Best Youth Basketball Zone Offense

Brent Mccoy
• Monday, 04 January, 2021
• 8 min read

WIN MORE GAMES with offenses, defenses, plays, drills, fundamentals, strategy, animations, video, Playbook download, youth section... unique, mobile ready. My 7th graders were really having difficulty playing against the 2-3 zone, which we seem to be running into frequently in youth tournaments.

basketball offense spread triangle drills run
(Source: www.online-basketball-drills.com)


I dedicated an entire practice session to learning how to beat this defense in a simple way that young players could understand. I used some visuals and made it interactive for them, instead of me just talking. First, we gathered around a table out on the floor.

I let the kids set up the board and helped them with placing the defense in a 2-3 zone. So every time they would position the offense, I would then move the defense, and then they would have to find the gaps again.

Amazingly, the kids came up with the same offensive scheme that I had devised, and it is diagrammed in the drawings below. Now, on the court, I used hula hoops and some old car floor mats that I threw down in the gaps, so they could see where to move to.

One caution: players could trip and injure themselves with these objects on the floor, so we just used them in “walk through” ball rotations, not up to speed. Dribble only to penetrate a gap, or improve a passing angle, or to get out of trouble.

Offensive rebounding is very important since the zone defenders do not have clear-cut box-out assignments (as in a man-to-man). Now study the diagrams below, and at the end I will give you just a few simple rules.

(Source: www.youtube.com)

One tip: your high post O4 might initially be positioned along the lane, and then as the point guard brings the ball into the forecourt, O4 flash cuts to the high post at the free-throw line. Make sure the wings are high and wide, so that the point-to-wing pass is not easily intercepted.

Each move is to fill a gap in the zone where you can get open for a pass and shot. If the ball is passed to the corner, O4 cuts hard down to the low block for the bounce pass from O5 (diagram B), and O3 moves to the free-throw line area because if O4 does not get the ball, then O3 is often wide open (diagram C).

Here's an option where we can attack the zone straight up the middle, by passing, not dribbling. O1 will try to dribble between (split) the two outside defenders right up the middle and will pull up for a shot just inside the free throw line.

You can see that there are certain areas (hula hoops) that we want to fill as the ball moves. The diagrams below show red circles that should be filled when the ball is in that location.

When the ball is at the high post, duck under the zone into the paint for the pass down low. Look to penetrate from the wing, and make good passing decisions, avoid unnecessary dribbling.

basketball drills game running tempo transition
(Source: www.online-basketball-drills.com)

Look for the shot, and when the high post is at the elbow, the opposite wing drops into the gap on the weak-side. Keep the ball moving, with little dribbling, except to penetrate or open a passing lane.

Look for an opportunity to dribble and split the two top defenders, and if they collapse, dish out to either wing. Responsible for staying back (on top) to prevent the fast break.

If you have a bigger, slower team the zone defense allows you to put your “Big” around the basket while your “Smalls” stay out on the perimeter. A classic example of when to use a zone defense can probably be best demonstrated when the Dallas Mavericks played the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals.

Unfortunately, in this scenario LeBron James didn’t find his perimeter jump shot and the entire team struggled, which resulted in an NBA Finals loss for the Miami Heat. But if it gives your team the best chance to win at the end of the day in youth sports then that’s what counts for the most part.

However, as I mentioned in the beginning developing kids skills and techniques is the MOST important. We believe that teaching zone principles will help you the most in the long-run and need to be emphasized.

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However, there are definitely times during games where you just need a zone play to get a good look at the basket. Some coaches also prefer to use their best zone plays when they first see a zone defense during a game.

The rationale is that if they execute a couple of zone plays right from the beginning, the opposing coach may quickly pull their team out of the zone defense. Jamie Dixon popularized this play to beat Syracuse's zone defense.

The 'Trilogy' 1-3-1 offense will allow your team to get the basketball into the gaps of the opposition's defense to create scoring opportunities close to the hoop. The 'point' is the player tasked with setting up the play, deciding which side of the floor to initially attack from, and helping to move the ball around the perimeter.

