Position Relative to the Ball

The increased space on the full court is an obvious difference to defending on the half court however the principle remains the same - the closer the opponent is to the ball, the closer the defender is to the opponent.

And the further an opponent is from the ball, the further the defender is from the opponent.

Coaches may use activities to improve positioning and moving of the players in the full court context.

Defenders that are more than one pass away from the ball should be oriented so that their back faces the “base line” enabling them to see both the ball and their immediate opponent.

If the player they are guarding is on the same side of the court as the ball (x3 and x4), the defender may need to turn their back towards the “split line” to maintain vision of both the ball and their opponent. The key concept is that all defenders are able to see the ball and their opponent.

Similarly, the further away the offensive player is from the ball, the further away from the defender can be.

As the ball gets closer, defenders should move closer to the player that they are guarding. Defenders should also move with the “line of the ball” where their opponent is behind the ball (e.g. x2 keeps moving with the ball even though their opponent is behind the ball). This is simply applying the rule that “help defence comes from below the ball”.

This positioning is important because if x2 is at the “line of the ball” they can put pressure on the dribbler. However, if they remain above the “line of the ball” (which is where their opponent is) they are not in position to “help and recover”.

If the ball is moving slowly, the defender may be able to “jump” onto the player dribbling the ball to place the dribbler under more pressure. This can either trigger a double team with x1 and x4 or x4 switching with x1.

Players that are defending an opponent that is more than one pass away from the ball must:

  • Be ready to react to a long pass, and be in a position to intercept the pass or, at the very least, “fly with the ball” so that they are in position to guard their opponent as they catch the ball;
  • Adjust position every time that the ball is passed;
  • Move into the path of their opponent if they are cutting in an attempt to receive a pass;
  • Be ready to help and rotate to ensure team defensive pressure.

Double Teaming the Ball

Often teams play full court defence in an attempt to create turnovers by double teaming the ball handler.

“Turning the Dribbler” into Double Team

If X1 is able to “turn” the dribbler (get in front of them and force them to change direction), this may present x2 the opportunity to double team. This will be particularly effective if the dribbler turns “blind” by performing a reverse pivot.

The double team may also be possible if the dribbler picks up their dribble. It is important that if x2 decides to double team that they do not hesitate and instead sprint to position. Even if it is not the “perfect” decision, by being decisive their team mates can adjust as necessary.

“Channeling the Dribbler” into a Double Team

Alternatively, if x1 is channeling the dribbler (keeping them moving in one direction), the double team must come from ahead of the dribbler. Again, if they are to double team x3 needs to be decisive and x1 needs to keep up with their opponent so that they cannot dribble toward the middle to avoid x3.

When double-teaming, players must be taught:

  • To make sure that the dribbler cannot pass through the middle – they must not leave a gap between the two defenders;
  • To keep their hands high to avoid fouling – they do not reach for the ball, they are simply trying to trap the ball handler;
  • That their role is not to steal the ball.

A successful double team may cause a turnover by:

  • Forcing a bad pass, intercepted by another team mate;
  • 8 second violation (where the double team is in the back court);
  • 5 second violation.

And even if the double team does not create a turnover, it can still be successful by reducing the time that the opponent has to establish their offence and get a shot.

Roles in Full Court “Man to Man” Defence

After scoring, or when the opposition are to throw the ball in, the defence have an opportunity to establish position to apply full court pressure. When a team is shooting a free throw it is also another opportunity to establish position, even if the free throw is actually missed.

Commonly, the roles in full court defence are:

  1. “Point” - defends the player with the ball
  2. “Safety” (does not contest offensive rebound) – will deny pass being made up court. Can also be involved in “double teaming”
  3. “Rebounding Wing” – contests the offensive rebound and then denies pass being made up the court. Like the defensive safety, can also be involved in “double teaming”
  4. “Plugger” – pressures the inbound pass and then can deny a pass back to the inbounder, or apply pressure on the dribbler.
  5. “Basket” – retreats to defend the basket.

