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Lost In Space

by Ed Riley

Let's play a little guessing game. I give you the clues, and you tell me who I am or what I am talking about. Remember, basketball is a game and games are supposed to be fun. So, if I extrapolate from there, (big 50 cent word for me, huh?) then basketball books should be a little fun as well, right? OK, so here we go.

Clue #1 Intruder alert! Intruder alert!

Clue #2 Who is quicker, me or them?

Clue #3 What do Fred Astaire, a young John Travolta, Julia Stiles, N'Sync, and you have in common?

Clue #4 "I once caught a fish, this big," is a line and a scene from the movie "DAVE." It's what Kevin Kleine was doing when he said this.

Clue #5 It's a basketball quote, "When everything else fails, you still have your _______?

OK, stop! Scroll back up and take your worst guesses, then scroll back down to here. OK, the answers are:

Got it, or give up? I'm talking about DEFENSE.

Clue #1 is when you take the court you need to feel like you own that court. So when the other team takes the court, they are invading your home, thus...Intruder Alert!

Clue #2 about who's quicker, has to do with spacing.

Clue #3 had to do with footwork, thus dancers.

Clue #4 has Kevin Kline spreading out his mechanical arms as far as they would spread. On defense you have to keep your hands up.

Clue #5 is "When everything else fails, you still have your DEFENSE."

Defense is all about spacing, footwork, keeping your hands up and out, and attitude. Maybe the hardest part for someone to understand is the spacing, so let's tackle that first.

Lost In Space

One of the first things a defensive player needs to figure out in a game is, is the player you are guarding quicker than you are? The answer to this, determines how far away from your opponent you play.

In Your Face Defense

Let's assume that you know for a fact that you are much quicker than your opponent, and that they have the ball. Then you play "In Your Face Defense," or IYFD. This means that you are always within one arm's length of your player when they have the ball. If they fake you out away from the basket, then you should be quick enough to catch up with them and still stop them.

I tell my girls in this situation that I want them closer enough to smell the other player's breath. My girls gave me that Eewww, gross! look when I said this the first time. But, they soon learned what I meant by that. Now they make jokes about what the other players had for lunch.

You're Quick - I'm Smarter Defense

When the player you are guarding has the ball and is quicker than you, then your spacing is not IYFD. If they are 15' or more away from the basket, then be at least two arm lengths away from the quick player you are guarding. If they start to drive on you, this spacing gives you more of a chance to stay with them on defense.

My daughter is a great example of this. Crash is 5'9" and 155 lbs. (She used to be 177 lbs.) At 5'9" and 155 lbs., you wouldn't think of her as being quick enough to be a defensive whiz. If she isn't the best defensive player on my team, then I don't know who is. This girl is just as good against a super quick guard, as she is against a wide body forward. Why? She has spacing down to a science.

I'm not trying to brag, I'm trying to make a point. And Crash is my "Crash Dummy". If a wide body player with average speed can guard a super quick guard, simply because of spacing, then we all need to take a serious look at this.

When Crash is guarding a "Superstar" guard who has the ball, Crash will play as many as 3 arm lengths away from the girl. As the girl approaches the basket, that 3 arm lengths goes to two, and then to one the closer she gets to the basket. It's kind of hard to drive around someone who is that far away from you.

If Crash is guarding a forward who is slower than she is, she puts a body on the forward and stays within 6 inches of her girl. Crash puts one hand in front of the opposing player to block any passes, and the other hand stays between the player she is guarding and the basket. Not only is it hard for a forward to receive a pass like this, but once they get the ball, what are they going to do with it, shoot? Crash blocks a lot of shots every game because of this spacing.

Weak Side vs Ball Side

This is where you might get to stretch for a moment. Do you have one of those dry erase boards with a basketball court imprinted on one side? You know, the kind you see coaches draw plays on for their players during a game. OK, go grab it. If you don't have one, grab a sheet of paper and a pen.

Got everything? Good! Now I'm going to talk to those who are using paper. The rest of you with the boards can start at the appropriate time. Now draw a halfcourt with free-throw line and all. Now draw a line down the middle of your 1/2 court from the middle of the baseline under the basket to the 1/2 court line. This should give you two equal halves of your half court. If I lost you, reread this again and then do it. Now do you've a right side and a left side of your half court? Alrighty then!

