and wide(10-15 ft above the 3 pt line and close to the sideline), weak side forward should be at the weak side block, this forces the defense to extend back to the basket some to cover the man. The center or middle man should step up above the 3 pt line. The guard with the ball should dribble up to entice the defense to begin trapping, as soon as the defense commits the guard with the ball should reverse the ball to the weak side guard. This will get the defense on the run. The forward that was weak side block now breaks out to high and wide, he should be open. The guard hits the forward. The center or middle man drops to the ball side block and the weak side forward flashes into the high post. If the ball is entered to the high post the weak side guard backdoors the weakside.

If it is open the original guard with the ball can bring it up and hit the ball side forward immediately and you would have the same thing that was after the ball was reversed.
Or the point guard can hit the middle man immediatly if he is open. If that happens the ball side forward back doors.

This is kind of hard to follow without any diagrams. The key is getting the floor spread and moving the ball quickly. Passing negates quickness. I preach to players when facing a half court trap to "reverse the ball and attack". Get the defesnse on the move and keep them on the move.


Charles says:
3/8/2010 at 6:13:28 PM

This bit about 1st-2nd grade all-star teams is classic. Really?

The biggest problem with youth sports today is it's too programmed. All star-teams and nice uni's and team photos in 3rd grade. They have way more formal practices than we ever did, but when do they just play? Teach correct fundamentals and let them hone them in the driveway against the little brother and the kid down the street.

Quick comment on artificial rules. There may be a place for some adjusted rules, like maybe limited backcourt presses, but this bit with only man-to-man is a joke. Arm's length while inside 3 point line? Then it just starts to look like the old NBA with 4 players standing over in the left corner while the best ball player goes one-on-one to the hoop. How does that benefit anyone?


Joe Haefner says:
3/10/2010 at 9:53:06 AM

Charles, I completely agree with your just letting the kids PLAY comments. There is way too much structure in youth basketball.

Not allowing the defense to come out past the 3-point line for 3rd & 4th graders does sound odd. I probably would have made that same statement 10 years ago. I’m not sure where the “arm’s length” comment came from, because I’m having trouble locating that. I don’t know if that rule is needed, but I could understand why somebody might implement that.

If you study child development, child psychology, and/or neuroscience, you would understand that children have problems learning in a stressed environment. Put yourself in a 3rd or 4th graders shoes. You have trouble holding the ball (it’s quite heavy to a 8 & 9 year old), you have trouble dribbling the ball, you can barely pass, and you can barely shoot. On top of that, you have 2 or 3 defenders pressuring you. Even if you set a no double-teaming rule, it can still be overwhelming for them by having 1 defender pressuring them.

That’s not an ideal situation for a child to learn how to handle the ball and recognize situations.

Children of this age also don’t have the mental-processing capabilities to handle those situations. That’s why you see so many youth players see a play a second too late. They don’t have enough experiences to react that quickly.

Having the 3-point line rule, allows player to get under control, see where the defense is, see where the offense is, and make a decision.

Now, for the elite 2% of players, this rule is probably not needed, but I don’t believe in elite or competitive leagues at this age.


DJ says:
11/12/2010 at 11:08:16 PM

For all of those that are preaching about young kids need to learn the core fundamentals of man to man need to realize that a lot of zone defense principles reflect man to man defense! A good zone defense symbols a good man defense!


Jeff Haefner says:
11/14/2010 at 8:17:24 AM

DJ - That is true that a good zone has man to man defense qualities and that is exactly one of the reasons its SO important to start by teaching man to man defense first. It's very very difficult to teach zone defense and then go to man. You end up with a bunch of kids standing around in your M2M defense and out of position. It's a mess.

You also have to realize we work with basketball coaches for a living. We see and talk with thousands of coaches. Many of the coaches are volunteer parents and even the experienced ones do not coach as their profession. It is undeniably clear that over 99% of the youth coaches that teach zone first end up with players using bad defensive technique and developing bad habits. The problem is they have success with those bad habits early on and they end up sticking.

Look, I could go on about this forever. But the bottom line is that we study basketball for a living and all the other experts we know that do the same thing, all agree that the best recommendation for the youth coaching community is for them to teach man to man defense. It's simply better for their players in the long run.


Maceyko says:
12/3/2010 at 7:55:15 AM

I have been coaching for a lot of years at the Jr High level as well as 4th and 5th grade teams and I spend an average of 30 minutes a day on man-to-man defensive principals. However, we still incorporate a full court match up zone press in a 1-2-1-1 concept as well as throw in a diamond and two look against teams for a change of pace or to slow down a team with a couple of players that are hurting us. We have NO height and just 7 kids so trying to play a straight 1/2 court man defense is not going to work for 4 quarters against tall well-rebounding teams. Sorry but that is a fact. Although I agree that man should be the primary focus for all youth teams I also think, based on the age group you are working with, other things can be worked in to make it "fun" for your kids. Fundamentals? Of course, but keep it competitive and interesting. I play almost no zone because I do want my kids to learn the right things as well, but I also firmly believe in PRESSURE defense and that includes a variety of looks. I never say we "press" but we always provide "pressure" whether man, full court, 1/2 court, or whatever. Bottom line is you better teach stances, footwork, balance, rotations, and all of that regardless of what type of defense you play. You still need the same concepts in zone that you teach in man!


Maceyko says:
12/3/2010 at 7:58:50 AM

Make that a triangle and And we do not use it unless we need a serious adjustment to counter something we are having trouble with. Let me clarify that man to man principals need to be first and foremost but the junk defense can certainly be a weapon in your defensive arsenal which is why I read this article to begin with...


