Basic Steps to Playing Man to Man Defense in Youth Basketball

Written By: Lamar Hull @ Google+

man to man defense

Man up! That’s the call from the sidelines and everyone in the gym knows what’s coming next: man-to-man defense.

It is the most common and easiest way to teach defense in the game starting at the youth level.

What is Man-to-Man Defense?

It is one-on-one, man against man, let’s see who is the best, in your face basketball. That sentence made me laugh, this may be the case at the collegiate or professional level, but at the youth level it is a little different.

However, it is the defense played on playgrounds all over the world. GREAT man-to-man defense does take heart and dedication. Man-to-man defense is basketball at its PUREST.

The simplest definition of man-to-man defense is everyone guards the man they are assigned to.

Assignments can be made based primarily upon height, position and skill level. Wherever your man goes, you go, keeping him from scoring or even getting the ball.

Follow him around the court and stay between him and the hoop. The goal of man-to-man defense is to force the most difficult shot possible.

Players must work hard to perfect the defensive techniques necessary to lock down the opposing offensive player. It is a simple concept but there are many details that make it successful.


How to Play Man-to-Man Defense in Youth Basketball Step-by-Step Video


Man-To-Man Defensive techniques

Staying between your man and the basket is the basic goal of man to man defense. Defenders do not want to allow their player to dribble past them for an easy score.

Keeping the knees bent, butt down, back straight and on the balls of your feet are essential. Active hands in the passing lane and guarding the ball completes the basics of the man-to-man defensive posture.

Great defenders move their feet instead of reaching with their hands to stay in the right position. As the offensive player drives with the ball or cuts without it, the defensive player must continually adjust their position to maintain contact with and proper positioning to the man they are guarding.

You can also be a great on the ball defender. That is where I made my bread and butter when playing man-to-man defense. Just a reminder that I am 5’8″ so am much closer to the ground and a lot quicker than average players at the collegiate or professional levels.

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I pressured the ball like crazy when my opponent is either dribbling or has picked up their dribble. If they were dribbling, I tried hard not to reach and just stayed in front of them with a low posture. If I did this, I was able to stay in front of them and if they were that type of player that liked to dribble 1,000 times and go nowhere, they would eventually turn the ball over because my pressure increased. 

This frustrated the offensive player because they were typically not quick enough with the ball to dribble pass me. Due to my low stance, movement of my feet, and hand quickness, they would eventually give the ball right to me, while trying to put on a dribbling show.

If a player picks up their dribble they are stuck. I recommend pressuring them so that they can’t make an easy pass and force them to try to deliver a bad pass off balance.

How to play against Man-To-Man Defense

On the flip side of playing against a man-to-man defense, attacking it is all about movement and match-ups. The more the offensive player moves around the court, the more likely the defender will lose contact with them, allowing an open shot.

Players switching positions on the court, running off screens and completing simple dribble hand-offs creates movements and spacing that forces the opposing team to make snap decisions and presents opportunities from an offensive advantage.

Creating a mismatch where the offensive player is matched against an ill-suited opponent is the key. At the youth level, this isn’t typically the case, because most kids are the same size with similar skill, but more competitive youth leagues like AAU, this is more feasible.

There are many ways to create a mismatch, but the most COMMON way is the screen. A screen forces the defense to either switch who they are defending, which then can create a mismatch if it is a guard on a big or force the defense to fight through the screen creating an opening for the offensive player.

Screens can be set on the defender guarding the man with ball or for a player trying to get open for a shot. In either case, carefully timed movement can create an offensive advantage.

Man-to-man defenses and offenses are simple to teach and fun to play. They do require much practice especially at the youth level, but the benefits are worth it. Players enjoy the challenge and it drives them to become better. 

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