Teaching Basketball Defense for Beginners

How to Teach Defense to Beginners

Imagine you’re a fresh faced new coach and there are 8-10 six year-olds looking up at you wondering what will happen at practice today. It’s a scary thought that you are going to mold these children into great basketball players.

As cute as they all are, they aren’t ready for the intensity that great defense takes, but they are ready to learn all the fundamentals of good defense. You will have to instill that intensity in them.

No matter a player’s age, these tips on basketball defense will help them become better players and create an atmosphere of intensity on your team.

Defense is the backbone of winning teams and if your team doesn’t understand the fundamentals, they will quickly come apart at the seams.

Confidently look at those young faces and tell them “Today we are working on defense.”

Basketball Defense for Beginnersbasketball defense

When teaching defense to beginners, we need to get their bodies in the right position and teach them how to move their feet efficiently.

Teach your players to squat ever so slightly, feet just outside shoulder width, with their arms spread like they are expecting a huge hug.

Have the players get comfortable in this position by shifting their weight back and forth and bending their knees.

This position can be awkward for new players so it is important to get them moving while in this position.

Have them shuffle their feet on cue.

  • Hold a basketball up and have them follow it by shuffling their feet quickly in the direction you point with the ball.
  • Take them left, right, forward, and back.
  • Make them move with purpose and have them change direction frequently.

This simple drill gets your players comfortable moving in a defensive position. It is essential that they grasp staying in this position, not crossing their feet when moving, and cutting off the ball handler.

Footwork is the Most Important Aspect

Mastering this footwork will take a lot of your practice time. Beginners learning Basketball defense mainly struggle with the footwork.

The concept of a slight crouch and then moving side to side is foreign to them. Fortunately, with the initial drill you ran, they should be ready for the next step of the defensive footwork.

This involves angling the body to force an offensive player in the direction you need. You want them to angle the offensive player towards help. Or angle so that the offensive player must use their weaker hand.

Teaching this portion of defense can be done by starting two players at one end of the court, and then having them zig zag within an 8 foot to 10 foot range. Have the defender follow the offensive player, changing their angle with every zig.

basketball defensive drill

This forces the defender to change how they think about defending the ball handler by reinforcing the concept of shuffling and staying at an angle to the ball.

Keep your defenders motivated and keep your offensive players moving quickly through the drill.

Team Concepts

Teaching team concepts on defense will be the toughest part of the process. Some coaches will teach a Packed Line defense to keep fundamentals strong and teach the idea of helping the teammate next to you.

This concept can be very easy to understand even for the very young, and the Packed Line defense is a variation on man to man defense.

Whether you choose this strategy or a Zone defense, you need to make sure your players understand to follow the ball and help defend if a player gets blown by. Teach them to move to the ball and help their teammate.

This will take quite a bit of effort even at higher levels of basketball, because players get lost in the schemes we teach them.

In man to man defense, players tend to stand next the player they are guarding regardless of what the ball is doing.

In Zone defense, players have a bad habit of standing around and getting lazy with any help.

Players need to be engaged in the activity and off the ball defense isn’t as interesting as on the ball.

We have to keep players engaged by teaching them to stay closer to their teammates. This will teach them to be ready for when the ball comes to their side. It also creates an active mind that is concerned with being closer to their teammates and looking to help constantly.

This concept works in both man to man and zone defenses.

This video breaks down defensive concepts that you can also teach.

Teaching Defensive Intensity

The most important concept to teach beginners is to bring intensity on every defensive possession. Intensity breeds success on defense. Intensity on defense leads to points on offense.

No team that is on it’s heels defensively will succeed offensively.

The way we teach this, is by congratulating and hyping up defensive plays. Get the players excited about steals and defensive rebounds. Help them to find their energy on the defensive end and get them out into fast break situations from great defensive play.

Those fresh young faces need to get little grimaces of intensity and be ready for anything on the defensive end of the floor.

No matter how many offensive fundamentals you teach, defense will still always win basketball games.

I tell my players that if we hold the other team to zero, we only need one basket to win.

buying guide conclusion


Basketball defense for beginners is a process of keeping your players engaged in the concept of defense. What I mean by that, is that players will only be as committed to defense as you teach. Bring them along in Sportsmanship as well.

Once you have the fundamental drills in place and a general understanding of the concepts down, it will be time to take your team to an intense level.

Intensity on defense, and creating turnovers, will give your team the excitement and glory that defense deserves.

It has been said a million times, but defense wins championships.

What are some of the challenges you faced teaching beginners? Are there any tip or tricks that you would add?

Hopefully we have given you the basics of teaching basketball defense for beginners. We look forward to hearing how it has helped you!