The key fundamental skills are:

  • Balanced Stance
  • Lateral Movement ("big to bigger")
  • Changing Direction
  • Transition from lateral movement to sprint.

Balanced Stance

In basketball the same basic stance is used in offence and defence. The key is that the feet should be approximately shoulder-width apart, with knees bent. The back should be slightly bent forward, but keeping the “nose behind the toes”.

In defence, the hand position varies depending upon the situation.

Lateral Movement ("Big to Bigger")

When moving laterally to guard someone with the ball, players should be taught to use “big to bigger” footwork, sometimes called a “defensive slide”. The premise is simple – when moving to your right, step with the right foot first. The second step brings you back to a balanced stance.

Once a defender establishes a legal guarding position, they can move laterally to maintain it. Further, if there is contact with the defender’s torso (even if the defender is moving) it is considered that the defender was in position first.13

13 Article 33.4, FIBA Basketball Rules

Changing Direction

To change direction, the player performs a reverse pivot (also called a “drop step”) with the foot of the direction that they are moving. The second foot returns to a balanced stance. It is important that the step is to an angle, keeping the defender’s torso pointing at the offensive player.

A common mistake that players make is that their first step goes behind them, which turns them sideways to the offensive player. Once the defender does this, the offence will easily get past them.

Transition from Lateral Movement to Sprinting

Lateral defensive footwork is slower than running – it is used for the specific purpose of legally blocking the dribbler and trying to take a charge.

However there comes a time when the defender will need to run in order to keep up with the offensive player.  The transition to running is easier.

Again, step with the foot of the direction you are moving, turning the foot to point in that direction.
The second step, rather than just returning to a balanced stance, is long and explosive as the player moves into a sprint.

Young players should practice each type of footwork regularly. Many activities in training that have an offensive purpose can also include defence – giving an opportunity to practice footwork without requiring any more time in the practice session.

Defensive Footwork
'Slide run slide'