Man to Man defense


Man to Man Defenses refers to each player on the floor being assigned to or responsible for one player on the opposing team. A Zone Defense refers to guarding an area of the floor.

Man to Man Defenses can put more pressure on each team member to carry out their assignment. With a Zone Defense, you can protect a player who may be a poor defender or is in foul trouble.

It is sometimes easier to pinpoint a defensive mistake with Man to Man. An error in a Zone can be harder to detect.

To play good Man to Man Defense, you must be able to do the following.

  1. Guard the dribble. This means the player who is being guarded with the ball has a defender that is keeping them from going in their intended direction. Not allowing the offensive player to dictate where they are going. It means not getting beat on a drive, and we use the phrase “Keep the Ball in Front.” Don’t allow the offensive player to get an angle on the drive. The game of basketball is all about angles. Getting the angle to your advantage and keeping your opponent from getting the angle they want.
  2. Deny Passes. Keeping the ball from the player, you are guarding helps your defense become stronger. Not allowing a team to pass the ball wherever and whenever they want to will cause them frustration. To keep a team from easily moving the ball, you must teach your players how to get into a Passing Line and take passes away.
  3. Play Helpside. Helpside defense refers to when a player is more than one pass away on the court. If it would take more than one pass away or it would take a very long pass, then that defender will be in Help side. The reason Helpside is essential is that if a team member gets best on the dribble, another team member must see that occurring and come over to stop the ball.
  4. Contest Shots. Every time an opponent takes a shot a defender will get a hand up to contest the shot. Not to block the shot, but to challenge the shot. Trying to take the shooter’s attention off the rim for a split second and causing a distraction. To Contest a Shot a defender wants to get one hand up toward the shooter. We like to get our wrist back, so it will discourage the hand going forward to create a foul. We teach to get the hand up high (the defender can jump up, but jump has to go straight up and toward the shooter)
  5. Block Out. Even the best teams only shoot around 50%. That means there are a lot of opportunities to rebound the ball. Keeping an opponent from getting second shots off offensive rebounds needs to be part of every team’s defensive goals  When blocking out-teach your players to do so by making contact on the offensive player, rebounding with two hands, chinning the ball (protecting from the offense and being on balance.



For players at the beginner level, Man to Man Defense is the best option because it is the most effective way for players to learn Defensive Fundamentals.

A Zone Defense can be very effective to use, but if you want your players to learn how to defend and the best way for them to increase their skill level on defense Man to Man is the preferred option.

As player because more advanced and have the experience, a Zone Defense can be handy. But a Zone takes a lot of time to teach how to run correctly. There is a lot of communication that has to occur. Players have to have awareness and see the entire floor. Zone defense requires a lot of movement (all the players moving).

So running a Zone Defense is not the best option for beginners because it can be more complicated than a Man Defense.

When I coached in college, I was a big fan of Zone Defense. We could cover a lot of ground, we could take advantage of our athletic, and with a shot, clock teams had to shoot reasonably quickly I felt we could be in a good position to rebound the ball. But this was with experienced players.

If I am coaching younger players, Man to Man Defense is the best route. It forces players to get in a stance, communicate and be aware of the ball. They slip up in one of those areas, and it is easy to see.



Even though Man to Man is a better option than Zone, there are challenges.

  1. Lack of court awareness. Maybe because of a lack of playing experience a player fails to understand where they are on the floor and where their opponent is causing them not to utilize angles and cut off points. Teaching players how to use the Baseline and Sideline gives defenders extra weapons.
  2. Lack of technique. Have not yet been taught or not mastered the proper skills to be a good defender. Where to place feet, hands, and head take time and patience on behalf of the coach.
  3. Lack of athletic ability. Just not quick enough, fast enough, strong enough or tall enough.

Each of these can be overcome by spending time on the right skills and utilizing the right drills.

Coaching knows how to put your players in the best position to be successful. Even with limitations, a player can learn to be a good defender.


As you teach Man to Man, there are three different types you can play:

Pressure Man to Man Defense

In Pressure Man to Man you are putting intense pressure on the ballhandler, and taking away all passing lanes. This can cause more turnovers from the offense, but it can to missed assignments and getting too far out of position. Defenders one pass away are on the Passing Line (the line between the Passer and the Intended receiver) with their head in the passing lane. This makes any pass challenging to complete. It can help create offense at times since defenders will get too far extended.

Regular Man to Man Defense

You can pressure the ball and deny passing lanes, but you are not overextending your defense.  Defenders here will have a hand in the Passing Line, but not their head. This keeps them on balance and can keep a vision of both the ball and their opponent.

Soft Man to Man Defense

With Soft Man to Man, you are set up not to get beat on drives, and you will not have players getting beat on back cuts.


Defensive Stance- The first thing you need to teach your players to be a good defender is the proper stance. Players need to have a broad base (feet apart) and be on balance. Avoid feet coming together. They can move quicker and more effectively when their feet are apart. The knees are bent, and the back is straight. A reminder for players is to get their head below their opponent’s shoulders. This put them in the position to stay low. Get low by bending the knees and not the back. By bending the knees, it will allow the player to have the right balance. Bending the end does not allow a lower stance. It is creating a situation where the upper body now is leading the position. Everything on defense starts with the feet. When you want your players to put pressure on the basketball tell them to “Pressure the ball with their feet.”

  • Defensive Position – Players will be in one of three positions when they are on defense.
  • On the bal– The individual, you are guarding has the ball.
  • Denial – The individual you are guarding is one pass away from the ball.
  • Helpside – The Individual you are guarding is more than one pass away from the ball.
  • The Ball Side and Help Side.  Knowing the two sides of the floor.   Show your players how the floor is divided. A good defensive player will straddle the line between Help Side and Ball Side. The reason for this is to be prepared to react quickly if a teammate gets beat on a drive or a pass.
  • Vision-A defender must be able to see both their opponent and the ball. Using peripheral vision to keep eys on the ball and their opponent. Teach to look straight ahead, but see both ball and defender out of the corner of the eyes.



  1. Anticipation. Once players understand the proper Defensive Skills they need to be able to anticipate the upcoming action of the offense. Teach your players how to be on their toes and ready and not to always react on defense. If they are always reacting that gives the offense the advantage.
  2. Communication. Great defensive players and teams know how to communicate. To start use there three calls.
    1. “Ball”-Telling your teammates you are guarding the player with the ball.
    2. “Deny”-You are denying the next pass.
    3. “Help”-Ready to give help on any drives or passes.
  3. Determination. Skill and knowledge are key, but any good defender has to have the attitude of keeping their opponent from scoring.



A good man to man defense takes patience to build. You have to first teach your players the right skills through repetition. Then you have to show them how to utilize those skills by being in the correct stance and position. Finally, you put it all together and explain to them how it works as a unit.  Because playing Defense is a skill it can be taught. Players can learn how to play it effectively even if they are limited physically.  By putting in the time with the correct instruction, you will your Man to Man Defense get better and better as the season rolls along.