Patrick says:
2/2/2011 at 12:34:35 PM

Please remember when criticising youth coaches that not everyone on their team is an athletic kid who understands sports. Some kids are just out because their parents want them to get exercise ( which is great). Some of my 9-10 year olds still don't seem to know if they are on offense or defense. With 75-150 minutes of practice a week its tough. Then you go a week or 2 with no practice3 because of snow. When the kids who have little understanding of sports miss practices for cub scouts, ski club and ice cream parties and end up attending less than 60% of this tiny practice time, teaching the finer points of m2m d is not going to happen. Saying that it takes half a season to teach m2m for a junior varsity or varsity coach is great. That is probably 10 times the practice time I will have with my kids in 3 years.


Elaine says:
2/5/2011 at 11:26:55 AM

In a high school situation how do you attack a triangle and 2 where man is being played on the 2G and the PF? The 2G was literally being face guarded by the defender as soon as there was a defensive rebound or a made basket and the ball was inbounded. The defender even went to the bench when the 2G went out of the game for a break - until he realized player was leaving game. No kidding. To me as a former high school coach - this is a place where there may be a need to put in a special set or at least to tweek the regular zone or man offense. The 2 players combined attempted 11 shots in the entire game - they average 30 shot attempts and about 29 ppg between them. Credit to the other coach - smart decision - but there has to be some good way to make the defense pay.


Coach Tim says:
2/5/2011 at 4:38:01 PM

I have been coaching youth sports for 15 years from 1st grade to High School Football and basketball Boys and Girls and the notion that it is wrong to teach zones,presses and other defenses as well as man to man is garbage.I have 6th grade girls now and if you play man-2-3 zone 1-3-1 zone full court trap whatever they know how to break them both by alignment and how.Because we know how to run multiple defenses we also understand how to beat them. Yes we practice and play 6-8 months long but because you have no idea what defense you will face or play as you get older knowing how to play them all and how to break them down is a huge advantage for the future middle school and high school player


Sebastian says:
3/24/2011 at 2:53:34 PM

Mental and physical maturity, experience and athletic talent are really the determining factors in all this. I think to make broad generalizations involving the words "never" or "always" are a mistake. I coach a select team (10 years olds) that practices or plays fall-winter-spring and several of my players also play on their school rec team in the winter. The rec league has all sorts of rules about no presses, no zones, can''t play defense outside the 3/4 line, extremely generous intterpretation of traveling etc. Given the maturity level of most of the kids and the amount of the time spent practicing, these are sound rules, work well and have contrinuted to providing a great experience for all the kids. In the leagues my select team plays, we play the full high school rules. We have had everything thrown at us from junk defenses to half court to full court M2M to 2-1-2 zones. It was a big adjustment and trial by fire, not made any easier because in our first year we played a lot of older teams, plus we are in an urban hotbed of hoops that produces great athletes and players, many of which will be populating the Big East and the ACC in a few years. But overall my kids are better for it. We handle pressure much better, our ballhandling skills are finely honed, and the understanding of key elements of movement (of ball and player) and spacing are so much better than would be the case if these leagues had all the restrictions of the rec league. In terms of defense we experimented with all different types our first season, before settling on M2M half court as our primary defense. It is the best defense to teach from a fundamentals standpoint and really is the staple defense at the higher levels all the way up to the NBA. But we do have a half-court trap and M2M press which we roll out at different times in a game. We don''t play zone other than in practice as a tool to work on offensive stratgy to attack one. So I would echo making M2M half court your primary and first defense to learn and go from there, but not get tied to any generalization that you can''t play this defense until X age. Let the kids understanding of the game and skill level over time along with the competition dictate what other defense you might want to try.


youth_coach says:
10/27/2011 at 12:13:02 PM

Youth Coaches, unlike school coaches, are not paid or trained or offered 5 practice days per week. They are volunteers often forced to coach to meet minimum team numbers with minimal practice sessions.

The VAST majority of youth coaches use zones and do so because basketball is enough of an individual sport without making it about the team with the best athlete winning every game.

Hopefully coaches are teaching man to man and zone. The vast majority of high school coaches also run zones including the regional qualifying high school varsity coach that works as an asst for our youth teams.


JAL says:
12/14/2011 at 2:04:18 PM

As a first year coach for a 6th grade girls team, all of this discussion makes a lot of sense to me from both sides. We have 8 girls on the team, and to date through 3 games have played only M2M. We have an hour and a half twice per week. The time goes quick! I am teaching fundamentals as best I can (I'm not a career coach, I'm a volunteer), but I'm noticing the girls getting very tired toward the end of the game. With only 3 to plug in throughout, there is a lot of running. There is one, *maybe* two girls on this team that would consider playing in middle school and high school. I would consider a 2-3 or box and 1 simply to give the girls a bit of a break...and yes, let them be lazy and take a breather every now and then. Is that wrong?


Ken Sartini says:
12/14/2011 at 2:25:04 PM


First of all you are to be commended for teaching them how to play m2m, this is subject that is near and dear to my heart... teaching youth players the right way to play the game... m2m!

I understand your being a volunteer coach, that's how I started.. I only wish that sites like this were out there when I started coaching.... I would have made a lot less mistakes, like playing zones with young players.

As I see it, substituting is your biggest problem... sit down and make a script of how and when you will sub to keep your players as fresh as you can.
Think about this.... with a minute or less to go in a quarter, you can sub someone and they will get at least a 2 minute break before the next quarter starts... if you wait another minute, that's a 3 minute break... enough to recover with I would think.

There are many teams that never went more than 8 deep unless they were in foul trouble. Are you wrong for wanting to use a zone? That's not for me to judge, if it were me, I wouldn't, but that's just me. Stay with what you have been teaching all along.. m2m D. If you teach good help side defense, that is like zoning the back half anyway..

Keep up the good work and good luck.

