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Coaches Network: Teaching Pressure Defense

  • Date:
    Feb 19, 2019

A few weeks ago we asked the USA Basketball Coaches Network about the best ways to teach players how to break defensive pressure. This week, we’re switching to defense:

What are some of the ways you teach players to APPLY defensive pressure?


Don Showalter, former head coach, Iowa City High School (Iowa) and USA Basketball Men's Junior National Team head coach

Pressure can be applied at different levels on the court. We work to apply pressure at three levels -- full court, three-quarter court, half court. Each of the levels has trapping areas where we try to get one good trap on the offensive player. We change up the pressure throughout the game to keep the offense from getting comfortable in breaking pressure defenses. We want to get our opponents out of their comfort zone offensively and slow down their thought process trying to break our different pressure defensive schemes.

Applying good pressure defense takes time and must be worked on in practice each day.  Pressure defense is part of our schemes defensively; we use it from game to game, based on scouting reports.


Sue Phillips, head coach, Archbishop Mitty High School (Calif.)

The purpose behind our defensive pressure is to disrupt our opponent’s offensive flow, frustrate opposing personnel, and dictate tempo. Applying defensive pressure may not cause the immediate turnover, but it can force a quick shot. Over the course of the game, pressure defense will definitely wear on the opposing team, both physically and mentally.

Defensive pressure is all about “takeaways.” On-ball defense is geared to “takeaway” space, schemes, and tendencies. Minimize passing vision, contest all shots, and take away driving lanes with active hands and crowding the ball handler.  It becomes a foot fight of angles to keep the offense on one side of the floor. We will force the ball handler into a corner or towards a designated double team. We incorporate different schemes to trap from both the strong and weak sides.

One pass away from the ball, we teach denial defense whereby our players have a hand and foot in the passing lane. Sustaining a position that is always between the ball and their player’s defensive assignment. It is essential to maintain vision on the ball and assignment to help on penetration or thwart a back cut to the rim.

Communication is critical when applying intense defensive pressure. Ball pressure should be active and unrelenting. Without consistent, clear and loud communication one of your players is guaranteed to be clocked by a blind-side screen. Players must communicate their action and call ALL screens. Players that are two passes away must also be in anticipation of “help-side” defense or to move on the skip pass and guard their assignment on the catch. 


Brian Robinson, head coach, Bishop McGuinness Catholic High School (N.C.)

When it comes to teaching techniques for applying defensive pressure, we try to do breakdown drills where we work on trap angles and how to influence ball handlers into certain spots on the floor. We talk about not using your hands as much when it comes to stealing the ball off the dribble to prevent reaching fouls. We have them grab a towel with both hands, place it on the back of their necks and use their feet to get in position defensively. That way, they have to play lower to keep their balance and cannot use their hands.

We also talk to the players about looking for steals off of the pass as there are fewer opportunities for fouls. Another way we look at defensive pressure is that if you are lacking on the offensive end, a way to get on the court is through working hard on defense and learning how to be a positive contributor to the team that way. That seems to inspire players to work hard on that end, since they know that is a way to receive playing time.


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