Zone Defense and Player Development

Many coaches feel that youth teams should not be allowed to play zone defense. They believe that man-to-man defense increases player development. The perception is that zones are lazy.

It is true that zones can take advantage of young players’ lack of strength to shoot three-pointers and throw skip passes. However, for players this young, I advocate 3v3 play, rather than full-court 5v5 games.

As for player development, I do not understand the dislike of zones. I do not spend a lot of time with help defense and rotations with my high school team. Instead, I use general directions: no shots close to the basket and no wide open, catch-and-shoot three-pointers.

However, as I played in a 4v4 men’s league tonight (and played zone because one of our players was sore from painting his house all day), I realized that any team that can play a four-man zone understands help defense and rotations. As we talked about the game afterward, we were surprised at how well we rotated and covered for each other. We played with awareness and talked on defense.

If players practice in 4v4 or 5v4 situations, and play zone defense, they practice the same type of defensive rotations required to play great team defense. They develop help-defense skills and learn to help and rotate in a live situation rather than memorizing certain rotations in a shell drill and trying to apply those lessons to a game situation.

By Brian McCormick
Director of Coaching,
Playmakers Basketball Development League

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