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The Principles of Good Defense – Five Golden Rules

By Carl Normandin on January 08, 2015 basketball Print

Most defensive schemes in high school basketball have Five Golden Rules. These rules are the cornerstones for most competitive basketball programs. If teams employ all of these tactics, they will be difficult to beat.


By pressuring the ball, you can intimidate. When you intimidate, you frustrate your offensive opponents, and force them into mistakes. You do not wait for turnovers; you want to make them happen. Your players must constantly think "turnover."

  1. Proper Stance – knee benders, not back breakers.
  2. When guarding the ball, the head should be over the center of the body. Don't lean one way or the other. Bend knees to get a low center of gravity. Weight should be on the ball of the feet, with palms up. Keep your hands active, but don't let your elbows go out from the body.
  3. Head on ball – when guarding a player who is dribbling the ball, position yourself so that you make the ball-handler change direction.
  4. Fight over the top – when screened or pinched, you must fight through it.
  5. Deny the ball – to the offensive player(s) who is one pass away.
  6. "Dead" – Dead-Dead is a verbal cue that the offense has given up its dribble. At this point everyone must deny their player the ball. The offensive player with the ball should be crowded by the defensive player guarding the ball.
  7. Don't Reach In – Don't Reach In.


You will have an advantage over every team you play because on defense, you are playing five people against the ball.

  1. Regardless of the defensive alignment, the defensive player who is two or more passes away from the ball must take several strong side steps to the ball in support of your teammate guarding the ball (thus reducing all driving and passing lanes).
  2. Keep the Triangle – Ball-You-Player. Keep one hand pointing toward your opponent, the other hand flicking toward the ball. Keep your "head on a swivel" and "see the ball" and "find the ball."
  3. Always be ready to help a teammate.


You must always try to deny all penetrating passes and cuts.

  1. No one crosses in front of you. Do not let any opposing player cut between you and the ball. Make him go around you.
  2. Take the charge.
  3. Take two steps toward the ball when it is passed.
  4. Anticipate your player's moves and beat the player to the cut.


No opponent will have access to the baseline.

  1. Any opponent low and on the ball side will be covered player to player. This is the only instance in which the "triangle" can be broken.
  2. Wrap Around – when defending the low post, the top hand and foot should be in passing lane. When defending the high post, wrap around on the low or bottom side.


Everyone must "check" off their assigned players before they go after the rebound.

  1. Run and Attack – Find your person and focus on his center of gravity (Belly button area).
  2. Read and Turn – As your person cuts to get around you, read the player’s move and pivot to box out.
  3. Don't go over the top of a player to grab a rebound.
  4. If your opponent has grabbed the rebound, don't try to "slap" it away.

Communication – both verbal and nonverbal –  is critical for a successful defensive-oriented team.


About the Author: Carl Normandin, CAA, is director of interscholastic athletics and executive director of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Section 10 office in Canton, New York. He previously was a teacher, coach and athletic director. Normandin is a member of the NFHS Coaches Publications Committee.