You have to make a conscious decision to shift your mindset In order to be a great defensive player. As a high school player I focused primarily on my offensive game. I wanted to be able to score, handle the ball, and pass. Not that I was bad on defense, but it was definitely a secondary priority. When I got to college at Kent State I spent a large portion of my freshman year sitting on the bench. I learned a lot about defensive fundamentals and competing hard on that end of the floor during my first year of division one basketball practices. As my sophomore year began I realized that four starters with solid offensive games were returning. There was one open spot in the starting lineup at the two guard position. I knew what my coach was looking for from that fifth starter. Defense! I went from being a 22 point per game scorer in high school to a player capable of guarding the best opposing perimeter players in college. What changed? Simple, my mindset. I just decided I was going to become a good defender because that is what I needed to do to play. I wasn’t the quickest or strongest player, but I had a defensive mindset. Defense became important to me. It was a matter of pride for me to try and shut down my opponent. I wasn’t always successful, but because of my defensive effort I usually made things tough on the player I was matched up with. You can be a good defensive player if it is important to you. If it’s not you won’t.
Want to become a better defender? Always guard the other team’s best player. I’m talking especially during pickup games or practice situations where your coach is not telling you who to guard. Look for challenges. Get out of your comfort zone. Test your defensive abilities against the best player the other team has to offer. Make this a habit and watch your defensive skills improve steadily over time.
You must be willing to open your mouth and talk to your teammates. Call out screens, cuts, positioning, switches, etc. You must also listen when your teammates are talking to you. Remember that communication is a two-way street. You must speak AND listen for communication to be effective. A quiet team is a losing team.
If you are lower than your opponent you will have better balance and be in position to react immediately to what your opponent does. When you stand straight up or allow the offense to get lower than you, chances are you’ll get beat. So much of being a good defender is maintaining your balance. By staying low you’ll increase your chances of remaining balanced and in position no matter what the offense does.
By keeping your eyes locked on your opponent’s midsection you are much less likely to be faked out than if you are watching their feet, hands, or eyes.
You should always be in position where you can see the ball and see your “man”. One way to do this is to always be one step below the invisible straight line connecting the ball to your man. This principle requires you to constantly move and readjust your position as the ball and your man move around the court. You should never be standing flat-footed and still on the defensive end of the court.
Your hands should be in motion when you are guarding the ball. Try to mirror the ball with one hand when your opponent has picked up his or her dribble. Get one hand in the passing lane and one hand down by the ball when your opponent is dribbling. You want to make the offensive player feel as if your hands are everywhere.
Most players don’t like to dribble, shoot, or pass under duress. Think about the type of defensive player you don’t like playing against. They probably are constantly right up in your personal space, harassing your every move, making it difficult for you to be effective. Guess what? If you don’t like playing against that type of player neither does anyone else. You need to become that type of defender, one that puts constant pressure on the ballhandler and makes their life miserable because everywhere they go you are right there too!
When closing out on an opponent that has the ball, sprint about 2/3 of the way and then begin to break down into short choppy steps as you approach your opponent. Your hands should be up to discourage your opponent from shooting and your weight should be on back foot so you can react quickly if they drive to the basket. Never jump or use big steps when closing out. If you do, your opponent will blow by you while your feet are off the floor.
Unless you’re a gifted athlete with long arms and great leaping ability don’t jump to try and block shots. For every shot you block you’ll commit many silly fouls or get faked out of position. You’ll do yourself and your team more good by staying on your feet, getting a hand (or two) up, and obstructing the shooter’s vision.
Anytime a pass is made by the offense each defensive player should adjust his or her position by jumping to the ball. This simply means taking an immediate step or two in the direction of the pass while keeping an eye on your man and the ball. By jumping to the ball you can force a cutter to go behind you and get into helpside defensive position much quicker. A great defensive team is always made up of players that jump to the ball whenever a pass is made.
As an offensive player I want you to lunge for the ball, get off-balance, and be out of position so I can attack you. Don’t lunge for the ball. This is true when guarding the ball or when you are a help defender. Stay on balance and maintain proper defensive positioning.
Avoid foul trouble
You can’t help your team if you’re sitting on the bench. Two tips for avoiding fouls: Play help defense with your feet and your body, don’t just stick a hand out when you help a teammate. Don’t try to block shots, get a hand up and stay on your feet. If you follow these two tips you’ll cut down on your fouls dramatically.
If you and your teammates will commit to sprinting back on defense every single possession you will prevent many easy baskets over the course of the season. Those baskets can turn potential wins into losses. It takes no talent at all to sprint hard in transition. It just takes discipline.
A good defensive player tries to think ahead about what their opponent is likely to do next. Oftentimes, this leads to a split second advantage that allows the defender to steal a pass, take a charge, or bump a cutter. The more you play the more you’ll be able to “see” what’s about to happen giving you a head start on getting a defensive stop. Play the game, think the game, and study the game . When you do all three you’ll be able to use anticipation to help you become a force on defense.
An underrated skill on defense is the ability to fake. Take a quick step at a dribbler to see if they’ll pick up their dribble. Look away with your eyes and bait a passer into throwing a pass that you’re ready to intercept. There all sorts of opportunities like these throughout a game. Look for them and then incorporate fakes into your defensive game plan.
The defensive possession doesn’t end until you get the rebound. Don’t work hard for 20 or 30 seconds and then let your opponent sneak in for an offensive rebound. Box out with authority every time a shot goes up!
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