Coaching is a learning profession. The coach who humbles himself to learn, will grow. The one who fossilizes himself around fixed points, especially of his own imagination, will not.

Here is 1 thing I no longer teach on basketball defense. First, let me say, growing up in Indiana I thought this rule was inviolable, like the 11th Commandment in the Bible. I share this with you, to ask you to think about it yourself (if you still teach this?). Also, to ask you to share something on defense that you no longer teach as a basketball coach. I almost feel like I need to apologize to Coach Bob Knight for saying this,..

Here it is. I no longer teach “Denial” of the pass to the player one-pass away from the player with the ball. I think it fair to say that every coach in America has told his players on defense, I know I have, many times, when coaching the Defense Shell Drill, “WE must do 3 things: We must Stop Penetration, We must Deny the Pass to the player one-pass away, and We must play Helpside Defense.” To paraphrase Meatloaf, “2 outta 3 aint bad,” for the first and last points are true. But the second? I dont think so. Here is why.

As a matter of logic we should never as coaches expect our players to do that which is impossible for them to do. Watch any basketball game, at any level, and you will see it is impossible to deny the pass from the player at top of key to either wing player of his choice, or vice versa. If they want to make the pass, they will make it, even if the player without the ball has to circle high above the 3-pt line to get it, or go way out on the wing for the catch. Truth is, that pass WILL be made 95% of the time. Thus it cannot be “denied.” We are creating frustration and unreasonable expectations in our players’ minds when we scream out to them, “Deny the pass!” when it simply cant be done. To deny means to prevent, stop and render impossible. It is impossible to stop the pass from being made.

More importantly, there are at least TEN (10) times where we WANT the other team to make the pass! In these instances, we should never deny it, but instead, ENCOURAGE it.

For example, we never want to deny passes that move the ball away from the basket; passes to players standing outside their shooting range; passes when the other team is inside the final 5 seconds of a shot clock; passes to the corner, where we can trap the player; passes East & West that accomplish nothing, and which dont hurt us; passes into the post where we can quickly double-team the post player from high and low (stripping the ball); passes from their best ballhandler to a lesser dribbler; passes from their best shooter to a weaker shooter; passes to a player with a low Free throw shooting % near the end of a half or game; passes to any player on the other team who is their #7-8-9-10 on the bench.

We should never Deny these passes–we should ENCOURAGE them. Why?

This is why now I teach “Stop, Steal and Sag” on Defense. The Stop means to stop penetration, while the Sag means to play helpside defense (just like we were always taught). The Steal however means that I place my best, quickest defenders (with best judgment), out on the points of our defense at the high-elbow/3-pt line area on the court (where their best players are positioned). There I teach my players to lay back far enough away from their player to entice a pass (which also helps block penetration lanes), but close enough to steal the ball once it is in the air. I teach players to read the eyes, and body language, of passers. They never lie. I also reinforce to players that as coach I will never blame them if they go for the steal, but come up short. But I will hold them accountable if they go for the ball with less than full intentionality and speed. In other words, the worst thing a player can do is kinda, sorta go for a steal, while still trying to play it “safe.” It is all-in, or nothing. We spend time in practice on how to steal a ball, and how to deflect it. But I also teach, “If you are going for the steal, I better see you flying to get it, at all costs!. For there are no half-steals in basketball.”

Again, my apologies to Coach Knight. But I think “Deny the ball” is impossible to do, is unwise to do in at least 10 instances, and in approximately 4-6 times per game we can steal it–if we read the body language well and truly throw ourselves into it.

So, what do you no longer teach on Defense that you once did as coach?

“Terry Boesch is a teacher in Martinsville, IN (home of John Wooden), and also coaches girls basketball. Feel free to email him at terryboesch@gmail.com, or call/text at 317.643-6042

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