The 'middle' player has several responsibilities on offense and is heavily involved with scoring, passing, and reading the defense. They will mainly patrol the high area of the key but will be asked to occasionally step out and screen for the players on the wings.

The 'wings' are in charge of getting the basketball inside and also attacking the paint with dribble penetration from the perimeter when the time is right. The players you put at these positions have big decision-making responsibilities during this 1-3-1 offense and will be asked to attack often.

football template youth sheet call play offensive plans coach practice defense drills example defensive nfl plays basketball college tackle stuff
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Despite their limited movement, the warrior must have a high IQ as they're heavily involved in passing and the spacing of the offense. For this offense to work, you need to force the low defender of the zone to guard the basketball on the wing.

This will allow you to split the middle defender with your two post players which is a very advantageous position for the offensive team to be in. When this happens, x5 will be forced to guard the ball which will allow the other player to dive towards the rim looking to receive the pass for a layup.

Skip pass to (3) which will force a long closeout resulting in a driving opportunity. If an immediate drive by (3) against the closing out defender isn't available, (4) and (5) will slide across to the opposite side of the key to create the triangle options again.

The offense continues like this, with the post players move side-to-side in the gaps of the zone defense, until an opportunity to get the ball inside and attack opens up. But will also work for older and more experienced teams who understand and can take advantage of the spacing and angles that this 1-3-1 offense creates.

Here are 3 important criteria I came up with off the top of my head that are imperative when designing a youth basketball defense: The perfect youth basketball defense should prepare players for the next level.

coaching resources
(Source: hoopschalktalk.wordpress.com)

The Pack Line defense is a variation of a man-to-man defense that involves players sagging closer to the basket instead of cutting off passing lanes. It was created by Dick Bennett of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Wisconsin-Green Bay, University of Wisconsin, and Washington State.

Traditional man-to-man defense is too hard to teach to young players. Instead, there needs to be a simpler progression before players attempt to master the man-to-man defense.

Jim Boone and other advocates of the Pack Line defense all believe that off-ball defenders cannot accomplish all three of these things effectively: The Pack Line teaches the four off-ball defenders where they must be on the floor to help their teammates.

While this might not sound like much, don’t underestimate the significance of this difference. It makes defense much easier for youth players to understand.

Quick Note: Just because there’s help doesn’t remove the responsibility of the on-ball defender to guard their player one-on-one. It must be constantly emphasized that each player must ‘guard their yard’.

horse war queen fighting iv fantacci march america
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There are two frequent arguments used by coaches who are against the Pack Line defense in youth basketball : The only coaches who will say this are those that aren’t aware of how the Pack Line defense works.

• A zone defense creates lazy on-ball defenders. • In a zone, defense players guard an area by standing and watching the basketball.

In the Pack Line, defense players have a direct opponent and must be constantly adjusting their off-ball position. • In a zone defense, there are minimal opportunities to defend a ball screen.

In the Pack Line, defense players must fight through screens exactly the same as man-to-man. In the Pack Line, defense players guard everywhere on the floor.

Most zones in youth basketball will pack the paint with defenders and force their opponent to shoot long shots from the outside. c. Zone defense doesn’t prepare players for the next level.

fighting right italy stand
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A zone doesn’t prepare players for the next level because of all the poor defensive habits they pick up and because they don’t experience enough components of defense. As we’ve just talked about, in the Pack Line defense players don’t pick up these bad habits, and they do experience all components of defense.

d. Zone defense doesn’t make basketball fun. Zone defense isn’t fun in basketball because players have minimal chance of scoring because they’re forced to shoot long-distance shots.

They’ll be playing very similar to a man-to-man defense (except easier to learn). The defense will make mistakes and the offensive team will be able to move the basketball around and take advantage of them.

Let’s start off by remembering that the only difference from a traditional man-to-man defense and the Pack Line is the defender one-pass away. Use the Pack Line defense to teach the principles and basics of man-to-man defense and then when your players are capable, start introducing the denial aspect of man-to-man.

We must sacrifice some complexity in the beginning to allow players to develop quicker. It doesn’t matter about the height of your team, how athletic they, or any other excuse that coaches find to run a different defense.

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