In my opinion one of the most difficult things to teach young players is where they should be standing on defense when they are not guarding the ball. I am going to give you a great tool that will give your players a visual aide of where they should stand when on the help-side. This is all to be incorporated into the “White Line” philosophy. This is typically done in the first day(s) of practice or in the Summer.
The first thing you need to do is head to your local hardware store and purchase about 200 ft. of rope (Something like this rope at Lowe’s will work http://goo.gl/e9wu3, it will cost you about $30 +/- but this will last you forever). Regardless of what you purchase, you will need four separate pieces of rope that are 50 ft. apiece. Once you have all four pieces, slightly burn the tips of each end of the rope to melt the fibers and prevent the rope from fraying. OK almost done, depending on your Boy/Girl Scout skills, you will need to tie all five pieces of the rope together at one end using the least amount of rope as possible; or if you have an older basketball I would suggest possibly tightly taping the rope to the ball.
Now you are ready to teach. Place your offense on the court in a 4 around 1 or 4 around 2 typical offensive set-up and then throw the defense onto the court. This is usually what it will look like.
Now hand the knot/basketball to the 1 man and give each of the other four offensive players an end of the other four pieces of rope. This will create the “line of the ball” from each offensive player to the other. Each help-side defender needs to be up the line of the ball with their hand on the line. I would suggest individually placing each defender in the correct place to show them where they should be standing. Resulting in the diagram below.
All four help defenders should be in an athletic position ready to help on the drive or closeout to their man if the ball is passed. This is where some coaches have different philosophies and I would not say any of them are wrong. Some coaches teach having the inside hand and foot (closest to ball) up in the passing lane/line of the ball to deflect the ball; so your body is almost perpendicular to the line of the ball. Whereas other coaches prefer to teach a more squared stance in which the defensive player can run through the passing lane if the pass is made with the outside hand (closest to man) as they think this makes it easier to steal the ball. Personally, I find option #2 to be very dangerous as young players love gambling to make the big steal and more times than not will end up getting burned.
What I teach is somewhat of a combination of both. I think that each help defender should be up the line of the ball as pictured above, almost halfway between the ball and their man (This is determined on how far your man is from the ball and their threat as a shooter). I teach to have the inside hand (closest to the ball) up and in the passing lane palm facing the ball. This where I somewhat incorporate option #2 from above. Rather than also having the inside foot up the line of the ball, I prefer a more open stance; not necessarily an “open” stance where you are squared to the line of the ball, but I would have their body at about a 15 degree angle off the line of the ball. This not only allows for a comfortable position to have the hand on the line, but it also minimizes the amount of time/movement it takes for the help to turn and step to help on penetration.
Now that you have put all of your players in the correct defensive positions, move the ball/knot around to each player on offense to show the defensive positioning depending on where the ball is. I would also rotate the offensive players to different areas of the court so the defense can learn where to be on the different areas of the court when helping. (Rotate Offensive/Defensive players so every player gets a chance to do this on all areas of the court).
Make sure every player understands the correct positioning and answer ALL of their questions before removing the ropes. Once you have taken out the ropes, have the offense pass the ball around (each player hold the ball for app. 3 seconds). One other teaching point during this segment is to teach the defense to jump to the ball as it is being passed. For example, below if 1 passes to 4, everyone on defense should “jump to the ball” and into their correct defensive position.
Force the term “Hand on the Rope” into your players minds so it becomes second nature to them on defense. As the season progresses, a simple “Hand on the Rope” should alert them to get in the correct position on defense. If you ever need a simple refresher in the middle of practice, there is no need to pull out the ropes. Simply just roll the ball from one player to the other as this will also illustrate the line of the ball.
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I will leave you with this quote from Lawrence Frank that I think EVERY coach should utilize, “We’re not just going to teach you plays. We’re going to teach you how to play, and then we’ll teach you plays.”