Jeff is spot on here.... the game is pretty simple, you have to be able to defend someone.... and to do that you need to know and understand the fundamentals of m2m. You cant play a good zone if you cant defend m2m. Winning is not important at this age, its about learning how to play the game and having FUN.

Mike, I agree, stick to your guns, teach and play m2m, your kids will be better off for it... your reward will be when you see them play at the next level and hopefully at the high school level.

Jeff and Joe have done a great job with this site and they KNOW what they are talking about.


Jean says:
2/3/2012 at 1:40:44 PM

HS wants to blame lower level programs...HS coaches should be more proactive in their players "true" development at these lower levels and offer support. Not through this website, but by actually creating a feeder program. Schools are too independent with their athletic programs. They don't look up! Look up to the Varsity levels of athletics. All HS coaches should be given hiring and firing control over lower level programs to fully develop their upcoming players. Additionally, coaches should assume a governing presence and be seen at practices and games. Lots more work, but maybe worth it in the long run? If your district doesn't allow your control, find a district that will or fix your district! It's not about the individual schools success, isn't about player's success? Fix the problem!


Ken says:
2/4/2012 at 12:19:02 PM

I for one did not blame lower level programs for NOT teaching how to play m2m defense. The best we could do was to support what those coaches did... even IF they only played zones.... but we loved the kids that came in able to play m2m and understand the concepts.

Jean - Fixing the problem is what should be happening... but thats a lot easier said than done... depending on the area you teach and coach in. Some of the lower level coaches are really not approachabel when it comes to what they teach in their programs. It would be great IF the Varsity coach had that kind of power, very few do today. Years ago, Jerry Liggett from Quincy, Illinois had every school in his town running his system from 2nd grade up..... think his job was a lot easier? You bet.

I went to as many middle school games as I could... its hard to balance practice time, games, scouting and a family life along with furthering my education.

I wonder how many districts are out there that would allow what you suggest? You make some great points though.


Todd Charske says:
2/20/2012 at 10:33:38 AM

I like the simple screen on the initial set. Should free up your "go to". Guy then run the regular offense. Doesn't take much effort to run it a few times in practice.


coach_g says:
2/25/2012 at 8:28:58 AM

My junior high team is having trouble with a team that has 4 players man-to-man, while leaving their big man standing under the basket. This has thrown our team out of whack. We can't drive because their player is right under the basket and has a significant height advantage. Can't find any offense or plays that have worked against it.


Ken says:
2/25/2012 at 8:44:49 AM

Coach G -

You might try using your center to pick/screen for your players... since his defender wont be there to help, that should allow you to get the other players open...

You are going to have to hit a few permiter shots... maybe even 8-10 feet to force him to step out and defende.

Set a good screen and open up to the ball and your center will be open as well as the person you are screening for. Hopefully your center can hit a few of those short shots.

That sounds like the old NBA defense... I ran this myself A LONG time ago when I was coaching 8th graders. One team had a pretty good center who could score from outside the paint... so we had to adjust... my center wasn't the greatest defender, thats why I did that, not because he was a shot blocker.

Give that a try in practice and let us know how that works for you.


RS says:
3/1/2012 at 10:33:51 AM

Wow! Lots of discussion on this topic. in our rec leagues, 3rd grade up to 8th, there is a no zone rule. Solves the issue of kids not learning man-to-man. My other comment is that when I was a kid, in the mid 80s, we didnt even have youth b-ball. 7th grade was the first organized ball we had. Yet the players still learned the fundamentals. Kids dont have to be taught how to do everything properly when they are 2 years old or there's no hope for them. Coaches in highschool should not be that upset about a 9th grader having to learn the basics. Give them a little more credit than that.


Joe Haefner says:
3/1/2012 at 10:59:39 AM

Good points and thank you for your thoughts, RS.

Due to have so many comments scheduled all over the site, we have moved the youth defense discussion over this page:

Please read and let us know what you think.


MS says:
5/3/2012 at 5:06:27 AM

First of all -Thank you this is the best youth basketball site on the web! I started coaching my oldest son in K-1st grade through a church league where you could only play man to man and I think it is a great way to start. As time went on we moved on to more competitive leagues with many different rules some I agreed with some I did not. As I got to the 7 and 8th gr with my boys I was able to coach and assist with some of the local Varsity Head Coaches. I think I was looking forward to it more than my son for a chance to learn. Fortunately, I had a great experience but the one thing that did shock me the most was how little the HS coaches have time or desire to re-do or make a kids fundamentals sound. It hit me like a ton of bricks, that what I just taught these kids was all they were really going to get before they play HS ball.

2. I then went back down to coach my 3 rd grader all over again with a new mindset and really started to analyze the group. Finding that most 1 -3 rd grad kids cannot shoot properly but they can make shots. This is where the problem begins now they have torque there bodies in such a way to jump twist for the ball to go in the net. (So they can win) because if you always missed every shot you took the game would get old fast for a 10 and under. So now I have to go back and un-do that bad muscle memory and create a new one.

Winning is a funny thing - win all the time we long for a "real game” not as much fun anymore.
Lose all the time - team sucks- coach sucks- players are not good- parents are not good- even the snacks suck- not as much fun

Last I checked 95% of all games keep score which I do agree with and also with the 5% that don't. Hopefully it teaches us how to win and not brag about it, and lose and not have our world collapse.

Zone - Man - Junk- Triangle etc... What kids will remember is did my coach actually care about me or only the good players. If I was good did he only love me when I played well...?
Coaches we have such a huge opportunity for a short period of time to help these boys and girls set a solid foundation for life and basketball is a means to an end for us to help in the process.

Ok off the soap box - I am a youth coach and I run zone most of the time in games until we usually blow out the other team because kids can’t handle the pressure- most kids can’t even dribble with their left and right hands much less look up. And that goes even up to HS.

