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Three Methods - Guarding the Ball

Updated: Jun 13, 2023

In this week's installment of the Three Methods Series, we are looking at ways to work on guarding the basketball in practice.

Guarding the basketball is arguably the most important element of your defensive system. Every time the ball is passed there is a new defender who must make sure he does not give up a clean drive to the rim. Teams that consistently give up dribble penetration are leaving themselves open to the most efficient shots in the game: layups, free throws, & kick-out threes. So with this being said we need to find time in practice to dig into our preferred teaching points and techniques while defending the basketball.

In this post, we are going to dig into options for coaches to work on your pressure limits, your 1/1 half-court defense, and your 1/1 full-court defense. One thought I approached in this week's YouTube video was the idea of shading. I think it's worth remembering that we are putting together a defensive system. This requires us to not create a plan for defending the basketball but a plan to organize ball side and backside help concepts. As you read through this post I think it might be worth thinking about which direction you prefer to steer the basketball towards and how you can adjust your help defense from there.

If you haven't looked into our previous Three Methods Series posts, check out the links:

Teaching Points -

As we typically stress in this portion of the Three Methods Series, we want to have a number of teaching points that we will be consistent with despite the practice concept we're using. These teaching points should be simple and easy to communicate to our players. When we're talking about guarding the basketball I liked the idea of preaching these concepts:

1. Maintain Arm's Length Distance - No matter where we are on the floor I want to have a consistent approach to how we're guarding the basketball. From a distance perspective, we are going to use the visual of an arm's length distance as our core teaching concept. We want the defense to have our presence on their mind at all times.

2. No Open Hips - I really do not want to give the offense a clean angle to the rim. Regardless of where the basketball is on the floor, I want to emphasize that the defense should be trying to cut the offense off at all costs.

3. Anticipate Where the Ball is Going (Play Angles) - When we do get beat off the dribble it is important to teach players how to recover and beat their man to where they are headed.

4. Use of Hand Checks - Let's face it referees DO NOT CALL hand-check fouls. So those defenses who are discouraging the use of hand checks are putting themselves at a disadvantage. We must use our hands to redirect drivers and recover our angles.

Method #1 -

One of the first defensive elements I want to get players to experiment with is putting pressure on the basketball. Good defenses are able to apply pressure on the ball handler and make him uncomfortable. In my experience as a high school coach, this ability can vary wildly across your roster. Although we want to maintain defensive standards across the board we do have to recognize that not all players are created equal. This first concept we'll dive into is a way to allow us to introduce our standards while also allowing players to experiment with their capabilities.

1/1 Guard Your Yard -

In this concept I like the idea of setting up two areas in the half-court or (4) if we are using both ends. We will set up boundaries or cones to designate the area of play.

Once players are paired up we will begin to execute 30 second possessions where the defense works on applying pressure to the ball, and the offense uses the space provided the handle the ball.

Goals for Each Side:

On the defensive side of the ball, we are trying to coach up the defenders to maintain an "arm's length distance", work on their stance, and use angles to cut off their dribble in either direction. The offensive players should try to maintain the vision of the hoop at all times while attempting to attack the defenders with the dribble. Obviously, we want the ball to remain in the designated area, which will require the offense to change speeds and set up their dribble.


At the end of the possession, we are looking to get two new players into the drill, expecting that each pair will switch roles as their next turn comes up.

Method #2 -

Our second method for working on guarding the basketball is asking our players to guard a teammate in 1/1 form. This is a concept that asks our players to work on 1/1 defense from the 5 basic offensive locations on the floor. As the players work around the key there are numerous occasions for coaches to intervene and teach stance, slides, shading, contesting, and defensive rebounding technique.

5 Spot Defense -

I want to match players up based on equivalent talent. Let's get our best players matched up, our bigs matched up, etc. Once that is done we will ask them to play 1/1 from 5 spots while getting a winner for the cauldron!

Teaching Emphasis:

As the players play 1/1 from each of the spots we have the opportunity to teach our principles on the defensive end. We should be preaching correct stance, shading, distance, and angles as the offense attacks the rim.

Rotations & Scoring:

Once a player finishes their possession the next pair jumps in. The next time that particular pair comes up they should switch their roles and play it back. I typically am asking the players to keep their scores, and ultimately get a winner between the two. There is certainly some room for coaches to manage this drill by limiting dribbles, rewarding offensive rebounding, or emphasizing layups over jumpers.

Method #3 -

The third concept we're going to introduce is an extension of our normal ball-handling routine. I'll typically have our players in five or six lines as we work on ball-handling elements, and when we're finished we usually pair up into four lines. Once we get into four lines we are going to enter the 1/1 Sideline portion of this work. This is a part of practice where we can focus on either the offensive or defensive side of the ball.

1/1 Sideline -

We start this segment by getting players paired up in four lines. With a team of 12, we should have 3 of the 4 lines with two pairs each.

Set Up:

This concept is simply a 1/1 opportunity from one sideline to the other. I typically have one goal for each side of the ball.


The goal is to create space. They are attacking off the dribble and then pulling back in an attempt to create distance. After that attempt they are looking to blow by their opponent.


On the defensive side we are looking to force the offense to change direction, and if we get beat to sprint and get back in front of our man. As this is taking place I am emphasizing our teaching points; no open hips, arm's length distance, hand checks, and anticipation of angles.


Once we reach the far sideline we are simply changing roles and running it back the other way. When that group is finished the next pairs jumps up and conducts their rep. I'm typically going to have each group get about 3-4 reps before we move on.

Force Options -

One topic I think we want to iron out in our defensive philosophy is whether or not we want to "shade" the ball in a certain direction. There are generally three popular schools of thought regarding the shading of the ball:

1. Force Sideline & Baseline: Here we are funneling the ball in these directions while not allowing the ball to get to the middle.

2. Force Middle: In some Pack Line circles there is a desire to keep the ball off of the baseline and funnel it to the middle, where the help is preloaded.

3. Lock Left: One interesting philosophy that you see more and more of is the "lock left" concept, which asks defenders to stop a player's right hand and force the use of the left.


I certainly don't think there is one of these opinions that is "right" or "wrong". I do think that choosing one philosophy helps make it clear to our help defenders where the ball is most likely going to be driven. They now know where these drives will happen and can cheat in that direction. If these drives can happen in any direction I think it makes our help defense weaker instead of the opposite.

Concluding Thoughts -

One thing that I see consistently in the best defenses in our league is the ability to put pressure on the basketball. We just simply can not afford to let our opponent's best ball handlers get their team into their offense with ease. We have to at least make them uncomfortable and deliver their passes under duress. In the coming weeks, we will discuss what those players off of the basketball will be doing, but on the ball we want that arm's length pressure to be applied consistently.

Three Methods - Guarding the Ball
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If you liked the ideas in this post I would urge you to subscribe to my website and YouTube Channel for future content. If you have any drills that you really like on this topic feel free to leave them in the comments or get in touch with me.

Coach Lynch Contact Info:

Twitter - @CoachLynch_21

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