Now you only need one more item and we can continue on with this very long project. Now you need a coin. I would prefer a Susan B. Anthony dollar, but I guess any old coin will do. (I just have rich tastes.) So now you have your paper or board with your half court divided in half, and you have a coin.

Imagine the coin is the player with the ball. Put the ball on the right side of your half court. Now the right side is called ball side, or strong side. The left side is called weak side.

Now place the coin, player with ball, on the left side of your court. Now your left side is your ball side, and your right side is your weak side. So, duh, whatever side the ball is on is your ball side. Whatever side the ball taint on is your weak side.

Why did I make this so complicated? I bet my wife I could get a bunch of grown adults, (duh, most adults are grown), to draw on dry erase boards and paper when it wasn't necessary. OK, I wanted to make sure you wouldn't forget, OK? Let's get back to defense.

Again, Weak Side vs. Ball Side Defense

It doesn't matter whether your player has the ball for this. If the player you are guarding is on the ball side and within 15' of the basket, you play more of an IYFD.

If your player is on the weak side, then you play them 2 arm lengths or more away from them. You position yourself between the player, the ball, and the basket. Here are the benefits of playing the weak side this way. If at all possible, weak side players should be standing in the paint or real close to it.

  1. If someone tries to pass to your player, then you can still intercept the pass.
  2. If your teammate on the strong side loses their player, then you can slide over and stop their player from driving to the basket. Some people call this a sagging defense.
  3. If your player does get the ball, you are still in position to stop them from driving to the basket.

I don't know about you folks, but I am kinda bored with this. Don't misunderstand me, what I just gave you is probably one of the most important things to learn. Defense wins games. It's just that I think we both need a short break, so let's break out the anti-bored serum.

Now You See It - Now You Don't

A friend of mine, Dave, runs a summer league for average teams. It's not for the super elite club teams, but it's a great parish league for the average team. Dave and I are even good enough friends that we co-coached our daughters' AAU 11 and under team.

Here's the rest of the background. A guy named Tom is the Lay-Director of basketball for this parish. He is also, quite possibly, the worst referee that has ever set foot on a hardwood court.

Last spring Tom reffed a game and called 30 fouls in the first half, by himself. The other ref called a total of 2 fouls. By the end of the game, Tom had called over 50 fouls. A normal game takes at most, an hour to play. This game lasted almost two hours. At the end of the game, one team only had four players left that had not fouled out.

Here's the last bit of info that you need to know before I can go on. The girls who kept track of the scores and fouls at the scorer's table, were all 6th-8th graders that went to that parish. And, away we go.....

I had a game there and found out that Tom was going to referee the game. I knew I was screwed because my girls have always played hard physical basketball. I knew that it would be a long game with the other team shooting a lot of free throws. So, I called my buddy, Dave, and told him what I had planned and told him he had to be there to see this.

Next I went to one of my favorite stores in the world, Spencer Gifts. I truly do love that store. I bought my supplies for the game, and I was ready for the next step.

I called up the coach we were going to play against, he was another friend of mine, and told him my plans. After regaining his composure, he agreed to be a party to my plan. Before the game, I met with the opposing coach and gave him his supplies.

As you already know, before the game, you have to fill out the scorebook with your player's names and numbers. Well, right before the game, and I mean right before the tip off, I filled out the book and made sure I handed it to Tom, the ref. He's pretty anal retentive, so after CAREFULLY scrutinizing the scorebook, he handed it to the scorers. The whole time I was sweating like a gutted pig.

The game began and within the first two minutes Tom called a grand total of 6 fouls. As he looked to the scorer's table to tell them the number of the offending player, this is what he saw. Both young girls were rifling through all of the papers on the scorer's table. From the looks on their faces, they were desperate.

When Tom couldn't get their attention, he called a referee's time-out and walked to the table. When these girls saw him coming, they straightened up and one of them said, "I'm sorry, who was the foul on?" Tom told them, blew his whistle and started the game.

As soon as the game started, these two girls started going through everything on their table. They looked under their chair, under the table, and they even looked on the stage behind them. I felt sorry for them, because the other coach and I had filled out the scorer's book with disappearing ink.

It wasn't another thirty seconds before the next foul was called. Tom looked at the scorer's table and the two girls were tearing up the place trying to find the pages the other coach and I had filled out. He called another referee's time-out and walked over to them.