I believe if you teach solid fundamentals that kid can run any coaches Off or def scheme does not matter. The funny thing is if you start with just fundamentals for the first 2-4-6-8-12 months until they have it down like brushing their teeth, then you can run any crazy or conservative O or D you want. And when a kid makes the left hand layup in the game your credibility as a coach and mentor just went through the roof.

As a coach you should know how to coach basketball for your level and also know how to win a game based on strategy amazingly enough those two do not go hand in hand and it frustrates all of those involved on the losing end.

One of the questions I get asked a lot by parents is how can I get little Johnny more aggressive? He is so rough at home with his family but on the court it's like he is another person. Now there is no one right answer but I have found that when we do competitive one on one drills or two on one drills it helps. I had a 7th aau boys team last year only lost two games out of 6 tournaments in the Bay Area. I said over and over my best 5 defensive players will start. So when we started to win without some of our top players all of the sudden everyone wanted to get dirty....

Well hope this helps us remember why we are coaching and spark some thought about bball.

Thanks again for this site. AWESOME!


Ken says:
5/3/2012 at 8:43:44 AM


Please don't put all high school coaches in one basket. I can tell you that we taught fundamentals on all levels... freshman, sophs, JVs and the Varsity... EVERY DAY. So, I'm not sure what your coach was thinking about... or his program. I wrote an article about building your program by starting with a good foundation.... thats where it all starts.

Winning at the youth level is very over rated... I do understand the parents mind set... but maybe you can change that... pre season meetings telling them what you are trying to accomplish.. teach the the fundamentals of the game... and have FUN!

At the youth level the only D that should be played is m2m... no pressing or trapping. You can play zones and win forever since young kids cant shoot very well, at least the majority cant.

Do your kids a favor and go back to teaching m2m defense and all the other fundamentals of the game. Have pre season meetings with the parents and explain your goals for the kids, don't mention Ws and Ls.

Trust me, Winning is very over rated for coaches and parents... parents an fans don't get it.... They think you are measured by the number of Ws you get. IF you cant score, you aren't going to win. Every time you miss and the other team scores, thats a 4 point turnaround... that happens 5 times = 20 points and the game is over.

Talent wins games, coaches can put their kids in a position to win... bottome line, the play hard D and make some shots. I have drawn up plenty of last second shots... kidss made some and missed some.... am I a genius when the make them? Am I stupid when the miss? Neither

I could show you a film where my team beat the #6 team in the state and we were nobody's (so to speak) We won, why? We hit 9 of 10 from the arc and 15 of 19 from the free throw line in the 4th quarter? Genius.. sure looks that way... NOPE, kids made shots and played good D... We can take credit for the D. :-)

As far as caring for players.. I liked to think that I treated all my players the same - rotten... just kidding... kids need to know that you care about them as individuals, NOT just basketball players. Our jobs as coaches is to give them some life lessons along the way,,, how to handle losses, how to act when you win by being humble. I used to tell my kids, ACT LIKE YOU'VE BEEN THERE.

Kudos to you for teaching the fundamentals of the game - stick with that, especially with the younger kids and don't worry about the Ws....

7th & 8th graders playing tough D is great, you must have done a great job teaching them ( I sill hope its m2m ) Hard to play a good zone if you don't have the basics of m2m down. Picking your best 5 on D is a good philosophy... Mine was this... a GREAT point guard... a GREAT rebounder and hopefully a couple of really good shooters. EVERYONE was expected to play good D. But, IF I had a LIGHTS OUT shooter and his D was bad... he would still play... he would just cover their weakest player. Thats just me.

Good luck and have fun with your kids.


Ken says:
5/3/2012 at 9:36:48 AM

MS -

I found the article... but just one more note about playes winning games.. one year we had 4 players move.... 3 out ot state... 3 starters... that meant I was playing with 1&2 ( great guards ) and 7,8&9, I don't have to tell you how well we did... we won 7 games that year and that was an accomplishment with what we had left. Players WIN....

Here is the article:

Important Lesson for Youth Basketball Coaches

By Jeff Haefner

Here’s a guest post and very good lesson from Coach Ken Sartini. We really think he was on the money with this, so we decided to post it on our blog. Enjoy…

I went to church this morning and as I was looking through the weekly bulletin I came upon this:

Jesus said: ” A foolish person builds a house on sand…. A wise person builds a house on solid ground. ”

The Deacon spoke on this at length during his homily and it got me thinking. Since I always told my students about building a house and that it takes a good foundation for it to last, but with a poor foundation the building will crumble. I told them that their education was the foundation for their lives. Get a good education and build a good foundation for your future.

This holds true in basketball also. If we are to have a good program we need to build from the bottom up… ( the foundation ) and that begins at the lowest level possible, teaching the fundamentals of the game and how to play, NOT just sets and winning as the end all. Good solid fundamentals are the foundation of your programs. As a varsity coach I loved it when kids came in knowing how to play m2m defense, be able to read and set screens and how to shoot. I didn’t care what offense they ran, as long as they had these basics, we could teach the rest.

Now comes the planning part.

I was talking to John Jenkins and we were discussing fundamentals vs winning and we came to the conclusion that while the basketball fundamentals are extremely important there are other things that the players need to know in order to implement these. He related to me of a college coach that came in to coach some of his younger kids and taught nothing but fundamentals. Since they didn’t run a press offense in practice, they got destroyed and never got the chance to do much in games.

John and I talked about some kids that were shooting the ball off their left eye and pushing the ball instead of good solid fundamental shooting. We had some kids that came in and they were dribbling with their right hands, taking the ball to their left side before bringing the ball up to the proper side to shoot. It takes a lot of time to break bad habits like this.

