6 Drills to Sharpen Your Team Defense

By Matt Hackenberg

Niagara basketball team defense FastModel Sports

A breakdown of six foundational drills for high school basketball coaches that help improve overall team defense.

A good team defense sets a nice floor for your season. If your team is hard to score on, it can consistently compete in games no matter the talent level. In my coaching career I’ve settled on a package of drills to teach team defense and some of the smaller components that make up team defense. Now I want to share them with you.

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[Click on a diagram to view full drill instructions and to download it to your FastDraw library.]

Shell Drill

I thought Shell Drill was beloved universally until a recent tweet showed some pushback. Apparently, a lot of coaches like to practice their team defense 4v4, especially in Europe. Not me. I love the Shell Drill. It’s an all-encompassing progression that can be manipulated in many ways to fit your team needs at any point in a season.

I do think a coach needs to know how to use the drill. What I mean by that is, they need to understand how to progress the drill, use the various phases for the greatest benefit for their team, and how to divide up the time spent within the drill. Coaches also need to know when not to use the drill, like when their team needs a change up or once their team has graduated from being able to learn from the drill. 

To me, Shell Drill is “King.”

Koufos Rebounding Drill

The idea of teaching rebounding through game play and other drills by “emphasizing it” sounds great in theory. But I want a dedicated rebounding drill to teach technique for both defensive and offensive rebounding, while also keeping the spotlight on rebounding without diverging. At times, Koufos Rebounding can be a bit of a bloodbath, and I like the conditioning element of this drill, but I want a dedicated drill for establishing the protocol to finish possessions with your team defensive rebounding principles.

Take the Charge Drill

I’m a firm believer that the confidence to take charges in games needs unlocked in practice. Some coaches don’t emphasize taking charges. Some coaches emphasize taking charges but don’t practice them. I like to emphasize charges and practice them. 

Safety can be an issue with charges, but I believe charges become safer with a few habits specific engrained (see video below). I also happen to believe the charge is the single biggest momentum swinging play in basketball. Thus, we are going to dedicate practice time to them, usually on a weekly basis.

Gauntlet Defense Drill

Here’s drill to engrain habits in many of the smaller details on the defensive end of the court. This includes ball pressure, jumping to the ball, contesting passes, defending screens and more. I view this as more of a change-up drill to be mixed in once every week or two as a break from Shell Drill. It’s not going to teach team defense specifically, but it’s going to sharpen a lot of the smaller elements that make up your team defense.

Lanes Progression Drill

This is our primary man-to-man pressing drill. As with any progression, you need to understand where to jump into the progression and where to spend your time for the result the desired result. Maybe your team doesn’t need the warmup element, or maybe it doesn’t need the 2v1 trapping element. But if it needs to guard one-on-one in space and learn how to turn ball handlers, this is the best method I found to progress from technique, to guided, to live, to overloaded phases. 

Closeout and Contest Drill

Again, I view this drill as more of a change-up drill to be mixed in once every week or two as a break from Shell Drill, as opposed to stand alone teacher of your defensive scheme. I like having dedicated reps to establish proper technique on how to exit gaps in recovery and how to contest shots. Finishing possessions with a block out isolates the rebounding element and makes the drill more competitive.

Maybe you take one of these drills and make it your own, or maybe this article is cause to evaluate the whole of your current methods of teaching. Either way, I’m hoping for the best for your team to get some stops this season!

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November 07, 2022: Niagara Purple Eagles guard David Mitchell (14) plays defense during the NCAA basketball game between the Maryland Terrapins and the Niagara Purple Eagles at Xfinity Center in College Park, MD. Reggie Hildred/CSM (Credit Image: © Reggie Hildred/CSM via ZUMA Press Wire)

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