"What are you doing?" he asked.

"You wouldn't understand," replied one of the girls. "It's a girl thing."

Well, the other coach and I about lost it. These girls didn't want to be embarrassed about losing, not one, but both pages of player's names and numbers. And how do they cover it up? "It's a girl thing!" If that's not priceless, what is? At what age do you girls learn to use this universal female way of saying, "Don't ask?"

Tom just shook his head, and started the game again. You could tell who wore the pants in his family. Another 30 seconds went by, he called another foul. This time the girls 'fessed up and told him they had lost the pages. He stopped the game and the three of them looked all over for those pages.

Tom saw Dave and motioned him over into a conference with both coaches. Tom explained the situation and asked Dave if he would ref the game for him, and Dave agreed. Next Tom said he was going to do the scorer's table and could both coaches fill out a new page with the player's names and numbers.

The other coach and I went to the book, took both pens off of the table and filled out our pages in real ink. Then we left the two pens with disappearing ink on the table for Tom to keep score with and took the real pens with us.

Next the other coach and I asked Dave, our new ref, and my friend who was in on it, if we could take a three minute break and quickly go to the restroom. He nodded and even joined us. We didn't make it through the restroom door before all three of us lost it. We couldn't control the laughter. There was more snorting and cackling than you would ever hear at a farm.

On the way back to the gym, Dave told his daughter to go find her two girl friends who were doing the scorer's table and explain the practical joke and to tell them that no one was mad at them. I handed her two fives to give to the girls as a bribe not to tell anyone.

The game began, again. Now we were rid of the ref we didn't want, and we were waiting to see how he was going to handle keeping score with the disappearing ink. He kept writing down the players points, stare at it for a second, then proceed to watch the game.

My players were all in on the prank by now. So, I sent one of my players to the table to find out how many points she had, you could see him scratch his head and just stare at the page in front of him. Then he took his glasses off, as if this were going to help him. Then he told her to sit down and not bother the official scorer. I absolutely couldn't control it any longer. I laughed until I couldn't breathe. My throat hurt, my stomach hurt, and my head hurt. I looked over and the other coach was about in the same shape.

Somehow we made it through that game, and to this day, I don't know how. I don't know who won and I really don't care. After the game, I took Dave, his daughter, her two friends who started on the scorer's table, and my team for a milkshake. The other coach and his team met us at Ted Drew's, a milkshake icon in St. Louis, and we laughed for what seemed like hours.

Weak Side Zone Defense

Alright, I've been off-topic enough. We were talking about defense. Now it sure seems like everything I was talking about applied to m-2-m defense and not a zone defense, right? The weak side - ball side principles apply as much to zone defenses as they do m-2-m. If you are on the weak side, you stay 2 arm lengths away from the players in your assigned area. Place yourself where you can see the ball and the players in your area. Take one hand and point it at the ball. Take your other hand and point it at the player in your area. Now you are in a perfect defensive position.

Oops, I forgot something, how to position your body. You bend your knees like you are squatting and sitting on a wall about three foot high. Now you can point at the ball and the player in your area. Now you are in a perfect defensive position.

Ball Side Zone Defense

OK, so you are now playing ball side zone defense. Body Position? Your knees are bent, but you aren't going to squat quite as low as you do on the weak side. You place one hand in front of the player in your area. This way you can deny the pass. Place your other hand between the player and the basket, and you are semi-facing your player. You are now within six inches of your player. You keep your eyes on the ball, and let your body do the defense. If your player starts to move on you, you will feel them move. Now you take your eyes off of the ball, and cover your area, not the ball.

I don't care if you play m-2-m defense, or a 2-1-2, or a 2-3, or a 1-3-1, or a triangle and 2, or the OLE goobaly gock defense. THESE SPACING PRINCIPLES APPLY TO EACH AND EVERY ONE OF THEM. If you can teach your team spacing, then you will have the absolute best defensive team in your league, bar none.

I am not telling you what specific defense to play, although I will always recommend m-2-m defense, I AM teaching you something much more important than a specific defense. I am giving you the genetic building block for all defenses, SPACING.

Remember, there are more chapters coming, so come on back to this site.

Copyright by Ed Riley, Steve Jordan, Darrell Garrison and Steve MacKinney. All rights reserved

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