So, to all you lower level youth coaches, plan your practices wisely!

Make a good practice plan, just like you would have a lesson plan in the classroom. I realize that at some levels time is a big factor - so planning is even more important. If you don’t know how to make a good practice plan, search the Internet and find the answer….. or find a mentor to help you learn that skill. Use your time wisely, make sure that you cover the things that they are going to need to play the game while teaching good fundamentals. Help them build a good foundation so they can continue to play as they progress through each level….. and they will have some success.

While everyone wants to win…. in the end.. who really cares if kids go 30-0 and cant play when they reach high school because they are so far behind fundamentally. That is the measure of your success as a youth basketball coach.

OK, that’s my sermon for the day. Sorry if I bored you… but like I always say…JMO….

If you’d like to contact me or ask me a question, just leave your comments below.

Coach Sar

"In the long run, it’s not what we have done, but what we have become through all of our experiences."


Eileen says:
10/19/2012 at 1:30:56 PM

I am coaching 5th grade girls and we run man defense. They are picking up on it great and do a fantastic job with help defense. We also run motion offense with usually a 3 out 2 in. We work on running post screens in practice, wing movement and spacing and I am pleased with where we are with this. Problem: we fall apart against a zone defense...there is no one to screen so they get confused. Typically at this age you are going to get one or two passes off on offense before either a shot or it gets stolen. Can you give me some ideas on positions and spaces for the girls to run to against a 3-2 or 2-3 zone? I have read a lot of ideas but really the plays are too complicated and don't account for the other team anticipating the pass and stealing it.
thanks!! I enjoy this site!!


Jeff Haefner says:
10/19/2012 at 2:57:07 PM


I usually just put players in a gap alignment, have them use lots of pass fakes, look to post up, reverse the ball, and just play. We run a 4 out motion and the kids are used to just playing and having the freedom. So it works pretty well. Here are a few more details about what we do:

Against a 2-3 zone a gap attack could have a player at top, each wing, middle/high post, and short corner. Players inside work together to find open spots.

Hope this helps.


Ken says:
10/20/2012 at 1:48:50 PM

Eileen -

Jeff has it right ... keep it simple here. A college coach once told me this about attacking zones. " Its not rocket science Ken, just put em where they aint. "

Put your kids in gaps and move the ball - you can run any offense - 4 out might work better... and when they make their cuts - have players get to the openings... the gaps.


Kyle Pertuset says:
12/2/2012 at 2:34:28 PM

Trying running a Flex offense out of the 4 low set. Have your player coming off the flex screen to go high post instead of the block/mid post, he stays there for 2 seconds(one one thousand, two one thousand) he then returns home to continue the offense. This has worked well for us vs. a Box and I, and even a triangle and 2


BBallCoach says:
12/6/2012 at 11:26:52 PM

Man-to-Man is the only way to go.
A good help side D cannot be beaten by many HS/JH teams. Not enough discipline.
If you find a team with that much discipline-should be one of those games that comes down to who has the smarter basketball players.
Personally, I love those games.


Ken says:
12/7/2012 at 8:03:46 AM

Coach -

There are times when your talent level is down and you have to rely on some smoke and mirrors.... (varstiy ball)

Its not always about the smarter players, its also about who has the best players. If your Jimmie and Joes are better than my Xs and Os, you will win. If I have SOME talent and need something to keep me close, I think we have to think out of the box. JMO

BTW - I agree, teaching/playing m2m is the best way to play the game. But as coaches, we have to give our kids the best chance of winning (varstiy levely) and that might mean doing whatever it takes to give them that chance.


Harold says:
1/11/2013 at 5:07:20 PM

>>> We will take one player and tell him he has no help responsibilities. His job is to keep one particular player from getting the ball.

HS Varsity team has a great 3 point shooter (50+ percent) - "Jeff". Teams have started to play their best gaurd defender on "Jeff" with no help responsibilities (chaser); still man-to-man defense. The offense is struggling. What opportunities can we take advantage of to "make them pay" for gaurding one player this way?

Couple of thoughts: "Jeff" will set more effective picks (defender not wanting to switch), and picks may be more effective if set for "Jeff", backdoor pick for lob, when "Jeff" is "out", keep him as far out as possible leaving a driving lane, move "Jeff" 7 feet behind the arc on the wing (still in range) and run a 4 on 4 offense, have him fake stuff because the defender can't see the rest of the floor (fake a pick call, when they look cut to the basket, fake jump for a pass...), cut off other defensive players - using them as semi-picks.

What have you used and found effective?



Joe Haefner says:
1/12/2013 at 12:09:58 PM

Harold, when playing the junk defense, I don't even like putting my best defender as the chaser. In reality, the chaser's job is simple just stay with your guy and don't worry about help. I like to have my better team defenders guarding other offensive players because I know that they will be reliable from a team defense aspect. However, the chaser does need to be athletic enough to make it difficult for the offense to get the ball.

For offense, I love to set ball screens as well with the player being chased as well. No help on the ball screen... that's tough to guard.


James says:
1/20/2013 at 12:13:12 AM

I think this zone d bashing is plan ignorant. Turn on any college basketball game and you will see teams switching from man to zone and pressing. Do I have to remind you that Arkansas for many years used "40 minutes of Hell" successfully . For the supposed high school coaches complaining not all middle school players or youth players posses the physical tools or the basketball IQ to constantly run man D. Do you really want kids cheating on position because they lack the physical tools. If you are facing well coached teams you need multiple looks. If one of my teams is facing an opponent that only plays man I would game plan and prepare my players well enough to destroy your team


Joe Haefner says:
1/20/2013 at 9:03:52 AM

Thank you for your input, James.

