Man-to-Man Defense – Drills for On and Off Ball Defense

By Rory Hamilton

Drills for On and Off Ball Defense is part 2 of a 5 part series on drills that can help any man-to-man defensive system. Read Part 1, Man-to-Man Defense – 2 Essential Questions here.

In this first post on building a comprehensive drill package for any man defense, we are going to look at two drills used to reinforce guarding the ball and increasing defensive vision and awareness away from the ball.  Both of these drills can be used in season as well as during the off-season.

Zig-Zag Alley

Drill Set-up: Split your team into groups of two and line them up on the baseline.  A coach will be at the top of the key on the other end of the floor.

Zig Zag

The drill starts with defensive player handing the offensive player the ball and assuming a legal guarding position. The offensive player establishes triple threat and looks to beat the defensive player 1 on 1 in the alley (lane to sideline). The goal of the defensive player is to get the offense to change directions twice before half court. Once the offensive player reaches half court, he or she will pass to the coach at the top of the key. The defensive must sprint to the level of the ball and communicate “help.” The offensive player continues to the wing and uses a V-cut or L-cut to get open on the wing. The coach then will pass the ball to the player on the wing and defense closes out according to your defensive principles. On a catch, the offensive player only has three dribbles and must stay on one side of the floor. When guarding the offensive player and finishing the drill, coaches make sure each shot is challenged and followed by a box-out. You can make this drill competitive and have punitive consequences based upon what your team needs. For example, if you are having difficulty challenging shots than make every shot not contested have a consequence. Find what your team needs and make it a priority in the drill.


2 on 2 Vision Drill


Drill Set-up: Two offensive players 1 and 2 in the slot and wing position and two defenders X1 and X2. Players 4 and 5 can be players, coaches, or managers.


On coaches whistle or command “exchange,” the offensive players exchange spots and both X1 and X2  open up, jump to the ball and fight thru exchange 1 player removed. After players exchange, coach passes to player in the slot and both defenders assume guarding position. X1 closes out with high hands choppy feet yelling “ball” and X2 sprints to help or deny depending on your defensive philosophy.


1 passes back to player 4 and again exchanges with offensive player on the wing and both defensive players open up, jump to the ball and fight thru exchange 1 player removed. During any point in the drill when the coach has the ball on the wing he/she may pass to the corner and the corner player drives the ball hard to the basket.


The low player in the help side “I” meets offensive player outside of the paint and the top side “I” defender helps the helper and takes the hoop. The offensive player or coach passes back out to either offensive player 1 or 2 and then the defense must closeout and play live. X1 an X2 must communicate and scramble accordingly. X2 takes 1st pass out and X1 sprints to help.

Both of these drills will help you and your players become better at not only guarding the ball, but improving vision away from the ball.

Up Next: Two new drills targeting post defense and helping the helper:  4 on 4 backside and 3-guard 4 disadvantage

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Rory Hamilton

Rory Hamilton has 21 years of basketball coaching experience at the collegiate and high school level. Coach Hamilton is the current girls basketball coach at Norman North High School. In 5 years his team has posted a 85-49 record, won four mid-season tournament titles and appeared in five 6A area tournaments. In 2019, Norman North won the silver ball losing in the 6A state championship game to Norman High School. Coach Hamilton was named Central Oklahoma Conference girls coach of the year along with earning Oklahoma Girls Basketball Coaches Association Large Class All-State coach. Prior to Norman North, he served as the head girls coach at Mount St. Mary Catholic High School in Oklahoma City, OK. In seven years at MSM, he posted a 108-75 record and is the winningest girls coach in school history. Coach Hamilton led the Rockets to three consecutive 4A state tournament appearances. In 2011-2012, the Rockets had a 20-7 record and made it to the state tournament for the first time in school history. The next year in 2012-2013, the Rockets posted a 25-6 record and earned the silver ball, losing in the 4A state championship game to Fort Gibson. In 2013-2014, the Rockets posted a 23-7 record and lost to Anadarko in the 4A state tournament semifinals. Coach Hamilton was named Central Oklahoma Conference coach of the year three times and was selected to coach the Little All-City all-star game three consecutive years from 2012-2014. Coach Hamilton has coached 6 NCAA Division 1 players, 6 NCAA Division II players and several playing at the NAIA and NJCAA levels.
August 31, 2016 – August 31, 2016 – Foto : Abwehr von Maodo LO ( GER ) gegen Adama Darboe Basketball EM Qualifikation in Kiel , Gruppenspiel Deutschland – Denmark….Photo Defence from Maodo Lo ger against Adama Darbo Basketball euro Qualification in Leng Group game Germany Denmark (Credit Image: � Imago via ZUMA Press)

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