Each player has a “man to man” responsibility although may defend different players if the offence change roles.

  1. “Point”
  2. “Safety”
  3. “Rebounding Wing”
  4. “Plugger”
  5. “Basket”

X4 must step to the sideline quickly to deny the inbound pass. They should stand at an angle, in order to influence the pass to one side of the court.

As the pass is made, x1, x2 and x3 adopt a position consistent with normal man to man defensive principles:

  • x1 guarding the ball and either channeling or turning the dribbler as per team rules;
  • x2 is in a position to deny the pass down the line to 2. They are also in position to double team if 1 is channelled down the sideline. x3 moves to a split line position in the middle of the court. These positions are reversed if the ball was passed to the other side.
  • x4 moves to a position that is below the line of the ball – from here they can apply pressure on the dribbler. They are responsible for defending x4.

If the ball is passed, defenders continue to adjust in accordance with normal man to man defensive principles. Whilst the relative distances are different, the principles are the same:

  • keep vision of both the player you are guarding and the player with the ball;
  • be between your player and the ball, remaining close enough that you can get to your player if the ball is passed to them.

Teaching Full Court Man to Man Defence

Following are some “breakdown” activities that practice the type of movement required by each defender. All players should be familiar with each role.

These activities can be excellent Warm-up activities and then the players should progress to contested situations. A main point of emphasis must be moving quickly – it is not the fastest person that is necessarily the most effective defender, moving early is just as important to being an effective defender.


Defender starts in the corner and:

  • sprints to the foul line and the baseline;
  • sprint to the sideline (can incorporate “closing out” technique)
  • defensive footwork to the split line and back to the sideline (as if guarding the ball)
  • sprint to the 3 point line ending in defensive stance


Defender starts in key and:

  • sprints to the half way circle and turns to face the basket (“safety” position)
  • sprints to sideline, into denial stance;
  • sprints back to the circle, in open stance
  • sprint to the 3 point line and get into defensive stance.

“Rebounding Wing”

Defender jumps to touch the ring (backboard or net, as appropriate) and:

  • sprints to the half way, turns to face the basket (“safety” position)
  • sprint to sideline, into denial stance;
  • sprint back to the circle - open stance
  • sprint to 3 point line and get into defensive stance.


Defender tips the ring (or backboard or net) and:

  • pressures inbound pass;
  • sprints to the free throw line – open stance
  • “hedge” (two steps) towards the ball and return
  • sprints back to the 3 point circle


Defender tips the ring (or backboard or net) and:

  • pressures inbound pass;
  • sprints to middle lane to the top of the key
  • moves to the opposite elbow
  • moves to the “block”

Much of the teaching of full court man to man is simply giving players the opportunity to develop the skills they have previously used in the half court and applying them to the different space experienced in the full court. It is important to incorporate contested activities from an early stage.

1x1 - “Turning the Dribbler”

The defender must keep their “head on the ball” and sprint to get in front of the dribbler so that they must change direction. Commonly, the defenders “turn” the dribbler in the back court.

A common mistake that defenders make is to make contact and push into the defender.

This has two disadvantages:

  • first it will often be called a foul;
  • secondly, it is difficult to get to a position in front of the dribbler.

The defender does need to be close enough to put the dribbler under pressure (an arm’s length approximately).

1x1 – “Channeling the Dribbler”

When “channeling” the dribbler, the defender has their shoulder on the dribbler’s shoulder to ensure that they cannot move into the middle of the court. In this activity, the defender the dribbler along the sideline.

If the dribbler stops or does a retreat dribble, the defender may be in front of the dribbler. They must quickly move backwards to establish a position to stop the dribbler changing direction.

“2x2” – Half Width of Court

x1 attempt to “turn” the dribbler as many times as possible in the back court and then channel them along the sideline (to keep them away from the basket).

It is important that the dribbler attempts to beat the defender and only change direction if they are forced to. They should also use a change of pace and retreat dribbles as necessary.