Our youth defense discussion is on this page:

Please read the article and share your thoughts in the comments section.


Ken says:
1/20/2013 at 9:33:29 PM

Please don't compare what college teams do to what youth teams do. Those teams/players are some of the best in the country and I doubt that they would be able to do all those things IF they weren't well schooled in the fundamentals of the game and how to play good m2m D! Somewhere in the game you will have to guard someone.

By the way, you might be surprised about what you can and cannot do vs GOOD teams that play m2m defense exclusively.


Henry says:
1/26/2013 at 2:27:57 AM

Best way to beat a box/diamond and 1 is to move the ball and screen the zone. No, not screening the on ball defender, that does nothing since zones are designed to stop penetration with all 5 players, not just the one. For example, swing the ball to the corner while having the strong side post screen away to the man opposite the ball on the bottom part of the box. Have another player flash to the block. The strong side bottom defender in the box goes out to defend the ball, and the man who should rotate to the strong side block is being screened, and because there are only 4 defenders in the zone, there is less help, which should give you a lay-up.


Keith says:
1/28/2013 at 5:21:06 PM

I have had the same group of boys for the last four years, as 7th graders now. I have taught the boys to play a man to man defense until this last game we tried a 2-3 defense..Fun but not the same game. Now the team I play in two weeks is playing a one man show with only a point guerd that drives the whole game and scores 90% of their points. Would you stay in the man to man only to get beat by one kid or play a 2-3 to get the game out of his hands?


Ken says:
1/28/2013 at 5:34:54 PM

Keith -

You have taught them m2m for four years... seems to me THAT is your best defense.

There are a couple of ways to look at this game. Take away his best move, force him left etc and make sure that you have a lot of help. You can play a pack style m2m in this game so that as he looks at the defense he might be thinking that it is a zone, bottom line, there wont be any big gaps for him to drive.....then you could add this... once he gives up the ball, tell your defender to try and keep him from getting it back... and he gives NO help on other players.

You can get the ball out of his hands without playing a zone. Your man defense can be around stopping this kid... and you wont have your kids questioning what they are doing. JMO

What are your thoughts now?


Darin says:
3/8/2013 at 12:16:38 PM

I get sick of hearing people say the higher skilled players at youth level will make up the majority of the varsity team when they get that age. Point blank they need to get over themselves, if they were that good at scouting talent they probably wouldn't be a youth coach instead they'd be a scout or recruiter. Just let the kids play and have fun that should be the focus.


Ken Sartini says:
3/8/2013 at 12:32:01 PM

At the youth level.... I agree with this --

"instead they'd be a scout or recruiter. Just let the kids play and have fun that should be the focus." Don't let these people bother you.

As for the first part of your post..I was a varsity coach, so I knew what I was looking at..... you can watch some games and see some kids that are hands down, head and shoulders above the others... no brainer... they will play HS ball.... how far, thats another story. We had several kids that didn't make their 8th grade team play in our program... some became varsity starters and some all conference....

It all depends on how badly they want to play and how much work they will put into their game.


Johnny9Eyes says:
10/2/2013 at 9:09:45 AM

This discussion always baffles me. I had the great pleasure of playing for some great coaches and programs in Indiana in both High School and College. Now I am coaching my daughters 3rd grade team.

My team is awesome and has an unbelievable amount of fun. We are 2-4 right now, and most likely will finish 4-12 at best. My team consists of 3 girls that "get the game" for as much as I would expect for a 3rd grader.

We play M2M. Before the season I sent a letter to my parents about what to expect, Fun and Fundamentals, and by the way equal playing time for all eight of my girls. Could our record be better, SURE! I could play my three top girls and rotate in the other 5, and most likely stop playing M2M. But I won't, winning is not the priority and should not be at this age.

Just last week, one of the "bottom" players scored 4 points on her birthday (to see her after that game made my season). So don't give up on players or unevenly spread your coaching around. And from what I see, if you hiding underdeveloped players in a zone or junk defense, you're doing the same thing on offense (just my experience) so they get nothing out of playing.

Almost every team we play plays junk defense. Almost all put their best or two best players at half court to trap and steal the ball. We probably don't get past half court on 50% of our possessions. I had intended not to spend any practice time based on my teams needs on offensive set plays. Just teach spacing and cutting was the plan (they all need to be developing fundamentals during the time we have together, passing, dribbling, defense and some shooting, although we play on a 10' rim and its a chuck not a shot).

However in response to the defenses being playing I tried some of the standby stuff, ball screen, spread the floor etc. The problem with the ball screen is most times the dominate defensive player up Tom is knows its coming and quickly gets under it. Problem with spreading the floor is, my girls are maybe strong enough to throw a 10 - 12 foot pass and most of the time its one second too late. I have no "A" players and no ball handlers that that handle the upfront pressure

Its crazy, crazy, crazy what I see. Nothing and I mean nothing these great players are doing against us is transferable to competitive basketball. But they sure are 3rd grade all stars.

BTW - the stealing and layup drips referred to early in the comments short changes kids offensive development too. We play pretty solid man to man, and hardly ever get scored on in half-court game, mostly in transition - i.e. these kids we play against aren't learning offensive fundamentals either.

The other fundamentally horrible thing these girls are learning in these defenses is reaching. I would say at least 75% of the time the steals these girls are making are fouls, but in these leagues, the refs are very liberal - as they should be, but its still bad defense. When we work on our defense we actually focus on not reaching, but being properly aggressive.

I am blessed to have a core group of parents and kids who are interested in learning basketball. I plan on staying with these kids as long as I can (up to 8th grade). So much goes into creating great basketball players, from a physical standpoint, interest in learning, fundamentals, and mental understating of the game. Some of these coaches have no control over, some we have influence over, and some we have control over. I hope the kids that play under me get the most of the things I have control of, and I positively influence the things I have influence over.

