Is Zone Defense Bad for Youth Basketball?

In the coaching community, we depend upon the advice of other coaches to try to become better at our job, to help to create better players and to win more games each season. With that said, a coaching buddy of mine got an email last week from a coach in another district that went a little something like this…

“I hope you can help. We are playing a really amazing, championship team that runs a 2-3 zone consistently each year. Their players are basically known giants compared to my small team and they rarely back off their key defense. What in the world can I do to come even close to winning this? Or from having my kids hauled off the court in stretchers? “

Well, I’ve been there too. My teams have been pitted with teams that made us look less like, well, our team… and more like David and Goliath. So when my buddy told me his reply I knew it was the gospel truth…

“Well, Dennis, then you hope to the good Lord that your team makes outside shots.”

While I am sure that he went on to give more advice than just a hope and a prayer, when you are coaching youth basketball there are going to be times when you have to be just as willing as your team to learn new ways around old things…

Zone defense is one of those times.

Many strategies to win against all odds like these requires the defense stepping out and respecting the shot, but it also requires that the coach steps up to the plate to teach players these simple strategies that can make all the difference out on the court.

Meanwhile, if the defensive players are close to the basket all the time and they don’t try to stop the shot (as most youth teams will do), these strategies become almost impossible to work with.

Today we are going to talk about why zone defense may not be as effective as we think and how we can increase our chances of coming away at games as the victors.


This isn’t the NBA and with that said zone defense is incredibly effective when kids are on the court. (Yes, I know I said it’s terrible – but it really does has its downfalls and we are going to get there.)

Here are two reasons why zone defense may not be the best option for your team…


Everyone coaching youth basketball knows that most made shots are going to come from layups and shots made close to the basket. There’s nothing wrong with this. For one, most children are unable to make longer shots yet and for two, making shots in any form builds their confidence so that they can continue to improve their craft as the years go by.

By working a zone defense, the team on defense “packs the paint” and takes off through the driving lanes to the hoop.

So where does this leave the offense?

With the outside shot.

Since the offensive team won’t be able to make it to the basket, they won’t have a good shot and you will be left watching a bunch of players tossing up long distance shots and hoping to goodness that they go in the basket.

As you can already guess, not many of these are successful. Though they have yet to develop the skill to make those types of shots kids will still attempt them.


Don’t let the word “skip pass” throw you off. This just means a pass that is made from one side of the court to the other without ever reaching offensive players.

Because kids are not physically strong enough to make these types of passes, it opens up the way for the defense to flood one side without needing to think about shooters on another side.

Working this way makes it even more of a challenge for offensive players to find ways to get past your defense.

Zone defense isn’t a bad thing, but it isn’t always the best way to win any game – big or small. Take the time to talk to your team about new avenues and you’ll come away with more wins… and more kids with confidence in their abilities.


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