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Teaching Your Basketball Team to Play Man to Man Defense

Updated on March 7, 2012

Teaching Man to Man Defense

Lots of people play man to man defense, but many coaches do not teach their players to do it the right way. There are several ways to teach your players to play man to man defense, and I am going show you the way I do it. The best way to teach man to man defense is to break it completely apart. You have to coach each and every part and shell them if you want to have effective man to man defense. You can't rely on one or two guys to shut down the scores on the other team, because lets face it some teams offense is just too good. The way I like to break it down is as follows:

  1. defending the middle
  2. defending the wing
  3. defending the lateral screen
  4. defending the down screen
  5. 3 on 3 single spacing
  6. 5 on 5 defensive drops

In this blog I will be discussing the first three and in another blog I will discuss the other three. This is so the blog is not huge.

Defending the Middle

The first aspect of man to man defense that we cover is what we call defending the middle. Defend the middle is where we place one offensive player against one defensive player. You can look at the diagram to the right as I describe exactly what takes place. The offensive player is going to start at half court at the volley ball line. The defensive player starts at the foul line. There is a coach on one side of the offensive player. At the whistle the coach will pass the ball to the offensive player, the defensive player then sprints up and tries to stop the offensive player from getting to the rim. Now there are several key items that we work on during this drill. They are listed below:

  1. Breaking Down: Where the defensive player breaks down into their defensive stance after he sprints out. He has his hands out, and playing the offensive player straight up.
  2. Drop Stepping: We focus on how to give up some ground without letting the offensive player blow right by them and we work on foot work.
  3. Bodying Up: When an offensive player gets into the paint we practice putting a body on them. If the offensive player wants to get to the rim, we try to make it to where he must go through a defensive player.
  4. Boxing Out: When the offensive player shoots, it is imperative that we get a high hand on the shooter then turn and box out. After we seal the offensively player off, then explode up to get the ball.

If the drill is done correctly, all these skills will be practiced. We usually do this for about 4 mins. switching offense and defense at the 2min. mark.

Defend the Middle

Defending the Wing

This is the second drill that we work on when we shell our man to man defense. This is another one offensive player verses one defensive player. We run this drill for around four minutes each day switching offense and defense at the two minute mark. The offensive player starts on the wing and the defensive player starts in help position between the coach and the player he is guarding. The coach is located at the top of the key. All of this is shown in the diagram to the right. On the whistle the coach passes the offensive player the ball and the defensive player closes out forcing the offensive player toward the baseline (which is where the help will come from) and away from the middle (where there is no help). We emphasis the following defensive concepts:

  1. closing out: we break down defensive very close on the wing, forcing the player baseline. We cannot allow the offensive player to the middle.
  2. Drop stepping: During this drill we still want to emphasis the proper way to drop step to ensure that the offensive player cannot blow right by us.
  3. Boxing Out: Again when the offensive player shoots, we want to emphasis that the defensive players first responsibility is to box out.

Defending the Wing

Defend the Lateral Screen

This is our third drill we cover when working on our man to man defense. This drill is two offensive against two defensive. There is one offensive player at the top of the key and one offensive player on a wing. The defensive players are each guarding a offensive player and there is a coach on the opposite wing. The rules for this drill is that the offensive players must play on only the side of the floor that the coach is not on. The ball starts at the top of the key and on the whistle the offensive player passes the ball to the coach and then screens away. The offensive player on the wing then comes to the top of the key and the coach passes him the ball back. The defense will work on the following items:

  1. Hedging to the ball: we want our defensive players off the ball to be in position to help if the defender on the ball gets beat.
  2. jumping to the pass: when the offensive player passes the ball we want the defensive player to take a step or two backwards and then slide toward the direction the ball was thrown. This will prevent the offensive player from front cutting and also give space for the other defensive player to get around the screen.
  3. closing out on the wing: when the ball is on the wing we want to play him tight and force him baseline.
  4. getting through the single space: we want to teach our players to go under the screen and try to get into the passing lane

Defending the Lateral Screen


Each of these drills build upon one another. It is like math. You can't do multiplication unless you can add. Well, you can't play man to man defense if you can't break down and drop step. You can't do algebra unless you can multiply. Just like you can't defend an offensive team if you can't hedge to the ball, jump to the pass, and get through the single space. We use these drills with our high school players, but they can be broken down even further for middle school players.


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