I am rambling, and I am frustrated with the league we have and its rules. I plan on attending and petitioning for rule changes at these lower grade levels at the end of the season, knowing full well I will get run out of the place by coaches and boosters that have the wrong priorities, but I gotta try.


Jeff Haefner says:
10/2/2013 at 10:57:31 AM

Johnny - I couldn't agree with you more.

I also coach my 3rd grade daughters team. I created my own league and just invite other teams to play/scrimmage us at our gym. We are fortunate and do have one league (just one) that has good rules - no press, etc. But they also use 10ft baskets and our girls aren't strong enough to shoot at those high baskets with good form. So we just made our own club/league.

We also play all 3on3 and 4on4 so they get more touches on the ball.

Just a thought that might help and/or something you can do to compliment your league play.


Lisa "Mo" says:
11/17/2013 at 10:37:18 PM

My 11 yr old is going to start playing basketball this year at her local Boys and Girls club. She has never played before. I have started to work with her. I use to play basketball in high school about 20 yrs ago.. So I have forgotten a lot of my drills we use to do.. But thanks to this site. I am able to start teaching her a few things. Simple things to help her out. I will only help her out until her coach starts working with her. Then we will work on the skills he/she teaches her. But just wanted to send a shout out to the web site. Thanks for the information. I will surely let a few of the parents know about this site. Ones that help their kids off the team practice courts.


John says:
12/6/2013 at 7:22:29 AM

Johnny, great post.

In our youth leagues, until grade 9 you have to play m2m and are not allowed to press. I hope one day that screens get abolished as well. In this thread too many people are thinking about wins and losses instead of keeping it fun while improving there skill level.

  1 reply  

John says:
2/3/2015 at 10:20:30 AM

How is not teaching how to beat a press or zone doing any good? These tactics are part of the game. Have you ever coached in an AAU tournament? If you can't handle a press, you'll get run by 60 pts or more. Of course we want to teach fundamentals but ignoring a large part of the game is not helping, its hurting the kids! What is needed is more year round travel programs that spend more time on fundamentals of the game, not rec leagues that ignore them.

  1 reply  

Jeff says:
2/3/2015 at 11:00:28 AM

Teaching how to play or beat a press or zone is like teaching calculus to a kid before he knows how to multiple and divide.

This all depends on the age we are talking here and even what country you live in.

There is a logical progression of teaching basketball fundamentals. Starting with press and zone at young age and/or beginners is not logical. First you need to learn man to man fundamentals. And then offensively, first you need to learn how to beat a defender in 1on1 situation. Then as you develop skills you can learn how to beat traps, 2 defenders, and so on.

Not to mention, having fun is an important part of the development and should be incorporated.

I see 3rd and 4th grade youth coaches out there teaching zones, presses, and traps. That doesn't make sense to me when there are dozens of fundamentals they are skipping over.

Here's an article with more thoughts about proper progressions and development.


Jason says:
1/27/2014 at 1:16:13 PM

Sorry, fellas. But I teach whatever defense(s) gives my team the best chance to win. I run zone, but still teach solid fundamental footwork and team defense. I'm not gonna line up man-man with bigger stronger teams when my advantage lies elsewhere (full-court and half-court press in lots of games). I want to take the ball away from teams before their bigs have an opporunity to settle down on the post and beat us up inside. In addition, we only have so much practice time to install a solid man-man. In a longer season - with a longer pre-season - man-man would be much easier to go with. However, in a condensed middle school schedule, I teach what gives us the best opportunity to win with the personnel I have that given year. Bottom line, we win.


Joe Haefner says:
1/27/2014 at 2:34:30 PM

Jason, thank you for sharing your thoughts.

For the man vs. zone for youth and middle school players discussion, this is a better thread.


Brian says:
3/10/2014 at 2:34:38 AM

This M2M defense stuff is so unrealistic at the rec level. If you are a new coach do not buy into this nonsense! Teach the kids about teamwork, sportsmanship,work ethic and give them a chance to succeed. Loosing by 20 points a game is not fun and having some poor kid get embarrassed on the court is even worse. I teach only M2M until the 5th grade then I play what works. Kids really start to understand at this age and coaches will take advantage of your M2M defense.
Just remember most of these kids will never play High School Basketball but the memories will last a lifetime.


Jeff says:
3/10/2014 at 6:11:31 AM

Brian - I totally agree with this 100%... "Teach the kids about teamwork, sportsmanship,work ethic and give them a chance to succeed"

But I can tell you by personal experience that you can get the best of both worlds.... you can teach all those things you mentioned and develop them for the long term.

I know numerous new coaches that volunteer, put in the effort to learn M2M by studying DVDs or books, and have a lot of success. I'm not saying kids shouldn't learn a little zone and what not. But it all starts with M2M fundamentals. Why cut the kids that do want to play in high school short? I assure you that you can get the best of both worlds. Maybe some coaches don't want to put in the effort. but I know plenty of new coaches that do.

Also, if a rec program is playing a bunch of zone defense and junk... that is non sense. I'd find a different rec league. How is that helping a beginner improve at basketball? Makes no sense at all.

If you haven't already be sure to read this article:


Ken Sartini says:
3/10/2014 at 10:55:37 AM

Brian - First of all, bless you for working with this age group, it cant be easy.

Jeff has pretty much nailed this.... so I will just add a few things. Somewhere along the line, they will have to be able to cover someone, m2m.

Just remember.... There is always a diamond in the rough if you are willing to take the time to polish it.


