Coaching Youth Basketball: How to Beat a Zone Defense

Everyone coaching youth basketball knows that young basketball players cannot shoot from the perimeter. The intelligent coach will design their defensive program based on this knowledge and use it in the future as well. As a coach, your main goal is probably to put your best foot forward as a team and take home the win. If this is true then getting your team working on zone defense or youth players vs pack defense is simply smart coaching on your part.

Now that we know a little more about zone defense’s importance, let’s take a moment to look at a few different techniques so that you can utilize them with your team and start putting them into action on the court.

Banning Zone Defenses

In Ontario, the provincial governing body uses age appropriate modifications for rules. Making zone defenses illegal in the game is an attempt to create a game that is in the best interest of the children. The issue here is not the rule. In most instances, coaches are able to find a way around a rule of “no zone defenses” when they use their thinking caps.

When many coaches find themselves up against this rule, they feel frustrated. In fact, I have seen many coaches aggravated on the sidelines complaining the entire time about just how far away or close up the defender was.


Because we know that zone defenses are illegal and not allowed, let’s take a look at them a little more closely to better understand where we stand with them as coaches:

– When inside the boundaries of half court, each member of defense must guard one of the offensive players. They must also make all the moves that are associated with their position and movement. This includes the rules that are better laid out below.

– Remember that the defenders are allowed to give help but only when there is a separation. No double teams will be permitted at any other time. Beyond a help situation, no double teams should exist inside of a game. The reason this rule came about was because the rule makers did not want to encourage any player to stand in the one-man playing zone. This also helps the athletes to learn how to recover an offensive check better.

– When help comes, the helping defender or the beaten one must recover once one of the two establishes legal ownership of the ball.

Sometimes coaches simply wanted to win so they would then isolate their best player to up their chances of having a great game. This “no zone” rule made it so much easier to do so. For instance, 3 or 4 players spaced across the floor and one player then dribble attacked. Since these defenders were kept from being in an early-on help formation from the “no zone” rule, the offense would then have the advantage over the defense.


Now that we know more about the rules and regulations of zone defense, let’s talk a little more about how our coaching can better suit the rules we are up against. First, we must focus on giving our players a solution so that they are better equipped to deal with the problems they will face out on the court. We are putting too much emphasis on the administration of the problem in our industry. Pack and zone defenses are smart options and some coaches use them regardless. To them, it just does not matter what the rules are.

What we must do is strive to teach young players how to go up against a zone defense. There are a variety of reasons they are useful but let’s talk about the main one – shooting. The goal of zone defense is to pack tight as many defenders as possible. This will take away space and force your players to have to try to score from the perimeter which is close to impossible for young, young players.

Use these zone concepts to help improve your team and see a win in your near future:

1. Attempt to create two on one opportunities.

2. Never ever stand three in a row.

3. Be sure to attack closeouts.

4. Depend on an offensive rebound.

5. Play in space. Not spots.

6. Try to play behind the zone.

7. Pull the lowest defender from the baseline.

As you can see, zone defense rules can be played around and even followed with a little gentleness and good old fashioned thinking.


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