2x2 in a half width of the court. “Line of Ball” principle is very important in defence. Simply, even where an offensive player remains behind the ball (as in Diag 2), their defender must get to the line of the ball, which puts them in a position to pressure the ball handler.

Diagram 1

Diagram 2

In Diag 3, x1 takes one or two steps toward the dribbler and then returns to their player. This is an example of “hedge and recover” as used in half court.

In Diag 4, x1 switches and takes over guarding the dribbler and x2 moves to guard the other player. x1 communicates this by calling “Jump” or “Switch”.

Diag 3

Diag 4

In addition to using “help and recover” and “run and jump” (switching),the defence may also double team the ball – which requires the defender to get to the “line of the ball”.

In this activity, the offence are initially not allowed to move ahead of the ball.

“3x3 Full Court”

The two important principles here, also apply in half-court defence:

  • “line of ball” (shaded horizontal line) – defenders must be at or below the line of the ball;
  • “split line” (shaded vertical line) – defenders guarding a player on the opposite side of the court, must get to the split, maintaining vision of both the player they are guarding and the player with the ball.

The Defenders use “help and recover”, “run and jump” (switch) and double team where possible. Again, restrict the offence from moving two far ahead of the ball.

The defenders should also practice the principle of “help the helper”:

  • x1 has “jumped” or switched to start guarding 2;
  • x3 helps the helper and moves to guard 1, x3 may slightly delay moving, to give X2 a chance to move closer to their new position;
  • x2 rotates to take responsibility for 3.

Important principles to emphasize are:

  • Sprinting to get to the split line and line of ball;
  • Communicate – if there is a clear understanding of what each defender must do then there is no gamble. It’s only a gamble if defenders are guessing what team mates are doing;

4x4 Full Court

4x4 is simply a further extension of the principles used in the earlier activities. Most importantly, all players must move together and “fly with the ball” on every pass, to make sure they get to the next spot, by the time the ball is caught.

The rotation is simple, with the nearest player helping the helper.

Similarly, with 5x5 the principles remain the same but require dynamic practice to hone. Players down the court must anticipate where passes may go and “shoot the gap” – prepared to intercept the pass.

Practicing Full Court Double Team

Teams should also practice double teams in the full court, which can initially be done 4x4.

With x2 and x1 double teaming the player with the ball, x4 and x3 are “inteceptors” and must read what the offensive player might do. If they believe the pass may go to either 2 or 4, both defenders adjust their position (x4 moving up toward 2, x3 moving toward 4).

If the ball is passed to 2, x4 moves to defend them and x3 moves to defend 4, who is on the same side of the floor.

Whichever of x1 and x2 can see the pass, moves away from the double team. The pass went over x2’s head, so x1 will move.

Accordingly, x2 remains defending 1 (and moves to the split line) and x1 moves to defend the open player (3).

If the pass goes to Player 3, 3 defends the ball and x4 rotates to defend 4 (and moves to the split line).

Both x2 and x1 must move toward the line of ball. x2 can “see” the pass (as it went over the head of x1) so they will defend 2, but must move to the split line at the line of ball.

x1 will defend 1 but again moves to the line of the ball. They may be able to double team 3.

A cross court pass to 4 is very hard to pass, and would hopefully be intercepted by either x4 or x3.

However, if the pass is successful, x3 rotates to defend 4. Even though x4 may be closer, they are not in position to stop 4 from move down the court.

x4 rotates to defend 3.

x1 can see the pass so will be responsible to defend 2. They move to the line of the ball and may be able to double team (given 2 is so far behind the ball).

x2 is responsible for defending 1 and again moves to the line of the ball.

Adding the 5th Defender

With a 5th defender, they would guard the basket and so would not be involved in the double team rotations.

Full Ct D 2v2
Full Ct D 3v3
Full Ct D 4v4
Full Ct Defence Hedge & Recover 2v2
Full Ct Defence Hedge & Recover 3v3
Full Ct Defence Switch 2v2
Full Ct Defence Switch 3v3
Full Ct Defence Turn and Trap Dribbler
Full Ct Defence Channel and Trap Dribbler