John says:
2/3/2015 at 10:08:51 AM

All of these high school coaches who are ripping rec coaches because they aren't teaching the fundamentals are not recognizing the reality. A rec coach has maybe 4-8 hours before his first game and then maybe 1 1/2 hours a week during the season. That adds up to a grand total of about 20 hours of practice time a season. Throw in the fact that over half your team will have never played before and have very little natural ability. Do you expect miracle work to be done here? Maybe the HS coaches should step up and run some clinics or donate their time and effort to get the talent ready for the next level. Rec coaches are trying to make the best of what time and resources they have. Also, zones and trapping are some the go to tactic at every level of basketball up through college. You need to coach your team based on the kids you have and often times that means running zones and traps...

  1 reply  

Jeff says:
2/3/2015 at 11:04:18 AM

No it's not easy. There needs to be some education in the youth world about proper teaching progressions. Having a bunch of 3rd graders sitting in a zone while these young kids hork up three point shots using bad shooting technique is not helping anyone.

Ideally leagues and tournaments apply age appropriate rules. All we can do is try to spread the word and get as many people on board with better concepts in regards to youth development.

Check out this article with thoughts about this.


jomari says:
4/2/2015 at 11:10:26 AM

that basketball game is very good game


Jeff Neely says:
1/26/2016 at 10:51:31 AM

Some of the best advice I have received in my 36 years in the business - 27 as a Varsity Head coach. When players panic, it is one thing, but when the coach panics, it is over. Stay calm, run your stuff and you will ruin all of their preparation time by exploiting what they are trying to do. In most every situation, the team running the junk is the weaker team. Make sure your players understand that.


blaine says:
11/17/2016 at 2:45:47 PM

I teach man everyday to my junior high group but if I did want to play a box and 1 how long would that take to teach 15 minutes? Not much time especially if your kids can already play man. A def like box and 1 is a breeze.


Larry says:
2/6/2018 at 7:15:05 PM

I just started coaching this year and I am working with an instructional league of 4th and 5th graders. Some had played in the 3rd grade and I even have a 3rd grader on my team. There is not tryout any kid in the school can play so we have a mix bag of talent (these are also co-ed teams).
My son has played for 3 years and the first year (3rd grade) I was a volunteer coach and his team worked hard but we had the least talented team and only won on game and that was a forfeit because the other team didn't show up (schedule mistake). We worked hard on fundamentals dribbling, how to stand on defense, how to move lateral, jump, run, layup, how to use the glass, etc...
His next year (4th grade) I didn't get involved and the coach on his team didn't teach anything. Essentially he played one kid the entire game and he was the only one allowed to take shots and he was the point guard so my son spent the entire season standing around playing hard on defense and rebounding but was never allowed to be in the offense. The final game that season his team made the championship and then the PG kid who had played every minute decided to throw a tantrum and not play so now we had a team of kids who weren't allowed to dribble or shoot the ball trying to figure out how to play. I swore to my son it would never happen again.
This year I decided to coach his team. My emphasis is every kid plays (league rules too) every kid contributes and every kid will score a point in a game at some point in the season. I have 12 kids on team we play a 32 min game with 4 quarters. Subs are mandatory and evey kid plays at least 8 minutes a game.
Now we play junk defenses...the reason why is for the past two years these games resembled rugby games more than basketball games. as you have kids nearly tackling kids . I decided my team would be fundamentally the best defensive team in league. We are allowed to play zone and I am teaching them how it works. I don't believe learning how to play zone is bad. I feel they learn to work together as one unit. If one person isn't pulling their weight the entire unit will fall apart. We don't switch we stay at home position and close out on shooters. I am teaching them to move as the ball is in the air for the pass. I have mostly been playing box and 1. My on ball defender is my third grader he is a terror on man to man and he traps and steals at the half court line. Our base is 1-2-2 and my goal wasn't trying to take adantave my goal was to protect the paint it evolved to the box and 1 and now it is continuing to evolve to the triangle and 2,
We practice it and run against it in practice as well as 2-3 zone and some man.
I think you need to look at it both ways. If done correctly and you actually teach why and how it works these kids on my team are ahead of the game now. They recognize the defense and are not afraid of shocked by it they learn patience and how to move the ball. They play better team ball. Out of 12 kids I only have 3 that haven't scored in a game yet every kid is contributing and having fun and that is the most important thing I wanted from them. Also I am not going to lie I want them to win. I want them to learn that working hard not just for themselves but for each other, helping each other obtain victory feels good and gives them confidence.

  1 reply  

Joe Haefner says:
2/7/2018 at 10:59:51 AM

Larry, the way that you're focusing on getting everybody involved is awesome!

I've also used zone defense in a similar situation with middle school kids for similar reasons.

However, I did regret it because it wasn't best for their long-term development. They won like 1 or 2 games over 2 seasons at the varsity level and we won 50% of their games at the youth level by using zones. Of course, there are other factors that led to those poor seasons down the road, but I know that I didn't help.

Here's an article that really delves into why man to man defense is the best for youth players over the long run:

Second, if you teach patience and to focus on the process, I know that you can succeed by teaching man to man. I've personally done it and here's a fun story that a subscriber shared with us where he started 0-12 in 6th grade, but finished the 8th grade season as 15-3 and conference champs.


Chris says:
1/25/2019 at 3:22:36 PM

I want to do this in our next game against an opponent that beat us, but should I? It is only 5/6 grade and if we double their point guard, none of their other players are very good.

They beat us 9-2 and she scored 7 of their points and the ball was just not going in for us.

  1 reply  

Jeff says:
1/25/2019 at 3:48:57 PM

Good question. I would not run junk defense at this age. Maybe at the high school varsity level. Instead teach your players better fundamentals on defense, offense, and all aspects of the game. I avoided bailing out my youth teams with "tactics" and "strategy"... instead I always tried to solve the problem with better fundamentals. More thoughts on that at bottom of this article:


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